Robert J. Bradbury, former chairman and chief executive officer of the now-defunct underwriting firm Dolphin & Bradbury Inc., pleaded guilty to one criminal count of securities fraud yesterday after selling four Pennsylvania school districts unsuitably risky notes to finance a failed golf course and causing them to lose more than $10 million.

The guilty plea was part of an agreement reached with U.S. attorneys in Philadelphia that was put before a federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Bradbury is scheduled to be sentenced July 13 and faces a maximum of five years in prison followed by three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.

The plea agreement comes about 15 months after U.S. attorneys filed a nine-count criminal indictment against Bradbury. Eight of those charges - for mail fraud - were dropped as part of the deal.

The criminal case had been delayed for months as Bradbury sought to negotiate a settlement with the four school districts - North Penn School District, Boyertown Area School District, Perkiomen Valley School District, and Red Lion Area School District, which are located in and around Philadelphia and had filed their own separate lawsuits against the former underwriter and other transaction participants.

The school districts reached a tentative settlement with Bradbury in December, but have not disclosed how much money they recovered from him.

"Between the sale of the golf course and settlements with Mr. Bradbury and other defendants in the civil cases, the four school districts involved have already recovered or agreed to terms for the recovery of over $10.8 million in lost public funds," Harry Morgan, superintendent of the Boyertown ASD, said yesterday.

Morgan said he is "pleased to see" Bradbury acknowledging responsibility for his criminal conduct.

A spokesman for Laurie Magid, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, as well as Bradbury's attorney, Nicholas Centralla, managing partner at Conrad & O'Brien PC, declined to comment.

From March 1999 through August 2004, Bradbury, who was financial adviser to the school districts, underwrote and sold them unrated bond anticipation notes for the Whitetail golf course, a speculative project located in Franklin County, Pa., without disclosing the risks the notes posed.

Bradbury still faces a related Securities and Exchange Commission civil suit that has been on hold during the criminal proceedings.

In a separate matter last year, Bradbury lost an appeal of an SEC ruling that found he and his firm violated federal securities fraud laws by underwriting bonds sold to finance an authority's purchase of the Forum Place office building in Harrisburg, Pa., and failing to disclose that the major tenant planned to vacate the office building soon after the bonds were sold.

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