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A longtime Miami criminal defense attorney was permanently disbarred for selling four valuable classic cars that belonged to his client and keeping the money. Alan Karten, a solo practitioner who has been practicing for 27 years, was disbarred Oct. 10 after the Florida Supreme Court agreed that he was guilty of fraud in his representation of Nelson Loynaz Jr., who was indicted in 1996 on cocaine trafficking charges. After disciplinary hearings in March, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jerald Bagley recommended disbarment, concluding that Loynaz’s version of what happened with the cars and the money was more credible than Karten’s. The attorney maintains his innocence. “The whole thing is horrendous,” said Karten, 52, who plans to pursue a new career in real estate development. “I think it’s incredible that on the basis of one man’s opinion, I can lose everything. It’s essentially the death penalty for my license.” In June 1996, Karten was appointed to represent Loynaz in U.S. District Court in Miami. A year later, Loynaz pleaded guilty to the drug charge and was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison. Under the plea deal, Loynaz agreed to forfeit six cars that had been seized by federal agents when he was arrested: a Mercedes-Benz, two 1960s Chevrolet Corvettes, two 1960s Ford Mustangs and a 1994 Dodge Viper. During the civil forfeiture proceedings, however, Loynaz negotiated an agreement with prosecutors to give up only one of the cars, the Dodge Viper, and pay $30,000 to the government. The other cars, which were still impounded, were to be returned to Loynaz upon receipt of the $30,000. That money was to be paid in the form of a cashier’s check from Karten’s office. In November 1997, while Loynaz was sitting in a federal prison in Arkansas, Karten borrowed $30,000 from his wife to pay off the forfeiture settlement and took the cars from the federal storage facility. Karten claimed that because Loynaz didn’t have the money to pay the settlement, the two had verbally agreed that Karten would pay the $30,000, get the cars back and sell them. Karten then would reimburse himself the $30,000 and split any further profit with Loynaz. Karten’s half would go to cover his legal fees for representing Loynaz in the forfeiture proceedings. Karten turned over the Mercedes-Benz to Loynaz’s wife, then sold the remaining four cars to a business associate for $30,000. He never gave Loynaz any money, he said, because there wasn’t any profit. But in its investigation of the situation, the Florida Bar later found that Karten received an additional $25,000 for sale of the cars — none of which he shared with Loynaz. Loynaz claims Karten received even more than that. “Two of the cars he shipped to Australia for at least $50,000 each,” said Loynaz, who has filed a $150,000 civil suit against Karten to recover the money he claims Karten stole. That suit is pending before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Norman Gerstein. Loynaz insisted that he never authorized the transaction in the first place. He accused Karten of stealing assets that he planned to invest to support his family while he was in prison and to pay for his two children’s private school education. In reviewing the case, Judge Bagley found that Karten committed fraud because he never got a written agreement from Loynaz authorizing his representation in the forfeiture case or the use of the four cars as collateral for legal fees. Shortly after taking possession of the cars, Karten had sent the documents to Loynaz in prison, but Loynaz had refused to sign them. “It doesn’t make me happy that this guy got disbarred,” says Loynaz, who now runs Exotic Toys, a luxury car rental agency in Miami Springs. “But I’ve got justice for what he did to me. If he does something wrong, he should pay the price.” Karten’s disbarment goes into effect in 30 days to give him time to close out his Northwest Seventh Street practice. He also was ordered to pay $6,461 in court costs.

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