Two Long Island lawyers allegedly stole more than $1 million from a deceased client’s trust meant to be donated to charity, according to a civil complaint filed Wednesday by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
The complaint claims that Paul P. Marchese and Robin S. Maynard, of Manhasset, transferred money to themselves that was supposed to be donated to a charitable foundation that their client created to support education, cultural programs, food, and shelter for people in need.
“Acting in their own interests, these lawyers allegedly failed to grant their client’s dying wish and hurt a charitable cause in the process,” James said. “New Yorkers must have trust in the individuals tasked with overseeing their affairs when they are no longer able to do so themselves. My office will continue to uphold the laws designed to protect the interests of our charitable organizations and hold accountable those who attempt to shirk their duties in order to line their pockets.”
Marchese and Maynard, of Marchese & Maynard LLP, allegedly acted as the sole directors of their client’s foundation after she died in 2008, in order to direct the charity to pay $600,000 in fees to the law firm and $750,000 in salaries. When James’ office inquired about the payments, the firm could not provide proof that their client owed them any fees. Also, under New York State law, a nonprofit organization must have at least three board of directors with compensation approved by directors with no conflicts of interest.
Timothy Gilles, a spokesperson for Marchese & Maynard LLP, said in a statement that the two professionals have been the exclusive attorneys for Helen Gottlieb, her living trust, her estate, the trust after her death, and her foundation for 24 years, and that the documents the law firm could not produce were ruined in a fire.
“The legal fees and salaries paid during that time have been entirely typical and appropriate for the extensive work and broad range of services provided by the firm and its partners,” he said. “The missing documentation is a result of a fire in the law firm’s office on August 14, 2020, as well as the loss of documents due to incomplete records transfer during multiple transitions—from handwritten paper time sheets, to a primitive floppy-disk computer system, and ultimately to a more sophisticated law office technology package.
“As the Attorney General’s office is aware, most of these issues are already before the Surrogate’s Court in Nassau County in an action we filed last year,” he added. “We are happy to resume discussions that stalled nearly a year ago with the Attorney General’s office to resolve this matter.”
James is seeking a court order to have the lawyers return the money they paid themselves to the charity. She also will seek to bar Marchese from serving as a fiduciary of an estate or a trust holding a charitable interest for five years, and bar both lawyers from serving as an officer, director, or trustee of a charitable organization for five years.