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A legal secretary with a suburban Chicago law firm has been charged by federal authorities with embezzling more than $2 million from client accounts. Marlena S. Portnoy was taken into custody by agents with the FBI on Friday and appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Ian Levin who ordered her to be held without bail. Portnoy made less than $40,000 a year as a legal secretary at the Law Office of Ronald G. Pestine where she worked from late 1997 until May 2000 and had access to financial documents that allowed her to contact clients of the firm, according to documents filed with the case. In a criminal complaint filed Aug. 18, Portnoy was charged with mail fraud, and money laundering for using some of the nearly $2.4 million she stole to buy a $200,000 townhouse in Des Plaines. Authorities say that between September 1997 and May 2000 Portnoy developed the scheme to embezzle money from the firm and its clients. One client, an owner of a trust at Northview Bank and Trust, had more than $1 million taken from the account when Portnoy allegedly forged checks from the trust fund and had it deposited into her own account in a Chicago bank, according to an affidavit filed with the case. U.S. v. Marlena S. Portnoy, No. 00CR663. The 13 other victims had amounts between $6,600 and $389,575 taken from them by Portnoy through fraudulent means that was later deposited into her account, the affidavit said. Pestine himself was defrauded out of $60,000 when Portnoy allegedly wrote checks out of the firm’s account to herself, the affidavit said. “In order to secret such wrongdoing, Portnoy would log in the check register that the checks were payable to office supply stores, recorders of various counties, and various banks for client transactions, while said checks were actually written to herself and/or for her benefit,” the affidavit said. In June a civil lawsuit was filed against Portnoy in Cook County Circuit Court by the firm through which some of the money she allegedly stole, the affidavit said. This is the second report this summer of a high-dollar embezzlement scheme by an employee. In June, a complaint filed in Cook County Circuit Court, the firm of Edelman, Combs & Latturner detailed how former office manager Rae J. Puccini embezzled or stole up to $389,000 from the firm in recent years by forging names on checks and misusing the firm’s corporate credit card for personal items. On June 22, Rae Puccini, 55, was found shot in the head in a parking lot in west suburban Downers Grove. The wounds, police maintain, appear to have been self-inflicted. The complaint contends that three life insurance policies totaling $210,000 taken out by Puccini on her own life should come to the firm, rather than to her adult son and assigned beneficiary, because the decedent had purchased the policies with embezzled funds.

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