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Lawyer Who Looted Slave Theater Owner's Estate Gets Prison Time: DA

By Noah Hurowitz | April 21, 2017 10:30am | Updated on April 24, 2017 8:45am
 The late Judge John Phillips Jr. turned his Slave theater into a hotbed of civil-rights activity in the 1980s.
The late Judge John Phillips Jr. turned his Slave theater into a hotbed of civil-rights activity in the 1980s.
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DNAinfo/Paul DeBenedetto

BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — A disgraced Queens lawyer will spend at least a year in state prison for looting the estate of the late Judge John Phillips, a former civil judge and owner of the famed Slave Theater, according to prosecutors.

Frank Racano, of Howard Beach, was sentenced to between one and three years in state prison after pleading guilty earlier this year to siphoning more than half a million dollars from the sale of Phillips’ now-shuttered historic theater at 1215 Fulton St., which hosted civil rights leaders including Al Sharpton as well as performances in the 1980s and 1990s., according to acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez.

Racano, 54, who was hired in 2010 to assist in the sale of Phillips’ properties, wrote and cashed more than 300 checks totaling $587,160.56, utterly depleting the account into which the proceeds were deposited, Gonzalez said. The theater had been locked in a legal battle between Phillips' former partner, Clarence Hardy Jr. and his nephew by marriage, Samuel Boykin, who successfully petitioned for control of his assets after his death.

The theater was sold for $18.5 million in 2015 and was demolished last month, reportedly to make way for apartments.

“This defendant disregarded his duty to his client, stealing nearly all of the proceeds due to the estate of the beloved Hon. Judge Phillips, including from the sale of the historic Slave Theater. He’s now been held accountable for his brazen theft and shameful conduct.”

In 2012, a buyer contracted to buy the theater and an adjacent lot for a total of $2.2 million, and paid the late judge’s estate a down payment of $220,000, payable to “Frank Racano, as attorney,” according to prosecutors. After a judge OK'd the sale, the buyer paid the net proceeds of the sale, $517,339.65, to Racano in two checks, Gonzalez said.

Between February 2013 and May 2015, Racano proceeded to pay himself the remainder of the cash in amounts ranging from $45 to $7,500 without authorization, prosecutors said. He was indicted in May, 2016 for grand larceny and pleaded guilty in January.

Phillips, who was known as the “Kung-Fu Judge,” was elected as a civil judge without the support of the Brooklyn political machine, and eventually found himself in the crosshairs of longtime District Attorney Charles Hynes, who had Phillips declared mentally incompetent and his assets placed in state receivership after Phillips announced a bid to unseat Hynes in 2001, friends and family said.

He died childless, unmarried, and without a will in 2008 at the troubled Prospect Park Residence, an assisted-living facility in Park Slope that has been the subject of extensive litigation and that a lawsuit brought by Phillips’ cousin blamed for the judge’s death.

John O’Hara, a close friend and fellow political outsider in Brooklyn, described the facility as a “Confederate prison.”

Boykin was not immediately available for comment.