(Photo: Michael A. Scarcella/ALM)
A California State Bar court judge has recommended that a Los Angeles-area lawyer be disbarred for misappropriating $30,000 from a trust fund for survivors of the Armenian genocide to pay for her children’s law school.
Judge Donald Miles found Rita Mahdessian, 58, culpable of misappropriating funds from the Center for Armenian Remembrance, or CAR, a nonprofit she and her husband helped administer that shared an address with their Glendale law firm. CAR was among the nonprofits that received some of the proceeds from class action settlements in cases led by Mahdessian’s husband, Vartkes Boghos Yeghiayan, against life insurers who failed to pay out polices for people killed during the Armenian genocide of 1915-1918. Yeghiayan, 81, also faces disciplinary charges, but his case is being held in abeyance due to health issues.
In the decision, issued in late August and announced by the state bar Tuesday, Miles found that Mahdessian created an account in her daughter’s name without her knowledge and transferred $30,000 into it, claiming it was to repay the daughter for a loan. Mahdessian then used the funds, in part, to pay Loyola Law School tuition for two of her children.
“Her dishonest mischaracterization of various transactions in a way to avoid taxable consequences creates tax liabilities for her children and potential legal problems for CAR,” Miles wrote.
Miles recommended that Mahdessian, who has faced three prior disciplinary actions including one that resulted from a criminal conviction for possession of a counterfeit employment authorization card, be disbarred. The final decision on her bar status is up to the California Supreme Court.
Beverly Hills lawyer Kevin Gerry, who represented Mahdessian and her husband in the disciplinary proceedings, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.