Thursday, May 18, 2017

"American Gangster" Partner Disbarred

The New Jersey Supreme Court followed the recommendation of its Disciplinary Review Board and disbarred an attorney with a lengthy disciplinary history.

In assessing the proper discipline to impose, we have factored in respondent’s extensive ethics history. These current matters are his seventh and eighth ethics matters before us. His prior ethics matters resulted in: (i) a 2007 admonition; (2) a 2012 admonition; (3) a 2013 reprimand; (4) a 2014 three-month suspension; (5) no additional discipline in a 2016 matter; and (6) a 2016 one-year suspension. In 2016, respondent also failed to satisfy a fee arbitration award and was temporarily suspended. Respondent has not sought reinstatement from any of his suspensions.

Clearly, respondent has a propensity to violate the Rules of Professional Conduct and his violations are becoming progressively worse. He appears to believe that the ethics rules do not apply to him. Moreover, his failure to adhere to the ethics rules exhibits a failure to learn from prior mistakes, indicating to us that he may never conform his behavior to acceptable standards. Finally, his failure to participate in the ethics process suggests to us that he has abandoned his desire to continue practicing law. To protect the public from respondent’s seemingly unsalvageable character, we recommend that he be disbarred.

The New jersey Law Journal recently reported on further problems.

The Newark lawyer made famous for his portrayal in the 2007 film "American Gangster" and his former partner were accused in an indictment Wednesday of thieving $140,000 in client funds to pay firm and personal expenses.

A state grand jury charged Richard Roberts and Gerald Saluti Jr., formerly of Roberts & Saluti in Newark, with bilking four clients in 2012 and 2013.

Saluti, for his part, has denied the allegations through counsel.

The funds, made up in part of settlement proceeds, were held in the firm's trust account and were used to make credit card and car payments, according to a release from the New Jersey Attorney General's Office.

 Roberts is accused of using $20,000 of the funds to pay alimony obligations.

In talking to law enforcement, Roberts and Saluti allegedly pinned the fund misuse on a firm staffer, Gabriel Iannacone, but Roberts and Saluti acted in concert with Iannacone, the office contends.

Iannacone pleaded guilty last January to a third-degree charge in connection with the alleged scheme, and is awaiting sentencing, according to the release.

Roberts, 79, of Bloomfield, and Saluti, 49, of Howell, each are charged with conspiracy, theft by failure to make required disposition of property, hindering apprehension or prosecution, and perjury. The most serious charges are second-degree offenses, carrying prison terms of up to 10 years and fines of up to $150,000.

The investigation is ongoing and could yield more charges against Roberts and Saluti, the release stated.

"We allege that Roberts and Saluti crookedly betrayed the trust of their clients and stole from them," Attorney General Christopher Porrino said in a statement. "Lawyers take an oath to faithfully serve their clients' interests and uphold the law, but we charge that these men made a mockery of those obligations."

Saluti's counsel, Lawrence Lustberg of Gibbons in Newark, said in a statement: "We have received the indictment and reviewed it with Mr. Saluti. The charges are completely without merit and we genuinely look forward to demonstrating that at trial. We have no doubt that at the end of that trial, Mr. Saluti will be totally vindicated."

Roberts had no known legal counsel as of Wednesday, according to the release. A number listed for Roberts in the judiciary's online attorney registry was disconnected.

Iannacone, reached by phone, declined to comment on the case.

Roberts, known as "Richie" in cinema as well as real life, became widely known when he was depicted by actor Russell Crowe in "American Gangster." The movie tells the story of Roberts, then in law enforcement, heading up an Essex County task force aimed at taking down narcotics dealer Frank Lucas. Roberts later earned a law degree and was admitted in New Jersey in 1971. He went on to serve as an assistant prosecutor—and, later as a private practitioner, represented Lucas.

Roberts & Saluti dissolved in 2013, according to the release.

Roberts has had a difficult year for legal troubles. Last month he pleaded guilty in Newark federal court to tax evasion for failing to pay his law firm's payroll taxes, according to reports.

Both Roberts and Saluti are currently suspended from practice in New Jersey.

Saluti has a significant history of ethics troubles. Most recently, the state Supreme Court issued a one-year suspension for various Rules of Professional Conduct violations, including gross neglect, failure to abide by a client's instructions, and stating an ability to influence a government agency or official. He was accused of, among other things, counseling a client in a civil rights matter to fabricate health issues to make a stronger case, according to a Disciplinary Review Board decision.

 "The facts of this case lead to the inevitable conclusion that respondent has lost his moral compass," the DRB wrote in April 2016. "The public must be protected from respondent, and the integrity of the bar must be preserved."

Roberts, too, has a significant ethics history. He was suspended in late 2015 for failure to return an unearned retainer and failure to reply to a lawful demand for information from a disciplinary authority, according to a Supreme Court order.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process | Permalink


Post a comment