Lawyer Who Stole From Vienna Firm Admits to Laundering Money

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 9, 2006

A Fairfax County lawyer who embezzled nearly $500,000 from a Vienna law firm and from his clients but was sentenced to only four months in jail recently pleaded guilty in New Jersey to money laundering related to the embezzlement.

Robert M. Short, 39, of Arlington admitted in April that in 2003 he had written checks to himself totaling $439,006 from the law firm of Trapeni, Romero & Morrison, where he was renting space, and that he deposited all but $3,000 in the trust account he used in his capacity as a lawyer. He also acknowledged illegally taking $63,709 that he had either gotten from clients as fees or received from people to be paid to clients.

In February 2003, Short wired $250,000 to the Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, rented a Toyota Camry in Falls Church and drove to Atlantic City. After playing roulette for a brief time, Short went back to the cashier's window and asked for his cash, walking out of the casino with $249,000, New Jersey authorities said.

Short next drove cross-country to Las Vegas, court records show, spent some time at a casino there, then vanished. His lawyer told a Fairfax judge last year that he fled to Argentina, claiming that he was depressed over the breakup of his marriage and a difficult relationship with his daughter, then 12.

But at Christmastime in 2004, his daughter visited him in Argentina, Short's lawyer said, and Short decided to return to the United States.

In March, he phoned authorities in New Jersey and told them he would be arriving at Dulles International Airport on a flight from Brazil. He was arrested and turned over to Fairfax authorities.

He pleaded guilty in April to the embezzlement charge in Fairfax. In Falls Church, he pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to return property. A Falls Church judge sentenced him to 12 months in jail on a reduced misdemeanor charge.

To the amazement of Fairfax prosecutors, Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Leslie Alden in June sentenced Short to only four months in jail for the embezzlement. She also ordered him to make restitution of $245,000, at a rate of $50 a month.

"The defendant will be long dead before he ever pays off," Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Jenna Sands told the judge.

Having served both his Falls Church and Fairfax jail sentences, Short pleaded guilty in Atlantic County Superior Court in New Jersey on Feb. 2 to one count of money laundering, a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Division of Criminal Justice said. Short is scheduled to be sentenced April 7. His plea agreement calls for a sentence of four years.

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