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Real estate lawyer accused of Ponzi scheme in Florida, elsewhere

A shocking 49-count indictment was announced recently against a New York real estate attorney with ties to Florida. Prosecutors paint the 47-year-old woman as a Bernard Madoff-style Ponzi schemer who used the intrinsic trust supposedly bestowed upon the legal profession to bilk her friends and business associates through fraudulent real estate schemes.

When the schemes didn’t pay off, prosecutors say, she used money from newly conned investors to repay previous victims. When she was disbarred in New York, they say, she moved on to continue her crime spree in California and Florida, where she owns property.

Her defense attorney portrays her quite differently. This ordinary woman, a mother of a 4-year-old, brought her friends and associates in on legitimate real estate deals that failed to pan out. After being disbarred in New York, the unemployed woman used what money she had in an effort to provide restitution to previous investors who were disappointed.

Prosecutors insist she bilked 10 New York investors out of $4 million by showing them forged documents and relying on her position as a lawyer to convince them to invest. She then went on, they say, to defraud investors in California and Florida of at least $2 million more.

The woman was arraigned last week in New York, and is charged with scheming to defraud, passing some $6 million in bad checks, possessing a forged instrument, grand larceny and related white collar offenses involving the alleged Ponzi scheme. If convicted of the most serious charge, she faces up to 25 years in prison.

“She was a lawyer who people trusted and she violated that trust and stole right from under their noses,” the assistant district attorney seethed, later adding, “the bottom line is she's willing to say anything and do anything to get what she needs.”

The woman pled not guilty on all counts and held in lieu of $3 million in bail. Her attorney argued unsuccessfully that the bail was far too high because, as the mother of a small child, she poses no flight risk.

Was this woman’s activity actually criminal or merely the result of poor business decisions? Where a cynical prosecutor sees a Ponzi scheme, a desperate but innocent person may merely have been trying to make up to associates for talking them into a failed investment. A jury will have to decide which was the case.

Source: New York Daily News, “New York real estate lawyer charged with swindling $4 million from would-be investors in Ponzi scheme: authorities,” Shayna Jacobs, Oct. 17, 2013

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