Marcos Daniel Jiménez, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Tod A. Hildebrand, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, announced that a felony Information was filed in federal court in West Palm Beach today charging Robert I. Claire with mail fraud and false statements to the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341 and 15 United States Code, Sections 78m(a),78ff. If convicted, Claire faces a maximum of 40 years in prison and a $5 million fine.
The information alleges 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. It is alleged that Claire 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, in 2000 Claire 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 using 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.
Claire is also accused 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 also charges that on or about September 11, 2001, Claire caused a form 10-KSB 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 and the Securities Exchange Commission. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Andrew Lourie.