Not in Westchester County?
September 18, 2019Cart

Business

by Westchester County Business Journal
by WCBJ

Disbarred attorney Joseph Scali invokes Michael Cohen defense

Disbarred attorney Joseph G. Scali, who was sentenced to prison last week for fraud, tax violations, perjury and obstruction of justice, invoked Michael Cohen in arguing for a lenient sentence.

Just days after President Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer was sentenced in December to three years in prison, Scali’s attorney asked a federal judge in White Plains to disregard his client’s previous request for four years.

Federal sentencing guidelines set a range of eight to 10 years, and a presentence investigation report recommended nine. Scali asked for 18 months.

Scali had done bad things, his attorney, Daniel A. Hochheiser of Scarsdale argued in a sentencing memorandum, “but Scali is not a bad man.”

Scali grew up in Middletown, Orange County, served as legal counsel for a congressman and as an assistant district attorney. He had lived in Chappaqua and later West Hartford, Connecticut, while running a law firm in Middletown for many years.

In 2013, a state grievance committee charged him with 49 instances of professional misconduct, including misappropriating client funds, and suspended his law license.

In 2014, U.S. District Court panel of judges disbarred him for failing to respond to a bankruptcy judge’s misconduct complaint.

In 2016, the state disbarred him, and two days later he was brought up on federal criminal charges.

A federal jury in White Plains found him guilty on May 1, 2016, of 10 charges.

He had embezzled $850,000 from a client he represented in a Pennsylvania land deal. Instead of protecting the client’s funds in an escrow account, he had paid for season sports tickets, an $8,100 fur coat, mortgage payments on a vacation home, wire transfers to his daughter in England and trips to the Cayman Islands, England and Italy.

From 2006 to 2012 he stopped filing federal corporate and personal tax returns, running up a tax liability of $680,843.

When he was under investigation for professional misconduct, he lied under oath and submitted a false affidavit to a federal grievance committee, swearing, for instance, that his state license suspension had nothing to do with his law practice.

He continued to collect fees, make court appearances and file legal documents while his law license was suspended.

When he tried to get charges dismissed, he submitted affidavits by himself and his 90-year-old mother falsely claiming that his mother had impersonated him and had sent a letter to a client without his knowledge.

In asking for leniency, Scali cited his age, medical condition, his 90-year-old parents, a record of public service and volunteer work, good behavior while awaiting trial and acceptance of responsibility.

His lawyer presented examples of 11 New York lawyers convicted of similar crimes from 2015 to 2018, including Michael Cohen, who received average prison sentences of 31 months.

“I have finally admitted to myself why I committed the crimes,” he states in the sentencing memo. He took money “for one reason: to maintain a lifestyle I had become accustomed to but could no longer afford to sustain.”

Now, his attorney argued, “Scali is a broken man.” He has lost his law license, livelihood and reputation. He has spent 11 months in jail, including “hard time” at Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn.

The nine-year prison sentence proposed by the government, “could effectively be a life sentence for Scali, a 69-year-old man with a host of serious ailments.”

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Olga Zverovich, Vladislav Vainberg and Daniel Noble argued for a tough prison sentence.

“Scali exploited and abused his position as an attorney to lie, steal and cheat,” they state in a sentencing memo. For nearly 10 years he chose time and time again to defraud individuals and the government and to cover up his actions with lies and deception.

He concealed his license suspension from his wife for more than 2½ years. He attempted to shift blame for his fraud onto his 90-year-old mother, potentially exposing her to criminal prosecution.

“While Scali now claims that he ‘loves family more than anything else in the world,’” they wrote, “this egregious conduct shows that the person he loves most is himself.”

In the Cohen case, they said, the government sought a lenient prison term because the president’s attorney had “provided information to law enforcement in matters of national interest.”

A lenient sentence for Scali “would be perceived by the public as a slap on the wrist and would fail to serve the essential sentencing goals of affording deterrence and promoting respect for the law.”

On March 6, U.S. District Judge Nelson S. Roman sentenced Scali to seven years in prison and three years of supervised release and ordered to pay restitution of more than $1.5 million.