Sunday, May 29, 2016

Ex-Connecticut Federal Prosecutor Cops Guilty Plea For Siphoning Over $600K In Cash Belonging To Mobster-Client From Trust Account While In Private Practice; Gets Easy 30-Day Prison Term After Former Law Firm Reimburses Pilfered Loot

In Bridgeport, Connecticut, the Connecticut Post reports:
  • As the state’s top federal prosecutor, H. James Pickerstein stood upright against some of the toughest criminals.

    But after getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar of convicted Danbury mobster James Galante — and taking more than $600,000 — Pickerstein’s usually stoic composure crumbled as he begged Galante not to turn him in.

    “That will kill me as a lawyer. Don’t ruin my career,” Pickerstein begs Galante in an excerpt of a recording released by federal authorities. “I was jammed up with my firm. I’m broke. My son hasn’t worked. My wife’s medicine is $3,500 a month.”

    On Tuesday afternoon, a contrite 70-year-old Pickerstein, a Fairfield resident, was sentenced to 30 days in a minimum security prison.(1)

    You violated one of the cardinal rules of practicing law using your client’s funds as your own money,” U.S. District Judge Victor Bolden told Pickerstein before a courtroom packed with silver- and white-haired lawyers from the tri-state area, some of whom worked with Pickerstein, others who battled against him.

    Even more troubling,” Bolden said, “is that you did not appear to have intended to pay the funds back.”

    However, the judge also said he found himself in the presence of an “extraordinary” person, adding, “The (prison) time is for you to truly love yourself.”

    Between August 2011 and October 2013, according to federal authorities, Pickerstein embezzled more than $600,000 from a trust account held for Galante, the Danbury trash magnate.

    Pickerstein used about half of the money to pay down his federal and state tax liabilities. He spent the rest on himself and his family, including more than $8,000 at clothing stores in Fairfield.

    Authorities said when Galante discovered the accounting discrepancy in November 2013, Pickerstein sent him an email and a letter falsely representing that most of the missing money was used to pay Galante’s legal bills from Pickerstein’s law firm.

    A year later — and after his release from prison — Galante secretly recorded a conversation with Pickerstein, confronting him about the money.

    Pickerstein admitted that he had used a “chunk” of the money for himself, and that he had, in fact, “written off” the legal bills.

    In January, Pickerstein pleaded guilty to mail fraud for the crime.

    Pickerstein’s lawyers, Andrew Bowman and William Dow III, urged the judge not to incarcerate their client because Pickerstein is a good person who found himself in a deep financial hole.

    Galante’s lawyer, Hugh Keefe, added that his client, who was reimbursed by Pickerstein’s former law firm, did not want Pickerstein to go to prison.

    “My client was recently in prison and understands what it does to good people,” Keefe said.
For more, see Former federal prosecutor gets 30 days for stealing $600,000 from mobster.

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.[...] The fact is, however, that theft of client property is not an insignificant or isolated problem within the legal profession. Indeed, it is a hounding phenomenon nationwide, and probably the principal reason why most lawyers nationwide are disbarred from the practice of law.
(1) Apparently, the light sentence for a former federal prosecutor has left members of the local criminal defense bar scratching their heads wondering if this guy got preferential treatment for his prior association with the local feds, leading one local criminal defense lawyer to write, Why don’t my clients get deals like this?