A disbarred former Merrick attorney who prosecutors say stole nearly $300,000 from two clients by keeping funds paid out by their insurance companies was arraigned Friday on an indictment charging him with grand larceny, authorities said.
Arnab Bhukta, 38, was released on his own recognizance after he was arraigned Friday before Nassau County Court Judge Christopher Quinn, according to a news release from Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas.
The charges include second- and third-degree grand larceny and two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument, all felonies. The top charge is punishable by five to 15 years in prison, prosecutors said.
Bhukta is due back in court Jan. 24.
His attorney, Brian Davis of Garden City, said he hopes for a resolution to the case.
“We’re working with the district attorney’s office to try to resolve certain aspects of this case and identify what amount of restitution is due,” he said.
“Attorneys have a duty to act in their clients’ interests, but this defendant allegedly betrayed his clients’ trust and stole nearly $300,000 from their personal injury settlements,” Singas said in the release. “My office has held more than 25 crooked attorneys accountable because of the great harm they do to their clients and the legal profession, and we encourage anyone else victimized by this defendant to come forward.”
Prosecutors said that Bhukta, who now lives in Arizona and was disbarred last July, bilked two clients since 2013 — one for $10,000 and the other for $286,700.
A client who hired Bhukta in July 2013 never received the $10,000 payout from National General Insurance on a personal injury claim after a car crash, prosecutors said. And another client who hired Bhukta in May 2015, authorities said, never received $286,700 after Mass Mutual Insurance paid out $475,000 on a disability claim.
“Once the claim was settled, Mass Mutual mailed a $475,000 settlement check to the defendant, who deposited it into his escrow account,” the release said. “However, after the victim requested his money from the defendant multiple times, the defendant only allegedly paid $90,000 to the victim, who was owed $380,000. In this instance, the defendant was entitled to 20% of the settlement as a form of payment. . . In total, he allegedly stole $296,700 from the two clients.”
Prosecutors said the victims filed claims with New York Lawyer’s Fund for Client Protection and received their money in full. The fund protects legal consumers from dishonest conduct in the practice of law.
Officials urge anyone who may have been a victim to contact the Nassau County district attorney’s tip line at 516-571-7755.