|TRENTON –Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that two suspended lawyers who formerly operated a Newark law firm as partners were indicted today by a state grand jury on charges that they stole more than $140,000 from clients of the firm.
The Division of Criminal Justice obtained an indictment charging Richard M. Roberts, 79, of Bloomfield, N.J., and Gerald M. Saluti Jr., 49, of Howell, N.J., with conspiracy (2nd degree), theft by failure make required disposition of property received (2nd degree), hindering apprehension or prosecution (3rd degree), and perjury (3rd degree). From October 2012 through August 2013, Roberts and Saluti allegedly conspired to steal over $140,000 from four clients of their firm whose funds had been placed in the firm’s attorney trust account. The funds allegedly included settlement awards owed to the clients and monies the lawyers were obligated to hold in escrow or use to make payments on behalf of the clients. In addition to allegedly misappropriating funds to pay the firm’s expenses, Roberts and Saluti allegedly used funds to pay their personal expenses, including car payments, credit card bills and entertainment expenses. Roberts allegedly used $20,000 in stolen funds to make alimony payments.
The hindering and perjury charges relate to allegations that Roberts and Saluti falsely told law enforcement and testified under oath that the practice administrator for their firm, Gabriel Iannacone, was solely responsible for the misappropriation of certain client funds from the attorney trust account. It is alleged that, in fact, Roberts and Saluti conspired with Iannacone in those improper withdrawals and payments. Ianncone pled guilty on Jan. 23 to third-degree conspiracy to commit theft by failure to make required disposition of property received. Sentencing is pending for Iannacone.
The investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice is ongoing and additional charges may be filed against Roberts and Saluti. Both are 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.
“We allege that Roberts and Saluti crookedly betrayed the trust of their clients and stole from them,” said Attorney General Porrino. “Lawyers take an oath to faithfully serve their clients’ interests and uphold the law, but we charge that these men made a mockery of those obligations.”
“Attorneys have a duty to ensure that funds placed in their attorney trust accounts are strictly accounted for and handled in accordance with their fiduciary relationship to their clients,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We allege that Roberts and Saluti instead treated their attorney trust account like a personal slush fund that they spent on everything from cars and entertainment to, in Roberts’ case, paying alimony.”
Deputy Attorney General Cynthia Vazquez presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice. The ongoing investigation is being conducted by detectives and attorneys of the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption & Government Fraud Bureau North Squad.
Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Timothy P. Lydon in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Morris County, where Roberts and Saluti will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment on the charges.
For Saluti: Lawrence Lustberg, Esq., Gibbons, P.C., Newark, N.J.
For Roberts: Undetermined.
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