A family investment trust is suing its unregistered advisor, Thomas Pipich of Pittsburgh, and his purported firm and partners, for allegedly stealing more than $5 million.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for Western Pennsylvania last week, explains that the trust, Berlekamp Family Investments, was established in 2012 by the late Elwyn Berlekamp, a professor of mathematics and computer science at the University of California, Berkeley, who was a “coding pioneer,” according to his obituary in the school paper.

The professor established the trust after being diagnosed with cancer, with the intent of protecting his three adult children, who are the sole members of the trust, according to the legal filing. Before his death in 2019, Berlekamp chose Pipich to manage the trust’s investments.

Pipich is not currently registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority; the BrokerCheck site and the Securities and Exchange Commission's Investment Adviser Public Disclosure Page last lists him in 2015 working for Raulin Inc. The new lawsuit says he works for a firm called Thomas Barton Capital in Pittsburgh. Pipich's LinkedIn page claims that he is a CFA charterholder but the CFA Institute's online directory has no record of him.

Although the lawsuit says Thomas Barton Capital was registered with the SEC, it is not listed on the SEC’s Investment Adviser Public Disclosure page. The phone number for the firm listed on online has been disconnected.

According to the charges, Pipich stole some $5,015,500 from the family trust between June 2015 and August 2023 and willfully attempted to cover it up with false reassurances and fake account statements.

What allegedly happened with the purloined funds, though, is complicated.

Pipich is accused of pocketing some $1.2 million of the $5 million and using the rest to shore up investment losses in dummy companies. With a partner named Barton Woytowicz, a co-defendant in the complaint, he allegedly formed a company called BarTom Investments, which is not registered; Woytowicz and BarTom allegedly received roughly $3.2 million. The last $1 million of the $5 million allegedly went to another unregistered entity called Mount West Investments.

“Pipich’s fraud scheme took advantage of our clients’ trust,” said an attorney for the plaintiffs, T. Markus Funk of Perkins Coie in Denver. “He ruthlessly victimized them over the course of years.”

Funk explained that Woytowicz and the unregistered investment concerns, which are also named as co-defendants, are not actually accused of participating in the fraud or even knowing about it at the time. Nevertheless, they are charged with refusing to return “the pilfered funds [that] Pipich routed their way,” he said.

Funk added that Pipich is charged with using the stolen funds to “hide his bad trades and the fact that he was losing his co-defendants’ money. Put colloquially, Pipich robbed from Peter—our clients—to pay Paul, his co-defendants.”

The Berlekamp family also said Pipich snatched another $500,000 in management fees from the family trust without informing the plaintiffs. Throughout this time, he allegedly made false presentations about the family trust’s financial health, claiming the investments he made were “providing ‘high returns’ and generating ‘good cash flow,’” according to the complaint.” He also presented inaccurate valuations of [the trust’s] assets.”

Later, when confronted, the lawsuit claims that Pipich confessed to one of Berlekamp’s daughters, who is a member of the trust and one of the plaintiffs, that he had used his position as manager to take millions of dollars and provide them to his friend, Woytowicz, “without authorization.”

In January 2024, the documents continue, Pipich agreed to talk to the family’s attorneys. In that conversation, he allegedly admitted to diverting funds and faking a line-of-credit agreement to cover up what he was doing. He allegedly said he had diverted funds to BarTom “to make it seem like everything was running smoothly [with respect to BarTom],” according to the complaint.

The family further accused Pipich of refusing to pay any of the money back, claiming he simply doesn’t have enough money. All the “misappropriated funds were used to cover his investment losses,” the plaintiffs say.

Woytowicz is also accused of refusing to pay any of it back, claiming he too is unable to.

The family is accusing the defendants of fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion (which is essentially theft, or depriving another person of property without consent) and unjust enrichment from fraudulent management fees, among other things. The plaintiffs have demanded repayment of damages, interest, attorneys’ fees and a jury trial.

Pipich, his attorney and Woytowicz did not immediately respond to requests for comment, and their investment entities could not be located. But Funk, the plaintiff’s attorney, noted that he is confident his “client’s interests and legal rights will be vindicated through this unfortunate but necessary legal action.”