Three more Erie County clients cheated by crooked lawyers have been repaid a total of $142,371 embezzled from them as part of the latest reimbursements from the state’s Lawyers Fund for Client Protection.
The repayments include $58,703 to an East Aurora man cheated by now-imprisoned lawyer Kenneth P. Bernas in a legal settlement, $78,000 to a Clarence woman cheated by now-imprisoned lawyer Thomas J. Wojciechowski in a real estate sale, and $5,668 to the estate of a Buffalo woman Wojciechowski cheated in a real estate deal.
The local recipients were among the latest 36 clients cheated by dishonest lawyers statewide to be reimbursed by the fund, Timothy J. O’Sullivan, spokesman for the Albany-based fund, told The Buffalo News on Friday.
The latest payment to a Bernas client means that 37 of the former Buffalo sole practitioner’s clients have been reimbursed a total of more than $1.6 million since he pleaded guilty in September 2010, long after building a $2 million mansion in East Aurora with money stolen from his clients.
Since September, Wojciechowski, 67, a former partner in the Buffalo law firm of Bouvier Partnership LLP and a former part-time acting Blasdell village justice, has been serving the two- to six-year prison term imposed by Erie County Judge Thomas P. Franczyk on his grand larceny conviction. He’s serving time in the state’s Groveland Correctional Facility, the same facility where the 56-year-old Bernas is serving the seven-year prison term imposed by State Supreme Court Justice Penny M. Wolfgang in February 2011 for grand larceny.
Bernas, who was also ordered by Wolfgang to repay another $1.8 million to defrauded former clients, has already been turned down once by state parole officials for an early release from custody. He faces another parole hearing in February.
O’Sullivan noted that with these latest repayments, the Lawyers Fund – created in 1982 by the Court of Appeals and funded totally by registration fees paid by the state’s more than 279,000 lawyers – has repaid more than $168 million to 7,398 defrauded clients of corrupt lawyers.
O’Sullivan also announced that the Court of Appeals has reappointed Charlotte Holstein, the director of the FOCUS Greater Syracuse community organization, to her fifth three-year term as one of the two nonlawyers on the fund’s unpaid board of trustees. The court also appointed Stuart M. Cohen, the former Court of Appeals chief clerk, to his first three-year term as a fund trustee.
For 14 years until his 2010 retirement, Cohen supervised all nonjudicial operations of the high court. He was named to fill the vacancy created when Eleanor Breital Alter, a prominent Manhattan matrimonial attorney, retired after 30 years of service as a fund trustee.