They had been good buddies for decades. They’d gone fishing together in Buffalo and Florida. For about 20 years, Donald L. Miller had hosted Thomas J. Wojciechowski in his mobile home in Florida and taken him on boat and scooter rides.
But on Tuesday morning, as he addressed an Erie County Court judge, Miller had nothing good to say about Wojciechowski, the 67-year-old disbarred real estate lawyer who has admitted stealing more than $300,000 from Miller and three other clients.
“Since 2003, he was stealing my money in a Ponzi scheme to finance his secret, lavish Playboy lifestyle,” Miller told Judge Thomas P. Franczyk.
Later, outside the courtroom, Miller was even more succinct about his former friend, saying, “He had 10 wonderful years of living off my money.”
Franczyk sentenced Wojciechow-ski to two to six years in prison Tuesday after calling the former attorney’s misconduct one of the saddest – if not strangest – such cases he has seen.
“You know, and I know, that you caused an awful lot of pain for a lot of people,” the judge told Wojciechowski before delivering the sentence.
Wojciechowski, a former partner with Bouvier Partnership LLP and former part-time acting Blasdell village justice, was sentenced to two to six years on each of four grand larceny convictions, in addition to a shorter term on a separate tax count, but all the sentences will be served concurrently.
In May, Wojciechowski admitted stealing almost $340,000 from the four clients, including more than $240,000 from Miller, a 71-year-old Lake View resident. Those thefts occurred over a nine-year period, from 2003 to 2012, according to a civil lawsuit filed by Miller.
In his fairly lengthy courtroom statement, Miller bemoaned the loss of his 40-year friendship. It dates back, oddly enough, to Miller’s uncle, Wallace H. Miller, founding the Bouvier law firm and later choosing Wojciechowski, then a young lawyer, to be his assistant.
While he blasted his former friend for violating that trust and stealing the four clients’ money, Miller lavishly praised another attorney, Thomas H. Burton, who helped him get most of his money back and took a significantly reduced fee for his legal work.
“People told me it would take two to five years to settle this case, but we had an acceptable settlement within 90 days,” Miller stated.
For justice to be served, Miller also told the court, Wojciechowski needed to be sentenced to “substantial jail time.”
Defense attorney Patrick J. Brown provided the other side of the story.
He cited his client’s genuine remorse, calling him an alcoholic who was able to function for years before his alcohol use affected his decision-making.
Miller, Brown and the judge all referred, at least obliquely, to Wojciechowski’s newfound lifestyle, which included a relationship with a 30-ish Canadian prostitute who apparently tried later to extort money from Wojciechowski. There also were references to Wojciechowski’s failed suicide attempt in a Canadian motel room.
Brown was quick to add that his client is a pariah, who now is destitute and has “absolutely zero” to show for the money he stole. “Judge, some punishment has already been self-imposed on him,” Brown told the court. “His reputation has been thoroughly trashed.”
Wojciechowski also addressed the court briefly, almost inaudibly, telling the judge that he has taken inventory of his life and all the people he has harmed.
Hopefully, Wojciechowski added, God will give him enough time to make amends for all the harm he has caused.
John C. Doscher, who heads the Special Investigations Bureau in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, told the court that most of the stolen money has been repaid, mostly by the law firm’s insurance company. Both Doscher and Franczyk expressed hopes that the New York Lawyers Fund can reimburse one victim, a woman who has not been repaid $78,000 stolen from her.
After the sentencing, Miller chose his words carefully in answering reporters’ questions outside the courtroom. Asked whether two to six years met his definition of substantial, Miller replied simply, “I respect the court’s decision.”