The NJ State Supreme Court confirmed a three-year retroactive suspension of a real estate attorney who helped embezzle $1 million from investors duped into thinking they were funding the construction of medical offices. The suspension dates back to June 24, 2011, when the attorney was temporarily suspended after he pleaded guilty to wire fraud.
Erik Mueller confessed to his involvement in the embezzlement scheme, which included two developers. In 2008, the trio began soliciting investors, telling the investors that they were building medical offices in Holmdel, Hazlet and Neptune, with the plan being to sell the properties to physicians and an expected return of 20 to 30 percent.
Mueller went even further in his deceptive practices, lying to wary investors to ease their fears and coerce them into making investments. The properties were never built, and the duped investors eventually pressed charges. Mueller spent five months in jail as part of his punishment.
The three-year suspension was adopted from the Disciplinary Review Board (DRB), but, as noted by the dissenting opinion, it was not without some controversy. The DRB’s majority felt that precedent warranted a three-year suspension, while others felt the punishment was not harsh enough. Retired Superior Court Judge Maurice Gallipoli said that the only justifiable punishment was disbarment.
“I see no reason why, after respondent’s admission to the bar, such conduct should be countenanced and, in effect, excused,” Gallipoli said. “Because such a great majority of the public believes that lawyers, even those who are of good moral standing, are dishonest, allowing respondent to again practice law would only justify and give life to that misconception.”
The judge makes a great point. Attorneys in all fields have worked tirelessly to shed the negative stigmas that often follow them. As the judge said, there are many honest lawyers out there, and most really are in the industry to help people.
Don’t let stories like this one dissuade you from trusting real estate attorneys. Attempting to buy a home or commercial property without the guidance of a trained and honest real estate lawyer is a recipe for disaster. There are many nuances in real estate law that most people, including real estate agents, don’t know about. You want to make sure you double-check all of the fine details of any real estate transaction.
Joel R. Spivack, Esq. is a highly experienced and reputable attorney in the real estate business. If you’re buying or selling property in New Jersey, contact the Law Office of Joel R. Spivack today.