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Southern Maryland Attorney Disbarred After Employee Embezzled At Least $40,000

CALIFORNIA, Md. — As a result of a “joint petition” between the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland and the managing partner of St. Mary’s County law firm Harris & Capristo LLC, Joseph C. Capristo has been ordered by the highest court of Maryland to indefinitely suspend practicing law, in an order that becomes effective on June 19, 2020.

The petition, which cites information that was collected from an investigation by the Bar Counsel, states that if a hearing were held, sufficient evidence could be produced to deem Capristo as having broken at least five of the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct.

Some might recall the lawsuit which took place last year where Erin M. Barnes, an administrative employee of Harris & Capristo LLC at the time, stole between $25,000 and $100,000 from the firm and firm accounts between Oct. 2013 and Sept. 2017.

An internal investigation into Barnes’ misconduct determined that the Mechanicsville resident misappropriated at least $27,000 from the debt collection agency Tri-County Service Bureau, which had used Harris & Capristo since around 1995 to assist in collections, as well as multiple payments of over $6,300 from the law firm’s “collections trust account”. This would bring the total amount stolen to at least $40,000, though the total amount is not currently known.

The investigation also noted how Barnes “fabricated collection records, intentionally failed to record payments, and delayed preparing notices of satisfaction.”

Per the Bar Counsel’s investigation, the document states that Capristo discovered Barnes had embezzled funds in Dec. 2017, but allowed her to continue clerical-type employment with their firm, while removing her access to the trust account. Capristo did not preform a full audit to find out if Barnes had misappropriated any third-party or client funds at that time.

It was not until July 2018, after it was discovered that Barnes pocketed a $200 cash payment from someone paying an outstanding debt in-person one month prior, that she was terminated.

Barnes later pled guilty to theft of between $25,000 to $100,000 on Dec. 16 of last year, a felony charge in the district court which will lead to a year and a half in jail, and five years of supervised probation.

The Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct that the petition outlines were violated, with Capristo’s acknowledgement, include “competence”, “safekeeping property”, “responsibilities regarding non-attorney assistants”, “attorney trust account record-keeping” and “misconduct”.

Maryland Court of Appeals Senior Judge Robert N. McDonald, a former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley[D] appointee, signed the disbarring order on March 20, allowing Capristo enough time to wrap up “several open client matters”.

Capristo’s indefinite disbarring does come with the caveat that he may still petition the court for reinstatement to the Maryland Bar after 90 days from his June 19 start date.

TheBaynet.com has reached out to Capristo and his lawyer Alvin I. Frederick for comments on the matter, but have not heard back as of this time.

 

Contact Zach at zach.hill@thebaynet.com

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