Richie Roberts, the former narcotics detective and prosecutor whose efforts to take down drug kingpin Frank Lucas became the story of film American Gangster, was sentenced to five years of probation for stealing $20,000 from clients of his law firm.
Roberts, 81, agreed to accept a plea deal on the second day of his criminal trial on July 23 and admitted that he stole money from his attorney trust account to make alimony payments.
“Instead of upholding the law and guarding the interests of their clients, as was their duty as attorneys, Roberts and Saluti stole client funds from their attorney trust account,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “Through this prosecution by our Office of Public Integrity and Accountability, we held these men accountable and made certain that they will never again practice law in New Jersey.”
Roberts worked as an undercover detective for the Essex County Prosecutor’s office while attending law school at night, and worked as an Assistant Prosecutor for four years, where he ran the Narcotics Task Force. He started his own firm and Lucas was among his first clients.
He became well known for defending homicide cases.
“Instead of upholding the law and acting with honesty and integrity, as was his duty as an attorney, Roberts stole funds from his clients,” said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal. “He betrayed his oath and the clients who trusted him.”
An investigation by the Attorney General’s office found that he and his former law partner, Gerald Saluti, conspired to steal about $140,000 from four clients. Saluti was on the witness stand when Roberts decided to plead guilty.
Saluto was sentenced to four years of probation.
Roberts admitted that he lied to law enforcement official that he never authorized a firm employee, Gabriel Iannacone, to make alimony payments on his behalf. Iannacone, now deceased, pled guilty to conspiracy charges related to Roberts in 2017.
Russell Crowe’s portrayal of Roberts in American Gangster was viewed as largely fictional.
He faces the permanent loss of his law license, which was suspended in 2015.