Thursday, March 22, 2018
The Florida Supreme Court has disbarred an attorney
The egregious facts, as found by the referee, demonstrate Gilbert’s failure to exercise any supervision over Steven Sacks, Gilbert’s employee with a known history of wire fraud and embezzlement of more than $7 million. Even after Gilbert was warned by Sacks’ probation officer of the risk of financial irresponsibility and his opinion that Sacks should not be working at a law firm given his criminal past, Gilbert did nothing. In fact, shortly after hiring Sacks, when Gilbert became aware that Sacks had embezzled over $20,000 from the law firm’s operating account, Gilbert fired and then rehired Sacks, eventually delegating to Sacks all matters regarding the administration of Gilbert’s firm’s trust account. The details are set forth more fully below, but by the end of 2014 Sacks had embezzled nearly $5 million from the firm’s trust account.
Whether Gilbert was aware of or personally involved in the theft is not the critical inquiry. Indeed, this case gives new meaning to the phrase "turning a blind eye." Gilbert, as an attorney and fiduciary, was directly responsible for his firm’s trust account and for the supervision of employees. As an attorney, he owed a duty to the public and to his clients to safeguard their money. Instead, he flouted the system by lying to a federal probation officer and allowing a nonattorney to hold himself out as a law school graduate and a certified public accountant (CPA). Sacks was neither and never had been. For the reasons that follow, we approve the referee’s factual findings and recommendation as to guilt but reject the referee’s recommended disciplinary sanction and, instead, impose the sanction of disbarment.
Gilbert’s conduct was equally, if not more, egregious than that in Rousso. Gilbert hired and rehired a felon convicted of wire fraud, who had embezzled nearly $8 million. Gilbert never investigated the circumstances of Sacks’ prior criminal conviction and never verified Sacks’ assertions of his prior experience. He ignored the probation officer’s warnings that Sacks should not be trusted in a position of financial responsibility. Then, shortly after his employment, Sacks stole from Gilbert and was rewarded by being reemployed and given more responsibility. Additionally, Gilbert lied to Officer Feldman, intentionally preventing Officer Feldman from, as the referee found, "fulfilling his lawful function with the eventual harm to dozens of individuals and entities and the loss of approximately $4.8 million."