A federal grand jury yesterday charged the former chairman of a Center City bond underwriting firm with defrauding four suburban school districts by selling them high-risk securities related to a golf-course project.

Robert J. Bradbury of West Chester, who was chief executive officer of Dolphin & Bradbury Inc., invested money from 1998 to 2004 for school districts in Perkiomen Valley and North Penn in Montgomery County, Boyertown in Berks County, and Red Lion in York County.

Authorities say the golf-course project, in Franklin County, was an inappropriately risky investment for school districts and ultimately cost them $10 million in total losses. State law requires school districts to make conservative investments.

According to the indictment, Bradbury, 61, did not tell school officials about the risky nature of the investment.

"This is a long and complicated story, but the bottom line is that these school districts lost real money - money that could have been used to build new schools and to renovate existing buildings," U.S. Attorney Patrick L. Meehan said in a statement. "Ultimately, it's money that comes out of the taxpayers' pockets."

Bradbury's lawyer, Daryl W. Winston, declined to comment yesterday.

Last year, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil suit against Bradbury in federal court in Philadelphia. The two sides recently signed a protective order in the case and began to exchange pretrial discovery documents. Trial is set for May 5, though it may be continued to allow the criminal case to proceed first.