A Grand Jury has indicted two suspended attorneys, partners in a former Newark law firm, in connection with allegedly stealing more than $140,000 from clients, according to Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino.
Richard M. Roberts (above left), 79, of Bloomfield, and Gerald M. Saluti Jr., 49, of Howell, on Wednesday were charged with second-degree conspiracy, second-degree theft by failure to make required disposition of property received; third-degree hindering apprehension or prosecution, and third-degree perjury.
Roberts, as a prosecutor in the 1970s, obtained an indictment against Harlem drug kingpin Frank Lucas, according to the Associated Press. Roberts was portrayed by Russell Crowe in the 2007 film about the case, “American Gangster.”
From October 2012 to August 2013, Roberts and Saluti allegedly conspired to steal more than $140,000 from four clients whose funds had been placed in the firm’s attorney trust account.
The funds allegedly included settlement awards owed to the clients and monies the lawyers were obligated to hold in escrow or use to make payments on behalf of the clients.
In addition to allegedly misappropriating funds to pay the firm’s expenses, Roberts and Saluti allegedly used funds to pay their personal expenses, including car payments, credit card bills and entertainment expenses. Roberts used $20,000 in stolen funds to make alimony payments, authorities alleged.
The hindering and perjury charges relate to allegations that Roberts and Saluti falsely told law enforcement and testified under oath that the practice administrator for their firm, Gabriel Iannacone, was solely responsible for the misappropriation of certain client funds from the attorney trust account.
It was alleged that, in fact, Roberts and Saluti conspired with Iannacone in those improper withdrawals and payments.
Ianncone pleaded guilty on January 23, 2017, to third-degree conspiracy to commit theft by failure to make required disposition of property received. His sentencing is pending.
The Division of Criminal Justice’s investigation was ongoing, and additional charges may be filed against Roberts and Saluti, according to the Attorney General’s Office. Both attorneys are suspended from the practice of law in New Jersey. Roberts was suspended in November 2015, and Saluti in February 2014.
In August 2013, the men dissolved Roberts & Saluti LLC, which did business as the Saluti Law Group.
Mercer County Superior Court Judge Timothy P. Lydon presided over the indictment and assigned the case to Morris County, where Roberts and Saluti will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment.
Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third-degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000.
In April, Roberts pleaded guilty in Newark federal court to an information charging him with one count of failing to pay payroll taxes and one count of failing to pay personal income taxes. Sentencing in that case is scheduled for August 1, 2017.