By David Thomas
(Reuters) – A Florida lawyer was sentenced to four years in federal prison for mail fraud on Thursday after prosecutors in New York said he filed hundreds of fraudulent disability lawsuits using stolen identities.
U.S. District Judge Paul Gardephe in Manhattan also ordered Stuart Finkelstein, 68, to pay a $200,000 fine and forfeit more than $640,000.
Prosecutors said Finkelstein filed nearly 300 Florida and New York federal lawsuits on behalf of two plaintiffs who purportedly visited public establishments but could not enter them because they were not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
But the plaintiffs never retained Finkelstein as an attorney or even visited the establishments, prosecutors said.
“Finkelstein has now been held accountable and is facing prison time for his brazen scheme,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement.
Finkelstein’s lawyer, David Bertan, declined to comment.
The scheme allowed Finkelstein to reap more than $600,000 for himself and caused more than $1.5 million in losses for the businesses he sued, prosecutors said.
The New York Post in 2019 reported that Finkelstein usually targeted “mom-and-pop shops.” One laundromat owner in Brooklyn said Finkelstein warned that he could lose his house if he did not settle the ADA lawsuit Finkelstein had filed.
Finkelstein initially pleaded not guilty to five counts including mail fraud, aggravated identity theft and obstruction of justice. He later pleaded guilty in July 2022 to one count of mail fraud.
Finkelstein was disbarred in New York in 2007 after he resigned over misconduct allegations, but his New York law license was reinstated in 2016.
The case is USA v. Stuart Finkelstein, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 21-cr-217.
For USA: Rushmi Bhaskaran of the U.S. Attorney’s Office
For Stuart Finkelstein: David Bertan
Prosecutors say attorney stole identities to bring false ADA suits