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Real-Estate Lawyer Stole From Clients to Pay for Tony Lifestyle, DA Says

By Noah Hurowitz | December 17, 2015 4:33pm
 Claudine King was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients.
Claudine King was arrested on Wednesday for allegedly stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients.
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MANHATTAN — A former real-estate lawyer based in Murray Hill stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients over several years, looting escrow accounts to buy fancy dinners and to pay people she had previously ripped off, according to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.

Between 2011 and 2013, Claudine King, 38, pocketed more than $500,000 from three clients, burning through tens of thousands of dollars on dinners at Del Frisco’s steakhouse and the Standard Hotel and buying pricey duds at Alice and Olivia, according to an indictment handed down this week.

“For years, this defendant is accused of telling lie after lie to keep her alleged scams from falling apart,” Vance said in a statement. “While Claudine King’s clients waited for payments that were rightfully owed to them, King allegedly used their money to repay previous victims of her theft, and pay for business and personal expenses.”

Police arrested King on Wednesday, and a judge ordered her held on $200,000 bail, according to court records. She is due back in court on Jan. 12.

King, who ran her own law office at 110 E. 40th St., launched the first scheme detailed in the indictment in April of 2011, when she allegedly stole $90,000 from the escrow of a client who had put a down payment on a property, and blowing through the cash in less than a month.

After the sale closed, King told her client the money was sitting in an escrow account until a mortgage on the property could clear, Vance said. Nearly two years later, when the client asked King to pay the seller of the property, King couldn’t do so because the money was long gone, according to Vance.

In January of 2013, before the victim caught on to King’s alleged theft, the client forked over another $50,000 for a down payment on another property, which King promptly deposited directly into the bank account of her law office and spent within weeks, according to the indictment. King never paid back the $50,000, Vance said

In July of 2011, King swiped $41,000 from a client’s escrow account, spending half of it in less than a month. She allegedly strung along the victim — an elderly woman in rural Virginia — for years, telling her the sale had not yet closed, when in fact the deal was done in July of 2011. Only after the victim notified authorities of the theft did King cut her client a check for half of what she owed her, Vance said.

In February of 2013, King was representing a third client, based in New Jersey, who was selling a house the victim had inherited from her mother. A proposed buyer made a down payment of $150,000, which King promptly put into her operating bank account and spent before the deal was even through, Vance said.

A month later, the client decided to go with a different buyer, and King pocketed $251,000 from that buyer and used it to pay off the $150,000 down payment from the first buyer and to pay back $20,000 to the victim she swindled in July of 2011, among other business and personal expenses, according to Vance.

In March of 2014, King gave up her New York law license, according to Vance, though the reason for the move was not immediately clear.

King’s attorney, Larry Weissman, called the allegations against his client — whom he said he knows personally — “disturbing and tragic.”

“I’ve known her for years as a very good person, but I’ve read the indictment and it is disturbing,” said Weissman. “She gave up her law license on the same accusations, she cooperated with the grievance committee, and now she’s facing the consequences of her actions.”

A representative for the District Attorney would not comment on the possibility of King defrauding more than the three victims described in the indictment, but Vance encouraged anyone who thinks they might be the victim of a similar crime to call his Financial Frauds Bureau’s hotline at 212-335-8900.

A previous version of this story misstated the amount of money stolen from a client in July 2011. She allegedly stole $41,000 from the client, according to the District Attorney.