By Charlotte Huffman
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A prominent Atlantic County attorney is sentenced to state prison for stealing seniors’ life savings.
“This is why people don’t trust lawyers… because of one lawyer’s decision to line her own pockets at the expense of elderly victims who were unable to defend themselves,” Superior Court Judge Michael Donio said during the sentencing of Barbara Lieberman Wednesday morning.
The judge called Lieberman the “quarterback” of a ring of scam artists that conspired to steal $3.8 million dollars over the course of ten years.
Lieberman, of Northfield, was a court appointed guardian and leading specialist in elder law in Atlantic County who gave seminars to senior citizens on end of life affairs, wills and living wills.
“I am sorry. I am to blame your honor,” Lieberman told Judge Donio.
But Judge Donio had no sympathy for Lieberman calling her a “bad apple” responsible for tarnishing the integrity of the county’s legal system.
“No one could be more dismayed, disappointed or disgusted by these actions than this court.”
The CBS Philly I-Team first exposed Lieberman in an I-Team exclusive special report last November.
An investigation by New Jersey State Police and Division of Criminal Justice revealed 16 victims.
With the exception of one, all of the victims are dead.
State investigators also believe Lieberman did not act alone.
Her alleged co-conspirators include Jan Van Holt, 58, of Linwood; Van Holt’s sister, Sondra Steen, 59, of Linwood; and Susan Hamlett, 56, of Egg Harbor Township.
Investigators say both Lieberman and Van Holt, a former Atlantic County Adult Protective Services case worker, used their positions of trust within the county to identify seniors with substantial assets but without family to protect them.
Lieberman would recommend clients to Van Holt and vice versa, investigators say.
Van Holt owned “A Better Choice,” a firm that offered seniors in-home services including “custom designed life care and legal financial planning.”
Together, the group allegedly took control of the finances of their victims by forging a power of attorney or obtaining one on false pretenses.
Then, they allegedly added their names to the victim’s bank account or transferred the victim’s funds into new accounts they controlled.
Ultimately, authorities say the group stole $3.8 million and used the money to pay off six-digit credit card bills and buy things like Lieberman’s new BMW and a luxury condo in Florida.
Lieberman previously took a plea deal and agreed to pay $3 million in restitution and testify against the other accused scam artists.
On Wednesday, Judge Donio gave Lieberman the sentence recommended by the state, ten years with three and a half years of parole ineligibility.
“She got what she deserved,” said Deputy Attorney General, Yvonne Maher who prosecuted Lieberman and handled the sentencing for the Division of Criminal Justice.
Maher says she hopes Wednesday’s sentencing sends a strong message to court appointed guardians, elder law attorneys and anyone who works with seniors.
“This is probably not the only instance of this kind of conduct probably occurring around the state or around the country. This probably goes on all the time and I think there is a strong need to deter not only (Lieberman) but other defendants from engaging in this type of behavior. I think we need to send a message,” Maher said.
The state’s investigation is not over.
Last week, a state grand jury indicted Van Holt, Steen and Hamlett.
Also indicted were William Price, 57, of Linwood, who worked with Van Holt as a caseworker for Atlantic County Adult Protective Services when Van Holt was a county caseworker; and Dr. Maria Teresa Daclan, 53, of Galloway Township, a physician who allegedly lied to a detective to protect Van Holt.
If you suspect that you or a family member have been victimized you can call the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice’s tip line toll free at 866-TIPS-4CJ.
For more information about stopping guardian abuse visit the National Association to Stop Guardian Abuse.