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Attorney Faulted for His Conduct as Guardian Pleads Guilty to Grand Larceny in Second Case
New York Law Journal
A Brooklyn attorney who was told by a judge last year that he had "squandered and wasted" the assets of a disabled young man he served as guardian now is facing one year in jail for stealing from another of his former charges.
Ray A. Jones, Jr. pleaded guilty on Oct. 25 to second degree grand larceny in exchange for a promise from Supreme Court Justice John Walsh (See Profile) that he would only receive a year in jail. The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office argued in People v. Jones, 4527/2011, that Jones, 53, should receive the maximum sentence of 5 to 15 years in prison.
Jones, who was admitted to practice in 1984, will be disbarred as a result of his felony conviction.
Jones served for seven years as guardian of Josephine Robinson, a woman who suffered brain damage and other injuries giving birth to her daughter 35 years ago.
According to a transcript of the plea proceedings, Assistant District Attorney Michael Spanakos told the court that Jones had stolen $200,000 from Robinson through "layers of documents and transfers."
Jones admitted at the plea allocution that he was guilty of grand larceny, but he did not elaborate. He is due to appear in court on Dec. 6 to make arrangements for sentencing.
According to the district attorney's office, Jones' attorneys advocated a nonjail sentence for their client in a June 19 letter to the court in which they said that Jones was remorseful for what they characterized as "aberrant behavior."
But Spanakos, in his June 28 response, cited the earlier case of Roy Lantigua Jr. to argue that the lawyer's conduct was not an isolated incident.
In March 2011, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Betsy Barros (See Profile) denied Jones' $83,360 legal fee request and ordered he pay a $501,425 surcharge, plus interest, to the estate of Lantigua, a boy born with a stunted torso, no arms and club feet.
Barros ruled Jones "never acted in Roy's best interest" while "hallmarks" of Jones' work as co-guardian and co-trustee of the youth included "self-dealing" and "a cavalier disregard of Roy's abilities and disabilities" (NYLJ, May 25, 2011). The Lantigua case spurred the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law to establish a guardianship clinic.
"As with Ms. Robinson, Mr. Jones flagrantly violated his duty of the utmost degree of trust and loyalty to an extremely vulnerable and easily exploited individual," Spanakos said in his June 28 letter, calling Jones' conduct "despicable."
Robinson received a settlement of a medical malpractice case in 1984, entitling her to almost $84,000 a year, plus incremental annual increases. By 2007, she had $1 million in her account, according to the district attorney.
After one attorney had served as her guardian for almost 20 years, Jones was appointed successor guardian in February 2003.
In June 2010, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Ellen Spodek (See Profile) suspended Jones' guardianship after questions were raised about two mortgage investments Jones executed with Robinson's money in 2006 and 2007. Jones repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination at a hearing on the propriety of the mortgages.
In a June 2011 ruling, Robinson v. Fireman, 092184/1984, Spodek vacated one of the two mortgages, for $650,000. She also levied a $650,000 surcharge, plus 9 percent interest, against Jones while calling his "complete lack of candor extremely disturbing."
As she scrutinized the mortgage, Spodek pointed to one transaction prosecutors would later seize on.
According to subpoenaed bank records and checks, two days after Robinson executed a mortgage with the property buyer, Keri Watkins, Watkins purchased a $200,000 bank check that was used to pay off a home equity line of credit established by Jones' wife Miko Simmons for a residence once owned by Jones but later transferred to Simmons.
"Even to a casual observer this would appear to be an indirect kick-back to Mr. Jones through his spouse," Spodek wrote.
Jones was indicted in August 2011 under the name Raymond Jones on one count of second-degree grand larceny due to the $200,000 transaction.
According to the district attorney, Jones' attorneys argued that loss of his law license would be sufficient punishment.
But Spanakos in his June 28 letter, the communication in which he invoked the Lantigua case, said Jones had expressed no remorse to Robinson or her daughter. (Robinson, said prosecutors, now needed a motorized wheelchair and though she could have "coherent conversations at a simple level" she could not manage her finances.)
Jones' attorneys also pointed out that no one else had been charged in connection with the mortgage transaction.
Spanakos acknowledged that others benefitted from Jones' fraud but said that there was insufficient evidence that they knew that Jones was not authorized to act as he had. He added that other parties could be sued in civil court.
In the Robinson case, Jones was represented by Anthony Ricco and Gary Villanueva of Manhattan. Neither responded to a request for comment. Jones did not respond to a phone call or email seeking comment.
A spokesperson for the Brooklyn District Attorney declined to comment beyond the office's court filings.
Jones has asked the Appellate Division, Second Department, for more time to perfect an appeal of Barrios' ruling in the Lantigua case.
Francine Vlantes O'Keeffe, an attorney who represented Kathryn Greenbergwho became Lantigua's co-property guardian and co-trustee of his supplemental needs trust after Jonessaid that Lantigua had been made whole by Jones' bond company.
She said that Lantigua himself, now 21, was considering enrolling in college.
"He's doing much better now that Ray Jones is out of his life," she said.
@|Andrew Keshner can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.