A South African tree frog given to a Nassau County lawyer in lieu of a fee 22 years ago has gone missing, and a potential client has been charged with stealing it, police and the attorney said Friday.
Fernando Castro, 33, of North Long Beach, was charged with petty larceny, a misdemeanor, on Thursday, according to court papers. He was arraigned Friday in First District Court in Hempstead, and the district attorney’s office said the judge set bail at $500.
Castro was represented by the Legal Aid Society, which does not comment on cases.
Court papers say Castro admitted stealing the frog and taking it to the office of another lawyer he had retained. Once there, he gave the frog to office staff as a gift for the lawyer, court papers said.
According to Thomas Liotti of East Garden City, the lawyer who owned the frog, staff of the other lawyer released the frog into a creek.
Castro had made an appointment with Liotti because he was considering switching attorneys, according to his statement to police. When he arrived, no one was nearby and he decided to take the frog and the glass fishbowl it lived in, court papers said.
He took the frog to his car and returned to the office, where he met with Liotti, court papers said.
He then went to the other lawyer’s office and gave staff there the frog, which was intended as a gift to replace a fish that had died, court papers said.
Liotti said the frog, valued at about $900, was named Owen — after the client who gave it to him — and had been a fixture in the outer office for more than two decades.
When Liotti’s staff realized the frog was missing, they checked surveillance video and saw Castro leaving the building with the bowl and the frog, Liotti said.
The lawyer said he called Castro but reached his girlfriend, who told him Castro had taken the frog and had given it to the other lawyer.
Liotti said he called the other lawyer, only to find out that the office staff there had released the frog into the creek, which is across the street from their office.
“So now I know I’m not getting it back and I report it as a theft,” Liotti said.
A woman who answered the phone at the other lawyer’s office declined to comment Friday.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story gave the wrong age for Castro.