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In re Ramos

Supreme Court of New Jersey

September 17, 2019

In the Matter of Alfredo Ramos, Jr. An Attorney at Law

         District Docket No. XIV-2017-0567E

          Ellen A. Brodsky Chief Counsel.


          Bruce W. Clark, Chair.

         To the Honorable Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court of New Jersey.

         This matter was before us on a certification of the record filed by the Office of Attorney Ethics (OAE), pursuant to R. 1:20-4(f). The formal ethics complaint charged respondent with violations of RPC 1.15(a), and the principles of In re Wilson, 81 N.J. 451 (1979) and In re Hollendonner, 102 N.J. 21 (1985) (knowing misappropriation); RPC 1.15(b) (failure to promptly disburse funds to a third party); RPC 3.3(a)(5) (failure to disclose a material fact to a tribunal); RPC 8.1(b) (failure to disclose a fact in a disciplinary matter necessary to correct a misapprehension known by the person to have arisen in the matter and a failure to cooperate with disciplinary officials); RPC 8.4(b) (criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects); and RPC 8.4(c) (conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation).

         For the reasons set forth below, we determine to recommend respondent's disbarment.

         Respondent was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 2007. On July 3, 2018, he was temporarily suspended from the practice of law in connection with the instant disciplinary matter. In re Ramos, 234 N.J. 76 (2018).

         Service of process was proper in this matter. On September 24, 2018, the OAE sent a copy of the complaint to respondent at his "home office" address, by regular and certified mail, return receipt requested. The certified mail was returned marked "unable to forward, return to sender." The regular mail was not returned.

         On October 29, 2018, the OAE sent a letter to respondent to the same address, by certified mail, return receipt requested, and by regular mail, warning respondent that, if he failed to file a verified answer to the complaint within five days of the date of the letter, the allegations of the complaint would be deemed admitted, the entire record would be certified directly to us for the imposition of discipline, and the complaint would be deemed amended to include a violation of RPC 8.1(b). On January 16, 2019, the certified mail was delivered, but the signature on the return receipt is illegible. The regular mail was not returned.

         As of February 13, 2019, respondent had not filed an answer to the complaint, and the time within which he was required to do so had expired. Accordingly, the OAE certified this matter to us as a default.

         We now turn to the allegations of the complaint.

         Elizabeth and Richard Massey retained respondent in connection with the sale of commercial and residential real estate located in River Vale, New Jersey, along with the businesses operated on the premises under the names of The Pet Lodge, LLC, and The Grooming Table, Inc., to Thomas A. Ciardella, Sr., individually and d/b/a 272 Cedar Lane, LLC, and Pet Lodge at River Vale, LLC. Michael J. Pasquale, Esq. represented Ciardella.

         On August 9, 2016, the parties memorialized the terms of the transaction in a "Non-Binding Proposed Term Sheet," setting forth a proposed closing date of October 1, 2016 and requiring a $100, 000 deposit. On September 16, 2016, Pasquale sent respondent Ciardella's personal check for $100, 000, payable to respondent's attorney trust account (ATA), representing the deposit for the transaction. On September 19, 2016, respondent deposited the check in his ATA, bringing the balance of the account to $100, 000.

         Over the next seven days, through September 26, 2016, respondent engaged in seven transactions, reducing the balance of his ATA to $76, 521.17. He made three on-line transfers to his attorney business account (ABA), made one large e-payment to the U.S. Department of Education, wrote two ATA checks payable to his law office, and wrote one ATA check payable to Steve Rich and Associates, Inc. None of the seven disbursements were related to the Massey/Ciardella transaction. During this same period, respondent's ABA was overdrawn, resulting in multiple overdraft fees. The three transactions to respondent's ABA were used to cover the overdrafts.

         In November 2016, the parties executed a Contract for Sale and a Rider to Contract for Sale of Real Estate, agreeing to a total sales price of $1, 050, 000, with a deposit of $100, 000 and an allocation of $450, 000 of the sales price to land, $400, 000 to building and fixtures, and $200, 000 to business assets, including business equipment and inventory, as well as good will and other intangible assets. The Masseys, however, became frustrated, and no longer wanted to sell the property because the real estate closing was delayed several times. They never authorized respondent to use the funds for any purpose other than for their real estate transaction, and presumed that respondent maintained the escrow deposit intact in his ATA.

         On April 10, 2017, Pasquale's office prepared and filed the requisite bulk sale escrow notice. By letter dated April 17, 2017, however, respondent informed Pasquale that it was the closing agent's duty to request and provide a written bulk sale escrow notice and the mortgage payoff statements, and that those documents were not available as of the final closing date. Therefore, respondent asserted that Ciardella was not ready, willing, and able to close, and that the transaction should be canceled.

         Pasquale replied to respondent on the same day, asserting that his letter was "most unwelcome" and that his attempted termination of the contract was "not warranted or lawful." Pasquale further noted that his client was ready, willing, and able to close. That same day, Pasquale sent a separate letter to respondent enclosing a copy of the Division of Taxation Bulk Sales Escrow Notice requiring that $20, 000 be placed in escrow to protect the interests of the purchaser and the State of New Jersey for any unpaid tax liabilities, and that an additional $2, 300 be placed ...

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