A former Middletown mayor, paralegal and attorney was sentenced Wednesday to 46 months in prison and three years of supervised release for embezzling more than $500,000 from his former employer, and then stealing nearly $400,000 from his brother to pay back the law firm.
Stephen Gionfriddo, 68, had pleaded guilty in November to one count of mail fraud and one count of wire fraud. He was released on bond Wednesday and ordered to appear for prison on April 1. This is the second time he has been sentenced to prison. He was convicted of federal wire fraud and mail fraud offenses in 2006 for embezzling more than $633,000 from clients while acting as their attorney. He was then incarcerated from December 2006 to June 2008.
Gionfriddo served as Middletown’s mayor in 1993 and worked as a paralegal for LeFoll & LeFoll, a small law firm in Rocky Hill. He was charged with embezzling $490,000 from that law firm. He also stole, authorities said, $457,000 from his brother David, an attorney for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, to repay the law firm. His brother also suffers from multiple sclerosis.
Gionfriddo, who his attorneys say suffers from bipolar disorder, began working for LeFoll & LeFoll in August 2013. The family-owned firm handles personal injury claims, estate planning, elder law, divorce and family law.
Beginning about four months after he joined the firm and continuing for several years, authorities said Gionfriddo made phony requisitions for about $377,895 in checks purportedly to pay client expenses, according to charging documents. But Gionfriddo, the government said, converted the funds for his personal use. He forged the signatures of one of the firm’s partners to fraudulently convert a certificate of deposit of about $112,748 to a check, and then kept the money, authorities said.
The government says when LeFoll & LeFoll confronted him in September 2017, Gionfriddo promised to pay the money back. It says Gionfriddo worked on repaying that money by stealing $45,000 from his brother’s checking account and about $217,000 from another account. The government also said Gionfriddo impersonated his sibling on recorded telephone conversations with his brother’s retirement plan provider and fraudulently caused a hardship withdrawal of $195,000 to be made for nonexistent medical expenses. He also submitted phony paperwork, the government said.
In an effort to conceal the scheme, the government said, Gionfriddo contacted the U.S. Postal Service and had his brother’s mail held for the entire month of January 2018.
The government and Gionfriddo’s attorney, Richard Brown of Hartford’s Brown, Paindiris & Scott, painted different pictures of the former mayor in their sentencing memorandums.
In its Feb. 3 memorandum in aid of sentencing, the government said Gionfriddo took advantage of LeFoll & LeFoll’s goodwill.
“In late 2013, he convinced a law firm—which was known to have given another ex-convict a job—to hire him as a paralegal, pleading for a second chance,” the government memo says. “Shortly after being hired, Gionfriddo started stealing from the firm and estate clients of the firm resulting in a loss of over $540,000. … Gionfriddo’s victimization of his brother has left permanent scars that may never heal, a divided family, and left David Gionfriddo without the effective medical treatment and living arrangements for which he had carefully planned.”
In the defendant’s Jan. 29 sentencing memorandum, Gionfriddo’s attorneys said their client suffered from alcohol and gambling addictions, as well as mental health issues and other issues.
Brown told the Connecticut Law Tribune Wednesday that “it took 3 1/2 hours to resolve this case today. In the end, I felt it was a fair resolution. Obviously, I was looking for less time and others were looking for more time and, ultimately, the court made the final decision.”
In his court filings, Brown asked for leniency for Gionfriddo.
The memo stated, “His house was in significant disrepair; credit card bills were mounting; he wasn’t getting the proper mental health treatment. He was suffering from highs and lows mentally which was affecting his judgment.”
The FBI investigated, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan Wines prosecuted. Tom Carson, a spokesman for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Connecticut, declined to comment.