Criminal Justice

Russell Crowe

Actor Russell Crowe at the 2007 premiere of American Gangster. Crowe portrayed Richard Roberts as he pursued a drug kingpin in the 1970s. Photo from Shutterstock.com.

A former prosecutor portrayed in the movie American Gangster was sentenced to five years of probation on Thursday for the theft of $20,000 in client funds.

Richard “Richie” Roberts, 81, was sentenced after he pleaded guilty in July to using $20,000 in his law firm’s client trust account to make alimony payments, report Law360, NorthJersey.com, NJ.com and a press release. He also admitting lying under oath when he said he never authorized the law firm administrator to make the payments.

Roberts had pleaded guilty to charges of perjury and theft by failure to make required disposition of property received. Prosecutors had recommended a sentence of up to 364 days in jail.

In addition to the probationary sentence, Roberts will have to complete 270 hours of community service and pay restitution.

Roberts’ former law partner, 51-year-old Gerald Saluti Jr., was also sentenced in the case on Thursday. He must serve four years of probation and provide 200 hours of community service. He cooperated with prosecutors and has paid more than $137,000 in restitution.

Prosecutors had alleged a total of about $140,000 was stolen from clients.

Russell Crowe played Roberts in American Gangster, a 2007 film based on Roberts’ pursuit of drug kingpin Frank Lucas in the 1970s. Lucas was played by Denzel Washington.

Judge Donald Collester referred to the movie at the sentencing hearing, according to Law360 and NorthJersey.com.

“Mr. Roberts’ fall is pretty dramatic,” Collester said. “As we know, there was a major movie made about a portion of his life in which he was a hero and to many, he was a man of integrity and a hero. There are different words to describe Mr. Roberts today: Criminal. Thief. Liar.”

Collester said he considered sentencing Roberts to jail but he believed restitution was the better remedy.

Roberts appeared to deflect blame when he spoke to NorthJersey.com after the sentencing.

“There were red flags that I should’ve noticed. I failed to do that,” Roberts said. “I could have examined the books, I failed to do that, so in that sense, I allowed everything to happen and I’m guilty of that.”

Roberts has also been sentenced to three years’ probation and 10 months of home confinement in another case. He pleaded guilty last year to failing to pay payroll and personal income taxes. He was also ordered to pay nearly $225,000 in restitution.