CAMDEN, N.J. (Legal Newsline) - A disbarred asbestos defense attorney from Sicklerville, N.J., recently admitted to fraudulently adding clients to more than 100 asbestos lawsuits in New York and then charging them more than $1 million to defend in court.
Former attorney Arobert C. Tonoghanua, 44, pleaded guilty before Judge Noel L. Hillman in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey to one count of wire fraud, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman, representing the District of New Jersey, announced in a press release on Tuesday.
Fishman stated in the release that Tonoghanua worked for a Haddonfield, N.J., law firm specializing in toxic tort litigation, Workers' Compensation and immigration law from 2008 to April 2012, during which time he carried out his scheme.
Tonoghanua obtained copies of legitimately filed asbestos complaints in New York state courts and falsely altered them by deleting a named defendant and inserting the name of one or more of the firm's clients.
He then sent the altered complaints to the firms' clients, their representatives and insurance companies without the knowledge of colleagues.
Tonoghanua and his co-workers represented the clients in the phony lawsuits, even reaching some settlements and obtaining more than $1 million in fees, costs and settlements.
He admitted in court that he came up with the scheme in order to increase business and improve his standing in the firm. He also received bonuses and increased compensation.
The law firm has already repaid its clients.
As part of his guilty plea, Tonoghanua agreed to make a full restitution to his former law firm for all the losses resulting from the scheme.
He also faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 find, or twice the gross gain or loss from the scheme - whichever is greater.
He is scheduled to be sentenced on June 17.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Heather Isringhausen Gvillo at firstname.lastname@example.org