Saturday, March 26, 2016

Another Aging Attorney Wraps Up Professional Career By Copping Guilty Plea To Bleeding $1.3 Million Of Elderly Siblings' Trust Money; Expected To Dodge Prison Time & Get Four Years Probation Instead After Agreeing To Forfeit $800K, Surrender NY, Florida Bar Tickets

In Buffalo, New York, The Buffalo News reports:
  • An estate lawyer who diverted $1.3 million from trust accounts – set up by an Orchard Park brother and sister to benefit charities – pleaded guilty [] to second-degree grand larceny, a felony, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

    As part of his plea in New York County Supreme Court, Stephen M. Newman, 71, will forfeit $800,000 and surrender his licenses to practice law in New York and Florida.

    Newman, who once catered to wealthy clients from law offices in Amherst and Palm Beach County, Fla., is scheduled to be sentenced to four years’ probation on May 12.

    The trust funds were set up by June and Worth Farrington, lifelong Orchard Park residents, to benefit charities. June Farrington was 84 when she died in 2008 and Worth Farrington was 87 when he died in 2014. Neither ever married or had children.

    In 2007, Newman was retained by June and Worth Farrington as an estate planning attorney. Between 2007 and 2009, Newman revised the trusts and changed the outright gifts to charities into annuities and made himself the sole trustee.

    As sole trustee, between November 2008 and November 2011, Newman diverted more than $900,000 from the Farringtons’ trust accounts to himself. Additionally, Newman diverted more than $400,000 to Joan M. Morgante, a home aide he introduced to the Farringtons, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

    Morgante, 76, of Cheektowaga, pleaded guilty [] in State Supreme Court in Buffalo to second-degree attempted grand larceny, a felony, for her part in the scheme. Morgante is scheduled to be sentenced to five years’ probation when she appears before Justice John L. Michalski on June 15.

    “When individuals abuse the trust of elderly New Yorkers, they will face prosecution and they will be held accountable,” Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman said.

    Newman arranged for Morgante to work for the elderly siblings beginning in 2006. The Farringtons were worth an estimated $20 million at that time.

    Morgante, who met Newman while caring for another of his clients, had little training as a caregiver, according to an affidavit signed by Morgante and filed in Surrogate’s Court. The high school dropout worked as a geriatric “companion” and held no health care certifications.

    A legal battle between the charities and Newman erupted in Erie County Surrogate’s Court following June Farrington’s death. She established a trust in 1999 from money she inherited from her father’s hand-tool fortune, intending to leave all of her assets to three charities upon her death – the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, the Nature Conservancy and the Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo Foundation.

    So when she died in 2008, her favored charities counted on sharing about $8 million.

    Instead, they found themselves in a pitched battle with Newman. At the time, the charities’ attorneys accused Newman of masterminding a “wrongful scheme” to steer the money to himself and the home aide by changing Farrington’s will.(1) [more]
For more, see Lawyer admits larceny from Orchard Park elderly siblings’ trust accounts.

For the New York Attorney General press release, see A.G. Schneiderman Announces Felony Convictions Of Attorney And Caregiver For Stealing Hundreds Of Thousands Of Dollars From Estates Of Wealthy Brother And Sister.

See, generally, Frederick Miller, "If You Can't Trust Your Lawyer .... ?", 138 Univ. of Pennsylvania Law Rev. 785 (1990) for more on the apparent, long-standing tolerance for deceit by many in the legal profession:
  • This tolerance to deception is encouraged by the profession's institutional civility. Seldom is a fig called a fig, or a shyster a shyster. No, our euphemisms are wonderfully polite: "frivolous conduct," or a "lack of candor;" or "law-office failure;" or, heaven forbid, a "peculation," a "defalcation," or a "negative balance" in a law firms's trust account.

    There is also widespread reluctance on the part of lawyers --- again, some lawyers --- to discuss publicly, much less acknowledge, that they have colleagues who engage in deceit and unprofessional conduct.

    This reluctance is magnified when the brand of deceit involves the theft of client money and property, notwithstanding that most lawyers would agree that stealing from clients is the ultimate ethical transgression.
(1) The Lawyers’ Fund For Client Protection Of the State of New York manages and distributes money collected from annual dues paid by members of the state bar to members of the public who have sustained a financial loss caused by the dishonest conduct of a member of the bar acting as an attorney or a fiduciary.

For similar "attorney ripoff reimbursement funds" that attempt to clean up 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.

See generally:
  • N.Y. fund for cheated clients wants thieving lawyers disbarred, a July, 2015 Associated Press story on this Fund reporting that the Fund's executive director, among other things, is calling for prompt referral to the local district attorney when the disciplinary committee has uncontested evidence of theft by a lawyer injuring a client or an admission of culpability;

    When Lawyers Steal the Escrow, a June, 2005 New York Times story describing some cases of client reimbursements ("With real estate business surging and down-payment amounts rising with home prices, the temptation for a lawyer to filch money from a bulging escrow account and later repay it with other clients' money has never been greater, said lawyers who monitor the thefts."),

    Thieving Lawyers Draining Client Security Funds, a December, 1991 New York Times story that gives some-real life examples of how client security funds deal with claims and the pressures the administrators of those funds may feel when left insufficiently financed as a result of the misconduct of a handful of lawyer/scoundrels.

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