Title agent's trial delayed because he says he can't afford lawyer @

February 23, 1997|By Caitlin Francke | Caitlin Francke,SUN STAFF

The trial of the Ellicott City title agent accused of taking more than $1.1 million from his clients has been postponed because the agent, Joseph E. Goldberg Sr., says he cannot afford his private attorney.

Goldberg was to stand trial tomorrow on charges he stole or misappropriated money entrusted to his business in what is alleged to be one of the largest insurance fraud schemes in Maryland history.

But in a recent hearing in Howard County Circuit Court, Goldberg asked to be represented by a public defender because he does not have the money to hire his own.

A motion filed by his former attorney, Michael A. Zwaig, says representing Goldberg without adequate compensation would put extreme financial hardship on Zwaig's Towson law practice.

Goldberg must now go through an interview process with the Howard County Public Defender's Office to see if he qualifies for legal aid. The trial -- expected to last as long as three weeks -- is now not expected to begin for several months.

In September of last year, Goldberg was indicted on charges of stealing $639,218 and misappropriating $552,368 in funds entrusted to his business over an eight-year period.

The indictment came after a 21-month investigation by the attorney general's office and the fraud division of the Maryland Insurance Commission. The investigation started after Goldberg's company, Land Title of Maryland, collapsed.

Goldberg's business received the money for property settlements and the sale of title insurance, which protects the purchasers of properties against bad titles and fraud.

The state Insurance Commission seized the company in October 1994 after investigators discovered that mortgage money was not being disbursed properly and important land records weren't being filed with the court.

Prosecutors allege Goldberg wrote checks from the company's escrow account -- set up to hold clients' money paid to Land Title for property settlements and insurance policies -- to himself or to pay for personal expenses.

Last month, one of Goldberg's former employees pleaded guilty to charges she helped Goldberg cover up the loss of the money he allegedly stole from his clients. Patricia Horak -- Goldberg's office manager of 12 years -- is expected to testify against him. Her sentencing is scheduled for April 3.

Pub Date: 2/23/97

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