In Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel
- A disbarred lawyer was spared a prison sentence Friday by a Broward judge who said she was giving him a chance to make things right with the elderly couple he bilked out of $362,000. Gerald Lindor, 52, was sentenced to 20 years of probation and ordered to pay $110,000 to Joscelyn and Herma Passley, a couple going through foreclosure because Lindor misappropriated more than $360,000 they gave him as part of a deal to refinance their Miramar home.
- Lindor, who entered a no contest plea to seven grand theft charges on Jan. 24, was also ordered to pay the couple $2,000 a month until the balance is met. The plea came with no promise from prosecutor Catherine Maus that prison time would be reduced from the 13 to 30 years allowed by law.
- Lindor, who worked out of Pembroke Pines, begged Broward Judge Cynthia Imperato to keep him out of prison and give him a chance to pay restitution to his victims. He also looked directly at the Passleys and offered a tearful apology. "I am so sorry," he said, promising to do everything he could to help them keep their home. "I give you my word. Give me the opportunity to make this right."
- Imperato withheld sentencing on one of eight charges of grand theft and warned Lindor that she would send him to prison for 13 to 30 years if he does not make good on his promise to repay the Passleys.
- Lindor lost his license to practice law in 2008, after he admitted to stealing more than $3 million from numerous clients over a period of more than 10 years. His lawyer, David Vinikoor, said the cycle of misconduct began when Lindor found himself saddled with a $40,000 shortfall in a botched transaction.
- The money Lindor took came from mortgage lenders and was put into a trust he managed. Instead of forwarding the money to the seller as required by law, Lindor used a portion to pay off the debt. When the seller demanded payment, Lindor would take money from the next mortgage transaction to settle the last one. Interest and penalties compounded with each misappropriation. Vinikoor said none of the misappropriated money went to Lindor personally, an assertion disputed by prosecutor Maus.
- By the time the Passleys sold their New York property and gave the money to Lindor in a refinancing deal, Lindor was behind more than $1 million and finally realized he would never catch up, Vinikoor said. "He was always in the hole," Vinikoor said. "Finally, he did what he should have done from the beginning. He self-reported the misappropriation to the Florida Bar and consented to his disbarment."
- It was Vinikoor who suggested that Imperato withhold sentencing on one of the charges to force his client to pay his debt to the Passleys, the only victims who have not had their troubles resolved. "Payment of restitution outweighs the need for prison," Vinikoor said. "If he does not make them whole, sentence him to whatever you think is appropriate."
- Herma Passley, 72, told Imperato she did not believe Lindor would be able to repay the full amount, and she feared the consequences. She said she wanted Lindor to spend the rest of his life in prison if he cannot repay his debt. "I am 72 years old," she said. "Where am I going to live? Should I end up in a shelter because he made mistakes?" Her husband, Joscelyn, 82, attended Friday's sentencing hearing in a wheelchair. Suffering from dementia, he did not speak to the judge.
- Maus echoed the victims' lack of confidence in Lindor. She accused the defendant of taking the money to "maintain a lifestyle he could not afford." She also questioned how he could raise the money he owes in any time reasonable enough to benefit the Passleys. [...] Imperato said she will revisit the case in a year to determine sentencing on Lindor's last remaining grand theft charge.
Source: Disbarred lawyer spared prison, but must repay victims.
(1) The Florida Bar's Clients' Security Fund was established to reimburse clients who have suffered a loss due to misappropriation or embezzlement by a Florida-licensed attorney.
For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that sometimes help cover the financial mess created by the dishonest conduct of lawyers licensed in other states and Canada, see:
Maps available courtesy of The National Client Protection Organization, Inc.