Goldberg will be on state probation until 2010.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Former lawyer Richard Goldberg won't spend any more time behind bars for bilking clients out of their money.
Admitting he would be criticized no matter what decision he made, Visiting Judge Stephen Yarbrough of Lucas County suspended a 15-year prison term for Goldberg and placed him on a five-year probation at a sentencing hearing Monday in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.
Goldberg, 59, of Liberty, pleaded guilty in February to 29 state charges of engaging in a pattern of corrupt activity, theft and forgery. He admitted he improperly took money from clients by forging their names at his former offices in Youngstown and Canfield.
The judge sentenced him to a total of 15 years on all the charges.
He also fined him a total of $17,500, ordered him to complete 600 hours of community service, provide yearly financial statements, and begin paying monthly restitution as soon as possible after Goldberg's financial status is straightened out in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. Goldberg also is to pay all costs involved in his state case.
Further, the judge ruled the state probation would overlap the federal probation. Goldberg served 51 months in federal prison on charges that mirrored those in the state case and was released in October 2003. He was placed on a three-year probation by the federal court and ordered to make restitution of $4.47 million.
Jay Macejko, an assistant county prosecutor, said Goldberg will be on state probation supervision until April 11, 2010.
Judge Yarbrough said trying to mete out justice in the case was difficult, but in the end, he wanted to make sure the five families involved got some money.
"What is justice here? That's what the community wants. I'll be criticized no matter what I do," the judge said.
He added that Goldberg already had served prison time, could no longer practice law and was not likely to repeat his crimes. Further, the victims would never be compensated if Goldberg was placed in prison for 15 years, he said.
In the end, the judge said, Goldberg committed a breach of trust involving those most vulnerable. Judge Yarbrough apologized to the families, adding that the legal system, in general, was at fault for not finding out about Goldberg's activities sooner and for not doing a better job of monitoring what was going on.
He said the legal profession has been hurt by Goldberg's actions, but, overall, "Mahoning County's lawyers are as good as any in the state."
Macejko said Goldberg received an anonymous monetary gift of more than $600,000 that will be used to pay the five families he bilked. The money was disbursed from Goldberg's lawyers' account, he added.
Atty. Brian E. Dickerson of Columbus, who represented Goldberg, said the money came as a gift from a third party, was not Goldberg's personal funds, and that Goldberg at no time had access to the money. They did not name the benefactor.
Goldberg told the court that there were not adequate words available to express his regret at hurting the people from whom he stole money.
"I will spend the rest of my life trying to make it right [to the victims] and that's what I will do," Goldberg said.
Before sentencing, two members of the families Goldberg stole from spoke to Judge Yarbrough.
Atty. Brian P. Kish said the family retained Goldberg to represent Kish's brother, Michael, in a medical malpractice suit. He said Goldberg never told the family he had received four settlements totaling $1 million, and that Goldberg had forged signatures to get that money. The $60,000 negotiated for settlement in the criminal case was inadequate, he said.
Jeff Guy of Columbiana County said his family trusted Goldberg when they reluctantly agreed to file a malpractice suit involving Guy's son, who uses a wheelchair. He said the money Goldberg kept from the settlement could have helped in his son's care. He said he's now leery of the legal profession because of Goldberg's actions.
The amounts paid range from $21,662 for one family to a high of $405,545 for another. The total amount paid out was $629,704.
Once released from his federal prison time, Goldberg was transferred to the county jail to serve 21 months imposed by Judge Timothy P. Maloney of county probate court. The judge concluded that Goldberg concealed $1.2 million that should have been paid to four clients.
A federal judge upheld a magistrate's decision to vacate 18 months of that 21-month contempt-of-court jail sentence.
U.S. District Judge Peter C. Economus ruled in a four-page opinion released last month that the matter be sent back to Judge Maloney for further proceedings within 60 days.