A disgraced former lawyer surrendered to Nassau investigators Thursday on charges that she stole $1.2 million from a disabled client who had owned land taken by the government and used to build a New Cassel community center.
Prosecutors said Janice Jessup, 67, never gave her client the money the government paid out from an eminent domain case after she convinced court officials that the physically and mentally challenged woman wanted Jessup to collect it for her.
A grand jury in January indicted Jessup, who lives in Baldwin and Charlotte, North Carolina, on first-degree charges of grand larceny and scheme to defraud. She pleaded not guilty Thursday in Nassau County Court.
Jessup blocked her face with her handcuffed wrists, ignoring questions as correction officers led her to a jail-transport van after her arraignment. Her attorney, Henry Jones of Jericho, declined to comment.
Acting State Supreme Court Justice Jerald Carter set bond for Jessup, who also goes by a married surname of Jones, at $150,000 bond or $100,000 cash.
The Nassau district attorney's office has alleged Jessup had someone impersonate her client to fool a court official during home visits aimed at investigating the woman's health and whether she'd consent to the money's release to Jessup.
Prosecutors said it also turned out Jessup's client -- identified in the indictment as Geraldine Savage -- was in a residential care facility and not living with a relative in Westbury as Jessup had claimed.
The district attorney's office said a 2013 complaint from the alleged victim's family sparked the probe. Prosecutors said Jessup got the money by court order in 2008, then spent it on herself, her family, and even used some to make payments to other clients. If convicted, authorities said Jessup could face 81/3 to 25 years in prison.
The charges follow an appellate court's 2010 decision to disbar Jessup after she'd faced more than a dozen professional misconduct allegations unrelated to this year's indictment.
Court records show Savage had owned land that was included in the Town of North Hempstead's 2003 New Cassel Urban Renewal Plan. Prosecutors said that, after the government acquired the land, the Yes We Can Community Center was built on it.
Neither Savage nor any of her family members could be reached Thursday.
Authorities said the alleged victim, 49, lives in a residential care facility and had inherited the property that was in the eminent domain case.
Acting District Attorney Madeline Singas called Jessup's alleged scheme "a high-dollar, elaborate larceny that targeted a severely disabled woman" and also defrauded the court system and Nassau taxpayers.
Margaret Savage, a late relative who was an ordained minister, told Newsday in 2005 that she'd fight to keep a 1.7 acre parcel the government was trying to seize through eminent domain and would reject a $2 million offer for it. A three-bedroom house was on the site, as was an outside area where Savage said she set up a tent for religious services.
The Yes We Can Community Center was built for $27.1 million and opened in 2012. Residents rallied for years for such a facility in New Cassel -- where about 18 percent of the community lives below the poverty line. But the facility failed to meet revenue projections in its first year of operations and North Hempstead Town Supervisor Judi Bosworth last year vowed to retool the center.
With Scott Eidler