7 South Florida attorneys, one accused of stealing $625,000, disciplined by the state

An attorney charged with ripping off $625,000 and a former Miami-Dade assistant state attorney are among the South Florida attorneys on the latest Florida Bar discipline report.

Also, amid obnoxious behavior in a condominium dispute, an attorney threw in a little religious instruction, with “Take some time this weekend to commune with the Lord, because you will need all the help you can get.”

The Florida Supreme Court, which does the disciplining, frowned on such unsolicited spiritual advice as well as other actions detailed below.

The term “disciplinary revocation” appears a few times in these cases. An attorney can apply for this legal version of throwing in the towel during the discipline process. If disciplinary revocation is granted by the state Supreme Court, the attorney is disbarred, in effect, usually for five years before the attorney can reapply for readmission.

The discipline case goes away without any finding of guilt or acquittal. Any alleged criminal acts involved in the discipline case, however, can be prosecuted in criminal court, as in one of the cases that follows.

In alphabetical order:

Fort Lauderdale’s Mary Catherine Bonner, practicing also as Kate Bonner (admitted to practice in 1979) starts her suspension Wednesday. A complaint with the Bar was filed by Florida Department of Corrections inmate Tracy Collier accusing Bonner and her paralegal, former attorney Ileana Haedo, of taking $9,000 payment to file appeal paperwork and not doing so.

The Bar says Bonner hasn’t responded to Bar grievance requests in this case. The state Supreme Court has found her in contempt of court and suspended her until she gets back to the Bar in writing.

Accused of misappropriating (translation: stealing) $128,407 from clients, Fort Lauderdale’s George Castrataro already was suspended for not responding to the Bar’s information requests. That was after clients filed four grievances accusing the general practice attorney of being a thief. According to the complaints:

Two clients in estate settlements were owed $47,016.40 and $32,291.37 from Castrataro’s trust accounts, but neither received his money; while acting as an escrow agent in a real estate deal, Castrataro took in a $25,000 wire transfer, but didn’t return it when the deal fell apart; he won a labor law case, but put the check into his firm’s operating account (which would be commingling funds, another no-no) and didn’t give his client the $24,000 owed.

George Castrataro
George Castrataro

Castrataro can apply for readmission in 2025, but he’s got bigger problems to deal with before then. A couple of those clients and a few others contacted Fort Lauderdale police. He’s accused of stealing a total of $625,766.

“Castrataro would make up stories, stating the checks got lost in the mail or a rogue postal employee destroyed the mail,” the probable cause affidavit reads.

Castrataro is facing one count of communications fraud over $50,000 and one count of grand theft in the first degree.

The referee in Fort Lauderdale attorney Ashley Krapacs’ case, detailed in this Miami Herald story, found her conduct “improper, unethical and uncivilized,” but didn’t think her online statements about attorneys Russell Williams, Nisha Bacchus and Broward Circuit Court Judge Michael Kaplan and the Florida Bar reached the level of disbarment.

Referee Samantha Schosberg Feuer recommended a two-year suspension. The state Supreme Court disagreed and went all the way to disbarment.

“I am obviously disappointed by this ruling, but I do plan to appeal,” Krapacs said in an email to the Miami Herald. “My case is unfortunately a very sad, stark example of how deep ‘cancel culture’ in our society runs. When a female attorney tries to leave an abusive relationship with a man, and she ends up getting attacked by an army of attorneys nationwide, as well as The Florida Bar, simply because she was vocal and honest about her experiences on social media, it’s a harsh reminder that there is no gender equality in this country.”

Wednesday, Fort Lauderdale’s James Potts (admitted to the Bar in 2013) starts his 60-day suspension which will be followed by a two-year probation. A case referee adjudged Potts got a little too schoolyard in dealing with an adversary.

In May 2017, Potts represented some homeowners and the Secretary of the Heritage Condominum Association who had a problem with the association’s Treasurer, Ruben Vincente. According to the referee’s report, Potts began firing off emails and texts at Vincente.

While phraseology Potts used, such as “unmitigated ineptitude” and “clown fraudsters,” might satisfy a certain insult bloodlust, they can be considered unprofessional communication. The same can be said for emails that sound too similar to “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

“You can’t hide from law enforcement, you can’t hide from the State Attorney looking for you when you are in contempt of court, and you especially can’t hide from me. I refuse to make threats because I don’t need to make threats…

“You will never see me coming and won’t know what hit you when you realize what you’ve brought upon yourself…Take some time this weekend to commune with the Lord, because you will need all the help you can get.”

