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Prominent Atlantic County Attorney Who Practiced Elder Law Headed for Prison

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TRENTON – Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman announced that a prominent Atlantic County, N.J., attorney who specialized in elder law was sentenced to state prison today for defrauding elderly clients of millions of dollars and laundering the funds through various accounts, including her attorney trust account. Last week, the Division of Criminal Justice obtained an indictment charging the owner of an in-home senior care company, her sister and three other defendants in connection with the fraud.Barbara Lieberman, 63, of Northfield, was sentenced today to 10 years in state prison, including 3 ½ years of parole ineligibility, by Superior Court Judge Michael A. Donio in Atlantic County. Lieberman pleaded guilty on Nov. 3 to an accusation charging her with first-degree money laundering. As a result of her guilty plea, Lieberman forfeited $3 million that the state seized from her, which will be used to pay restitution to her victims. She also forfeited her law license in New Jersey and a BMW.

Lieberman was charged in an investigation by the New Jersey State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice. Deputy Attorney General Yvonne G. Maher prosecuted Lieberman and handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice Specialized Crimes Bureau. Detective Richard Wheeler led the investigation for the New Jersey State Police Financial Crimes Unit.

“We prosecute many egregious cases of financial fraud, but this one stands out for the selfish manner in which Lieberman plundered the life savings of the vulnerable seniors who placed their trust in her as an attorney,” said Acting Attorney General Hoffman. “Instead of honoring her elders and serving them honestly, Lieberman sized up their assets and drained them dry.”

“Lieberman’s oath required her to uphold the law and faithfully guard the interests of her clients, but instead she sinisterly preyed on the elderly victims who hired her,” said Director Elie Honig of the Division of Criminal Justice. “By stripping her of her license and imprisoning her for a lengthy term, we send a stern warning to any licensed professional who would callously exploit seniors in this fashion.”

“Lieberman used her position as an attorney to gain the trust of vulnerable, elderly victims, stealing savings and assets that took a lifetime to acquire,” said Colonel Rick Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police. “Ironically, this prison sentence will ensure that she will be behind bars as she enters her senior years.”

Lieberman was arrested in March 2014, along with Jan Van Holt, owner of “A Better Choice,” a firm that offered seniors in-home services including “custom designed life care and legal financial planning.”

Van Holt, 58, of Linwood, was indicted by a state grand jury last week on March 17. Also charged in the indictment were Van Holt’s sister, Sondra Steen, 59, of Linwood, who helped run “A Better Choice”; Susan Hamlett, 56, of Egg Harbor Township, who worked for them as an aid for elderly clients; William Price, 57, of Linwood, who worked with Van Holt as a caseworker for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services when Van Holt was a county caseworker; and Dr. Maria Teresa Daclan, 53, of Galloway Township, a physician who allegedly lied to a detective to protect Van Holt.

Lieberman was a leading specialist in elder law in Atlantic County who gave seminars to senior citizens on end of life affairs, wills and living wills. She targeted elderly clients with substantial assets who typically did not have any immediate family. Van Holt allegedly referred clients to Lieberman, and vice versa. The thefts began in 2003 and continued through 2013. Van Holt previously worked for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services as a case worker. After she left that job in 2006, she started her own business, A Better Choice, offering in-home services to senior citizens. Those who worked for the company, including Van Holt, Steen and Hamlett, performed a variety of services for clients, including household chores, errands, driving clients to appointments, scheduling, budgeting, paying bills, balancing checkbooks, and other tasks. They did not provide healthcare services.

The defendants allegedly took control of the finances of their victims by forging a power of attorney or obtaining one on false pretenses. Lieberman would prepare the documents naming herself or another defendant as power of attorney. The defendants then allegedly added their names to the victim’s bank account or transferred the victim’s funds into new accounts they controlled. Thereafter, the defendants allegedly siphoned away the money to pay their own expenses, including six-figure credit card bills for Lieberman. Van Holt allegedly used stolen funds to purchase two Mercedes cars, a Florida condo, pool supplies and veterinary services for her pets, among other things. A portion of the money was used to fund the victim’s continued expenses to hide the thefts, and in some cases, money from one victim would be transferred to another victim to pay bills. If the victim owned stocks or bonds, they were cashed out and the funds were deposited into the account allegedly controlled by the defendants.

Lieberman also prepared wills for some of the victims. She typically named herself or Van Holt as executor of the estate and named Steen as a beneficiary, or named other beneficiaries who had little or no ties to the victim and never actually received anything from the estate. The defendants allegedly relied on fraud, manipulation or forgery in the execution of the wills. In this manner, they allegedly continued to steal from the victims’ estates after they died. The defendants would sometimes use the powers of attorney to transfer the victim’s assets into Lieberman’s Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA). Lawyers are required to maintain IOLTA accounts to safeguard client funds. However, Lieberman wrote checks from her IOLTA account to herself, Van Holt, Steen and Price.

Van Holt, Steen and Price face first-degree conspiracy and money laundering charges, as well as second-degree theft and official misconduct charges. Hamlett faces second-degree charges of conspiracy, money laundering and theft. Hamlett is charged in connection with a single client, a woman from whom Lieberman, Van Holt, Steen and Hamlett allegedly stole approximately $112,000. Price is charged in connection with an elderly couple he met through his job as a county caseworker. Price allegedly conspired with Van Holt, Steen and Lieberman to steal more than $800,000 from the couple and their estate. Daclan faces a third-degree charge of hindering apprehension or prosecution. The indictment is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Detective Wheeler and Deputy Attorney General Maher of the Casino Prosecutions Unit conducted the investigation under the supervision of Deputy Attorney General Jill Mayer, Chief of the Specialized Crimes Bureau. Acting Attorney General Hoffman thanked the New Jersey Office of the Public Guardian, which initially referred the case to the State Police. Deputy Attorney General Derek Miller is handling the state’s forfeiture action.