A Newport Beach man who is something of a legend in law enforcement circles for a 30-year career as an ingenious grifter is in trouble again.
Harold Goldstein, 58, was charged last week with impersonating an attorney. Authorities allege he litigated several cases and hired two genuine attorneys as assistants.
It's not as if he is a stranger to the courtroom. Since the early 1970s, Goldstein has amassed a lengthy criminal record, including running a mail fraud scheme from prison. He has swindled people out of millions of dollars, according to Assistant U.S. Atty. Jeannie E. Masse.
Calling himself David Goldstein, he filed his first case in federal court in September 2002, using the California bar number of an attorney with that name.
The real David Goldstein, who practices in Northern California, was unaware that Harold Goldstein was illegally using his bar number to practice law, authorities said.
A federal grand jury indicted Harold Goldstein on Wednesday on two counts of lying to a U.S. District judge when he swore he was a licensed attorney. Masse said he was indicted two days after his last appearance as a phony lawyer in federal court.
He has not been seen since, and the FBI has declared him a fugitive.
Masse expressed grudging admiration for Goldstein's moxie.
"This guy has pulled off some groundbreaking fraud schemes. Some of them while he was in jail," Masse said.
Goldstein first came to the attention of authorities in the early 1970s. He was convicted then of defrauding 13,000 investors out of millions of dollars in a commodities scheme.
In 1976 he was convicted of mail fraud for selling $1 million in phony gold contracts.
In 1980, the Los Angeles district attorney charged Goldstein with stealing $4 million from small businesses seeking loans at a phony overseas bank he and a partner had established. Sentenced to 10 years in prison for that in 1983, Goldstein was released in 1986 and promptly defrauded a clothing manufacturer of $903,000 and was charged with multiple counts of grand theft, according to records. His problems with the law continued through the 1990s.
Last summer, less than five months after completing a 30-month federal sentence for bilking investors in a bogus certificate-of-deposit scheme he had engineered in prison, Goldstein opened a law office in Newport Beach, authorities say.
One of the rules of his release on three years' supervised probation was that he not operate a business. While on probation, he was making restitution payments of $600 per month to the victims in his most recent scam, Masse said.
"The problem was that he quickly set up shop in Newport Beach as an attorney and actually hired two licensed attorneys to help him work cases," she said.
Masse said Goldstein appeared in federal court in Orange, San Diego and Los Angeles counties on at least six cases, where he represented clients in civil and immigration matters. He also allegedly tried to represent himself in an effort to weaken the terms of his probation.
Investigators are still trying to determine how many cases were handled by Goldstein and his "firm." It remains unclear how the charges will affect the cases he handled.
It was one of the legitimate attorneys in Goldstein's office who alerted authorities. The attorney became suspicious after seeing a brief that "David Goldstein" filed on behalf of Harold Goldstein to modify the terms of his probation.
"He was asking that some of the conditions placed on his release be dropped because he was being a good boy, making restitution and dutifully employed. Talk about [gumption]," Masse said.
The real David Goldstein, a criminal defense attorney for 30 years, said he was very relieved that Harold Goldstein's scheme has unraveled.
"Hopefully, they'll apprehend him. Some of his clients have called me wanting to know who Harold Goldstein is and where he is. He was representing them in immigration cases," said David Goldstein.