Disbarred Morris County attorney is sentenced to five years for stealing $265K (NJ)

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MORRIS COUNTY — A disbarred Morris County attorney was sentenced today to five years in state prison after pleading guilty in March to the charge of theft by failure to make required disposition.

Pieter DeJong, 63, of the Long Valley section of Washington Township, was indicted by a Morris County grand jury in September 2010 on charges that he stole $265,551 in real estate closing proceeds from the estate of Jane Davis.

The state supreme court disbarred DeJong, who practiced real estate law in the Flanders section of Mount Olive, in September 2009 because of the allegations of misappropriation of funds and failure to cooperate with the ethics investigation.

The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office received a referral from the Office of Attorney Ethics alleging criminal wrongdoing and began its own investigation, which led to the indictment.

“An attorney is trusted to guard the funds of their client,” said Morris County prosecutor Robert Bianchi. “This defendant flagrantly abdicated that responsibility and the prosecution believed that a state prison plea was the only acceptable deterrent for this egregious transgression.

“I applaud the attorney ethics board that took decisive action against the defendant’s license and referred this matter to this office. Our attorney profession is an honorable one and most attorneys fulfill their responsibilities in an ethical fashion.”

Attribution:

Disbarred Morris County attorney is sentenced to five years for stealing $265K
Dan Goldberg
May 27, 2011
The Star-Ledger
http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/05/disbarred_morris_county_attorn.html

Additional coverage:

Washington Twp. lawyer gets 5 years for theft from client’s estate
Peggy Wright
May. 27, 2011
DailyRecord.com
http://www.dailyrecord.com/article/20110527/NJNEWS/305270023/Washington-Twp-lawyer-gets-5-years-for-theft-from-client-s-estate

Chastised by a judge for dishonoring the legal profession, a now-disbarred lawyer from Long Valley was sentenced Friday to five years in prison for stealing $265,552 from a deceased woman’s estate.

Pieter DeJong, 63, was first disbarred by the state Supreme Court in 2009 for misappropriation and his prosecution followed. He pleaded guilty in state Superior Court, Morristown, in March to theft by failure to make required disposition of property received between 2005 and 2008 from an estate.

DeJong, who mainly practiced real estate law, in 2005 represented the buyer of a piece of property. He issued two checks totaling $265,552 from his attorney trust account to the seller, Jane Davis, but she died within a month of the closing so the checks were never cashed. Instead of notifying Davis’s estate, DeJong used the money as his own over a three-year period until estate executors noticed sale proceeds were never deposited into Davis’s account, Morris County Assistant Prosecutor Robert Weber said.

Weber called the theft “a crime of opportunity.” DeJong apologized, saying he has lost the respect of his family and a career he loved. He said he accepted blame but attributed his actions to negligent bookkeeping.

Judge Stuart Minkowitz didn’t buy the excuse, noting that meticulous oversight over client funds and trust accounts is drilled into lawyers.

“The public looks upon attorneys to hold the highest ethical standards,’’ Minkowitz said. “It was not just a lapse in management. It was a gross negligent management of your trust fund. This was over a quarter of a million dollars.’’

DeJong has paid $45,000 in restitution so far to the estate. The Client Protection Fund, to which all lawyers in the state contribute so bilked clients receive restitution, paid $95,000 to the estate. DeJong’s legal malpractice insurance paid the remaining $125,000. The judge ordered DeJong to repay the Client Protection Fund, while the insurer has not sought restitution.

Under the five-year sentence, DeJong will first become eligible for parole in one year and five days. However, he could be released months earlier if accepted into the state’s Intensive Supervision Program, a stringent parole program for non-violent offenders.

County Prosecutor Robert A. Bianchi said the state was adamant that a state prison sentence fit the crime.

“An attorney is trusted to guard the funds of their client. This defendant flagrantly abdicated that responsibility and the prosecution believed that a state prison plea was the only acceptable deterrent for this egregious transgression,’’ Bianchi said.

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