Saturday, June 25, 2016

Eleven Fleeced Clients Of Five Western NY Ex-Lawyers Are Among Those Who Participated In Record-Setting $12.3 Million Restitution Payout From State's Attorney Ripoff Reimbursement Fund

In Buffalo, New York, The Buffalo News reports:
  • Eleven clients of five former Western New York lawyers were among the 274 recipients statewide last year of the record-setting $12.3 million in restitution paid out by the state’s Lawyers Fund for Client Protection.(1)
    ***
    Last year six former clients of the late Ronald D. Anton, a former Niagara Falls-area attorney, or their heirs were reimbursed a combined $115,684. Anton, who had lived on Grand Island, was a widely-respected attorney active as a teacher at various colleges in Western New York and he died as an attorney in good standing on April 1, 2014 at the age of 82, O’Sullivan noted. But, after his death, it was learned there was a significant shortage in the escrow funds he owed clients, resulting in the restitutions.

    A former Western New York couple now living in Pennsylvania was reimbursed the $75,000 former Jamestown lawyer James A. MacCallum allegedly cheated them out of in a loan transaction before he was disbarred in October 2912.

    O’Sullivan noted that MacCallum, a Canadian by birth, was charged this past November by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Buffalo with using an illegal Ponzi scheme to cheat former clients and investors out of at least $3.4 million in an alleged investment scam he was accused of operating between January 2008 and December 2010.

    Barbara Burns, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said the criminal case against MacCallum is currently in the pre-trial discovery stage.

    One client of David S. Widenor, a disbarred and briefly imprisoned former Buffalo lawyer, received $22,500 from the fund last year. O’Sullivan noted that in August 2014, Widenor pleaded guilty in Erie County Court to second-degree grand larceny charges for failing to pass on to clients more than $226,000 in escrow funds.

    Two North Tonawanda clients of the late Michael J. Ingham, a widely known lawyer practicing in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, shared $3,500 in fund repayments. Ingham died in his Williamsville home on March 16, 2015 at the age of 49.

    One more client of former Erie County lawyer Kenneth P. Bernas last year was repaid $2,325 by the fund, making 39 former Bernas clients the fund had repaid more than $1.7 million since he was sent to prison in 2011 on his felony plea to a number of grand larceny counts that kept him in prison over three years.
For the story, see Clients of five former local lawyers aided by state fund.

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.
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(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 New York bar acting as an attorney or a fiduciary.

Typical losses reimbursed by the Fund include the theft of escrow deposits in real property transactions, estate and trust assets, settlements in personal injury litigation, debt collection receipts, money embezzled in investment transactions within an attorney-client relationship and the practice of law, and unearned fees paid in advance to lawyers who falsely promise their legal services.

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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