Criminal Justice

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Singer James Taylor and his wife will contribute $1.7 million to repay money stolen by a disbarred law firm partner who was sentenced to 68 months in prison Friday.

Taylor’s wife, Caroline Hessberg Taylor, is the sister of the defendant, 64-year-old Albert Hessberg III of Slingerlands, New York. A former trusts and estates partner at Barclay Damon in New York, Hessberg was accused of stealing more than $2 million from clients and his law firm in a scheme that lasted more than a decade.

The Albany Times Union, the New York Law Journal and Law360 have coverage; a press release is here.

Hessberg was accused of stealing money entrusted to him as a trustee for his clients, stealing funds from one client to replenish the account of another, billing clients for legal services not performed, and keeping legal fees that should have been paid to Barclay Damon.

According to federal prosecutors’ sentencing memorandum, Hessberg was “born into a life of privilege.” His father and grandfather were prominent lawyers. His only motivation for stealing was greed, prosecutors said. “He stole solely to fund a lifestyle he could not have otherwise afforded and did not want to work for,” they said.

Hessberg said he stole because he needed money for “necessities” for his family, including school tuition and wedding expenses. But he and his wife reported income ranging from about $94,000 to more than $341,000 for the tax years 2013 through 2017, according to the plea agreement. The stated income did not include money that Hessberg stole, the agreement said.

U.S. District Judge Mae D’Agostino questioned Hessberg’s stated justification, according to the Albany Times Union coverage. “It’s hard for me to understand where all this money went—unless these were the weddings of the century,” D’Agostino said.

Hessberg “betrayed the dead and defrauded the dying,” federal prosecutors said in the sentencing memorandum. “He stole from ordinary people with modest inheritances. He lied to, deceived and manipulated clients who had placed their trust in him, including a woman dying of cancer.”

Hessberg had refused to allow an early distribution of trust money to the cancer patient before she died in 2018. A complaint by the woman’s brother spurred Barclay Damon to investigate.

Hessberg’s sister, Caroline Hessberg Taylor, described a different side to her brother in a letter to the court. Hessberg cared for their mother with Alzheimer’s disease and stayed by their father’s side as he battled cancer.

Hessberg “lives for his family,” his sister wrote. “He would walk on hot coals for them. He wanted more than anything to send them to good schools and colleges and to give his daughters the weddings they had hoped for.”

Hessberg spent little on himself, Hessberg’s sister wrote. “I have never seen my brother buy a coffee from Starbucks—too expensive). He’s always driven a family van that finally gave up the ghost at 200,000 miles plus. He has never owned a boat, a fancy car, a bottle of vintage champagne or a Brioni suit. Profligacy is the farthest thing from his way of life.”

Hessberg was disbarred in June and pleaded guilty in May to federal charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and filing a false tax return.