A flamboyant Staten Island lawyer who made headlines by challenging another attorney to “trial by combat” and who was recently indicted on kidnapping and other charges for allegedly taking part in a violent scrap metal fraud ring remains behind bars and a May trial date has been set in his case.
Richard Luthmann, 38, who in 2015 unsuccessfully moved that he and the opposing counsel in a dispute between two investment firms settle their differences in physical battle, was arrested on Dec. 15, 2017, along with two other defendants on an 11-count indictment that included fraud, extortion, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering charges.
According to the indictment, Luthmann took part in a scheme to defraud companies seeking to purchase scrap metal, acting as a sort of in-house counsel for the operation, which included setting up two fraudulent companies, while his co-defendants handled the manual aspects, like filling shipping containers with cheap filler material.
Prosecutors also allege that Luthmann recruited a client of his who is blind and living on public assistance to serve as head of the dummy companies. The client, identified in court papers as a co-conspirator, set up bank accounts for the companies that received $500,000 from victims of the scheme.
Luthmann also allegedly used his Interest on Lawyer Account and his law firm’s credit card to launder money.
In late 2016, the government alleges, Luthmann lured the coconspirator to his law office, where he was met by Luthmann’s co-defendants, Michael Beck and George Padula III. Beck and Padula wouldn’t let the man leave and allegedly threatened him with a firearm to shake him down for $10,000.
Beck has been released on bail, but as of Tuesday Luthmann and Padula are still incarcerated. Bail hearings for Luthmann set in recent weeks were postponed and a new bail hearing has not been scheduled.
In a detention memo submitted by federal prosecutors, Luthmann has an alleged history of using scare tactics as part of his legal practice, such as threatening to have a former employee roughed up for stealing an autographed photo of retired New York Mets pitcher Tom Seaver—the employee thought the photo was a gift—and telling a former client in a courthouse hallway that he would arrange for members of the Chinese mafia to kill her brother.
“The kidnapping and gunpoint extortion plot involved crimes of violence and a firearm, and the facts of the plot demonstrate how vicious and dangerous these defendants are,” the detention memo states.
U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein of the Eastern District of New York set a May 14 trial date for the case.
Luthmann was previously represented by Staten Island attorney Joseph Sorrentino, but his defense team now includes high-profile Brooklyn attorney Arthur Aidala of Aidala Bertuna & Kamins, a past president of the Brooklyn Bar Association and Brooklyn attorney Mario Romano.
Aidala and Romano did not respond to requests for comment.
The indictment against Luthmann and his co-defendants was returned on Nov. 30, 2017, and unsealed on Dec. 15, just a few days after Luthmann filed a lawsuit on behalf of Michael Pulizotto, the former chief court clerk on Staten Island, accusing state Supreme Court Justice Judith McMahon—who is married to Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon—of steering criminal cases away from judges perceived too friendly to defense attorneys.
According to Luthmann’s detention memo, an informant said that Luthmann offered up money to people to claim that Judith McMahon solicited bribes to swing cases and that he had offered $10,000 to an exotic dancer to claim that Michael McMahon sexually assaulted her.
Pulizotto stoked controversy in the Staten Island legal community when it was revealed that he surreptitiously recorded conversations he had around the courthouse with judges, lawyers and court officers.
In his suit, he alleges that McMahon, court officers and other high-ranking court officials retaliated against him for turning over his recordings to the Office of Court Administration’s inspector general.
OCA spokesman Lucian Chalfen said an investigation regarding the recordings is mostly complete but that the IG is following up on a “tangential” issue that was found as part of the broader probe.
issued a statement to journalist Daniel Wise on Dec. 18 in which he said he would seek new representation in the lawsuit against McMahon, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York; and a defamation case he filed against New York State Court Officers Association president Dennis Quirk.
In the defamation suit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, Pulizotto said he was defamed when, after the news broke about Pulizotto’s courthouse records, Quirk installed a giant inflatable rat in the public square outside the Staten Island courthouse bearing Pulizotto’s name.