A Plainview lawyer was sentenced to only 24 months in prison for his role in a $66 million mortgage fraud scheme by a Manhattan federal judge, who said he had a hard time being tough on other attorneys.
Neal Sultzer, 62, pleaded guilty to lying to lending institutions and doling out loan proceeds to conspirators in a scheme concocted by First Class Equities of Oceanside and Old Westbury to use straw buyers to defraud the lenders. He faced up to 30 years in prison and federal sentencing guidelines called for 51 months.
Sultzer, crying, told U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson that he had shamed his family.
"Through my actions, my family is suffering a life sentence, all due to my fault," he said. "I apologize to them, and I apologize to the court."
Prosecutors said Sultzer and more than a dozen other conspirators who have pleaded guilty or been convicted did it for the money, but Patterson -- confessing that it was "hard" for him to sentence another "man of the bar" -- said he viewed him as a lawyer tripped up by the professional hazard of getting too close to his client.
"It's hard not to get close to your clients when you're representing them," the judge said. "I think you let your guard down. But it's hard not to let your guard down."
Explaining the sentence, he noted that Sultzer was also losing his law license and his livelihood. He closed with a pep talk, urging Sultzer to not get down on himself.
"You've got to be proud of yourself," the judge told Sultzer. "You've done a lot of good in your life."
In previous sentences, Patterson gave probation to another lawyer involved in the scheme, Jacquelyn Todaro, 42, of Westbury, but imposed a 46-month sentence on Michael Schlussel, 50, of Merrick, a disbarred lawyer who pretended to have a license. Gerard Canino, the head of First Class Equities, is scheduled to be sentenced next week.