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5 Bad Attorneys

Real estate attorneys steal from clients

February 5, 2007


photo of Patrick Crowley

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore has had her hands full with real estate lawyers going wild in her suburban New York City community.

In the past month, five lawyers have been charged or pleaded guilty in unrelated but often similar mortgage fraud cases.

Lawyer Denise Cooper was hired to handle the funds from a foreclosure case. The property sold for approximately $312,000.

"The monies were entrusted to Cooper as a result of a public auction of the home, which took place on Nov. 16, 2005," DiFiore said in a statement.

After the auction Cooper filed a report that stated that after paying the outstanding mortgage, taxes and other expenses related to the foreclosure, $97,592 was left. The money should have been deposited with the Westchester County Commissioner of Finance.

But Cooper "allegedly did not deposit the surplus funds," DiFiore said.

"Instead (she) used the funds owed to the original home owner to pay personal and business expenses without the knowledge or permission of the original home owner," DiFiore said.

Cooper has been charged with felony grand larceny and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Lawyer Shelley Ann Rivera of East Haven, Conn., represented her aunt in several real estate and financial matters beginning in May of 2005. Rivera received a check at that time for $480,000, which were the proceeds of a house the aunt sold in Westchester County.

In August of last year Rivera received an additional $522,248 from the sale of another house in New York.

Rivera "held these monies in trust for Annette Rivera to be used in a subsequent real estate transaction," DiFiore said.

But in October, Rivera failed to provide her aunt with $860,000 needed to purchase a piece of property in Riverdale, N.Y.

DiFiore said after Rivera was confronted she could not account for the money and fled to Las Vegas. She was arrested in October and extradited to New York in late January.

Rivera is in the Westchester County Jail and faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Lawyer Chase Caro also handled a real estate transaction. He allegedly received $470,143 from the Aug. 1 sale of a property owned by an elderly client. The client repeatedly asked Caro to turn over money owed on the sale, which after fees and other expenses totaled $310,000.

Finally, on Nov. 28, Caro wrote the client a check for the amount -- but it bounced.

The "defendant instead used the funds owed to his client to pay the defendant's personal and business expenses," DiFiore said. Caro also faces up to 15 years behind bars.

The next two cases involved lawyer who have been disbarred.

Robert Dell'Aquila was disbarred in 2001. But he didn't tell that to his client, who entrusted him with $90,668 from the sale of the client's home.

"At closing, Dell'Aquila in April, 2006, Dell'Aquila did not have the money to pay his client," DiFiore said. "He had taken the funds for his personal use."

Dell'Aquila was arrested in August, but DiFiore's office recently discovered that Dell'Aquila defrauded three other clients out of $90,000.

He has recently pleaded guilty to felony grand larceny and ordered to pay $180,668 in restitution to his clients. When he is scheduled March 15 he faces up to 15 years in prison.

Finally, disbarred lawyer Matthew Neuren also failed to tell his clients that he was no longer permitted to practice law in New York. That didn't stop him from representing a couple who was trying to recover money from a home builder.

Neuren was successful in recovering $46,212. But instead of giving the money to his clients he took the check from the home builder and deposited into his personal checking account.

Not only did Neuren not tell the couple he had received the funds, but in June he accepted a payment of $1,250 "for his continued efforts to collect the already received money," DiFiore said.

Neuren pleaded guilty in January to defrauding the couple of nearly $49,000. He faces up to seven years in prison when sentenced on May 2.

Shelley Ann Riverer photo
photo of Denise Cooper
Denise Cooper photo
photo of Shelley Ann Rivera
Chase Caro photo
photo of Chase Caro
Robert Dell' Aquila photo
photo of Robert Dell' Aquila
Mathew Neuren photo
photo of Mathew Neuren

Patrick Crowley is a feature journalist and blogger for MortgageDaily.com. He is also a reporter, blogger and columnist for The Cincinnati Enquirer.
e-mail Patrick at: [email protected]

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