TRENTON – A lawyer from Ocean County was convicted at trial on Jan. 10 for the theft of approximately $1.5 million from five of his clients, according to Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino.
The 55-year old lawyer, Joseph J. Talafous Jr. of Toms River, formerly practiced in Jersey City, stealing the funds from his clients for a period spanning more than a decade.
He was found guilty of three counts of theft by unlawful taking, three counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of property received, five counts of misapplication of entrusted property, two counts of theft by deception, and four counts of filing fraudulent state income tax returns.
This verdict was reached following a six-week long trial in Jersey City, before Superior Court Judge Mirtha Ospina. Some of the charges leveled against Talafous are categorized as second degree, which means a prison sentence of five to 10 years in state prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 16.
“Lawyers have a duty to uphold the law and protect the interests of their clients, but Talafous treated his law license like a license to steal, sinking to the point of stealing nearly half a million dollars from a young boy who lost his father,” said Attorney General Porrino in a press release. “This verdict will send Talafous to prison, where he belongs for his deplorable conduct. I commend our attorneys, detectives and entire trial team for building a strong case and skillfully presenting it at trial.”
At trial, the state showed evidence of Talafous’ thefts between October 2004 and May 2015. The list of offenses follows:
- He used a power of attorney to make unauthorized withdrawals of thousands of dollars from the investment account of an elderly client who lived in Jersey City and from the client’s estate after the client died in 2010.
- He stole approximately $461,000 from a trust set up for the benefit of a young boy in 2005 with funds from a wrongful death suit stemming from the death of his father. The father died in 2001 in a workplace accident when the child, a West New York resident, was still an infant.
- He stole approximately $300,000 from the estate of an elderly Jersey City woman who died in 2009 without any immediate family. She had hired him to prepare her will and had named him executor of her estate.
- He stole approximately $400,000 from the estate of a Jersey City man who died in 2012 and whose family hired Talafous as attorney for the estate, which included several life insurance policies worth a total of more than $870,000.
- From 2012 to 2015, he stole $330,000 that was entrusted to him as counsel for the estate of a Jersey City woman who owned property in New York.
Further, Talafous didn’t report the misappropriated funds taken from his clients in state income tax returns for 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
“This verdict sends a strong message that lawyers who abuse their licenses and break the law will face stern punishment,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice in the release. “We will not tolerate lawyers who steal from their clients.”
Talafous was indicted in an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. Deputy Attorneys General Janet Bosi and Brandy Malfitano tried the case for the Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau, assisted by Detective Scott Stevens, Detective Roxanna Ordonez-Fresse, Detective Franco Cignarella, and Analyst Gaby Pichler. Sgt. James Scott, Lt. Vincent Gaeta, Deputy Chief of Detectives William Fredrick and Bureau Chief Michael Monahan supervised the investigation and prosecution. The case was referred to the Division of Criminal Justice by the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics. The Supreme Court of New Jersey revoked Talafous’ license to practice law in August 2015.