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One lawyer used client funds for Heat tickets, another was in a $3.25M scam. Then, trouble

The South Florida lawyers on the Florida Bar’s monthly discipline report include a convicted fraudster, both name partners of one law firm and an attorney who seems to have trouble putting things in writing.
The South Florida lawyers on the Florida Bar’s monthly discipline report include a convicted fraudster, both name partners of one law firm and an attorney who seems to have trouble putting things in writing. Getty Images

Though the last two discipline reports from the Florida Bar included a relatively light combined total of 19 attorneys combined, the stories behind the disbarments and suspensions have a little more weight.

There’s at least over $1 million in “misappropriated funds,” some of which went to Heat tickets. Lawyers victimized by fraud and lawyers who participated in fraud. And attorneys who took the money and, if not ran, disappeared, at least professionally.

So, below in Part 1 are the alphabetical first 10 of the 19. The remaining nine will be in Part 2, which will post Monday.

Golden Beach attorney Jeremy Alters, admitted 1997 out of UM School of Law, jumped in the deep end of trouble over improper transfers from Alters, Boldt, Brown, Rash and Culmo’s trust account to the operating account.

The Bar alleged that forty-nine such transfers occurred, totaling approximately $2,051,474.32, between September 2009 and December 2010. The Court approved the Bar’s Petition for Emergency Suspension and suspended Alters from the practice of law on December 28, 2011.

The Referee found that Alters should be reinstated because there was “no basis to conclude that Alters had made or authorized the improper transfers, and that no clients had been injured by the improper transfers.”

When the Florida Supreme Court reinstated Alters in January 2012, the Bar filed another complaint alleging Alters violated six Bar rules regarding the transfers. The Referee opined that Alters not be further sanctioned, but that he pay the Bar’s administrative costs ($1,250) while the Bar pays Alters’ legal defense costs ($143,913.35).

The Bar challenged everything in the Referee’s Report but the ink and asked the State Supreme Court to disbar Alters.

The Court found the Referee improperly excluded evidence that Alters lied about his personal tax status and called the Referee’s Report “inadequate.” Not only did the Court find the Referee came to “only the most basic conclusions from the summarized testimony, and oftentimes has failed to make any findings regarding undisputed evidence in the case,” but noted the findings of fact were only four pages of the 71-page report.

“It is inconceivable that the facts of such a complicated case, which has taken years to litigate and the record of which spans thousands of pages, could be reduced to four pages.”

The Court ultimately found that Alters misappropriated client funds and “must be disbarred.”

The Bar’s auditor testified at the final hearing before the Referee that in addition to funds slid straight to Alters, he used trust fund money to cover firm expenses and overdrafts and personal expenses. Among those personal expenses: Miami Heat tickets.

Orlando’s Elizabeth Anderson, a Stetson Law School graduate admitted in 2003, Stetson, has been suspended since Nov. 7 for trust account shortages of $160,000, most of which were in two accounts.

A bar audit found a shortage of $37,000 in the trust account at Seaside Bank that The Anderson Law Group used for matters involving Stoneybrook West Master Association.

“During her sworn statement on August 1, 2018, respondent admitted to the shortage in her Seaside trust account and stated that she would not have been able to pay the balances she owed to Stoneybrook without obtaining either the loan from her parents or using funds from her retirement account.”

The Bar’s audit also revealed that there was a shortage of at least $122,330.62 in another trust account at Fairwinds Credit Union.

From this account, the Bar says in its Petition for Emergency Suspension, she used settlement funds for a client to office rent, rent, herself, American Express, and Florida Lawyers Mutual.

John Borland of Ocala started his suspension Dec. 28, but seems like he suspended his law career well before that. The Bar says Borland abandoned his law practice, client files, fell behind in his Bar fees and continuing legal education credits and then ignored Bar inquiries about all this. The Florida Coastal School of Law had been a Bar member since 2006.

