Man accused of theft claims civil case overblown

ATLANTA -- A Gwinnett man who formerly led a biotech and pharmaceutical recruiting company was arrested recently on theft by conversion charges, as two former contractors allege he owes them nearly $28,000.

An attorney for Brendon Briggs, 40, calls the two felony counts in Fulton County bunk and a blatant civil matter. That Briggs -- a family man and former vestryman in a Lawrenceville church -- spent 11/2 days in the Gwinnett County Jail is unjust, said his Atlanta-based attorney, Jackie Patterson.

But Briggs' impassioned accusers -- clinical researcher Tom Malloy of Pennsylvania and scientist Lisa Hailey of North Carolina -- claim that instead of paying a combined $27,750 for research projects contracted through Briggs' Johns Creek company, PharmaFORCE, he spent the money.

They allege Briggs, listed in jail records as a Suwanee resident, was derelict in paying invoices, routinely passed bad checks and was evasive when approached by attorneys, law enforcement and representatives of various companies.

Briggs was indicted in Fulton County a year ago but arrested earlier this month when Malloy provided Gwinnett police with his whereabouts, which he'd found in a rudimentary online search, he said.

"It does fit the definition of theft by deception under Georgia statute," Malloy said of Briggs' alleged actions. "It was not me who made that decision -- it was a grand jury and the (Fulton County) DA's office."

The prosecuting Fulton County assistant district attorney did not return a call for comment.

A Fulton County judge ordered Briggs' release from jail March 11. He awaits a March 28 first appearance hearing, where Patterson said he plans to file a speedy trial demand.

Patterson expects the case to reach a courtroom within the next eight months, or to be thrown out. Briggs pleaded not guilty in a November arraignment, he said.

"These accusers took a seemingly civil case and shopped it around long enough that it looked like a criminal matter," Patterson said. "We are definitely looking forward to the day that (Briggs) can face his accusers in court."

Briggs referred all questioning to his attorney, who was unsure this week of PharmaFORCE's company status or Briggs' current employment.

PharmaFORCE specializes in recruiting scientists and other professionals for temporary and permanent positions with pharmaceutical and biotech companies, an active website for the company says.

Malloy claims other victims are spread across the country and are eying the case but haven't come forward yet. Patterson said all charges lack merit.

"I promise -- a ham sandwich can get indicted," Patterson said. "It's a one-sided situation. The prosecutor can tell their version and the defense doesn't even get to go in."

Malloy said he's owed $17,750 for work as a clinical researcher on a pediatric neurology project -- a contract that was terminated in June 2009, he said. He contends that Briggs' elusiveness made a civil suit difficult.

"How are we going to litigate anything civilly when a gentleman doesn't respond to certified mail ... and constantly changes his phone numbers?" he said.