Astoria Man Stole $5 Million as Phony Lawyer: DA

An Astoria businessman was convicted of pocketing millions posing as a lawyer for various real estate and capital investment groups between 2000 and 2005, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
The businessman, Mohammed Rafikian, 54, posed as an attorney and a registered investment advisor in order to swindle seven different customers out of money through First Investors Capital Corporation at 34-13 Broadway Ave. between March 2000 and December 2005, Brown said. His victims included a cardiologist, a dentist, bar manager, a retired disabled elevator mechanic, a NYCHA inspector, a painting contractor and even a family friend.
Rafikian, who served as the chairman and chief executive officer of First Investors Capital Corporation, was convicted of grand larceny, criminal impersonation, scheme to defraud and practicing law without a license and faces up to 50 years in prison.
He has been in jail in lie of bail since his initial arrest in May 2004, Brown said.
 “A Queens jury has convicted the defendant of impersonating an attorney and practicing law without a license in order to defraud seven individuals of amounts ranging from $63,000 to $3.2 million,” Brown said. “Evidence presented at trial showed that the defendant engaged in very risky day trading of stocks and ran up negative balances of $5 million in his accounts. Needing to find a way to cover his losses, the defendant took over the law practice of an attorney who had become suddenly ill and misrepresented himself as an attorney.”
In one instance, Rafikian took $3.2 million from an individual and promised to invest the funds at a promised rate of return of 26 percent, Brown said, but provided no statements to the individual nor did he return the money upon demand. Rafikian did, however, send the client two checks, totaling $150,000, which were returned for insufficient funds, the DA said.
In a second instance, Brown said the man took more than $900,000 from another individual for the purchase of a building in Astoria. However, Rafikian neither purchased the building nor did he return the funds when requested, the DA said. He also sold a laundromat on behalf of the individual for $75,000 but only remitted $12,000 to him, Brown said.
Rafikian also testified at trial that an individual gave the him approximately $816,000 for the purchase of a house and a bar, the DA said. The purchases, however, never took place and the Rafikian failed to return the money when demanded by the client, Brown said.
Rafikian was originally convicted at trial in August 2007 on similar charges and sentenced to up to 50 years in prison. He represented himself at trial and appealed his conviction on the basis that he proceeded without counsel, the DA said.
In September 2012, the New York State Appellate Division, Second Department, determined that Rafikian’s waiver of counsel was not knowing and voluntary and ordered a new trial, Brown said.
By The Forum staff

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