John Borland.jpg
John Borland The Florida Bar

Aldo Busot of Coral Gables has been disbarred. In handling a suit to collect a promissory note, Busot neglected his duties, missed deadlines and kept his client ignorant of the case’s progression. She learned he filed for voluntary dismissal from a friend. Busot was suspended for three years on April 19.

When Busot didn’t submit an affidavit with the clients, tribunals and opposing lawyers notified of his suspension and the names and addresses of people and businesses that got a copy of his suspension order, the Cal Berkeley School of Law graduate was found in contempt and disbarred. He’d been a member since 1987.

West Palm Beach attorney Richard Carey, a Bar member since 2009 out of the University of Pittsburgh’s law school, served a 10-day suspension in December. According to Carey’s guilty plea, non-lawyers at his Pinnacle Land and Title handled a real estate sale that involved a fraudulent court order. Carey said he was on vacation at the time. He tried to rectify matters upon hearing of the problem and eventually reached a settlement with the harmed party.

Miami’s Robert Dixon’s 90-day suspension in May for mishandling his trust account and suffering a shortage in trust funds required he produce trust account records from July 2015 to the present. The University of Florida School of Law graduate, a Bar member since 2006, needed to do this by June 24. Dixon came across with records June 25 that the Bar’s auditor found a day late and several dollars short of accuracy — checks that had cleared listed as outstanding, deposits that had cleared listed as not having cleared. For this failure, Dixon received a public reprimand.

John Eagen of Tallahassee, a Florida State law school man and Bar member since 1990, served a 30-days suspension that ended Jan. 7. Eagen continued to represent a defendant in Volusia County in January 2017 despite being ineligible to practice law. This got revealed after he failed to show up for a scheduled hearing and didn’t tell the judge of his status, even as the judge asked repeatedly over the phone, “Is there anything else you want to tell me?”

Eagen was ineligible because he was delinquent paying $2,500 restitution from a previous Bar discipline case involving how he charged a client.

Peter Fellows of Miami has been disbarred for a conflict of interest in a case involving his baby’s mother and, in a separate matter, lying to Bar investigators. Fellows cases were detailed in this Miami Herald story.

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Eric Granitur of Vero Beach went for disciplinary revocation, disbarment in effect, with license to call the Bar back Dec. 13, 2023. Granitur, a 61-year-old Nova Southeastern law graduate, is in the federal prison in Pensacola until Sept. 18 after being found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to commit false statements. As a title company’s attorney and escrow agent, he participated in a mortgage scam the indictment put at $3.25 million.

Miami’s LaTonia Jackson has been a Bar member since 2007 and came out of Nova Southeastern’s Shepard Broad Law Center. She’s serving a 90-day suspension until March 8 and will be on two years’ probation after that.

Jackson hired an office manager after getting into real estate closings. There were problems with three closings, one of which Jackson didn’t even know happened in her office. Meanwhile, problems were found in Jackson’s trust account that was watched over by one CPA. A second CPA suggested Jackson get a forensic auditor review things.

“That review disclosed the issuance of numerous forged checks, including unauthorized payments,” Jackson’s consent agreement states. “The manner in which this fraudulent scheme was carried out was, according to the forensic report, ‘...extremely difficult to detect by an untrained examiner.’ The closings at issue were conducted during the very same time period as the fraudulent activity addressed in the forensic report. Also, shortly after the closing occurred, (Jackson’s) files and computer records were stolen from her office.”

The consent judgment makes clear that “there is no indication (Jackson) was aware of or complicit in the fraudulent activity or theft and she has not been the subject of any criminal investigation...”

Ever wonder what embezzlement is? This white collar crime is hurting businesses all over.

Since 1989, David J. Neal’s domain at the Miami Herald has expanded to include writing about Panthers (NHL and FIU), Dolphins, old school animation, food safety, fraud, naughty lawyers, bad doctors and all manner of breaking news. He drinks coladas whole. He does not work Indianapolis 500 Race Day.
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