A prominent New Jersey attorney who specialized in elder law pleaded guilty on Monday to charges that she defrauded the same elderly clients she was supposed to be protecting.
Barbara Lieberman, 62, confessed to taking millions of dollars from her clients through fraud and then laundering money through various accounts, one of which was her attorney trust account. The Northfield woman’s guilty plea to a charge of first-degree money laundering resulted in a sentence of 10 years in state prison.
In addition to the 10 years, Lieberman will have to forfeit her New Jersey law licence and the $3 million seized by the state in order to pay restitution to her fraud victims. She’ll also be ineligible for parole for three and a half years. Authorities have also seized her BMW.
Jan Van Holt, who was arrested with Lieberman in March 2014, has yet to be sentenced. The 58-year-old owner of A Better Choice elder care is being charged with first-degree money laundering, second-degree theft of deception and second-degree conspiracy for her role in connecting Lieberman to elderly clients through her company. Her sister, Sondra Steen, and Susan Hamlett are also facing pending charges due to their involvement with A Better Choice.
“Elder abuse is a huge problem for our society,” says Laurie Malone, CEO, Golden Heart Senior Care. “Many strangers prey on seniors on the phone appealing to their worst fears using flattery to win trust. The phone is only one medium used; there is often abuse from people directly approaching seniors, who grew up in an era where courtesy is critical to everyone. The con artist knows this and uses it to his/her advantage. Also, there may be a friend or family member seeking to earn trust over time and seize control of the senior’s finances. We recommend that our clients engage an attorney, CPA and other trusted advisor (child) to assure that their fiduciary safety is preserved.”
Allegedly, the group targeted elderly clients who were abundant in assets but lacking in immediate family members. Van Holt referred her clients to Lieberman, who then forged or fraudulently obtained Power of Attorney documents to allow the group to take control of their victims’ finances.
Using these documents, they transferred the funds of their victims to their own accounts, and even continued after some victims were dead. The thefts occurred from 2006-2013 and paid for Lieberman’s credit card bills and Van Holt’s cars, pets and pool supplies, among other things.
“Lieberman turned the ethical precept that we should honor our elders on its head, heartlessly stealing the money that her unsuspecting clients needed to be able to spend their last days in comfort and dignity,” Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman told the Mainland Current.
“Some of her victims were forced into nursing facilities by these thefts because they no longer could afford to live in their homes. By putting Lieberman in prison and taking away her license to practice law, we send a strong deterrent message to anyone who would consider preying on the elderly in this manner.”
The remaining defendants are still awaiting charges and may be presented to the New Jersey Grand Jury for possible indictment.