James Potts Sr.
James Potts Sr.

Text messages and phone calls to Vincente, some after 11 p.m. followed. The day before a homeowner’s election in a parking lot, Potts emailed Vincente, in part, “If you are innocent like you say, why not come to the parking area at 2 so we can discuss this like real adults. If I were being accused of being a cheating moron by a loudmouth attorney, you’d better believe I would meet those accusations head on. But then again, I’m not a coward.”

Potts’ response to the original Bar complaint denied his communication was unprofessional, harassing or intimidating. To the referee, however, Potts backed off his professionalism argument, but still fought any charges of harassment and intimidation.

He fought unsuccessfully.

“It does not matter if (Potts) believed that Vicente was a corporate officer, or that (Potts) was indignant on behalf of his clients,” the referee wrote. “It is simply never professional for an attorney to write or say these kinds of things to anyone under any circumstances.”

Someone now facing criminal charges put Davie’s Bonne Scheflin (admitted to the Bar in 1989) on suspension in 2019. Then, Scheflin did her own jump out of the frying pan into the disciplinary fire. She’s going for disciplinary revocation.

As previously reported in the Miami Herald, Scheflin was suspended 18 months for not properly supervising longtime employee Martha Bernal in 2018. While Scheflin was laid up with personal health issues, Bernal ran Scheflin Law. A CPA review said Bernal took advantage of that to steal $415,000 of firm and client money.

(Davie police put the amount at $424,281 in Bernal’s probable cause affidavit. In February, she was charged with first-degree grand theft and criminal use of personal identification information.)

Scheflin was left with just responsibility. But while on suspension, the Bar claims, she continued to communicate with clients of an estate for which she’s the attorney of record. She also didn’t come across with trust account records which the Bar requested.

Wednesday, a referee rejected Coral Gables attorney Scot Strems’ Motion to Dissolve the emergency suspension that’s officially sidelined him since June 9.

In asking for that suspension, the Bar claimed the sole partner of Strems Law Firm “sits at the head of a vast campaign of unprofessional, unethical, and fraudulent conduct that now infects courts and communities across the state.”

The Bar stated it noticed a pattern in Strems Law Firm (SLF) lawsuits: file multiple for an incident when one would do; drop into “a ceaseless pattern of delay” that ignored deadlines; not obeying court orders, which requires more hearings or providing discovery that’s “often incomplete, unverified, or late;” acting in bad faith, such as lying to opposing counsel or the court or “SLF may conveniently forget to apprise the court of a client’s death;”court sanctions and the case being dismissed by the court or SLF.

Among the groups hurt by SLF’s actions, the Bar listed “the public, which relies heavily upon the judicial resources consumed by SLF’s case load; Florida homeowners, whose insurance premiums ultimately fund both sides of SLF’s cases…”

Strems has until July 30 to present an argument why the referee’s recommendation should not be approved by the state Supreme Court.

Herbert E. Walker III resigned from the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office in 2007 during an investigation of sexual harassment complaints against him. Walker is now serving a suspension earned partially by his vanity.

In his unconditional guilty plea for consent judgment, Walker admits telling client Arthur Wallace he needed five new suits “to look good” for Wallace’s upcoming trial. Wallace dropped $5,000 at Aventura Mall on new suits and monogrammed shirts for Walker.

That level of gift from a client who isn’t a relative or a ride-or-die friend is an ethics violation.

But a bigger one was acting as attorney for murder suspect Parley Paskett while also representing Wallace, who was charged as an accessory after the fact. The referee’s report says Walker testified at a discipline hearing that he’d been “instrumentally involved in negotiating a plea deal” for Paskett.

“That plea deal, however, contemplated that Paskett, if called upon, would testify against (Walker’s) own client (Wallace),” the referee wrote.

That’s a conflict of interest. Both a judge and Wallace reported Walker to the Bar.

Also, Walker accepted money from Paskett’s mother. The referee’s report says Walker didn’t recall whether he told Wallace about it. Walker also apparently didn’t recall what he decided to say about the money, stating at various times in the discipline process that the money was a gift; was payment for legal work; and was “a Christmas present.”

Herbert E. Walker III
Herbert E. Walker III

Walker will be freed from suspension Independence Day, July 4, 2021.

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