2003-10-10 / Community

Attorney Defrauds Rockaway Elderly

Attorney Defrauds Rockaway Elderly

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown has announced that a court-appointed Long Island City lawyer has been sentenced to prison for three to nine years for stealing — in repeated trusteeship thefts during a five-year period between 1997 and 2002 — over $2.1 million from the funds of 17 incapacitated individuals, including an 18-year-old youth born totally disabled, a quadriplegic and an elderly Alzheimer’s disease victim, whose personal needs and property management he had been appointed by the courts to provide for and assist.

Those who were defrauded include a number of Rockaway residents.

According to the District Attorney, a wider investigation by his Integrity Bureau into the oversight process involving Guardianships and other fiduciary appointments in Queens County is continuing, declaring: "It is essential that public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the process by which fiduciaries are appointed and regulated — and the manner in which they carry out their responsibilities — be maintained."

District Attorney Brown said, "The defendant — a court- appointed fiduciary — has admitted his guilt, acknowledged that he stole over $2.1 million in assets from helpless and vulnerable individuals for whom he had been appointed  to provide financial management, protection and care and waived his right to appeal.  My office has worked with the Queens County Public Administrator and  Surrogate Nahman to liquidate the defendant’s personal assets — including his houses in Glen Cove and Hawaii and an expensive wine collection — to ensure that the victims and their estates are  made whole.  The defendant betrayed his solemn obligation to honestly and responsibly administer the affairs of the victims and  corrupted the fiduciary process for his own selfish purposes.  His punishment of imprisonment is more than warranted."

Brown added that under existing law the courts make fiduciary appointments of court evaluators, attorneys for allegedly incapacitated persons, guardians, guardians ad litem and court examiners to provide for the personal care of incapacitated persons and to manage their property and financial affairs.  Fees for services provided by those appointees are paid from the incapacitated persons’ assets and accountings are reviewed by court examiners — who are also compensated from the funds of those individuals — and reported to the courts.

Brown identified the defendant as Robert B. Kress, 46, of 19 Bittersweet Lane in Glen Cove, New York, an attorney since 1986.  The defendant was charged in November 2002 in a 17-count indictment with Grand Larceny in the Second and Third Degree and Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree and Perjury in the First Degree.

The defendant admitted in court when he pled guilty on May 28, 2003 before Queens Supreme Court Justice James P. Griffin and at his sentencing earlier today that he stole over $2.1 million from 17 separate guardianships from 1997 to 2002.  He was automatically disbarred upon his plea of guilty.

The District Attorney said that his investigation of the defendant began in September 2002 when the Queens County Public Administrator’s Office discovered an irregularity in the accounting of the financial affairs of a 67-year-old mentally ill individual for whom the defendant had been appointed to serve as guardian and notified Queens County Administrative Judge Steven W. Fisher who in turn referred the matter to the District Attorney.

The investigation determined that between March 1997 and August 2002 the defendant stole over $2.1 million from the funds of incapacitated individuals and filed false instruments and lied to cover the thefts when accounting for costs and expenditures.

The thefts from Rockaway residents included: $631,000 between April 1, 1999 and September 2000 taken from a guardianship and the estate of a 67-year-old mentally ill man who died on February 2, 2000 at a nursing home, Horizon Care Center, 6411 Beach Channel Drive, Far Rockaway, Queens; $832,000 between June 1, 1997 and August 2002 taken from a guardianship and an estate of a 52-year-old quadriplegic who died on December 14, 2001 at a nursing home, Peninsula General Nursing Home, 5015 Beach Channel Drive, Far Rockaway, Queens; and $35,000 between December 30, 1999 and February 2, 2002 taken from a guardianship of an 81-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease who is being cared for at a nursing home, Park Nursing Home, 128 B115th Street, Rockaway Park, Queens;

District Attorney Brown expressed his appreciation to Queens County Administrative Judge Steven W. Fisher, Queens County Surrogate Robert L. Nahman, Queens County Public Administrator Lois M. Rosenblatt, her Counsel, Gerald J. Sweeney, and the New York State Unified Court System’s Inspector General Sherrill R. Spatz for their cooperation and assistance.

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