A Huntington-based attorney was charged with stealing more than $247,000 from two clients, while a disbarred former Stony Brook attorney pleaded guilty to stealing more than $800,000 from his former clients. 

Daphna Zekaria, 54, of Syosset, a partner at Sokolski & Zekaria P.C., was arrested Tuesday following a grand jury indictment accusing her of stealing funds from a state lottery winner, using some of the money to make payments on credit card and LIPA bills, prosecutors said.

“The allegations against this defendant represent an egregious violation of the trust that the victims placed in her as an attorney and a fiduciary,” Suffolk County District Attorney Ray Tierney said.

In December 2021, a New York State Lottery winner hired Zekaria, who “made promises” to hold a portion of her winnings in the firm’s escrow account and invest an additional portion on her behalf, according to an investigation.

Zekaria collected a total of $230,000 from the client in three separate transactions. Instead of holding the money or investing it, Zekaria made large transfers to other individuals “which she would have not been able to make” without her client’s funds, Tierney said.

Last March, Zekaria was retained by a Manhattan woman to assist her in contesting eviction proceedings.

Zekaria took $17,500 from the woman to represent her but allegedly “performed no legal work on her behalf,” Tierney said. After the victim requested her money back “a mere 13 days after providing payment,” Zekaria had allegedly spent the victim’s money on LIPA payments and credit card bills.

Zekaria is charged with second-degree grand larceny, third-degree grand larceny and scheme to defraud, Tierney said. She is also charged with second-degree criminal contempt for allegedly failing to comply with a grand jury subpoena for records related to her dealings with the victims.

Suffolk County Court Judge Stephen L. Braslow ordered Zekaria released on her own recognizance and placed on supervised release.

Her next court date is on Dec. 13. She is being represented by the Legal Aid Society.

In a separate case, Douglas Valente, 57, of Boca Raton, Florida, formerly the principal attorney at the Stony Brook-based Valente Law Group, pleaded guilty to three counts of grand larceny after he admitted taking money from an escrow account.

Valente was previously indicted forstealing from clients and was accused of taking more than $825,000 from three clients between April 2020 and September 2022.

Valente pleaded guilty to initially stealing more than $181,000 from an elderly client after he represented her during the sale of her home. The proceeds of the home's sale were put into Valente’s escrow account.

He also admitted stealing more than $248,027 from Guaranteed Rate Inc., a mortgage lender, during a refinancing between September and October 2020.

Guaranteed Rate wired money to Valente’s escrow account and Valente was instructed to send a portion of the proceeds of the refinanced mortgage to another mortgage company to pay off the existing mortgage. Guaranteed Rate instead had to pay off the existing mortgage.

In a third case between May 2021 and September 2022, he admitted stealing almost $400,000 from a client who had sold a home due to the client's pending divorce. Valente told the client the proceeds of the home would be placed in escrow until the divorce was finalized. Instead, prosecutors said he used the funds for his own personal and business expenses. 

Valente was disbarred by the 10th Judicial District in May 2022, prior to his first arrest and indictment in November 2022.

He pleaded guilty Wednesday and is set to return to court Monday. 

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