An Ocean County lawyer was sentenced to 26 years in prison for stealing $1.5 million from five clients within 11 years.
Joseph Talafous Jr., 55, of Toms River, was convicted of stealing from clients, including an elderly Jersey City woman without any immediate family and the trust fund of a young boy whose father died when he was an infant.
Jurors convicted him at trial of three counts of theft by unlawful taking, three counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of property received, five counts of misapplication of entrusted property, two counts of theft by deception and four counts of filing fraudulent state income tax returns.
“Lawyers have a duty to uphold the law and defend the interests of their clients,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “This prison sentence sends a strong message of deterrence that lawyers like Talafous who violate their duty and steal from their clients will be aggressively prosecuted.”
The thefts happened between October 2004 and May 2015, according to the evidence presented at trial.
He stole about $461,000 from the trust set up for a young boy with funds from a wrongful death suit stemming from his father’s death in a workplace accident.
“Talafous stole huge sums from multiple clients, but he revealed the true depth of his depravity when he stole nearly half a million dollars that had been placed in trust to provide for a child who lost his father,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “This prison sentence is just punishment for his callous betrayal.”
Talafous used a power of attorney to make unauthorized withdrawals of thousands of dollars from the investment account of an elderly client who lived in Jersey City and from the client’s estate after the client died in 2010.
He also stole about $300,000 from the estate of an elderly Jersey City woman who died in 2009 without any immediate family. She had hired him to prepare her will and had named him executor of her estate.
About $400,000 was taken from the estate of a Jersey City man who died in 2012, and whose family hired Talafous as attorney. The estate included several life insurance policies worth a total of more than $870,000.
And from 2012 to 2015, Talafous stole $330,000 that was entrusted to him as counsel for the estate of a Jersey City woman who owned property in New York.
Talafous failed to report the monies he allegedly misappropriated from his clients in state income tax returns that he filed for 2011 through 2014.