Heiress' lawyer accused of embezzling millions, using her like a 'human ATM'

Heiress' lawyer accused of embezzling millions, using her like a 'human ATM'
  • A lawyer for a heiress used her "like a human ATM," prosecutors allege.

  • The heiress Gretchen Valade's grandfather founded the workwear brand Carhartt.

  • Her attorney, David Sutherland, is accused of stealing millions from her trusts before her death.

Carhartt heiress Gretchen Valade's longtime lawyer is facing trial over accusations that he embezzled millions of dollars from the philanthropist in her final years of life.

The Michigan criminal trial of David Sutherland, an attorney who managed two trusts for Valade, began in Wayne County Criminal Court last week.

During opening remarks on Thursday, an assistant attorney general accused Sutherland of using Valade of using her "like a human ATM," the Detroit Free Press reported.

Valade, a philanthropist and businesswoman whose grandfather started the Carhartt workwear company in 1889, died in December 2022 at the age of 97.

She was known in Michigan as the "Angel of Jazz" for her work saving the Detroit Jazz Festival, according to Michigan Public.

Sutherland was charged just weeks after Valade's death in 2023 with one count of conducting a criminal enterprise, two counts of embezzling more than $100,000, and one count of embezzling more than $100,000 from a vulnerable adult, according to the Michigan attorney general's office.

The felony counties each carry a maximum 20-year sentence.

Sutherland has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Attorneys for Sutherland did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Business Insider.

The Michigan attorney general's office alleges that Sutherland issued himself a series of loans without Valade's permission from her 1982 revocable trust and her 2009 irrevocable trust, both of which he managed.

"Trust. That's what this case is really about. Trust and betrayal," Scott Teter, division chief of the financial crimes division for the Attorney General's Office, said during opening remarks last week, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Teter told the jury that despite already billing Valade $19,000 a month for his services, Sutherland also secretly wrote himself two promissory notes for $5 million each from Valade's trusts, leaving "no note, no I.O.U., no nothin,'" the Detroit Free Press reported.

Teter also accused Sutherland of using the stolen money to pay for two of his failing businesses, a Florida pizza franchise and a Michigan oil company, according to the outlet.

"Mr. Sutherland abused his authority as an attorney and trusted advisor to steal millions from a long-time client and must be held accountable," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in 2023 press release.

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