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A lawyer got $367,000 after the dead woman’s condo was sold. Then he bounced IRS checks

UPDATE: In a Monday morning email to The Miami Herald, John Admire, the attorney for Gertrude Weiner’s estate personal representative, said “Last month, Rene Garcia paid the estate $150,000 to cover what was not paid to the IRS and other costs of collection.”

As the closing agent on the sale of a dead woman’s condominium, South Miami lawyer Rene Julian Garcia received $367,073 into his trust account. But when her estate and the Florida Bar began asking about $148,000 in bounced checks to the IRS on the woman’s behalf, Garcia came up with excuses and stalling worthy of an irresponsible teenager:

Bank mistake. My mistake — issued the checks from the wrong account. The checks aren’t in the mail; they were delivered. Personal banker at Chase is out this week. Can’t access the trust account online on the cellphone from Uruguay. Grandmother died two weeks after suffering a stroke on Mother’s Day.

The state Supreme Court ended Garcia’s excuses with a suspension followed by disbarment last month.

Garcia already had been found in contempt for not providing all the documentation Florida Bar investigators requested. By the time the referee’s report was issued in April, Garcia had stopped participating in the disciplinary process.

In addition to disbarring Garcia, the court entered a judgment of $7,503.46 in the Florida Bar’s favor against Garcia and ordered $148,034.67 of restitution to Gertrude Weiner’s estate.

Weiner died in May 2016 and her condominium was sold Jan. 31, 2017. According to the petition for emergency suspension, Garcia received $367,073 into trust account No. 0291. He quickly moved that money into trust account No. 8770.

Garcia was supposed to send the Internal Revenue Service three checks worth $144,212.99 to cover Weiner’s tax debt from 2012, 2013 and 2015. He sent Feb. 1, 2017, letters to the IRS and Weiner estate personal representative Steven Brown that he’d sent those checks.

Come May, Brown told Garcia the IRS didn’t have the checks. In June, after telling Brown he’d deal with it after the funeral arrangements for his dead grandmother, Garcia told himreplacement checks were issued in April 2017 and sent to the IRS with a U.S. Postal Service tracking number.

“Mr. Brown was able to confirm that a 6 delivery with that tracking number had been received by the IRS, but still no payments had been processed regarding the Weiner Estate,” the referee’s report said. “In reviewing the tracking receipt, the Bar’s Auditor was able to ascertain that Respondent had provided that same tracking receipt in his response to an unrelated Bar grievance filed with the Bar in April, 2017.”

Chase Bank informed the Bar that a check to the IRS for $44,254.91 on account No. 8770 had bounced on June 23 and June 28. Garcia said that was a Chase mistake as he had put a stop payment on the check. He told the Bar he put the stop payment on it because he realized he’d transferred the money to another trust account at Chase.

Brown got notice from the IRS that the $44,254.91 check was returned for insufficient funds and a stop payment was issued on the $103,779.76 check. He told Garcia via June 5, 2017, e-mail that the IRS was “sending threatening letters.”

Brown filed a Bar complaint against Garcia in August 2017. The Bar already had one complaint working against Garcia after his response to the bounced check.

An examination of the episode by Cassandra Ferrer, a CPA employed as the Florida Bar’s Miami Branch auditor, found as of Sept. 29, 2017, Garcia’s four trust accounts should have had, at bare minimum, Weiner’s tax money, $148,034.67.

Total in Garcia’s trust accounts: $26.65.

“In my professional opinion, based on my preliminary review of the documents and information received from Complainant, Respondent and the financial institutions, Respondent has misappropriated the Estate’s funds,” Ferrer wrote in an affidavit.

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