A flamboyant Staten Island attorney who once challenged a rival litigator to trial by combat was arrested by federal authorities Friday and charged with participating in fraud, kidnapping and extortion schemes.
Prior to his Friday arrest, Richard Luthmann—who is licensed to practice in New York and New Jersey—was best known for filing a demand that sought permission from the Richard County Supreme Court to battle opposing counsel and their clients in actual armed combat.
The allegations levied by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York against Luthmann and his co-defendants paint a less whimsical picture.
Prosecutors say Luthmann and one of his co-defendants, George Padula III, approached an unidentified co-conspirator in 2014. Luthmann allegedly presented himself as a family lawyer to the Padula family, which was in the garbage transfer business, and had connections to organized crime, prosecutors say. Luthmann, Padula and the co-conspirator allegedly went on to execute a scheme to defraud companies seeking to purchase scrap metal.
While his co-conspirators worked on the manual aspect of the scrap metal plan, Luthmann allegedly handled legal details, including registering two fraudulent companies, with plans to obtain deposits from victims who thought they were getting valuable scrap. The conspirators, however, planned to fill the shipping containers with cheap filler material instead, according to prosecutors. Luthmann allegedly suggested Padula’s family mafia connections could be leveraged to keep the victims in line if they complained.
To help facilitate the scheme, prosecutors say Luthmann recruited a client from his law firm, who is blind and living on public assistance, to be the nominal president of one of the shell companies. The individual opened bank accounts for the company, which prosecutors say accepted more than $500,000 wired from victims. The funds were then transferred into accounts partially controlled by Luthmann, including an attorney trust account.
The scheme took a dark twist in late 2016. According to prosecutors, the unidentified co-conspirator was induced to visit Luthmann’s office for business reasons. Instead, prosecutors claim Luthmann lured the co-conspirator there to get shaken down. While waiting for Luthmann to arrive, the co-conspirator was visited by Padula and another defendant, Michael Beck, who prosecutors say was previously identified to the co-conspirator as an enforcer in the organized crime family associated with Padula.
Beck and Padula allegedly refused to let the co-conspirator leave. Beck brandished a gun, and pointed it at the co-conspirator’s head and knees, demanding $10,000 that was allegedly owed to Padula, according to prosecutors. Beck left the room, then, but not before handing Padula the gun, telling him to ”blow out” the co-conspirator’s knee. While that didn’t happen, Padula allegedly told the co-conspirator Beck was serious, and not to tell anyone about what had just happened.
Later, the co-conspirator, who prosecutors say is now a cooperating witness, and his son received threatening text messages from an unknown phone number. The texts accused the now-cooperator of stealing from the sender, who threatened to come to the cooperator’s house if he didn’t pay up.
Prosecutors claim that throughout this time period, Luthmann referred to himself as “Saul,” a reference to the character by the same name in the cable television show, “Breaking Bad.” The character, Saul Goodman, helped launder money for the methamphetamine-cooking main character, Walter White, among numerous other illegal deeds.
“As alleged, Richard Luthmann crossed the line from attorney to violent criminal and fraudster,” acting U.S. Attorney Bridget Rohde said in a statement. “Luthmann and his co-conspirators cheated scrap metal customers in order to make easy money for themselves, took advantage of a disabled man to conceal their fraud, and used gunpoint extortion to collect a purported debt. Whether such crimes are committed on the street or in a law office, this office and our law enforcement partners will investigate and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”
Prosecutors are asking the judge overseeing the case, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Levy of the Eastern District of New York, that the defendants be permanently detained pending trial, arguing that “no set of bail conditions can mitigate the attendant risk of dangerousness as to these defendants who have ready access to guns, and connections to organized crime.”
Private attorney Joseph Sorrentino is representing Luthmann. He declined to comment on the charges, pending Luthmann’s arraignment Friday.
All three defendants—Luthmann, Beck and Padula—face kidnapping, conspiracy, extortion and firearm charges. Additionally, Luthmann and Padula were charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering and related conspiracy and aggravated identity theft. Luthmann was also charged with access device fraud and a second count of aggravated identity theft. A fourth defendant connected with the scrap metal scheme was also charged.