When it came to collecting their legal fees from Patrick Coulton, a client facing drug charges, attorneys Emmanuel Roy and Peter Mayas knew no bounds.
At one point, court records show Roy traveled to London to take the $23,000 wedding and diamond engagement rings off the finger of Coulton’s wife — and charged her for the airfare.
The pair also ransacked the Coulton’s home in Dacula, Georgia, according to his current attorney.
"They took everything, even the draperies," said Miami attorney Paul D. Petruzzi, who now represents Coulton. "They took the cutlery, the DVDs, the DVD players, the couches, the chairs. It was stripped bare. It was messed up."
And what legal services did Coulton get for this? A plea deal that put him in prison for 14 years.
After entering the case, Petruzzi was able to get the sentence reduced to seven years, and the 50-year old Coulton is due to be released next year.
"I’ve never seen anything like this in the whole time I’ve been practicing law," said Petruzzi, an attorney for 20 years.
Coulton was a baggage handler for American Airlines at Miami International Airport who pleaded guilty of facilitating drug smuggling. Mayas and Roy weren’t even supposed to represent clients in federal court.
"Both had been warned in previous cases that they were not authorized to practice in federal court," Petruzzi said.
U.S. Magistrate Judge William Turnoff granted Petruzzi’s motion to hold his predecessors in contempt in 2011. The judge ordered the pair to repay their client the $243,000 among other findings, such as prohibiting them from practicing in the Southern District of Florida.
But recovering the money has been another matter.
Turnoff issued a report and recommendation Feb. 1 finding the two lied to the court about their assets, and Mayas lied about other matters, such as the extent of his representation of Coulton.
As a result, Turnoff recommended both be referred to the U.S. attorney’s office for perjury prosecution and in investigation of a potentially fraudulent short sale of Mayas’ former residence in Miramar.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard in Miami will have the final say on Turnoff’s recommendations.
Mayas turned over assets to Petruzzi after disputing them in court to avoid yet another contempt finding, Turnoff found. Mayas handed over the keys to the Miramar property and a 2001 BMW.
Mayas said he was only tangentially involved in the case, assisting Roy only occasionally. But Assistant U.S. Attorney Joanne Fine submitted an affidavit saying Mayas was heavily involved and appeared at Coulton’s pretrial detention hearing.
"Notwithstanding ample, verifiable record evidence, Mayas testified incredulously that the only time he appeared in court was for Coulton’s sentencing," Turnoff wrote.
"Mayas intentionally provided untruthful testimony to the court," Turnoff wrote in his 37-page findings. "His conduct throughout the proceedings evidenced his willful disregard of the court’s authority and was certainly not befitting an officer of the court."
Roy didn’t show up for the initial contempt hearing in May and invoked his constitutional right not to incriminate himself 80 times at a September hearing.
Turnoff said Roy attempted to thwart the proceedings by seeking a stay based on his personal bankruptcy filing. "Roy’s reprehensible conduct caused the court to expend much effort in vindicating its authority," he wrote.
Fort Lauderdale attorney Richard Della Fera, a partner at Entin & Della Fera who represents Roy, did not return a phone call for comment by deadline. Neither did Miami attorney Richard Danosh, who represents Mayas.
Petruzzi was hired in 2010 after Roy and Mayas couldn’t be located.
"Neither Coulton nor his family nor Judge Lenard or the assistant U.S. attorney could find his lawyers," Petruzzi said. "They just disappeared."
Mayas’ office was in Planation. Roy was licensed to practice in Florida but his firm, Roy & Associates is based in New York, Petruzzi said.
In an unrelated case, Roy was found guilty Feb. 1 in New York of five federal mortgage fraud charges and remains free on bail. Sentencing is set for May 28. Roy surrendered his New York bar license in 2009, and he was disbarred in Florida in 2010.
The lawyers joined forces after becoming friends at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville and are 2003 graduates.
Petruzzi, who sarcastically calls the duo "my legal heroes," said attorneys like Mayas and Roy are the reason the public holds the profession in such low regard.
But Petruzzi said it went beyond just fleecing his client and lying to a judge. The attorneys did real harm. When it came to negotiating the plea for Coulton, Petruzzi said the only negotiating was for a Porsche Cayenne that Roy said belonged to Coulton’s wife.
"He drove it from Florida to New York where he used it for himself," Petruzzi said. "Coulton’s wife was told by Roy that the government had awarded it to him for attorney fees."
Coulton was diagnosed with colon cancer in prison and asked his attorneys for help. Roy was facing disbarment in New York, but he didn’t inform his client about the disciplinary action.
"They would just flat out lie," Petruzzi said. "He tells Coulton he is on top of the medical problem, and he has been invited to Barack Obama’s inauguration, and while there he will meet the new director of the Bureau of Prisons and will talk personally to him about Coulton’s case."
And the rings taken by Roy? It came out during testimony during a hearing in August that he gave them to his mother-in-law.
Petruzzi is out to recover more assets. "I’m going to ask the mother-in-law to cough it up," Petruzzi said.