Sunday, July 02, 2017

Minnesota Supremes Give Criminal Defense Attorney Bar Boot For Filching $67K+ From Two Clients While They Were Incarcerated

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Minnesota Lawyer reports:
  • In a 2011 YouTube video, criminal defense attorney Geoffrey Saltzstein pitched himself to prospective clients as a straight shooter who would always treat them “with the respect they deserve.”

    “What you need is someone who is going to talk straight to you,” said Saltzstein, who was employed at the time as an associate at a small shop in St. Louis Park, the Appelman Law Firm. “I talk straight, and I’m honest and upfront with all my clients.”

    But in a per curiam decision disbarring Saltzstein on Wednesday [June 21], the Minnesota Supreme Court cast the 39-year old Edina lawyer in a far less flattering light — that of a slick operator who stole tens of thousands of dollars from his clients while they were behind bars and then ignored them.

    In addition to misappropriating more than $67,000 from two prison inmates, the court found that Saltzstein had violated “a wide array” of the rules of professional conduct in his dealings with at least four other clients.

    Those violations, the court said, included “a pattern of neglect and failure to communicate with clients, entering into improper fee agreements with several clients, and failing to place clients’ funds in trust and properly account for those funds.”

    In the case of one jailed client, according to the court, Saltzstein didn’t just steal the client’s money; he also failed to file the brief the money was set aside to pay for, which caused the client to forfeit his appeal.

    The court also found that Saltzstein didn’t deliver on a promise to pay $38,000 in premiums on a life insurance policy on behalf of the same incarcerated client.

    According to Avery Appelman, Saltzstein worked at his firm for about five years.

    In a phone interview, Appelman said was impressed by Saltzstein when they met, saying he came across as “smart, bright, and exceptionally personable.” At the time, Saltzstein, a 2009 graduate of the University of St. Thomas School of Law, was clerking for Hennepin County District Court Judge Philip Bush.

    About a year later, Appelman hired Saltzstein.

    He said his first inkling that something was amiss came in January 2015 when a client sued the firm, demanding the proceeds of a civil settlement that he had entrusted to Saltzstein while serving out a felony sentence.

    Although Saltzstein deposited the $28,000 in a mutual fund, according to the court, he later made a series of unauthorized withdrawals and, in the end, only $1.75 remained in the account.

    Appelman said he terminated Saltzstein the same day he was served with the lawsuit, which was later settled confidentially.

    “I felt betrayed. I felt humiliated and embarrassed,” said Appelman. “I did what I could to make things right with the clients. But it became abundantly clear that the person I knew Geoff to be is not who he is.”

    After conducting a forensic accounting and uncovering additional evidence of malfeasance, Appelman said he submitted a complaint to the Office of Lawyers Professional Responsibility.

    He praised Bing Tuong, the assistant director at the OLPR who lead the disciplinary investigation in Saltzstein.

    Appelman said at least two of Saltzstein’s former clients hope to see him prosecuted, and he plans to present evidence to Edina police in coming weeks. In Appelman’s view, there is enough to merit a charge of felony theft-by-swindle.

    Saltzstein, who did not participate in the OLPR’s disciplinary proceedings, could not be reached for comment.

    In addition to losing his law license, Saltzstein has been sued four times this year over unpaid debts, including an outstanding $27,000 credit card balance.

    Last year, according to Hennepin County District Court records, Saltzstein pleaded guilty to a fifth-degree drug charge for attempting to pass a forged Adderall prescription. He received a 60-day sentence and immediate furlough for treatment but, in April, was sentenced to 30 days over a probation violation.