News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 16, 2017
Attorney General’s Press Office / 212-416-8060
A.G. SCHNEIDERMAN ANNOUNCES PRISON SENTENCE FOR FAKE ATTORNEY WHO DEFRAUDED OVER 400 NEW YORKERS
Antonia Barrone, a/k/a Mario Vrendenburg Charged Consumers Thousands Of Dollars For Unauthorized Legal Services And Forged Signatures On Legal Documents
Defendant Will Serve 1 ½ To 3 Years In State Prison For Conviction And Pay Nearly $270,000 In Restitution And Penalties
ALBANY — Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today announced the sentencing of Antonia Barrone, a/k/a Mario Vrendenburg (“Barrone”), who pled guilty to operating a fake law firm and pretending to be a licensed attorney. Through a civil lawsuit and an extensive investigation, the Attorney General’s office uncovered that Barrone defrauded over 400 New Yorkers out of more than $23,000 over the course of nearly five years. Today, Barrone was sentenced before Albany County Court Judge Honorable Peter A. Lynch to 1 ½ to 3 years in state prison for one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree. Barrone was also ordered to pay nearly $270,000 in restitution and penalties.
In May 2017, the Attorney General’s Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit in Albany County Supreme Court against NYS Prisoner Assistance Center, Inc., operating as the NYS Prisoner Assistance Center or NY Parole Aids (“NYSPAC”), and its owner, Barrone. The suit charged Barrone with bilking hundreds of New Yorkers, including prison inmates and their families, out of thousands of dollars to handle administrative parole appeals and other legal matters. The lawsuit alleged that Barrone operated these fraudulent businesses from her home and duped hundreds of consumers by falsely claiming to be an attorney and by misleading consumers to think that the NYS Prisoner Assistance Center was staffed with attorneys.
“Deceiving vulnerable New Yorkers into paying for unlicensed legal services is reprehensible, costing them thousands each and jeopardizing their rights,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “My office won’t hesitate to prosecute those who defraud New Yorkers by practicing without a license.”
Department of Corrections and Community Supervision Acting Commissioner Anthony J. Annucci said, “I commend Attorney General Schneiderman for the successful prosecution in this case, as well as the hard-working attorneys with the Board of Parole for their conscientious and painstaking assistance in helping to bring to justice this unscrupulous individual, who otherwise would have continued to take advantage of inmates and their families during a particularly vulnerable period in their lives.”
According to papers filed by the Attorney General’s Office, although Barrone is not an attorney, she advertised an array of legal services on the NYSPAC’s website and charged thousands of dollars to provide legal services. The services included filing administrative and judicial appeals on behalf of inmates who were denied parole by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and representing inmates at administrative hearings and individuals facing criminal charges in various New York State courts. In some cases, Barrone accepted fees but did not perform any services.
Following Attorney General Schneiderman’s lawsuit, in August 2017, the Honorable Gerald W. Connolly of Albany County Supreme Court 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 judgment also prohibits Barrone and NYSPAC from practicing law without a license or advertising or selling legal or paralegal services.
In addition to the civil lawsuit, the Attorney General’s Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau launched a criminal investigation into Barrone’s conduct. On October 16, 2017, Barrone was arrested and arraigned in Albany City Court before the Honorable Holly A. Trexler on a felony complaint filed by the Attorney General’s Office charging: five counts of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree, a class “D” felony; two counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a class “D” felony; one count of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a class “E” felony; one count of Unauthorized Practice of a Profession, a class “E” felony; and, one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, a class “E” felony.
According to the Attorney General’s felony complaint and statements made by the prosecutor, between September 1, 2012 and April 30, 2017, Barrone pretended to be an attorney and stole thousands of dollars from the families of inmates who hired her to provide legal representation for their loved ones. In furtherance of her nearly five-year scheme, Barrone filed legal documents with forged signatures and fake notary stamps, wrote letters on behalf of consumers on letterhead bearing the name of the fictitious law firm “Stacchini & Barrone, Attorneys at Law,” and appropriated the name of a licensed attorney, without that attorney’s knowledge.
Also according to the felony complaint, during the course of her scheme, Barrone made use of multiple different names, including Mario Vrendenberg, Antonio Barrone, Mario Stacchini, Mario Helems, T. Helems, and Mark Vredenburg. The prosecutor stated that Barrone and the entities she operated had over 400 clients seeking legal services throughout New York State, including but not limited to Albany, Cayuga, Clinton, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schoharie, Suffolk, Ulster, Warren, and Westchester Counties.
Barrone’s sentence today before the Honorable Peter A. Lynch will run consecutive to a sentence of 1 1/3 to 4 years in state prison that Barrone received today before the Honorable Andrew G. Ceresia on an unrelated felony conviction. In addition to the prison sentences issued today in Albany County, Barrone is scheduled to be sentenced in Saratoga County Court before the Honorable James A. Murphy, III to a concurrent term of incarceration on a separate unrelated felony conviction. Combined, Barrone will spend 2 5/6 to 7 years in state prison.
Consumers can check whether an individual is a licensed attorney in New York State by visiting the New York State Unified Court System’s website.
The convictions were the result of a joint investigation by the Attorney General’s Office and DOCCS. Attorney General Schneiderman thanks DOCCS for its valuable assistance in this matter.
Additionally, Attorney General Schneiderman thanks the Board of Parole Counsel’s Office, which uncovered Barrone’s efforts to deceive and bilk families by meticulously going through records and identifying this fraudulent activity. Their findings contributed to the Attorney General’s investigation and criminal prosecution.
The civil case is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Emily Auletta and Amy Schallop of the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Laura J. Levine and Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia. Manisha M. Sheth is Executive Deputy Attorney General for Economic Justice.
The criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Philip V. Apruzzese of the Attorney General’s Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Joseph D’Arrigo and Bureau Chief Stephanie Swenton. The Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau is Part of the Criminal Justice Division under Chief Deputy Attorneys General Jason Brown and Alvin Bragg.
The Attorney General’s civil investigation was conducted by Investigator Mark Rudd. The Attorney General’s criminal investigation was conducted by Investigator Mitchell Paurowski, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Antoine Karam. The Investigations Division is led by Chief Investigator Dominick Zarrella.