Lawyers, Firms ‘Run Down’ in N.Y. Fraud Scam

March 3, 2005

Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau announced recently that four personal injury lawyers and two law firms have pled guilty to filing false documents with the New York State Office of Court Administration (“OCA”) to conceal their involvement in paying illegal referral fees to a “runner” who referred cases to them.

Personal injury lawyers Scott Sessler, Daniel Chilewich, and their law firm Sessler & Chilewich and personal injury lawyers Anthony Ferrandino, Lawrence Dicker, and their law firm Dicker & Ferrandino pleaded guilty to filing false OCA retainer statements to conceal their relationship with separately charged runner Jean Phillipe Landi, from whom they had purchased client referrals. The defendants pled guilty to Offering a False Instrument for Filing in the First Degree, a class E felony.

The pleas were taken by Supreme Court Justice James Yates in New York State Supreme Court, Part 41. The four individual defendants have been promised a sentence of five years probation if they fulfill the terms of their plea agreements. The two law firms will each receive a conditional discharge. Upon their felony pleas, each of the four lawyers was automatically disbarred as a matter of law.

Personal injury lawyers are required to file a retainer statement with OCA for each personal injury case they accept. The retainer statement must provide basic details about the retainer, including the name, address, occupation and relationship of the person who referred the matter to the lawyers. New York State’s Judiciary Law prohibits lawyers from paying referral fees to and splitting settlements with non-lawyers.

The defendant lawyers reportedly pled guilty to falsifying the retainers statements by failing to identify Landi as the sources of referrals. The lawyers falsely stated that the cases were obtained because clients themselves contacted the law firms, or that unnamed “friends” of the clients made the referrals.

In pleading guilty, Sessler and Chilewich reportedly admitted that they intended to defraud the OCA and that they had purchased other client referrals from Landi and concealed their relationship with Landi by falsifying documents filed with OCA. In their pleas, Dicker and Ferrandino each reportedly admitted that they intended to conceal from the OCA that Landi was the true source of the referral. They also each admitted that they paid Landi for referrals of other clients and they concealed their relationship with Landi by filing false retainer statements with OCA.

In addition to their guilty pleas, Sessler and Chilewich paid a total of $150,000 in forfeiture. Dicker and Ferrandino agreed to pay a total of $640,000 in forfeiture.

For their assistance in the investigation, Morgenthau thanked New York Presbyterian Hospital, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation, the New York State Office of Court Administration, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau for their assistance in this investigation.

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