LOCKPORT – Disbarred North Tonawanda attorney Roger J. Niemel is scheduled to go to jail Jan. 8 after pleading guilty last week to stealing $153,264 from a Wheatfield man’s estate.
Niemel, 70, agreed to a plea bargain that included a two-year sentence to Niagara County Jail. He pleaded guilty before County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas to third-degree grand larceny and second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument.
The thefts from the estate of Chester Kawalec lasted from 2005 to 2008, Assistant District Attorney Brian D. Seaman said. Kawalec, 84, died April 27, 2005, and left an estate worth more than $800,000, counting assets in personal accounts and those in joint accounts with his adult daughter and her two children.
Kawalec, widowed in 1993, left a will calling for his daughter, Marcia Poirier-DeNapoli of Niagara Falls, Ont., to receive half of the estate, and her two children, Sara and Jason Poirier, were to have 25 percent each.
Surrogate’s Court files indicate that the estate was complicated by the fact that Jason Poirier left home in 1993 at age 18, and his whereabouts are not known to his mother, who did not return calls from The Buffalo News.
She hired North Tonawanda attorney Robert E. Nicely in August 2011 to help move the estate toward closure.
In a letter a year ago to the Eighth Judicial District’s Attorney Grievance Committee, Poirier-DeNapoli said Nicely told her of the thefts Sept. 20, 2011.
“My father has worked hard all his life to accumulate these assets, and it breaks my daughter’s heart and mine to think that Mr. Niemel could so such a dastardly act,” she wrote.
Niemel had lost his law license in March 2011 for misappropriating $20,500 from a Grand Island woman and violating 11 different rules of professional conduct.
During the thefts from the Kawalec estate, Seaman said, Niemel was taking money by means of writing forged checks to himself, many in the $3,000 to $5,000 range but some as little as $500.
“From the very beginning, there were moneys that should have been deposited in an estate account that were deposited in a personal account,” Seaman said.
Asked by Farkas why he stole the money, Niemel minimized his role, claiming that the complainant, Kawalec’s daughter, was at fault.
Poirier-DeNapoli could not serve as sole executor of the estate because of her Canadian residency, Seaman said. Niemel was hired to serve as co-executor.
He said Kawalec’s estate was a difficult one to settle and involved “a great deal of effort and time. From the very first day, when the complainant received funds, I received funds. … It was freely given from her to me.” He said Poirier-DeNapoli stopped coming to his office, and he had the need to pay taxes and other bills on the estate.
Niemel said, “I didn’t have my personal money, so I paid [the bills] from the estate. Not all the money went for bills, but the bulk of it did.” Seaman said that’s untrue. He said he found some bill payments from the estate funds, but “nothing remotely close to $153,000.”
Niemel said Kawalec “may have been a hoarder and [was] very secretive.” He said stacks of $100 U.S. savings bonds were found stashed in boots in Kawalec’s garage. With interest, the value of the bonds totaled more than $175,000, and Niemel said he spent a full day at a bank endorsing them.
A source with knowledge of the case said canceled checks had to be obtained from HSBC Bank, since Niemel had no accounting system.
The source said Niemel botched the estate tax, paying the Internal Revenue Service $26,000 that didn’t have to be paid. The statute of limitations to try to reclaim the money has expired.