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A Middlesex County grand jury has indicted a well-known East Brunswick, N.J., litigator on charges of theft by deception, involving $79,000 in clients’ retainers on cases that he never followed through on. A. Kenneth Weiner, 63, who had a busy criminal and personal injury practice for two decades — and gambling debts, too — took fees ranging from $1,000 to $25,000 from clients in Middlesex, Monmouth, Union and Ocean counties, Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan said after the 12-count indictment was issued on Aug. 25. Weiner created a false impression that he would complete legal services as promised and didn’t do it, Kaplan said. Theft by deception is punishable by up to five years in prison per count. Weiner was known in central New Jersey as a lawyer with a willingness to talk to reporters and with quirky clients worth talking about. In 1999, while Weiner was negotiating to get a bail bondsman’s job back, the client opened fire and wounded the employer in the shoulder as the lawyer looked on. In 1990, Weiner represented Chante Fernandez, dubbed the “Car Baby Mom” by the tabloids for locking her child in a hatchback while she worked in a mall. He turned the case into a crusade for single working moms with no child-care options, and Fernandez got a light sentence. Then there was the Vietnam veteran who was arrested after firefighters, responding to a blaze in his house, found rocket launchers, rifle ammo, grenades, human skulls and Nazi flags. “People don’t consider him a Rambo type, but they feel he needs psychiatric help and I agree with that,” Weiner told a news reporter. Weiner was a gambler. According to a Chapter 11 petition, he had lost and then won $3 million in casinos over a two-year period, but at the time of the petition he owed $600,000 in taxes and $190,000 to Atlantic City and Las Vegas casinos. The petition was dismissed when he didn’t appear for a hearing, the Home News Tribune of Woodbridge reported. Troubles at Weiner’s firm became public last year. Between June and August, eight former clients signed criminal complaints in East Brunswick Municipal Court, prompting a county investigation. In September, a former associate, Jeffrey Lichtenstein, pleaded guilty to stealing from the firm and was sentenced to three years’ probation. The lawyer disciplinary system is involved, too. Last July, the state Supreme Court temporarily suspended him and the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection has paid $76,557 to 33 claimants who said he either took retainers without doing work, or misappropriated settlement funds. A pre-arraignment conference was tentatively scheduled for Wednesday.

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