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'American Gangster' Lawyer Sentenced In Theft Case

Richard Roberts
Richard Roberts Photo Credit: Attorney General's Office

A Bloomfield attorney will serve 270 hours of community service and must pay restitution after admitting he stole $20,000 in clients' funds, the state Attorney General said Thursday.

Richard M. Roberts, 81, pleaded guilty to perjury and theft by failure to make required disposition of property owed in Morris County Superior Court earlier this summer. Roberts also surrendered his law license.

His former law partner, Gerald M. Saluti Jr., had previously pleaded guilty and was testifying before the jury. Saluti, a 51-year-old Howell resident, was sentenced to four years' probation and 200 hours of community service. Saluti, who also gave up his law license, paid $137,652 in restitution.

Investigators learned that the two stole a total of $140,000 from their firm's attorney trust account, which included money from settlements owed to clients. Roberts directed an employee at his firm to use some of the money to make Roberts' alimony payments, authorities said. Roberts lied under oath when asked if he had directed the employee to make the payments, authorities also said.

A former narcotics investigator in Essex County during the 1970s, Roberts was depicted in the 2007 film "American Gangster" by Russell Crowe. The film is based on the story of Frank Lucas, played by Denzel Washington, a Harlem heroin dealer whose empire is dismantled by investigators led by Roberts.

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