A lawyer was charged Tuesday with embezzling funds from a union he helped found. Leonard Leibowitz, 70, allegedly withdrew more than $150,000 for his personal use from the account of the 80-member Independent Artists of America Union (IAA) at the American Ballet Theatre at Lincoln Center, which represents dancers and stagehands. The charge carries a maximum prison term of five years.

He made his initial appearance Tuesday before Southern District of New York Magistrate Judge James C. Francis and was released on a $25,000 personal recognizance bond. Leibowitz, who had control of the IAA checkbook, allegedly told a union official in 1997 he was having financial difficulties. The official assumed he wanted an advance on his retainer, but between 1997 and 2005 Leibowitz wrote checks to himself, his law firm and his wife totaling more than $350,000, far in excess of his retainer. His attempt to solve the problem by restructuring the debt as a “loan” was marred by forged signatures, according to the complaint.

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