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Amherst lawyer suspended for taking money from client trust accounts

An Amherst attorney has been suspended from practicing law for one year after being found guilty of professional misconduct for how he handled his financial accounts.

The Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court ruled that Barry S. Dolgoff commingled personal and professional funds and did not maintain a special escrow account for money belonging to his clients.

The matter was resolved through mitigation in which Dolgoff admitted that, beginning in September 2009, he took $149,000 from his client trust account funds for personal use more than 11 times. He left the account balance substantially below how much he needed to meet his obligations to clients and others.

The Grievance Committee of the Eighth Judicial District also alleged that Dolgoff was guilty of what was essentially bad bookkeeping: not keeping seven years’ worth of financial records and “failing to make contemporaneous and accurate entries of all financial transactions in his records of receipts and disbursements, ledger books, and any other books of account kept by him in the regular course of his practice.”

The offenses are considered to be violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct set by the state.

Dolgoff said he used personal funds to restore $145,892 to the trust account when those obligations were coming due.

In another matter, Dolgoff admitted that in December 2009 he failed to follow a Supreme Court order to hold in an escrow account $20,000 from an estate settlement of $95,000, pending the satisfaction of any Medicare liens. The balance fell substantially below $20,000 and, in November 2013, the court wrote, “he borrowed funds from a relative to disburse to the beneficiaries of the estate the remaining settlement funds, but he did so without confirming the absence of any Medicare liens.”

In Dolgoff’s defense, several hearing witnesses testified to his overall honesty and to his dedication to his clients, and the ruling noted that no clients were permanently harmed by the financial misappropriations.

Efforts to reach Dolgoff for a comment about the decision were unsuccessful.

The decision suspending Dolgoff for one year was issued in November. In the interim, according to the filing, he is working with a mentoring attorney to get his financial affairs in order.

Dolgoff, 62, was admitted to practice law in New York State in 1992.

Over the years Dolgoff has represented several clients whose court cases made headlines.

Dolgoff represented the late Chester A. Rusek, an 89-year-old man accused of fatally beating his 86-year-old roommate at an assisted-living facility in the Town of Tonawanda.

In another case, he represented Bangaly D. Chelley of Buffalo, who was convicted of second-degree murder for firing the bullet that killed an innocent 82-year-old bystander near the Maryner Towers apartment complex, close to LaSalle Park, on the city’s West Side.

He also defended Jose G. Figueroa, a former Puerto Rican drug gang hit man who, after reacquiring his religious faith, admitted killing a Buffalo teen in a drug underworld dispute 12 years earlier in 1998.