Disbarred Lawyer Is Indicted in $1 Million Escrow Theft

, New York Law Journal

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A former attorney arrested last week by state police after an upstate traffic stop has been indicted for stealing the proceeds of a $1 million real estate transaction in Brooklyn from a client. Robert Fontanelli, 48, was charged by a grand jury with first-degree and second-degree grand larceny, both felonies, and faces up to 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison if convicted, according to the Brooklyn District Attorney's office.

Fontanelli is accused of draining the funds from the escrow account in which he deposited the proceeds of the sale of the mixed residential and commercial property at 798 St. John's Place in Crown Heights.

Authorities in Brooklyn said Fontanelli's client, Jean Apolon, never received any money from the December 2012 transaction.

"A lawyer's escrow account represents a sacred trust between himself and his client," Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said in a statement. "Stealing from that account violates that trust and is a stain on the profession."

Financial crime investigators in the Brooklyn D.A.'s office said Fontanelli, who had been a solo practitioner, used the money from the escrow account to pay the rent on an office at 32 Court St. in Brooklyn and to operate his business.

Fontanelli was stopped on Feb. 5 in East Fishkill, Dutchess County, for having an expired inspection sticker. After becoming "nervous" during the stop, troopers said he ran away but was apprehended a short time later. He faces charges of resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration stemming from the incident upstate (NYLJ, Feb. 7).

Fontanelli was arraigned before Acting Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Danny Chun and ordered held on $250,000 bail.

Fontanelli was disbarred by an Appellate Division, Second Department panel on Oct. 18, 2013, for withholding money from clients after financial transactions, including the sale the Apolon property.

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