A felon who posed as a lawyer and operated a fake law firm while handling hundreds of inmate cases, including parole appeals, has pleaded guilty to fraud and will spend more time behind bars, state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced.
Antonia Barrone, who used at least six aliases, including the name Mario Vrendenburg, has pleaded guilty to running a phony law firm known as NYS Prisoner Assistance Center, or NY Parole Aids. Working from her Albany home but using that business front, she defrauded more than 400 New Yorkers out of thousands of dollars over nearly five years, Schneiderman’s office said.
To facilitate the scheme, Barrone claimed to be an attorney and falsely told clients, including scores of prison inmates and their families, that the NYS Prisoner Assistance Center was staffed by lawyers, Schneiderman said.
In some cases, she then collected fees, often hundreds or thousands of dollars, but did no work whatsoever. In other instances, she filed administrative and judicial appeals for inmates denied parole. She also represented inmates at administrative hearings, as well as people facing criminal charges in various state courts, Schneiderman said.
Meanwhile, to accomplish the fraud, she filed legal documents with forged signatures and fake notary stamps, and she wrote letters on behalf of consumers on letterhead bearing the fictitious law firm name, “Stacchini & Barrone, Attorneys at Law,” Schneiderman added. She also appropriated the name of a licensed attorney, without that attorney’s knowledge, the office said.
“Practicing law without a license undermines our judicial system and puts vulnerable consumers in need of legal services at risk,” Schneiderman said in a statement.
Added Anthony Annucci, the state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision acting commissioner, “It is revolting to target inmates and their families at a time when they are preparing for an event as important as a Board of Parole interview and a chance at re-entering the community.”
Barrone entered a guilty plea to one count of scheme to defraud in the first degree before Albany County Court Judge Peter Lynch.
Matthew Hauf, an Albany County assistant alternate public defender who represented Barrone, could not be reached.
The state Board of Parole Counsel’s Office uncovered Barrone’s efforts to deceive, Schneiderman said. She faces one-and-a-half to three years in prison at her sentencing slated for later this month.
Barrone, who was arrested last month, was also hit with a civil suit in August by the Attorney General’s Office for her wrongdoing. In that case, Albany Supreme Court Justice Gerald Connolly ordered Barrone and the NYS Prisoner Assistance Center to pay a $244,500 penalty to the state, as well as full restitution of $23,427.70 to known consumers who paid for legal services.
The civil case was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Emily Auletta and Amy Schallop of the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau.The criminal case was handled by Assistant Attorney General Philip V. Apruzzese of the attorney general’s Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau, Schneiderman said.