Criminal Justice

N.Y. Lawyer Stole $24M, Gets 10 Years

Updated: It isn’t every dishonest lawyer who manages to steal $24 million. But Anthony Bellettieri, a former real estate practitioner in wealthy Westchester County, N.Y., pleaded guilty earlier this year to doing so and was sentenced yesterday by a federal judge to a 10-year prison term.

The onetime partner of now-defunct Bellettieri, Fonte & Laudonio siphoned $22 million from the suburban New York City law firm’s trust accounts, reports New York Lawyer (reg. req.), in a reprint of a National Law Journal story. He initially concealed the thefts by transferring the losses to the bank at which the escrow funds were held, via a check-kiting scheme.

A court order (PDF) accepting his resignation from the New York bar says it was JPMorgan Chase Bank that was victimized, and an earlier Associated Press article reports that Bellettieri got away with the scheme, for a while, because of a check-printing error. “The scheme fell apart after the bank issued correct checks in November,” AP writes.

The remaining $2 million came from an individual client reportedly persuaded by Bellettieri to invest in nonexistent private mortgages.

Bellettieri, who was admitted to practice nearly 20 years ago, used the money for real estate investments, employee salaries at his firm, home improvements including a swimming pool, and a family wedding. His plea agreement required him to make restitution of $22 million and forfeit the real estate he purchased, according to AP.

According to the Mortgage Fraud Blog, the law firm, Bellettieri and two other individuals were sued last year by another bank alleging a similar scheme to defraud.

Bellettieri could have been sentenced to as much as 50 years in prison concerning the Chase Bank scheme, which took place over a three-year period, according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release.

His incarceration will begin Dec. 26, reports the North Country Gazette.

Bellettieri told the judge at sentencing “that his continuing criminal conduct was like ‘quicksand,’ that he had seen ‘no way out,’ and that his confession of guilt had brought him some relief,” the Gazette writes.

(Updated at 3:37 p.m., central time.)

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