Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel pleads guilty to criminal conspiracy in Oread tax fraud case
photo by: Nick Krug
Updated at 4:50 p.m. Thursday
Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel pleaded guilty Thursday in a federal fraud case.
Fritzel pleaded guilty to one count of criminal conspiracy, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas. Fritzel admitted that he and others submitted false monthly sales tax returns to the state of Kansas related to the development of The Oread hotel, 1200 Oread Ave. in Lawrence, the release said.
Fritzel and his bookkeeper, Keela Lam, then 52 and 46 respectively, were indicted in June 2018 on charges of scheming to collect more than $400,000 in fraudulent tax refunds from the City of Lawrence. The case was set to go to trial Jan. 21, but Fritzel in December filed a notice of intent to change his plea.
Fritzel previously pleaded not guilty to felony conspiracy and tax fraud and has remained on release after posting a $50,000 bond.
As part of the plea, both parties agreed to recommend a sentence of 12 months and a day in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000, the release said. Sentencing is scheduled for May 4.
Fritzel was facing up to 15 years in prison and hundreds of thousands in fines related to the charges. Specifically, Fritzel and Lam faced five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for conspiracy to commit fraud and 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for transporting stolen funds through interstate commerce, as the Journal-World previously reported. The indictment also charges a number of corporate entities that Fritzel and Lam controlled, which could be fined up to $500,000 each for their role in transporting stolen funds in interstate commerce.
Jim Cross, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas, said in an email to the Journal-World that the government is moving to dismiss the charges against Lam. When asked why, he responded that the government was dismissing certain charges “in the interest of justice.” He said that the charges against the corporate entities already have been dismissed. Cross said that his office had no further comment about Fritzel’s guilty plea and plea agreement.
One of Fritzel’s defense attorneys, Ed Novak, said in an email to the Journal-World that Fritzel and his legal representation had no comment regarding the guilty plea and the plea agreement.
Fritzel’s change of plea hearing was originally scheduled to take place at 4:45 p.m. Thursday. Sometime Thursday, the time of the hearing was changed to 2 p.m.
The fraud case is a separate case from Fritzel’s felony conviction last summer related to illegal asbestos disposal at the former Alvamar Country Club, now known as the Jayhawk Club. On July 30, a jury took about two hours to find Fritzel guilty on three counts related to the disposal of asbestos-containing material during remodeling work at Alvamar in 2016. Fritzel was found guilty of knowingly failing to notify environmental agencies prior to removing asbestos material, knowingly failing to wet asbestos before removing it from the construction site and knowingly failing to dispose of asbestos waste in leak-tight containers.
Fritzel is facing up to seven years in federal prison and a fine of up to $500,000 in relation to the three asbestos disposal charges. Fritzel is scheduled to be sentenced in that case on Feb. 20.
Recent coverage: Thomas Fritzel tax fraud case
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Timeline: City of Lawrence tax dispute with Thomas Fritzel, Oread hotel
● April 28, 2017 — All parties sign settlement in city’s lawsuit against Oread hotel
● March 29, 2017 — Judge orders conclusion of mediation in Oread hotel lawsuit
● Jan. 20, 2017 — Judge orders mediation in city’s lawsuit against Oread hotel
● Dec. 9, 2016 — City’s lawsuit against Oread hotel moved to federal court
● Dec. 4, 2016 — City: Oread hotel developer admitted to much of alleged tax scheme
● March 15, 2016 — Oread developers agree to comply with city demands
● Dec. 31, 2015 — Oread group pays nearly $500,000 to city ‘under protest’
● Dec. 30, 2015 — City seeking more than money from Oread group as deadline nears
● Dec. 16, 2015 — City overpaid Oread hotel’s development group, mayor says
● Nov. 22, 2015 — Lawrence hires firm to evaluate Oread tax district