A disbarred attorney has been sentenced to 1 to 3 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution of nearly $600,000 for stealing from his clients’ estates, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Robert Alan Wagner, 63, of Bellmore, pleaded guilty March 20 before Judge Robert Bogle to two counts of grand larceny in the second degree, a felony, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a news release.
“This defendant swindled his clients, stealing more than $900,000 and used it to enrich himself and his business,” Singas said. “Our Government and Consumer Frauds Bureau has prosecuted more than 15 attorneys in recent years for scamming their clients and this sentence should send a clear message that lawyers who break the law will face serious consequences.”
Wagner’s attorney, Joel R. Weiss of Uniondale, said in a phone interview Tuesday that his client “is a good man who did a bad thing.”
“He has owned up to it, pled guilty and accepted punishment,” Weiss said.
Singas said that Wagner was first arrested in September 2016 for stealing more than $400,000, which were the proceeds from the sale of the decedent’s home. At that time, he was released on $200,000 bail with a requirement that he wear a monitor tracking device and surrender his passport.
Wagner paid most of the beneficiaries their entitled bequests before the commencement of the district attorney’s investigation, with the last beneficiary receiving $100,000 subsequent to the investigation and before the defendant’s arrest, Singas said.
The first investigation and review of bank records led to Wagner’s second arrest in November 2016.
Wagner was retained by the administrator of a French estate to facilitate the transfer of money from the decedent’s Suffolk County-based bank accounts to accounts in France in November 2013, Singas said. He was not authorized to distribute, transfer or use the estate funds. However, the probe found that Wagner transferred the estate funds into four of his own Nassau County-based bank accounts between June 2014 and January 2016, ultimately stealing more than $500,000.
Singas said that between May 2014 and April 2015 the French estate administrator repeatedly attempted to contact Wagner to verify the status of the funds transfer. During that time the defendant gave false excuses, saying that he was attending to personal and family health issues, on vacation, or waiting for court approval to transfer funds. The defendant used the money for personal purposes, including cash withdrawals in excess of $250,000 and payments to support his law practice.
The investigation continued after the second arrest and revealed an additional victim and client theft from a family trust of an estimated $11,000. In total, Wagner stole more than $900,000 from his clients, Singas said.
Wagner was legally practicing law when he was retained, but was disbarred by the Appellate Division of the New York State Court of Appeals on March 11, 2015, proximate to the time when he was to facilitate the transfer of estate funds, Singas said, adding the disbarment was unrelated to the criminal matter.