Miami-Dade County

After his law partner’s suicide, he got the widow to sign over millions. Enter lawsuit.

Miami tax lawyer Steven Cantor committed suicide in 2016. His former firm is suing his ex-law partner, Hal J. Webb, alleging he bilked the firm out of $2 million insurance policy.
Miami tax lawyer Steven Cantor committed suicide in 2016. His former firm is suing his ex-law partner, Hal J. Webb, alleging he bilked the firm out of $2 million insurance policy. The Cantor Group

The former law partner of Steven Lee Cantor, a prominent Miami international tax attorney who committed suicide in 2016, has been accused of cheating Cantor’s widow out of a $2 million insurance policy, among other financial irregularities.

A lawsuit filed Monday in Miami-Dade Circuit Court alleges Hal J. Webb, a partner in the former The Cantor Group, formerly known as Cantor & Webb, defrauded Sharon Dresser, Cantor’s widow.

The issue is a keyman insurance policy, which businesses often take out on key executives in the event of their death.

Webb resigned from The Cantor Group in June 2016. At the time, Webb was asked to transfer ownership of the $2 million key man life policy on Cantor to the firm, the suit says. He didn’t.

On Oct. 5, 2016, the suit contends, Webb sent an email to a firm executive that “Cantor might not be in the right state of mind. Webb was intimately familiar with Cantor’s longstanding battle with depression, including Cantor’s prior suicide attempts. … “Webb knew that should Cantor die in the near future, Webb stood to financially benefit from his death. Webb purposely delayed and avoided transferring the key man policy to The Cantor Group with this morbid aspiration in mind.”

On Oct. 11, 2016, Cantor, 66, jumped off the firm’s office tower at 2601 S. Bayshore Drive. Dresser, the complaint says, immediately went to the site of her husband’s suicide, the third-floor parking garage, and saw her deceased husband “in an extremely graphic state.”

About a week later, a severely stressed Dresser was Baker Acted by her mother. Additionally, her uncle died and she received an anonymous letter purportedly sent by “friends of her husband,” stating that hidden aspects about Cantor’s lifestyle were the reason he killed himself, according to the suit.

“This story is as scandalous and salacious as any soap opera, except that Ms. Dresser became a widow at 53 and was left penniless by a scheming former law partner who her husband had trusted as his friend,” said Dresser’s attorney Robert Zarco, founding partner at Zarco Einhorn Salkowski & Brito in Miami. “This is suicide by lawyer.”

The suit alleges that Webb, who requested and received a copy of Cantor’s death certificate before his partner’s widow did, pressured Dresser into signing a settlement agreement on Nov. 26, 2016, six weeks after her husband’s death. The agreement allowed him to keep hundreds of thousands of dollars of the law firm’s capital. The agreement also called for Dresser to release Webb from all claims, including any claim to the death benefit of the $2 million key man policy.

The issue pertaining to the law firm’s capital had to do with a $212,500 year-end draw the firm paid to Webb in 2015. According to the suit, the firm was struggling financially in December 2015. It mistakenly over-distributed year-end draws to each of the two partners, Cantor and Webb. In April 2016, Cantor reimbursed the firm via personal check for a $287,000 overpayment, but Webb, who agreed to return his share of $212,500, failed to do so, the suit says. Webb resigned from the firm in June 2016.

Withholding those funds put the firm into a financial tailspin.

On Tuesday, Webb, now a principal with Bilzin Sumberg, sent the Daily Business Review a simple email: “With Steve’s passing, I lost a dear friend. My heart goes out to Sharon as she continues her grieving process.”

The Cantor Group was a Miami-based law firm that specialized in business law and estate and tax planning services to wealthy international clients.

The Cantor Group’s law practice was later sold to Bilzin Sumberg, where Webb now heads the Private Wealth Services Group.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen