LOCKPORT – A former attorney who practiced law in North Tonawanda for more than 40 years was sentenced Tuesday to two years in Niagara County Jail for looting a Wheatfield man’s estate of more than $150,000.
Roger J. Niemel, 70, who was disbarred in 2011 in an unrelated case, pleaded guilty Oct. 8 to third-degree grand larceny and second-degree criminal possession of a forged instrument. He also was ordered to make restitution of $153,264. County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas sentenced him to a year in jail on each charge, to be served consecutively.
The thefts from the estate of Chester Kawalec occurred from 2005 to 2008, according to Assistant District Attorney Brian D. Seaman. Kawalec, 84, died in 2005 and left an estate worth more than $800,000, which included assets in personal accounts and those in joint accounts with his adult daughter, Marcia Poirer-DeNapoli of Niagara Falls, Ont., and her two children.
Surrogate Court files reported that Poirer-DeNapoli went to another North Tonawanda attorney, Robert E. Nicely, in August 2011 to help move the estate toward closure and was told of the thefts in Sept. 20, 2011.
DePoirer-DeNapoli appeared in court Tuesday and listened as Seaman read a letter from her that described how the family had been affected. She said Niemel had been a family attorney for as long as she could remember and even attended both her parents’ funerals.
“I thought he was trusted and honest. Mr. Niemel abused that trust and gave me incorrect legal advice … I did not expect to be abused by a trusted family adviser,” Poirer-DeNapoli wrote.Seaman said even though Niemel is 70 years old and had no criminal record, he should still be incarcerated for violating that trust.
Niemel told Farkas he had nothing to say, other than to offer an apology to Kawalec’s family. He was then handcuffed by court officers while his wife patted away a few tears.
Niemel lost his law license in March 2011 in an unrelated case for misappropriating $20,500 from a Grand Island woman and violating 11 rules of professional conduct, according to a ruling from the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court. He was disbarred in a default judgment by that court after he twice failed to appear to respond to the charges. He was ordered to make full restitution to the Grand Island woman, but no prosecution resulted.