Richie Roberts, the former narcotics detective and prosecutor whose efforts to take down drug kingpin Frank Lucas became the story of film American Gangster, pleaded guilty today to 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 and admitted that he stole money from his attorney trust account to make alimony payments.
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 form four clients. Saluti was on the witness stand today.
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. Roberts will be sentenced on August 29.