TRENTON – A former Newark lawyer has been sentenced for stealing $20,000 from clients of his firm, announced Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal.
Richard M. Roberts, 81, of Bloomfield was sentenced to five years of probation, conditioned upon performance of 270 hours of community service.. Roberts will be required to restitution in an amount to be determined.
Roberts pleaded guilty on July 23, 2019 to third-degree charges of perjury and theft by failure to make required disposition of property received. The state had recommended that Roberts be sentenced to up to 364 days in jail.
Roberts pleaded guilty on the second day of testimony during trial. His former law partner, Gerald M. Saluti Jr., had previously pleaded guilty and was testifying before the jury.
In pleading guilty, Roberts admitted that he stole $20,000 in client funds from his law firm’s attorney trust account which he used to make alimony payments. He permanently forfeited his law license.
Saluti, 51, of Howell was sentenced to a four-year term of probation, conditioned upon 200 hours of community service. Saluti pleaded guilty on Feb. 21, 2019 to a third-degree conspiracy charge. He permanently forfeited his law license and paid restitution of $137,652.
Roberts and Saluti were indicted in an investigation by detectives and attorneys of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability North Squad.
The OPIA investigation revealed that from December 2012 through August 2013, Roberts and Saluti conspired to steal funds from the firm’s attorney trust account. In total, just over $140,000 was stolen from four clients, which included settlement awards owed to the clients and monies the two men were obligated to hold in escrow or use to make payments on behalf of the clients.
“Instead of upholding the law and guarding the interests of their clients, as was their duty as attorneys, Roberts and Saluti stole client funds from their attorney trust account,” said Attorney General Grewal. “Through this prosecution by our Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, we held these men accountable and made certain that they will never again practice law in New Jersey.”
“These convictions send a message that we will not tolerate lawyers who act dishonestly and betray the trust of their clients,” said Director Thomas Eicher of the Office of Public Integrity and Accountability. “Lawyers take an oath to uphold the law, and when they break the law instead, we stand ready to investigate and prosecute them.”
Roberts admitted that he falsely told law enforcement and testified under oath that he never authorized the practice administrator for their firm, Gabriel Iannacone, to make his alimony payments. Roberts admitted that, in fact, he did direct Iannacone to make alimony payments for him, and he knew at the time that Ianncone was making the payments from the firm’s attorney trust account. Ianncone pleaded guilty in 2017 to a third-degree conspiracy charge in connection with the improper withdrawals and payments from the attorney trust account. He is now deceased.
Roberts and Saluti were previously suspended from the practice of law in New Jersey. Roberts was suspended in November 2015, and Saluti, in February 2014. In August 2013, the men dissolved their partnership, Roberts & Saluti LLC, which did business as Saluti Law Group.