Ex-Jersey City lawyer sentenced to 26 years in prison for stealing $1.5M from clients

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A former Jersey City lawyer has been sentenced to 26 years in prison for stealing $1.5 million from five clients over the course of more than 10 years, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal announced. 

Joseph Talafous, Jr. Photo courtesy of the state attorney general's office.
Joseph Talafous, Jr. Photo courtesy of the state attorney general’s office.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Joseph J. Talafous Jr., 55, of Toms River, was sentenced to 26 years in state prison by Hudson County Superior Court Judge Mirtha Ospina earlier today. He also was ordered to pay full restitution.

Talafous was found guilty at trial on January 10th by a Hudson County jury of three counts of theft by unlawful taking, three counts of theft by failure to make required disposition of property received, five counts of misapplication of entrusted property, two counts of theft by deception and four counts of filing fraudulent state income tax returns.

“Lawyers have a duty to uphold the law and defend the interests of their clients. This prison sentence sends a strong message of deterrence that lawyers like Talafous who violate their duty and steal from their clients will be aggressively prosecuted,” Grewal said in a statement.

“Talafous stole huge sums from multiple clients, but he revealed the true depth of his depravity when he stole nearly half a million dollars that had been placed in trust to provide for a child who lost his father,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “This prison sentence is just punishment for his callous betrayal.”

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.

Additionally, he 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.

Furthermore, 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.

He also 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 then took $330,000 that was entrusted to him as counsel for the estate of a Jersey City woman who owned property in New York.

On top of the theft, 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.