Bridges’ sentencing delayed; defense lawyer withdraws

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 8, 2013

CHARLOTTE — John Knox Bridges’ sentencing has been delayed again after the admitted con man’s lawyer withdrew from the case this week.
Bridges, a Salisbury resident, was to have been sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court for bilking friends and associates out of millions. Sentencing had been postponed from a Jan. 25 date after Bridges failed to appear and threatened to kill himself.
A federal judge blasted defense attorney Rahwa Gebre-Egziabher in court for refusing to divulge Bridges’ whereabouts during that January hearing. The public defender has admitted she knew of the threats that led police on a manhunt which ended in a church bathroom.
Court documents show Gebre-Egziabher filed her motion to withdraw under seal, meaning she wanted to keep the reasons from public view.
But Federal Chief Judge Robert Conrad Jr. disagreed and hammered Gebre-Egziabher for incorrectly citing attorney-client privilege when Conrad asked her to explain Bridges’ absence, court records show.
“… The defendant informed counsel that he had a shotgun and intended to kill himself rather than face his victims at the sentencing hearing,” Conrad wrote in the decision.
“Yet, apparently, counsel’s remedial measures were limited to directing another lawyer to tell a community defender’s office investigator to call the defendant and ‘keep him on the line so that he would not kill himself,’ asking for a day’s delay in the issuance of the warrant, and otherwise remaining mute in response to court inquiries,” he wrote.
A new sentencing hearing has not been scheduled, court records show.
Bridges has avoided jail time for more than a year after he pleaded guilty to defrauding longtime friends out of more than $2.3 million.
The Salisbury resident skipped his sentencing hearing in January and was found the following day by Salisbury Police in the basement of the Maupin Avenue ARP Church, where he attended.
Along with the shotgun, prosecutors said, Bridges was found with a note in a bathroom stall.
In the decision, Conrad wrote Gebre-Egziabher had a responsibility to notify authorities of Bridges’ situation.
“Even if an attorney receives confidential information, she is permitted to disclose it to comply with a court order, to prevent the commission of a crime by the client, and to prevent the reasonably certain death or bodily harm,” he wrote.
Authorities believe Bridges used a variety of schemes to defraud friends and coworkers, while serving on several boards for various causes.
Bridges, of South Ellis Street, has also admitted to taking $600,000 from the North Carolina Transportation Museum Foundation while serving as a member of the board.
The 52-year-old will remain in Mecklenburg County jail until his sentencing.

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.