CSB-2009-100 Stephen J. Mason, Lowell, MA (Deceased)
Claimant’s uncle died in October, 2006 from injuries sustained in an auto collision. Claimant, executor of his uncle’s will, retained Mr. Mason to probate the estate and to pursue money damages from the other driver. Claimant and Mr. Mason had no fee agreement about either the estate or the personal injury matter, but claimant did pay Mr. Mason $6,000 in legal fees and $1,000 in expenses for his work on the estate. In August 2007, Mr. Mason obtained wrongful death limits of $50,000 each from two insurers plus a property damage settlement of $6,111.75 for a total of $106,111.75. After forging claimant’s endorsement on the settlement checks, Mr. Mason deposited them into his IOLTA but never transferred any funds to the estate or accounted for them. During 2008, claimant had difficulty getting any response or information from Mr. Mason about the affairs of the estate. Claimant later learned that Mr. Mason had terminal cancer. In 2009, claimant engaged his personal lawyer to serve as successor counsel for the estate. Before his death on July 16, 2009, Mr. Mason never responded to any of successor counsel’s demand letters for information, records or an accounting. Mr. Mason’s estate consisted solely of two pieces of real estate both encumbered beyond their market value. The Board found a defalcation of $90,000.00 (deducting $16,111.75 for Mr. Mason’s work on the personal injury matter) and made an award to claimant, as executor, of $90,000.00.
CSB-2007-047 Ennio Cataldo, Medford, MA (Disbarred)
Following her conviction for arson, claimant began a prison term in January 2005. Claimant gave a power of attorney over her affairs to a friend who served until she resigned in September 2005. Claimant then gave the power of attorney to Mr. Cataldo, her defense co-counsel during the arson prosecution. In stipulating to his indefinite suspension, Mr. Cataldo admitted receiving $9,305.10 belonging to claimant, using $7,074.52 to make various payments for her benefit and then failing to return or account for the balance: $2,230.58. Mr. Cataldo also received checks from claimant’s first attorney-in-fact totaling $3,293.56 and claimant’s $1,000 bail refund check. Mr. Cataldo never used those funds for claimant’s benefit or accounted to her for them. Without claimant’s authorization, Mr. Cataldo opened one or more credit card accounts in her name and charged more than $1,700 on them for his use and benefit. The credit card companies are not pursuing claimant for payment of those accounts, having been advised that Mr. Cataldo was convicted of identity theft for opening and misusing those accounts. Claimant also requested reimbursement for personal property entrusted to Mr. Cataldo valued by her at approximately $25,000. The evidence was inconclusive that Mr. Cataldo converted that property or negligently failed to pay storage fees that resulted in claimant’s goods being sold by the bailee to recoup the unpaid fees. The Board found a defalcation of $6,524.14 ($2,230.58 + $4,293.56) and made an award to claimant in that amount.
CSB-2009-101 Stephen J. Mason, Lowell, MA (Deceased)
After claimant’s wife died in January 2006, claimant engaged Mr. Mason to probate her estate whose principal asset was a beneficial interest in a 1992 trust, her share of which was $336,478.27. That amount was wired to Mr. Mason’s IOLTA during August 2006. He also received an additional $8,265.35 for the benefit of the estate. From that total, Mr. Mason legitimately disbursed $117,855.98 leaving $226,887.98 that was both unaccounted for and never returned to the estate. The Board found a defalcation of $226,887.98 and made an award to claimant, as executor, in that amount
CSB-2009-065 Berton D. Reed, Melrose, MA (Disbarred)
In June 2007, claimant made an offer to purchase real estate. Mr. Reed represented the seller. Claimant made a deposit of $25,000 that Mr. Reed was to hold in escrow until the closing scheduled for July 12, 2007. After the seller failed to clear the title to the property and defaulted on the sale, claimant, through counsel, made numerous demands for the return of his $25,000. When claimant sued the seller, the court granted his motion for summary judgment and ordered the seller to return the deposit. Claimant received only $1,000. The documentation showed that a $25,000 deposit to purchase real estate was paid by claimant in the form of a $10,000 Treasurer’s check plus a check from claimant’s lender for $14,500. Mr. Reed was to have held the deposit consistent with the terms of the purchase and sale agreement but breached his fiduciary obligation to claimant by giving $14,500 to the seller before seller breached by failing to close. Mr. Reed then failed to respond to demands to return the remaining $9,500. The Board found a defalcation of $9,500 and made an award to claimant in that amount.
