When George Castrataro told Bill Roddy the post office lost all the inheritance checks supposedly mailed to family, friends, and charities, Roddy sensed something was fishy.
Roddy, who lives in North Carolina, had hired Castrataro and his law office to oversee his deceased son’s estate.
Everything seemed to be going smoothly with the case until September of 2019, when Roddy, 84, and his family, failed to receive the proceeds of their son’s will.
A Broward Circuit Court had ordered the funds be distributed to them weeks before. When the money never arrived, Castrataro first told them that all the checks were lost in the mail.
Subsequently, Roddy pressed Castrataro for answers and his inheritance. Castrataro followed through and sent Roddy a $12,000 check for his portion of the estate. He promptly deposited the check.
The following day, when Roddy attempted to draw upon those funds, by using his debit card at Walmart, to his surprise the card was declined. He rushed over to his bank, where he discovered Castrataro had placed a stop payment on his check.
Roddy and his banker called Castrataro, who gave yet another excuse and promised to overnight a cashier’s check.
It never happened, and that was the last he ever heard from Castrataro. But it was the beginning of exposing a series of lies and deceptions that has led to Castrataro’s arrest and disbarment.
THE TOLL ON THE VICTIMS
Bill Roddy’s son Wayne died in 2019 from pancreatic cancer. He was 57. Wayne had been a yoga and dance teacher. According to his family, he also had background as a paralegal. Thus, before he died, he made sure all of his affairs were in order.
The simple estate should have been smooth sailing for an experienced lawyer to probate. It wasn’t.
“I mean that’s what we’ve had to go through so far,” Bill said. “I’m not a youngster and it’s taken a toll on me, especially when somebody steals your son’s estate.”
Wayne had left $49,111 to 12 beneficiaries including his father and sister, Jan Blanton.
To this day, they have not received a penny of it.
The ceiling crashed down on Castrataro one year ago this month, when he was arrested by the Fort Lauderdale Police Department for defrauding multiple clients out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In November of 2020, based on a series of complaints by a host of victims, the Florida Bar disbarred Castrataro, taking away his law license forever.
Wayne Roddy’s sister Jan Blanton, said she believes it was her family’s complaints to the Florida Bar that initiated the investigation that wound up costing Castrataro his law license — and may cost him his freedom, if he’s found guilty.
Blanton does not believe she will ever see any money from Castrataro, so now her only option to get what is owed to her would be to make a claim through the Florida Bar’s Clients Security Fund.
This fund helps compensate people who have suffered a loss of money or property due to misappropriation or embezzlement by an attorney. However, the reimbursement is minimal compared to the loss.
Before his arrest, Castrataro was a well-known and reputable gay attorney, who had served on multiple nonprofit LGBT boards, including Care Resource. He also launched an unsuccessful bid for the city commission in Fort Lauderdale four years ago.
Castrataro’s criminal case has repeatedly been postponed for a year due to the pandemic, deferring prosecutions for months.
This month Castrataro was finally set for an arraignment, where he pleaded not guilty to the charges, but not without incident.
Castrataro actually missed his court date two weeks ago, and the judge issued a new warrant for his arrest. However, last week the court dismissed the warrant after Castrataro argued that he had “inadvertently” missed the hearing, thinking it was at a different time.
Castrataro told SFGN yesterday that he believes his current predicament is just a big misunderstanding.
“I regret that given the pending case I am very limited in what I am able to say. This year has been difficult,” Castrataro told SFGN.
He added, “I believe that the things that have been alleged and reported are inaccurate. I am confident that once the matter is resolved, I will be able to clear my name.”
Currently out of jail on a $32,500 bond, Castrataro faces first-degree felony charges and is accused of stealing nearly $600,000.00 from the inheritances of his clients’ estates.
The charging documents accuse Castrataro of failing to pay heirs, but instead keeping the proceeds of the estates for himself and his own use.
Since other potential victims are not included in these criminal charges, the real amount of Castrataro’s alleged thefts could prove to be even greater.
George Castrataro's mugshot. Photo via Broward Sheriff's Office.
MORE VICTIMS COME FORWARD
For example, Donna Nunes, 74, who lives in California, has also accused Castrataro of ripping her off.
Castrataro handled her brother’s estate. She told SFGN a story similar to that of Bill Roddy and Jan Blanton. When Nunes didn’t receive her funds, Castrataro used the same excuse that checks were lost in the mail.
When Nunes and her brothers finally received her checks, they all bounced as well.
The Florida Bar investigated these improprieties and found Castrataro guilty of unlawfully misappropriating his funds.
“[My brother] really wanted to leave my brothers and me something and this happens. It’s terrible,” said Nunes, 74.
Her brother Robert, 93, died in March of 2019.
“I’ve never really had time to grieve,” she said.
Castrataro owes her family $92,537.
“[Castrataro] went through all of this schooling, then decides to do this and throw his life away,” she said. “It’s such a shame. Florida has so many different crooks.”
The 2020 probable cause warrant for his arrest stated that Castrataro “engaged in a systematic and ongoing unlawful scheme … with the intent to defraud” lawful heirs out of their property.
The State of Florida claims that many of the clients who were allegedly Castrataro’s victims were and are elderly, and relied on his false representations that the estates were still open and being litigated.
The Florida Bar called that a lie and prosecuted Castrataro for the fraud. While Castrataro resigned from the Florida Bar initially last summer, the Bar conducted a further investigation and proved he continued to practice law without a license, prompting his permanent disbarment.
For Castrataro, not practicing law anymore could be the least of his many problems.
If convicted of all the felonies he is presently charged with, Castrataro is looking at a mandatory prison term of at least 42 months in jail.