By NJ Office of the Attorney General
TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal announced that a prominent Ocean County attorney who hosted a radio show and taught seminars on elder law was indicted today on charges that he stole approximately $1.9 million from elderly clients. The victims generally did not have close relatives to guard their interests and in some cases suffered from dementia.
The Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau obtained a 10-count state grand jury indictment charging Robert Novy, 66, of Brick, N.J., with the following crimes:
- Theft by Unlawful Taking (2nd Degree – Two Counts)
- Misapplication of Entrusted Property (2nd Degree – Three Counts)
- Theft by Deception (2nd Degree – One Count)
- Money Laundering (1st Degree – Two Counts)
- Money Laundering (2nd Degree – Two Counts)
The charges are the result of an ongoing investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau, assisted by the New Jersey Division of Taxation Office of Criminal Investigation. The case was referred to the Division of Criminal Justice by Ocean County Surrogate Jeffrey W. Moran. Novy also was investigated by the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics, which issued an ethics complaint against him on Jan. 26, 2016, and assisted the Division of Criminal Justice.
As an expert in elder law, Novy hosted a bi-monthly radio program “Inside the Law,” which focused on topics of concern to senior citizens. He was arrested on Oct. 18, 2016. Detectives executed a search warrant at his firm, Novy & Associates, on Ridgeway Avenue in Manchester, seizing billing records and other evidence. The Attorney General’s Office obtained court orders freezing over $3.5 million in assets held by Novy and his firm and appointing a trustee to oversee the firm’s business operations.
“Novy allegedly stole nearly $2 million from vulnerable clients, preying on seniors who were frail and isolated and who trusted him as their attorney to guard their life savings,” said Attorney General Grewal. “It is hard to imagine a more callous personal and professional betrayal.”
“We allege that Novy systematically drained his clients’ assets, laundering funds through various bank accounts and charging unauthorized fees to enrich himself and his firm,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We urge anyone with relevant information about Novy and his handling of client funds to contact our office.”
The indictment alleges that from 2009 through 2016, Novy stole approximately $1.9 million from six elderly clients. The investigation is ongoing, and the Division of Criminal Justice is looking at numerous additional suspicious financial transactions involving funds of other clients of Novy.
The investigation revealed that Novy allegedly stole funds from elderly and deceased clients who often did not have a close relative to claim their estate or challenge Novy’s actions. He allegedly used the stolen funds for his own benefit, paying personal and business expenses. Novy gained control through wills, powers of attorney, and trust documents, making himself the sole financial decision-maker for the clients. When clients had sizeable assets in the form of an annuity or life insurance policy, Novy allegedly directed insurance companies to redeem the policies and send the money directly to him. In some cases, when challenged by trustees or relatives about particular funds that had been withdrawn from client accounts, Novy claimed they were “administrative errors” and repaid the funds.
The indictment alleges that Novy engaged in three different schemes by which he stole funds from the six clients:
- In one scheme, Novy is alleged to have simply transferred funds from his clients’ personal bank accounts or from his clients’ liquidated personal assets into his own bank account. Novy allegedly stole $322,342 from four of the six victims through this criminal scheme.
- In the second scheme, Novy allegedly transferred funds from his clients’ personal accounts or liquidated assets into IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer Trust Account) sub-accounts that he controlled. The powers of attorney executed by the victims legally required Novy to place their assets into independent trust funds selected by the victims that would manage their assets, so the act of placing the funds into accounts that he controlled constituted a theft by Novy. It is alleged that Novy stole $929,026 from three of the six victims through this criminal scheme.
- In the third scheme, Novy allegedly transferred client funds from various accounts – including the clients’ personal accounts, the clients’ IOLTA sub-accounts, or the firm’s attorney trust account – into the firm’s operating and disbursement accounts. Novy allegedly excessively billed the clients for power of attorney fees without any supporting invoices. Novy allegedly stole $659,457 from three of the six victims through this criminal scheme.
The money laundering counts allege that Novy engaged in transactions involving the stolen funds and the various accounts – primarily his attorney trust accounts and/or attorney business accounts – through which he concealed the source of the stolen funds and used them to promote his criminal activities.
Novy allegedly stole $1.9 million from the following six victims – all residents of Ocean County, N.J. – and/or their estates:
- Brick Township woman who died in 2015 at age 88. Alleged theft: approximately $738,457.
- Manchester Township woman who suffered from dementia and died in 2014 at age 87. Alleged theft: approximately $650,700.
- Brick Township woman who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and died in 2013 at age 85. Alleged theft: approximately $242,305.
- Manchester Township woman who currently is 98. Alleged theft: approximately $130,000.
- Point Pleasant woman who suffered from dementia and died in 2015 at age 87. Alleged theft: approximately $103,843.
- Waretown woman who died in 2013 at age 85 (and her husband who died in 2011 at age 92). Alleged theft: approximately $45,520.
Deputy Attorneys General Peter Gallagher and William Conlow presented the case to the state grand jury for the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Mark Kurzawa and Deputy Division Director Christine Hoffman. The case was investigated by Detective Michael Arduini, Detective Michael Woods, Lt. Anne Hayes, Investigator Jordan Thompson, Investigator Wayne Cummings and Analyst Terri Drumm. Deputy Attorney General Derek Miller and Investigator Debra Maiorano are handling the state’s forfeiture action.
Attorney General Grewal thanked the Ocean County Surrogate, the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics and the Division of Taxation Office of Criminal Investigation for their valuable assistance in the investigation. Special Agents Mike Mullane and Will Makar investigated for the Division of Taxation Office of Criminal Investigation.
First-degree money laundering carries a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison, along with a fine of up to $200,000 and an anti-money laundering profiteering penalty of up to $500,000. Second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000. The second-degree money laundering charge carries an additional anti-money laundering profiteering penalty of up to $250,000.
The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
The indictment was handed up to Superior Court Judge Mary C. Jacobson in Mercer County, who assigned the case to Ocean County, where Novy will be ordered to appear in court at a later date for arraignment.
Attorney General Grewal and Director Honig urged anyone with information about alleged misappropriation of client funds or other suspicious transactions involving Novy to contact the Division of Criminal Justice’s toll-free tipline 1-866-TIPS-4CJ to report the information confidentially.