Miami-Dade County

Missing client cash and fraud put lawyers on this month’s Florida Bar discipline report

Drugs, “misappropriating” funds (also known as “stealing”), fraud and accusations of fraud caused several Miami-Dade and Broward attorneys to be suspended or disbarred, according to the Florida Bar’s monthly discipline report.

▪ Hollywood’s Mizell Campbell Jr. (University of Miami, admitted to the Bar in 2003) earned the rare punishment of an emergency suspension order for, the Florida Bar says, mixing trust funds with his own money and “misappropriating at least $19,993 client trust funds for his own benefit.”

The “misappropriating” started in March 2016, the Bar says, after $510,587 came into Campbell’s trust account when he was the escrow agent in the sale of a dry cleaning chain. Over two weeks, Campbell properly disbursed $483,353.32, but “misappropriated” $11,844.96, including $4,344 in cash withdrawals. Eventually, the trust account got down to 25 cents, Campbell drew on his personal checking account for an $11,611 check related to the closing of the dry cleaner chain sale.

That check bounced. The Bar called Campbell’s attempt to make good on the bounced check with money unrelated to the sale, “similar to a Ponzi scheme.”

▪ Aventura’s Ronny Halperin (University of Miami School of Law, admitted in 1990) went for a disciplinary revocation, which the Bar states is “tantamount to disbarment.” He can seek readmission after five years although the Florida Record says Halperin has been retired since 2015. His future, immediate and five years from now, is more up in the air than most people’s are. Halperin’s awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in New York to criminal possession of stolen property and scheming to defraud in the first degree. What you won’t find on Halperin’s 10-year Bar discipline record is the $325,060 Halperin had to pony up after the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged in federal court that Halperin was part of a “pump-and-dump” stock scheme.

Melissa Heaton
Melissa Heaton Florida Department of Corrections

▪ The Bar couldn’t find Cooper City lawyer Melissa Heaton (University of Virginia, admitted in 2007) after suspending her 91 days for not communicating with a client after being retained. When suspended, Heaton didn’t communicate that to clients or opposing counsel as she was supposed to nor did she communicate any new addresses to the Bar. Letters to her bounced back with a forwarding address, then letters to that address bounced back. That got her a three-year suspension. According to Broward Court online records, Heaton, 37, is in Davie. The Department of Corrections website says Heaton’s in Wilton Manors, on probation after being caught with heroin, methamphetamine, oxymorphone and hydrocodone in 2015, and fentanyl, heroin and meth in March.

For not communicating the 2015 legal problems to the Bar, Heaton’s under suspension until further notice.

Aura Olivas
Aura Olivas The Florida Bar

▪ Aura Olivas (Nova Southeastern Law, admitted in 2002) has been disbarred for “misappropriating” client trust funds. Olivas was ordered to pay restitution of $305,305 to Claudia Solano. Olivas represented Solano in the sale of a gas station. Solano said Olivas sent her only $100,000 of the $405,305 owed. The referee’s report says Olivas’ five trust accounts should have contained at least the remaining $305,305 owed to Solano, but the accounts had only $492.27.

In addition to shorting Solano, Olivas ignored a Bar request and a subpoena asking for her trust account records.

Mark spatz
Mark Spatz Broward Sheriff’s Office

▪ Mark Spatz (Pace University, admitted 1987) also took disciplinary revocation. His pending discipline matter before the bar concerns patient brokering, ambulance chasing taken to a new fraudulent level. The fraudulent part interested the Broward Sheriff’s Office, which rounded up Spatz, lawyers Adam Hurtig, Alexander Kapetan, Vincent Pravato and Steven Slootsky in September and hit them with piles of patient brokering charges. Spatz, 58, is facing 11 counts of patient brokering, along with communications fraud and illegal use of a communications device.

As described by BSO in court documents, the lawyers paid people such as tow company or body shop workers to connect them with accident victims. The attorney would refer the crash victim to a healthcare facility paying the attorney for the referral. “After the patient was brokered to the healthcare facility, the facility was then able to begin treatment and bill the auto insurance companies for claims covered by (personal injury protection) benefits, which resulted in fraud on the insurance companies.”

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal