Animals to benefit from court award

Ohio fund to pay donations stolen by former attorney, judge Caraballo

YOUNGSTOWN — The two charities that animal lover Dolores Falgiani of Boardman left in her will before she died in 2016 are expected to split nearly $100,000 that an Ohio Supreme Court fund has awarded to them.

The court’s Board of Commissioners of the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection announced this week that it has awarded $100,000 to Falgiani’s estate to compensate it for the thefts that former attorney and former Mahoning County judge Diane Vettori Caraballo of Youngstown stole from Falgiani’s home and estate.

Falgiani left money to various people but indicated that the remainder of her estate should be split by Angels for Animals and Animal Charity Humane Society of Boardman.

But because of Caraballo’s thefts, the two organizations have received much less than expected — $20,409.38 each, according to attorney Douglas Neuman of Niles, who was appointed administrator of Falgiani’s estate in 2018.

Neuman filed a foreclosure to try to recoup funds that Caraballo stole on behalf of the estate, but he left that task to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio last year.

Caraballo was sentenced to 30 months in prison in U.S. district court in June 2019 for taking $100,200 from Falgiani’s estate while doing legal work for Falgiani in Caraballo’s private legal practice. Caraballo was ordered to make restitution of $328,000.

Area court judges are part-time. Caraballo resigned as judge in January 2018. She was due to be released from federal prison for the thefts in October 2021.

But Neuman decided to try another way to get back some of the estate’s money and applied last year for funds through the Ohio Supreme Court Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection, which compensates clients who have been victimized by attorneys.

The Lawyers’ Fund announced Monday it had awarded Falgiani’s estate $100,000. Neuman, when reached by phone Tuesday, said he expects that the $100,000 will be split evenly by Angels for Animals and Animal Charity. The only deduction will be a small amount of fees Neuman will earn for applying for and pursuing the funds.

Neuman said retired Trumbull County Probate Judge Thomas Swift, who was hearing the Falgiani estate case on assignment from the Ohio Supreme Court, still must approve the distribution of the funds to Angels for Animals and Animal Charity. Neuman said he does not know how long it might take for the funds to be distributed.

Diane Less of Angels For Animals said Tuesday the funding is “wonderful news.” She said it couldn’t come at a better time for Angels For Animals because of the way gasoline prices are affecting the Angels’ operations. People are dropping off a large number of cats and kittens, and donations to Angels have dropped.

“We’re getting crushed,” she said. “We are getting 20 to 40 cats and kittens a day. The economy is crushing. The (donations) are not coming in the mail because people have to put it in their gas tanks. And they are even starting to cancel their spay / neuter appointments because they can’t pay for them.”

She said owners are surrendering their cats because they can’t afford to keep them.

“We’re just getting hammered from both sides. We have hundreds of people who want to send you that 25 or 50 bucks a month, but they can’t do it now. We are grassroots. Most of our money comes from smaller sources.”

She said it costs $400 per cat that Angels saves.

“Last week, I don’t think I had $100 in donations,” she said. “That’s really bad.” She said the cost of the drugs used to make the cats healthy are very high. “We’re going to work through the tough times this year,” she said.

According to the Ohio Supreme Court, the court established the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection in 1985 “to reimburse law clients who have lost money or property as a result of dishonest conduct by their lawyer.”

Caraballo, 53, was a Mahoning County Area Court judge who presided over the area court in Sebring. She was elected judge in 2002 with jurisdiction over misdemeanor criminal and traffic charges and other matters in Sebring and Beloit villages and Berlin, Green, Goshen, Ellsworth, Smith and Washingtonville townships. She was re-elected in 2006 and 2012.

She pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of mail fraud, one count of structuring cash deposits and one count of making false statements to law enforcement. She resigned from being a lawyer in Ohio in January 2021.

Neuman filed a foreclosure in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court in November 2019 seeking to recover the $328,000 in restitution from Caraballo by forcing the sale of properties controlled by her. Neuman said Vettori is under that order for 20 years.

Neuman said he dismissed the foreclosure because officials in U.S. District Court also were trying to recover the restitution money. Swift told the Vindicator it made more sense for the federal court to try to recover the money because it was the best equipped to do so with its facilities and personnel.

Neuman said as of April, Angels for Animals and Animal Charity received $20,409 each from funds collected by the U.S. District Court.

An attempt to reach Animal Charity on Tuesday was not successful.


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