CSB-2009-072 John Udo, Randolph, MA (Disbarred)
During 1999 or 2000 claimant, a Nigerian national then age 50, engaged Mr. Udo to file a citizenship application for her. She paid him $500 during the first visit but received no receipt. By the time Mr. Udo filed the application for claimant in 2000 he had collected over $3,000 from her. After the filing, claimant notified Mr. Udo that she had to travel to Nigeria to care for her sick mother. While claimant was in Nigeria, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services notified Mr. Udo that it had scheduled a personal interview for claimant about her application. He took no action, causing the application to be denied. When claimant returned and learned the fate of her application, Mr. Udo advised that he would file a new application. This required more filing fees, some with and some without receipt. According to claimant’s current immigration counsel, that new application was doomed from the outset because claimant had been outside of the U.S. for too long a period of time. Mr. Udo engaged in identical conduct when he filed a change-of- status application for claimant’s handicapped son who was in the U.S. on a temporary visa. That application was denied because claimant’s son was now ineligible being over age 21. Mr. Udo prepared a re-application for adjustment of status for claimant’s son but never filed it. Claimant presented receipts totaling $2,750.00 but claimed that Mr. Udo collected more than $7,000.00 from her while filing four different immigration matters. The Board found that Mr. Udo intentionally botched the work to charge the claimant again and again. Mr. Udo’s own advertising that "for over 10 years" he has represented "thousands of individuals, companies, and organizations with immigration problems, and has earned a reputation for excellence." He was also a published author on immigration law. The Board found a defalcation of $7,000 and made an award to claimant in that amount.
CSB-2009-052 Berton D. Reed, Melrose, MA (Disbarred)
Claimant owns and operates a check cashing establishment. In early January 2009, a customer attempted to cash a $6,500 check, bearing the handwritten notation "Settlement," drawn on Mr. Reed’s IOLTA account. Before cashing the check, claimant telephoned Mr. Reed and asked him to vouch for the check. According to claimant, Mr. Reed did so. Based on that conversation, claimant cashed the check for the customer. A few days later, the check was returned to claimant with the notation that it had been drawn on a closed account. Mr. Reed’s conduct in vouching for the soundness of his check was certainly dishonest but claimant never once alleged or presented any evidence to show that Mr. Reed was acting as claimant’s lawyer or serving as his fiduciary when he falsely represented the check’s validity. The Board denied the claim because there was no lawyer-client or fiduciary relationship between Mr. Reed and claimant.
CSB-2008-020 Vincent G. Campanella, Jr., Woburn, MA (Disbarred)
After his arrest on an assortment of drug charges in February 2005, claimant paid Mr. Campanella a $7,500 cash retainer to defend him. Claimant received a copy of a fee agreement acknowledging the retainer but lost it as he was moved between correctional facilities awaiting trial. On February 24, 2005, Mr. Campanella successfully petitioned to have claimant’s bail reduced from $200,000/$20,000 cash to $50,000/$5,000 cash. Claimant paid Mr. Campanella an additional $1,850 (in cash, no receipts) between April and January 2006. Mr. Campanella accepted the final installment of the $1,850 after his suspension on January 19, 2006. When claimant learned of Mr. Campanella’s suspension, he promptly filed a complaint with the Office of Bar Counsel but it was subsumed and never investigated. Claimant then engaged successor defense counsel and paid him a total of $4,000. Mr. Campanella never provided any work product to successor counsel forcing him to begin his work from ground zero. Successor counsel reported that Mr. Campanella filed approximately ten "boiler-plate" discovery motions and performed the bail review but did nothing else of significance. Successor counsel filed a motion to suppress that was instrumental in having two charges "nol-prossed" in December 2006 and two others dismissed without prejudice. The Board found a defalcation of $4,000 (the amount paid to successor counsel) and made an award to claimant in that amount.
CSB-2009-083 Pacifico M. Decapua, Milford, MA (Suspended)
In June 2008, twenty months into the disciplinary process and six months before consenting to an indefinite suspension, Mr. DeCapua accepted a $3,500 retainer from claimant for a divorce while dishonestly failing to disclose that his disciplinary predicament may prevent him from completing the engagement. Only in March 2009 did he disclose his suspension to claimant and sent her a statement for services showing a $1,250 refund due against the retainer. Claimant received only a $1,000 refund. With no meaningful legal services performed by Mr. Decapua, claimant’s successor counsel started from the beginning. The Board found a defalcation of $2,500 and made an award in that amount.