23 April – LAWFUEL – The Law News Network – Marcos D. Jiménez, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida; and Michael S. Clemens, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, announced today that yesterday afternoon, after a two-day hearing, defendant, Robert I. Claire, a Boca Raton attorney, was sentenced by United States District Court Judge Daniel T. K. Hurley, in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, to a term of imprisonment of thirty-six (36) months and a term of supervised release of three (3) years in connection with Claire’s embezzlement of $1.65 million belonging to his clients. Judge Hurley also ordered Claire to pay restitution in the amount of $1.65 million.
On March 30, 2004, Claire pleaded guilty to the charges in a two-count Information, which was filed by the United States Attorney’s Office on February 5, 2003, in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Information charged Claire with wire fraud and false statements to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343, and Title 15, United States Code, Sections 78m(a) and 78ff. The Information alleged that from November 2000 to February 2003, Claire, an attorney in private practice, embezzled about $1.6 million of funds from his trust account belonging to several of his clients. Claire was alleged to have used the money for a personal business venture – a Miami-Dade County company called American Group, which manufactures and sells landscape products such as peat moss and soil mixes.
According to the Information, Claire, in 2000, was hired as a probate attorney to help administer the estate of Gladys Kaufman, who had left approximately $1.2 million in her will to various charities. Claire, however, failed to distribute the money which was being held in his trust account. Instead, Claire used it to operate American Group, which eventually lost the money. It is alleged that Claire lied to representatives of the will’s beneficiaries about the status of the probate proceedings in order to keep them from discovering the theft. The Information also accused Claire of taking another roughly $400,000 from other clients who had deposited funds in this trust account, including money to settle real estate transactions and divorce proceedings.
The Information further charged that on or about September 11, 2001, Claire caused a form to be filed with the SEC, which falsely stated that American Group, Inc. was funded by “borrowings”, when in fact it had been funded in large part by money taken from Claire’s clients without their knowledge.
Mr. Jiménez commended the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Andrew Lourie.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.