TRENTON – An attorney living in Toms River was sentenced to 26 years in state prison for bilking $1.5 million from clients, Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced.
Joseph J. Talafous Jr., 55, of Toms River, practiced in Jersey City. He was also ordered to pay full restitution to the five clients he ripped off over the course of a decade.
He was convicted in January of three counts of theft by unlawful taking (2nd degree), three counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of property received (2nd degree), five counts of misapplication of entrusted property (four 2nd degree and one 3rd degree), two counts of theft by deception (2nd degree and 3rd degree), and four counts of filing fraudulent state income tax returns (3rd degree).
“Lawyers have a duty to uphold the law and defend the interests of their clients,” said Attorney General Grewal. “This prison sentence sends a strong message of deterrence that lawyers like Talafous who violate their duty and steal from their clients will be aggressively prosecuted.”
The following thefts occurred between October of 2004 and May of 2015:
* $461,000 from a trust set up for a young boy in West New York in 2005. The money had come from a wrongful death suit when the boy’s father died in 2001 in a workplace accident.
“Talafous stole huge sums from multiple clients, but he revealed the true depth of his depravity when he stole nearly half a million dollars that had been placed in trust to provide for a child who lost his father,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “This prison sentence is just punishment for his callous betrayal.”
* $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.
* $400,000 from the estate of a Jersey City man who died in 2012.
* $330,000 that was entrusted to him as counsel for the estate of a Jersey City woman who owned property in New York.
* Talafous withdrew 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.
Additionally, he did not report the money in state income tax returns for 2011-2014.