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Monday, February 18, 2008

Lawyer reprimanded in sale of house

By Randall Beach
Register Staff
A local attorney has received an official state reprimand for violating the lawyers’ code of conduct in his actions concerning the sale of a house in the East Rock neighborhood.
Gabriel Cusanelli of New Haven sold the Cottage Street home after the owner, Margaret Amrich, died and named him executor of her estate.
In her will, the widow had earmarked funds from the house sale to be used by the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven to help “crippled children.”
Cusanelli ran into trouble after he sold the house to former city official Sal Brancati and Realtor Mark Perez. On the day after Amrich died in February 2005, Cusanelli formed a corporation with Brancati and Perez. They called their partnership PCB Ventures, LLC.
In March 2006, PCB Ventures was dissolved. One month later, Cusanelli sold the house to Brancati and Perez for $250,000, though the city valued the house at $326,000.
Last year, Brancati and Perez sold the house to Gary Lavado for $368,000. They were set to keep the $118,000 they were to make on the sale (instead of it going to the children’s fund), but New Haven Probate Court Judge John A. keyes put the funds in escrow.
Keyes subsequently accepted an agreement in which Brancati and Perez would pay back $15,000 of the proceeds they made on the sale. Attorney Irving Schloss, who replaced Cusanelli as the estate’s executor, had told Keyes the $15,000 figure made sense because of the eight-month delay by Brancati and Perez in buying the house. During that delay, the estate lost money.
Schloss noted he still needed to recover funds for the charity.
The reprimand was handed down last week amid a hearing held by the Statewide Grievance Committee in Superior Court. The state’s chief disciplinary counsel, Mark Dubois, ruled Cusanelli should have been more open about his prior business ties before he sold his former partners the house.
Dubois told the committee that Cusanelli violated a rule in the lawyers’ book of professional conduct when he failed to tell the Probate Court about his former business relationship with the two buyers.
Cusanelli agreed to accept the reprimand. The grievance committee took the disciplinary plea agreement under advisement and will rule on it later.
In an affidavit, Cusanelli said, “I failed to properly communicate with the Probate Court and did not disclose relevant details of my former relationship with the prospective buyers of the Amrich property.”
State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is negotiating with Cusanelli over additional compensation to the Community Foundation of Greater New Haven.
When the Register sought comment from Cusanelli, his attorney, Gene Riccio, called back instead. Riccio said he could not speak about the grievance matter. He deferred comment to Cusanelli’s other attorney, Fred Ury, who did not return a phone call.
Randall Beach can be reached at rbeach@nhregister.com or 789-5766.

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