By Dustin Brown
A Suffolk County woman with an office in Astoria was arrested April 3 for allegedly conning clients who believed she was licensed to practice law, the Queens district attorney said.
Karen Fotiou, 37, of Miller Place on Long Island, pleaded not guilty in Queens Criminal Court to charges of scheme to defraud, grand larceny, and practicing as an attorney without being registered, Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said.
But Fotiou’s attorney said she has never claimed to be a lawyer and only offers services she is allowed to provide without being licensed.
“The work she does, you don’t need a law degree for,” said Stephen Murphy, who is representing Fotiou in the criminal case. “She always tells the judge when she goes in that she’s not a lawyer. It says right on her retainer agreement that she’s not a lawyer.”
Murphy said Fotiou, who has studied law but does not have a degree, primarily does work on immigration and Social Security cases.
But Brown claims she deceived people who believed she was, in fact, licensed as an attorney.
“The defendant allegedly defrauded scores of individuals by portraying herself to them as a duly licensed lawyer when actually she was not licensed or admitted to practice law,” Brown said. “The case will be prosecuted vigorously and swiftly to ensure that the defendant never again has an opportunity to prey upon trusting individuals in need of proper and qualified legal representation.”
Fotiou’s Astoria offices are located at 21-77 31st St.
Judge Lenore Gerald released Fotiou on her own recognizance after her April 4 arraignment and scheduled her to return to court April 18.
The criminal complaint alleges Fotiou accepted $2,000 from a client who met her in the Astoria office in 1999 for an employment discrimination case, but then failed to refund his money when the case was dismissed.
But according to Murphy, Fotiou’s Astoria office was not even open in 1999, and the client in question only sought her services in 2001 after the statute of limitations had already expired.
“She’s very good at what she does and maybe that’s upsetting people,” Murphy said. “I really don’t understand why they have such a vendetta against her.”
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.