After spending more than two years probing the case, an investigator has recommended the Oregon State Bar prosecute a prominent criminal-defense lawyer on seven alleged violations of professional conduct.
Portland lawyer Gary Bertoni improperly withdrew money from his client trust account on dozens of occasions, used fraud and dishonesty, failed to maintain proper records and refused to hand over key document in the investigation, according to a report (PDF) submitted to the bar Dec. 10.
Bertoni has not yet replied to a phone message seeking comment. His lawyer, Christopher Hardman, declined to comment, saying he has not read the report.
As reported in WW, a former office manager accused Bertoni in 2007 of improperly taking money from his client trust account. That allegation, if proven, would almost certainly cost Bertoni his license to practice law.
Portland lawyer Daniel Steinberg took on the complex case pro bono as an investigator for the bar. His report lays out 101 transactions in 2006 and 2007 in which Bertoni allegedly transferred amounts of up to $50,000 in and out of the account reserved for his clients’ money.
The investigation notes it does not appear any of Bertoni’s clients suffered financial losses as the money shifted in and out. But touching client money for any reason is an enormous no-no for lawyers.
According to the report, Bertoni refused to hand over personal bank records that might have shown where the money went. Bertoni admitted using his firm’s credit-card machine for cash advances because it was cheaper than going to the bank, the report says.
At several points in time, Steinberg found Bertoni’s client-trust account had been more than $50,000 short, the report says. But Bertoni repeatedly denied any knowledge of questionable transactions, according to the report.
Steinberg wrote he did not find that claim credible based on an email Bertoni allegedly wrote on Jan. 8, 2007, saying he had “made arrangements for a $31,000 deposit into the trust account” and had “put $6,500 in on Friday.” Those transactions were reflected in bank statements, the report says.