A Huntington man faked suicide to try to skip out on a jail sentence, according to Nassau prosecutors, who said Tuesday his scheme unraveled after authorities found a “glaring” spelling mistake on his phony death certificate.
Now Robert Berger, 25, is facing a new felony charge of offering a false instrument for filing. Authorities said he pleaded not guilty during a virtual arraignment Tuesday in Hempstead District Court.
A judge set his bail at $1, but Berger will remain at Nassau's jail without bail in connection with his old cases, according to the Nassau district attorney's office.
Prosecutors said Berger was due to be sentenced last year on felony charges of possessing stolen property and attempted grand larceny. But then someone from the office of Berger's now-former attorney, Meir Moza, notified the court that Berger was dead.
Days later, Moza gave the Nassau district attorney's office a purported New Jersey death certificate for Berger, according to prosecutors. They said the document indicated Berger had died of suicide by suffocation.
Prosecutors also said Moza told a judge that Berger’s fiancé provided him with the document.
But prosecutors said they noticed inconsistencies in the document's font type and size, and that the paperwork also had the misspelling “Regsitry” in a section falsely indicating that a New Jersey Department of Health, Vital Statistics and Registry had issued the record.
“Submitting fake documents to prosecutors is always a bad idea, and while he’d have been caught regardless, failure to use spell check made this alleged fraud especially glaring,” Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said in a statement Tuesday.
She added later in an interview that "the eagle eyes" of a prosecutor caught the problem, saying the spelling error was "a red flag that something was amiss" — as were the font changes.
"It got through many hands before we stopped it," the district attorney said.
Investigators confirmed the death certificate was a forgery after checking with New Jersey officials, according to Singas.
Moza later told a judge he believed Berger used him to try to perpetrate a fraud.
"It's the first time this happened to me in 25 years of practice," Moza said in an interview Tuesday. "Unfortunately, I fell into the trap as well."
Moza, a former Nassau prosecutor, said the district attorney's office did "very diligent" work to catch on to the alleged scheme.
The Mineola attorney said Berger was going to spend a year in jail after he had worked out plea deals for him in Nassau and Suffolk. Berger had faced theft-related cases in Suffolk when he faked his death, Moza said.
Singas' office said Berger admitted in a Nassau court to possessing a stolen Lexus and trying to steal a pickup truck and was bound for jail before scheming to avoid sentencing.
Nassau prosecutors said they notified their Suffolk counterparts after uncovering Berger’s alleged crime because a copy of the bogus document also was presented in a Suffolk court.
Details on the status of any pending Suffolk cases against Berger weren't available Tuesday.
Nassau prosecutors said the fiance — who Moza said is no longer engaged to Berger — wasn't facing any charges now, but their investigation was ongoing.
Despite Berger’s alleged attempt to stay jail-free, prosecutors said he ended up behind bars in Pennsylvania in a case that included an allegation of giving a false identity to law enforcement.
Authorities said they extradited Berger to New York in January, when a judge remanded him into Nassau jail custody.
Berger is facing up to 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison on the new charge. An official with Nassau's Legal Aid Society, which represents him, declined to comment Tuesday.