BROOKLYN — A unsuspecting defense attorney was hoodwinked into investing in a Ponzi scheme by a guy he met in criminal court, a new lawsuit charges.
Lawyer Michael Lambert is suing Arthur Gofman and Yehuda Belsky, accusing them of pitching him a bogus investment opportunity in which he lost $30,000.
Lambert said he first learned about the investment from Gofman, whom he met near the clerk's office in Brooklyn Criminal Court. Gofman initially struck up a conversation with Lambert to solicit legal advice but "then turned the conversation towards an investment opportunity" connected to Belsky, the lawsuit says.
The setting of the pitch didn't dissuade Lambert, who represents defendants in drunk-driving cases, drug arrests and white-collar crimes.
The attorney agreed to meet with Belsky at the latter's Wall Street office. There, Belsky promised him a 10 percent return each month on a $10,000 loan, according to the lawsuit. Belsky said at the end of six months, he would return the $10,000, the lawsuit says.
Lambert took the deal — but not before missing another red flag.
Federal records, and a simple Google search, show that Belksy had been banned in 2008 from trading commodities and was ordered to pay $1.35 million in restitution and fines after misappropriating customers' money.
The lawsuit says Lambert gave $10,000 to Belsky in May 2016 and continued to invest, giving Belsky $10,000 in June and $10,000 in October.
In November, Lambert didn't want to pony up anymore, despite Belsky and Gofman continuing to push him to invest more, according to the lawsuit. The suit says that after Lambert stopped forking over money, Belsky stopped making interest payments to him and evaded his calls.
"Mr. Gofman kept assuring Mr. Lambert that Mr. Belsky 'always pays his "whales"’ — referring to people that keep giving him more and more money," Lambert's lawyer, M. Salman Ravala, said. "I don’t believe it is a coincidence that Mr. Belsky stopped paying out to my client once my client stopped paying in to him."
Ravala said the case has all the hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme, in which Gofman acted as a promoter and Belsky showcased a business opportunity that promised large returns over a short period of time.
Ravala said Lambert was unaware that the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission had banned and fined Belsky and his company, Innovative Capital, in 2008.
"It goes to show, in uncertain financial times, it is very easy for clients, no matter how sophisticated they are, to be lulled and taken advantage of," Ravala said.
Belsky and Gofman could not be reached for comment.
Gofman was arrested in Brooklyn in September on a misdemeanor criminal mischief charge after he broke his mother's bedroom door frame when she tried to ration his Xanax prescription, according to court records and sources.