|TRENTON – Acting Attorney General Robert Lougy announced that a lawyer who practiced in Jersey City has been indicted by a state grand jury on charges that he stole more than $1.5 million from five clients over a period of more than 10 years. The indictment supersedes a November 2015 indictment that charged him with stealing from one of the clients.
The Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau filed an indictment yesterday charging Joseph J. Talafous Jr., 53, of Toms River, with money laundering (1st degree), three counts of theft by unlawful taking (2nd degree), four counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of property (2nd degree), five counts of misapplication of entrusted property (2nd degree), two counts of theft by deception (2nd degree), and four counts of filing fraudulent state income tax returns (3rd degree).
From October 2004 through May 2015, Talafous allegedly stole approximately $1,528,022 from the following clients. He allegedly laundered most of the funds through his attorney trust account and/or attorney business account.
- Talafous allegedly used a power of attorney to make unauthorized withdrawals totaling approximately $78,202 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.
- Talafous allegedly stole approximately $402,418 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.
- Talafous allegedly stole approximately $316,275 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.
- Talafous allegedly stole approximately $406,076 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, Talafous allegedly stole $325,051 that was entrusted to him as counsel for the estate of a Jersey City woman who owned property in New Jersey and New York.
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.
“We charge that Talafous crookedly stole from his clients again and again, even stooping so low as to steal funds placed in trust to care for a young boy who lost his father,” said Acting Attorney General Lougy. “Attorneys have a duty to uphold the law and faithfully serve their clients, but we allege that Talafous instead broke the law to serve himself.”
“Lawyers are positioned to do tremendous harm if they betray the trust placed in them, and we allege that the harm suffered by Talafous’ clients and their beneficiaries exceeded $1.5 million,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “Through prosecutions such as this one, we’re sending a strong message that we will not tolerate lawyers who abuse their licenses.”
Talafous is charged with failing to report the monies he allegedly misappropriated from his clients in state income tax returns that he filed for the tax years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Deputy Attorney General Janet R. Bosi presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. Deputy Attorney General Bosi and former Deputy Attorney General Naju Lathia investigated with Detective Scott Stevens of the Division of Criminal Justice, under the supervision of Sgt. James Scott, former Lt. Harry Maronpot and Deputy Attorney General Michael A. Monahan, who is Bureau Chief.
Acting Attorney General Lougy thanked Investigator Michael Mullane and Supervising Auditor Debra Lewaine of the New Jersey Division of Taxation, Office of Criminal Investigation, for their work on the investigation.
The charge of first-degree money laundering carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in state prison, including a mandatory period of parole ineligibility equal to one-third to one-half of the sentence imposed, with the sentence to run consecutively to the sentences for any other charges. It also carries a criminal fine of up to $500,000. 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 defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Pedro J. Jimenez Jr. in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Hudson County, where Talafous will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment on the charges.