Disbarred Lawyer Accused of Duping Inmates with Phony Nonprofit
Posted Aug 31, 2011 8:15 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A disbarred lawyer and a paralegal in New Jersey are accused in a state lawsuit of duping inmates with a phony nonprofit promising legal aid and consulting services.
The suit, filed by the New Jersey Attorney General's Division of Consumer Affairs, claims disbarred lawyer Mark Bendet and paralegal Bruce Buccolo used inmates’ money for personal expenses and didn’t do any legal work, report the New Jersey Star-Ledger and the Record. Their Newark nonprofit, the Project Freedom Fund, collects a $350 consulting fee upfront and promises to serve as a watchdog over bad public defenders.
The suit seeks an injunction barring further deceptive practices and restitution for the 18 people who say they paid fees but didn’t receive any legal help.
Buccolo denied the allegations in an interview with the Record. He said Project Freedom Fund has a licensed staff attorney. The organization reviews inmates’ cases and recommends a legal approach, he said. "Not one dollar have I used for my personal expenses,” he told the publication.