Bret Votano acted as agent and attorney in multiple property sales and stole escrow funds; has since been disbarred
MINEOLA, N.Y. – Nassau County District Attorney Anne T. Donnelly announced that a former attorney from East Rockaway was sentenced today to jail time and probation and ordered to pay restitution for stealing nearly $300,000 from five victims whom he represented in his capacity as an attorney in connection with real estate transactions from 2016 to 2019.
Bret Christopher Votano, 45, pleaded guilty before Judge Robert Bogle on February 16, 2023, to Grand Larceny in the Third Degree (a D felony). He was sentenced today to 20 days’ incarceration and five years’ probation. The defendant was also ordered to pay $65,000 of upfront restitution for one of the victims and was given a civil restitution order for the benefit of the Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection for payments the organization made to the other victims.
“The defendant used his reputation as an attorney with experience in real estate matters to swindle his clients, and other victims involved in various property transactions, out of hundreds of thousands of dollars they entrusted to him,” said DA Donnelly. “When the sales fell through, so did communication with the defendant. Today, we are holding him accountable for his deceit and making his victims whole.”
DA Donnelly said the defendant was an attorney who was experienced in real estate transactions, including the flipping of houses, through his company Votano Law Group, PLLC. In December 2017, a victim and his business partner retained the defendant’s group to represent them in real estate foreclosure auctions as their agent. The victim gave Votano $65,000 to be held for possible future real state purchases. In March 2018, the victim requested in writing the return of these funds, but the defendant did not return the money after multiple requests.
On June 22, 2018, another victim in Mineola gave the defendant a check for $100,000 to be held in escrow as a down payment towards the purchase of a house in Suffolk County. Later, the contract to sell was cancelled, and the victim requested the return of the funds. Votano never returned the money.
In July 2016, Votano represented another victim selling a property in Wantagh. The buyer of the property gave the defendant $10,000 to hold in escrow as a down payment toward the purchase of the property. The sale ultimately fell through. In June 2019, the victim, through a new attorney, negotiated the return of $7,500 to the buyer. Rather than waiting for Votano to return the money, the victim paid the buyer from his own account and asked for the defendant to reimburse him. Votano never returned the money.
In March 2017, the defendant represented the seller of a home in Springfield Gardens, Queens. The victim offered $370,000 cash for the house in a short sale. The victim’s attorney gave the defendant $5,000 as a down payment to be held in escrow. The sale of the home did not proceed, and the victim made multiple requests for the return of the funds. The defendant did not return the money.
In May 2018, the defendant represented a buyer of a house in Jamaica, Queens. The victim wired $110,000 to the defendant to be held in escrow. As the closing date approached, the defendant became unreachable. The victim retained a new attorney and made several attempts to have the money returned. The defendant did not return the funds.
Votano was disbarred by the Second Department on September 16, 2020.
He surrendered to NCDA Detective Investigators on January 13, 2023.
The case is being prosecuted by Senior Investigative Counsel Lauren Littman of the Financial Crimes Bureau. The defendant is represented by Brian Griffin, Esq.