A Clarence attorney who admitted stealing $236,250 from a 91-year-old client avoided prison and probation Wednesday when he was sentenced to a three-year conditional discharge.
If Carl B. Kustell stays out of trouble for three years, performs 100 hours of community service and pays $100 a month restitution for three years, he will avoid further punishment from Erie County Court Judge Susan Eagan.
But he did get a tongue-lashing from the Erie County district attorney after his sentencing.
"He is a disgraced, disbarred attorney," John J. Flynn said in a news conference.
Kustell, 79, pleaded guilty to second-degree grand larceny in December 2018, admitting he stole the money from a client to finance his own personal injury cases. He was disbarred shortly after that.
Kustell could have been sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison, according to the District Attorney's Office.
When Eagan asked him if he wanted to make a statement at the sentencing, Kustell declined. Kustell's lawyer, Joel Daniels, declined to speak with The Buffalo News about the defendant.
According to Flynn, Kustell's victim was 91 when she died, with Kustell having taken control of her finances in her later years. Kustell stole the funds from May to September 2017.
"He was initially doing her life planning, her Medicaid/Medicare planning, and in the course of that he had his client's sister sign some documents that would basically give him control of all of his client's money," said Flynn. "The client was alive at the time. The sister was to be the beneficiary of his client. Subsequently his client died, and after the death he had the sister sign some more documents, giving him further control over this money.
"He basically stole that money."
Flynn said Kustell used the funds to pay for disbursements and other necessary costs needed in building personal injury lawsuits.
Flynn said the victim's sister will be fully reimbursed via New York's Lawyers’ Fund For Client Protection.
"If you think about it, it's unfortunate that we have to have that in our society, but we do unfortunately," Flynn said, "and so the victim will be paid back all of the money."
Kustell's restitution payments will go towards the Lawyers' Fund For Client Protection. Eagan, in her decision, also mentioned pending personal injury cases that Kustell has since transferred to another lawyer; if those yield any revenue that would have gone to Kustell, that money also may go towards restitution.
"I have thousands and thousands of friends who are lawyers, and I have obviously a great respect for our profession, a great respect for fellow members of the bar," Flynn said, "but members of the bar need to know, if you commit a crime, you're not going to get away with it."