Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Bilking $20 Million to Fund Wedding, Vacations Homes

A lawyer pleaded guilty to stealing more than $20 million from a bank and at least one client, spending the loot on vacation homes, a wedding and generous salaries for his employees, authorities said.

Under a deal with prosecutors, Anthony Bellettieri, 53, faces more than a decade in prison after admitting Thursday in federal court to bank and mail fraud dating to at least 2003.

Bellettieri, a real estate lawyer, stole the funds through check kiting — taking money from his law firm's escrow account and writing checks on another account to cover the escrow account's losses.

According to J.P. Morgan Chase (JPM), the primary victim, the tactic worked partly because he used checks with a printed error. The scheme fell apart after the bank issued correct checks in November.

Authorities said Bellettieri also convinced a client to invest almost $2 million in phony private mortgages.

Defense lawyer Murray Richman told The Journal News, "It's a terrible thing to see a man destroyed and humbled by his own actions and lose control of his life."

Prosecutor Cynthia Keefe Dunne said the stolen money paid for, among other things, a swimming pool at Bellettieri's Pleasantville home, a family wedding, high salaries for the law firm's workers and condos in Miami Beach and Aruba.

Bellettieri was released on $500,000 bond. Sentencing is May 18. His plea agreement requires him to pay as much as $22 million in restitution and forfeit properties he purchased.