by Peter Aseltine
TRENTON –Attorney General Christopher S. Porrino announced that a lawyer from Ocean County who formerly practiced in Jersey City was convicted at trial today on charges that he stole approximately $1.5 million from five clients over a period of more than a decade.
Joseph J. Talafous Jr., 55, of Toms River, N.J., was found guilty today by a Hudson County jury of three counts of theft by unlawful taking (2nd degree), three counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of property received (2nd degree), five counts of misapplication of entrusted property (four 2nd degree and one 3rd degree), two counts of theft by deception (2nd degree and 3rd degree), and four counts of filing fraudulent state income tax returns (3rd degree). The verdict followed a six-week trial before Superior Court Judge Mirtha Ospina in Jersey City. The second-degree charges carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison. Talafous is scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 16.
Talafous was indicted in an investigation by the Division of Criminal Justice Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau. Deputy Attorneys General Janet Bosi and Brandy Malfitano tried the case for the Financial & Computer Crimes Bureau, assisted by Detective Scott Stevens, Detective Roxanna Ordonez-Fresse, Detective Franco Cignarella, and Analyst Gaby Pichler. Sgt. James Scott, Lt. Vincent Gaeta, Deputy Chief of Detectives William Fredrick and Bureau Chief Michael Monahan supervised the investigation and prosecution.
“Lawyers have a duty to uphold the law and protect the interests of their clients, but Talafous treated his law license like a license to steal, sinking to the point of stealing nearly half a million dollars from a young boy who lost his father,” said Attorney General Porrino. “This verdict will send Talafous to prison, where he belongs for his deplorable conduct. I commend our attorneys, detectives and entire trial team for building a strong case and skillfully presenting it at trial.”
“This verdict sends a strong message that lawyers who abuse their licenses and break the law will face stern punishment,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “We will not tolerate lawyers who steal from their clients.”
The state presented testimony and evidence at trial that Talafous committed the following thefts between October 2004 and May 2015 totaling approximately $1.5 million:
Talafous used a power of attorney to make unauthorized withdrawals of thousands of dollars from the investment account of an elderly client who lived in Jersey City and from the client’s estate after the client died in 2010.
Talafous stole approximately $461,000 from a trust set up for the benefit of a young boy in 2005 with funds from a wrongful death suit stemming from the death of his father. The father died in 2001 in a workplace accident when the child, a West New York resident, was still an infant.
Talafous stole approximately $300,000 from the estate of an elderly Jersey City woman who died in 2009 without any immediate family. She had hired him to prepare her will and had named him executor of her estate.
Talafous stole approximately $400,000 from the estate of a Jersey City man who died in 2012 and whose family hired Talafous as attorney for the estate, which included several life insurance policies worth a total of more than $870,000.
From 2012 to 2015, Talafous stole $330,000 that was entrusted to him as counsel for the estate of a Jersey City woman who owned property in New York.
Talafous failed to report the monies he allegedly misappropriated from his clients in state income tax returns that he filed for the tax years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
The case was referred to the Division of Criminal Justice by the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics. The Supreme Court of New Jersey revoked Talafous’ license to practice law in August 2015.
Second-degree crimes carry a sentence of five to 10 years in state prison and a fine of up to $150,000, while third degree crimes carry a sentence of three to five years in state prison and a fine of up to $15,000.