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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, December 15, 2017

Staten Island Lawyer and Three Others Charged in Fraud, Kidnapping and Extortion Scheme

Richard Luthmann Lured Victim to His Law Office Where Two of His Co-Defendants Extorted Victim at Gunpoint

An 11-count indictment was unsealed today in federal court in Brooklyn charging Richard Luthmann, George Padula III, and Michael Beck with kidnapping and kidnapping conspiracy, extortionate collection of credit, conspiracy to commit extortionate collection of credit and brandishing a firearm during the commission of those crimes.  Luthmann and Padula were also charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering, money laundering conspiracy and aggravated identity theft, and Luthmann was additionally charged with access device fraud and a second count of aggravated identity theft.  A fourth defendant, Stephen Cotogno, was charged by complaint with participating in the same wire fraud conspiracy as Luthmann, Padula and Beck.  Luthmann, Padula, Beck and Cotogno were arrested earlier today and will be arraigned this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy.

Bridget M. Rohde, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and Jonathan Carson, Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security, Office of Export Enforcement, New York Field Office (Commerce), announced the charges.

“As alleged, Richard Luthmann crossed the line from attorney to violent criminal and fraudster,” stated Acting United States Attorney Rohde.  “Luthmann and his coconspirators cheated scrap metal customers in order to make easy money for themselves, took advantage of a disabled man to conceal their fraud, and used gunpoint extortion to collect a purported debt.  Whether such crimes are committed on the street or in a law office, this Office and our law enforcement partners will investigate and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”  Ms. Rohde expressed her grateful appreciation to the FBI and Commerce, who are responsible for leading the investigation, and thanked the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, the New York City Police Department and the Social Security Administration for their assistance.

“After allegedly devising a scheme to cheat potential business partners, an attorney and his cohorts threatened using a purported organized crime syndicate to manage those who disagreed with the fraud,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.  “They are even accused of forcing a blind man to take part in their criminal attempt at profiting in business without working for it.  The FBI Organized Crime Task Force will continue going after those who think the law doesn't apply to them.”

The Fraud Scheme

According to court documents, beginning in the summer of 2015, Luthmann, who is a practicing lawyer on Staten Island, New York, along with Padula and another co-conspirator
(“Co-Conspirator 1”) agreed to defraud companies seeking to purchase scrap metal.  In part, the scheme involved contracting with victims to ship them containers of valuable scrap metal, but then filling the shipping containers primarily with cheap filler material.  Luthmann had encouraged Co-Conspirator 1 to involve Padula in the fraud because Padula claimed that his father was a member of a New York-based organized crime family and that his uncle was a high-ranking member of that crime family.  Luthmann said Padula could use his organized crime connections to settle any disputes that arose with disgruntled victims.  Cotogno participated in the scheme by renting his warehouse to the co-conspirators at an above-market price, making suggestions for filler material and helping procure filler material.  

To facilitate the fraud, Luthmann registered fake companies, including one called Omni Metal Corporation (“Omni”), with the New York Department of State, and recruited a client of his law practice (the “client”), who was blind and living on public assistance, to be the nominal president of Omni.  When the client expressed concern that he could face criminal exposure or lose his public assistance if the government learned about the arrangement, Luthmann assured the client that the government would not find out. 

Luthmann, Padula and Co-Conspirator 1 agreed to have the client open bank accounts to facilitate the fraud, and between October 2015 and December 2015, victims wired over half-a-million dollars into these accounts.  That money was then transferred into accounts controlled by Luthmann or Co-Conspirator 1, including Luthmann’s attorney trust account, or was withdrawn in cash and split among Luthmann, Padula and Co-Conspirator 1.

The Kidnapping and Extortion

On December 5, 2016, Luthmann asked Co-Conspirator 1 to meet him at his law office to sign some paperwork and said that they would then go out together for the evening.  When Co-Conspirator 1 arrived at the office, Luthmann was not there.  Co-Conspirator 1 contacted Luthmann, who told him to wait inside a conference room in the office.  While
Co-Conspirator 1 was waiting, Padula and Beck entered the room and blocked him from exiting.  Beck pulled out a gun, aimed it at Co-Conspirator 1’s head and knee and said he (Beck) was owed $10,000 because he had purchased a $7,000 debt that Co-Conspirator 1 owed Padula, and had added a $3,000 “vig,” or interest payment.  Co-Conspirator 1 was eventually allowed to leave, but Padula told him not to contact the police. 

Padula and Luthmann had previously told Co-Conspirator 1 that Beck was an enforcer for the organized crime family to which Padula’s family members belonged, and that he was “muscle” for Padula.  Moreover, in August 2016, Luthmann and Padula told
Co-Conspirator 1 that they had arranged for Beck to conduct a “sit down” with members of Chinese organized crime to resolve a conflict that arose out of the scrap metal fraud.

The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

If convicted of the charges, defendants Luthmann, Padula, and Beck each face up to life imprisonment. Cotogno faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment if convicted of wire fraud conspiracy.  

The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Organized Crime and Gangs Section.  Assistant United States Attorney Moira Kim Penza is in charge of the prosecution. 

The Defendant:

RICHARD LUTHMANN
Age: 38
Residence: Staten Island, New York

GEORGE PADULA III
Age:  29
Residence: Staten Island, New York

MICHAEL BECK
Age: 59
Residence: Staten Island, New York

STEPHEN COTOGNO
Age:  48
Residence: Holmdel, New Jersey

E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 17-CR-664 (JBW)

Topic(s): 
StopFraud
Contact: 
John Marzulli Tyler Daniels United States Attorney’s Office (718) 254-6323
Updated December 15, 2017