Lawyer to Pay $50 a Month In Theft From Law Firm

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 23, 2005

A Fairfax County lawyer who stole $439,000 from a Vienna law firm and allegedly another $63,000 from his clients in 2003, then spent the next two years living in Argentina, has been sentenced to four months in jail and ordered to repay the money at a rate of $50 a month.

The June 17 sentencing of Robert M. Short, 39, of Arlington ended one chapter of a sensational case that began when Short vanished two years ago with hundreds of thousands of dollars purloined from the firm of Trapeni, Romero & Morrison on Chain Bridge Road.

Jenna Sands, the assistant Fairfax County commonwealth's attorney handling the sentencing, asked Circuit Court Judge Leslie Alden not to impose only probation and complained about Short's offer to repay $50 a month for restitution of $245,000. "The defendant will be long dead before he ever pays off," Sands noted.

Short said he realized that $50 a month was not much, but that he planned to get a job and increase the payments.

"I intend to pay every penny of that," he said. "I am deeply regretful and deeply remorseful of the dishonor I've brought to my profession, this court, my former firm, my friends, my family."

Short had once worked for Trapeni, Romero & Morrison, but had established a solo practice and was renting space from the firm, according to court records.

Short evidently remembered where the firm kept its checkbook. Court records show that in February 2003, he wrote five Trapeni checks to himself for a total of $439,006, then deposited all but $3,000 in his lawyer's trust account.

The following day, according to authorities in New Jersey, Short wired $250,000 to the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City. Short then drove to the casino, withdrew a $10,000 marker and played a little roulette, losing $1,000, according to John R. Hagerty, a spokesman for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice.

Short then returned to the cashier and asked for his money: $249,000 cash, authorities said. A surveillance videotape showed Short piling the money into a suitcase and walking out of the Taj Mahal. New Jersey authorities investigated the transaction and in November 2003 indicted Short for money laundering and receiving stolen property.

Short quickly took off from Atlantic City. He next turned up in western Kansas, not far from the Colorado border, weaving on Interstate 70 in a rented Toyota Camry. A sheriff's deputy pulled him over and arrested him after allegedly finding marijuana and drug paraphernalia.

The deputy also found $207,700 cash and a .357-caliber pistol in the Camry, both of which he seized. But Short's Fairfax theft had not been uncovered yet, and his transactions in New Jersey had not yet resulted in charges. The Thomas County, Kan., sheriff's department charged Short with two drug misdemeanors and released him on bond after a night in the county jail.

Court records show that Short arrived in Las Vegas soon after his release from jail. He withdrew another $164,947 from his lawyer's trust account and stayed at the MGM Grand hotel and casino on the Vegas strip. Then he disappeared.

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