An Albany woman admitted to operating a fake law firm that had more than 400 clients across New York, including Cayuga County.
Antonia Barrone operated the NYS Prisoner Assistance Center and advertised herself as an attorney assisting prison inmates and their families with parole appeals and other legal business. But she is not a licensed attorney and her company did not have any lawyers on staff, according to state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
The attorney general's Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit in May accusing Barrone of defrauding clients by claiming she was an attorney. In August, a judge ordered Barrone and the NYS Prisoner Assistance Center to pay a $244,500 penalty and restitution of $23,427.70 to more than 400 consumers who paid her to handle legal matters. She was also banned from practicing law and advertising legal services.
The lawsuit wasn't the end of Barrone's legal woes. The attorney general's Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau launched a criminal investigation into Barrone's conduct from Sept. 1, 2012 to April 30, 2017. Barrone was accused of filing legal documents with forged signatures and fake notary stamps. She also wrote letters for her clients using the letterhead of a fake law firm, "Stacchini & Barrone, Attorneys at Law."
The fake law firm included the name of a licensed attorney who wasn't aware of Barrone's activities. She also used several aliases to carry out her scheme.
"Practicing law without a license undermines our judicial system and puts vulnerable consumers in need of legal services at risk," Schneiderman said. "My office is committed to protecting the legal rights of New Yorkers and will continue to work with our partners in law enforcement to ensure that those who attempt to impair that right are held accountable."
Barrone's reach extended across the state. She had clients in Albany, Cayuga, Clinton, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schoharie, Suffolk, Ulster, Warren and Westchester counties.
Schneiderman credited the state Board of Parole counsel's office, which discovered Barrone's scheme targeting inmates and their families.
Barrone pleaded guilty to first-degree scheme to defraud, a class E felony. She will serve 1 1/2 to 3 years in prison. Her prison term will run consecutively to a separate sentence of 1 1/3 to 4 years in prison she received last year. She was convicted on charges stemming from a high-speed chase in 2016.