Feds: Florida lawyer got almost $1M by filing fake lawsuits
NEW YORK (AP) — A Florida lawyer collected nearly $1 million in fees by filing over 300 unauthorized lawsuits alleging violations of laws protecting disabled Americans in New York and Florida, federal authorities said Tuesday.
Stuart Finkelstein, 65, of Davie, Florida, was arrested Tuesday and released on $150,000 bail after an appearance in federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
In a release, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said Finkelstein stole the identities of two individuals to file lawsuits in New York and Florida. The lawsuits claimed the individuals were unable to access public establishments because they did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Yet, Berman said, the individuals had never tried to go into the establishments and Finkelstein did not represent them as an attorney.
Berman said Finkelstein engaged in a “galling scheme” that was “as profitable as it was brazen” from at least October 2013 through last May.
A criminal complaint filed in Manhattan federal court said Finkelstein made false representations to various establishments before suing them in the Southern District of New York and the Southern District of Florida. It said he obstructed official judicial proceedings and then settled the fake lawsuits to collect about $930,000 in attorney fees.
Finkelstein was charged with mail fraud, aggravated identity theft obstruction of justice and making false declarations to a court.
A message seeking comment was left with Finkelstein.
In a story earlier this year, the New York Post said Finkelstein usually targeted small businesses.
“It’s like the old days, when the Mafia would say, ‘You have to pay us or we’ll break your windows,’” Micheline Gaulin, the owner of the Left Bank eatery in Manhattan’s West Village, told the newspaper. The Post said she paid over $18,000 to Finkelstein in what she called “a legal shakedown.”
The Post said Finkelstein was barred from practicing law in New York state in 2007 but was reinstated in 2016 after a probe by the state judiciary’s Committee on Character and Fitness.