Court faults lawyer who reported fraud

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ALBANY - A Garden City lawyer whose brother embezzled millions of dollars of clients' funds is guilty of professional misconduct for lack of oversight, New York's highest court ruled Tuesday.

The state Court of Appeals upheld nine misconduct charges against Peter Galasso, a matrimonial attorney and a partner in the Galasso, Langione & Botter law firm -- even though he reported the embezzlement.

His brother, Anthony, pleaded guilty in 2008 to multiple felony counts of grand larceny and was sentenced to 2 ½ to 7 years in prison. Anthony Galasso was charged with fleecing the firm of $4.3 million and spending it on items such as Barbra Streisand concert tickets, his son's college tuition, a trip to Disney World and a Mercedes-Benz.

Peter Galasso reported the malfeasance, but the New York State Supreme Court Grievance Committee charged him with professional misconduct for breaching his fiduciary duty to the firm's clients. A midlevel court suspended him from the practice of law for two years.

Galasso had claimed proper safeguards were in place, but that his brother bypassed them through intricate forgeries.

Nevertheless, the Court of Appeals agreed with the Grievance Committee, although it dropped one charge. "Few, if any, of an attorney's professional obligations are as crystal clear as the duty to safeguard client funds," the court wrote in a 7-0 decision.

"Unquestionably, Anthony Galasso had devised a relatively sophisticated system and his fraud went undetected by the attorneys and accountant reviewing the documents he produced. However, (Peter Galasso) ceded an unacceptable level of control over the firm accounts to his brother, thereby creating the opportunity for the misuse of client funds," the judges continued. "Had (Peter Galasso) been more careful in supervising the accounts of his employee, he would have been aware of the malfeasance at a much earlier time when he could have substantially mitigated the losses. It cannot be said that there were no warning signs here."

The high court did grant Galasso one break -- it said a midlevel court should reconsider his suspension, noting his compliance with investigators during the embezzlement investigation.

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