A woman who pretended to be a male parole attorney has been sentenced to prison after swindling tens of thousands of dollars from hundreds of New Yorkers, including state inmates and their families from the Hudson Valley, according to New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.
Antonia Barrone, also known as Mario Vrendenburg, was sentenced before Albany County Court Judge Honorable Peter A. Lynch to 1½ to 3 years in state prison for one count of scheme to defraud in the first degree. She will serve her sentence in a prison for females, officials said.
Barrone, who had pleaded guilty to operating a fake law firm and pretending to be a licensed attorney, was also ordered to pay nearly $270,000 in restitution and penalties.
In May 2017, the Attorney General’s Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau filed a lawsuit that charged Barrone with bilking approximately 400 New Yorkers, including prison inmates and their families, out of $23,000 to handle administrative parole appeals and other legal matters.
The lawsuit alleged that Barrone operated these fraudulent businesses from her home and duped hundreds of consumers by falsely claiming to be an attorney and by misleading consumers to think that the NYS Prisoner Assistance Center was staffed with attorneys.
“Deceiving vulnerable New Yorkers into paying for unlicensed legal services is reprehensible, costing them thousands each and jeopardizing their rights,” Schneiderman said. “My office won’t hesitate to prosecute those who defraud New Yorkers by practicing without a license.”
According to papers filed by the Attorney General’s Office, although Barrone is not an attorney, she advertised an array of legal services on the NYSPAC’s website and charged thousands of dollars to provide legal services. The services included filing administrative and judicial appeals on behalf of inmates who were denied parole by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) and representing inmates at administrative hearings and individuals facing criminal charges in various New York State courts. In some cases, Barrone accepted fees but did not perform any services.
Following Attorney General Schneiderman’s lawsuit, in August 2017, the Honorable Gerald W. Connolly of Albany County Supreme Court ordered Barrone and the NYS Prisoner Assistance Center to pay a $244,500 penalty to the State as well as full restitution of $23,427.70 to known consumers who paid for legal services. The judgment also prohibits Barrone and NYSPAC from practicing law without a license or advertising or selling legal or paralegal services.
In addition to the civil lawsuit, the Attorney General’s Criminal Enforcement and Financial Crimes Bureau launched a criminal investigation into Barrone’s conduct. On October 16, 2017, Barrone was arrested and arraigned in Albany City Court before the Honorable Holly A. Trexler on a felony complaint filed by the Attorney General’s Office charging: five counts of Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree, a class “D” felony; two counts of Grand Larceny in the Third Degree, a class “D” felony; one count of Grand Larceny in the Fourth Degree, a class “E” felony; one count of Unauthorized Practice of a Profession, a class “E” felony; and, one count of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, a class “E” felony.
According to the Attorney General’s felony complaint and statements made by the prosecutor, between Sept. 1, 2012 and April 30, 2017, Barrone pretended to be an attorney and stole thousands of dollars from the families of inmates who hired her to provide legal representation for their loved ones. In furtherance of her nearly five-year scheme, Barrone filed legal documents with forged signatures and fake notary stamps, wrote letters on behalf of consumers on letterhead bearing the name of the fictitious law firm “Stacchini & Barrone, Attorneys at Law,” and appropriated the name of a licensed attorney, without that attorney’s knowledge.
Also according to the felony complaint, during the course of her scheme, Barrone made use of multiple different names, including Mario Vrendenberg, Antonio Barrone, Mario Stacchini, Mario Helems, T. Helems, and Mark Vredenburg. The prosecutor stated that Barrone and the entities she operated had over 400 clients seeking legal services throughout New York State, including but not limited to Albany, Cayuga, Clinton, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schoharie, Suffolk, Ulster, Warren and Westchester counties.
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