Shore man gets 26-year prison term for stealing $1.5M from clients

Joseph Talafous Jr. (NJ Office of Attorney General image)

Joseph Talafous Jr. (NJ Office of Attorney General image)

A disbarred lawyer convicted of stealing about $1.5 million overall from five clients, including the trust fund of a young boy whose father died in a workplace accident, is now headed to prison.

Joseph Talafous Jr. received a 26-year sentence Thursday. He had been convicted in January on numerous counts of theft, misapplication of entrusted property and filing fraudulent state income tax returns.

The 55-year-old Toms River resident had a law practice in Jersey City. He was disbarred in August 2015.

Authorities say the money was stolen between October 2004 and May 2015.

The victims included the estates of people who had died and a trust fund set up for a young boy whose father was killed in a workplace accident when the child was an infant. Talafous stole approximately $461,000 from the young boy’s fund, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors say additional examples include:

  • 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 $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.

“Lawyers have a duty to uphold the law and defend the interests of their clients,” Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal said in a news release. “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.”

In addition to the prison sentence, Talafous was ordered to pay full restitution.

Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice added that the sentence “is just punishment for his callous betrayal.”

———————————————————

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.