Judge adds 6 years to lawyer's plea deal

February 19, 2008 4:22:45 PM PST
A former attorney was in court Tuesday, accused of swindling at least one family out of $300,000.The lawyer was charged with forging his client's signature and putting insurance money into his own account.

He had negotiated a plea deal of one to three years in prison, but the judge said that wasn't tough enough.

Long Island reporter Lauren DeFranco has the story.

The victim cried in court today, saying her lawyer turned out to be a con artist who made her lose faith in the justice system. And that struck a cord with the judge, who changed the maximum sentence from three years to nine years.

"He lied, and he's going away," victim Melissa said. "He's going to prison."

Melissa was betrayed by someone she trusted. But Tuesday, she found some comfort in watching as her former lawyer, Joseph Levine, was hit with a hard dose of reality.

The disbarred attorney had negotiated a plea deal for a maximum of three years. But the judge changed his mind, handing Levine a much stiffer sentence.

"I think he just listened to someone who was a victim of this man's conning and scheming and lying," Melissa said, "And it just renewed our faith in the justice system."

It was faith that was lost after the 60-year-old Levine admittedly stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from at least two clients.

In Melissa's case, he lied to an insurance company, claiming her daughter was having heart surgery. He forged her signature and deposited $300,000 in his own account. But Levine's own attorney insists he is a good man, a loving and devoted father plagued by a serious gambling addiction.

"My client was the subject of a mafia hit," attorney Michael Soshnick said. "As a result, my client panicked and realized that he needed to pay the money to the people from whom he had borrowed the money."

But the judge sympathized with the mother, who cried in court, saying, "He made my daughter a victim and that is not acceptable. If you do not give him the maximum sentence, how will I ever explain to my children that they should trust authorities and believe in the system?"

"He used my family and my children, and he can't do that," she said later. "And he can't get away with it."

Levine could opt to go to trial, but then he will be facing even more time. In that case, he could get up to 15 years. Prosecutors say there are definitely more victims out there.