Thursday, January 25, 2001
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Posted on: Thursday, January 25, 2001

Ex-attorney admits cheating clients

By William Cole
Advertiser Courts Writer

With a car crash victim who says she was cheated out of a $25,000 insurance settlement looking on, a former attorney yesterday admitted settling client cases — sometimes without their knowledge — and pocketing the proceeds.

Mark M. Cusmano, 37, pleaded guilty to 22 counts, including first-degree theft, forgery, racketeering, and money laundering in the misuse of $184,000 taken from 15 clients between January and August of 1999, authorities said.

Honolulu deputy city prosecutor Randal Lee said Cusmano forged signatures on settlement checks from civil actions, and deposited the money in his own account.

As part of the plea agreement, Cusmano faces a maximum of 10 years in prison when he is sentenced by Circuit Judge Richard Perkins on March 30.

Dolan D. Dolan, 56, a Big Island woman who watched the proceedings, later said the penalty wasn’t enough. Dolan was injured in a 1997 car crash. She said her case was settled by Cusmano for $25,000 without her knowledge.

Dolan said she was sued by her doctors and ended up spending $44,000 for medical treatment and liens after being rear-ended on the Puna coast. The massage therapist said her car rolled and she went through four operations "to put my arm back together."

Lee said the plea deal — including the prosecution agreement not to seek more than 10 years at sentencing — was made in part so victims potentially wouldn’t have to wait through a trial in an effort to recoup money through an Office of Disciplinary Counsel attorney-client recovery fund.

Defense attorney Howard Luke said Cusmano, licensed to the Hawaii bar in 1993, "served his clients very well" until late 1998, when he encountered financial problems. Authorities said the stolen money wasn’t used by Cusmano for luxury items, but rather to pay debts and keep his law practice going. He was disbarred by the Hawaii Supreme Court last year.

Cusmano fled to Florida with his wife, Cristy, and was extradited back to Hawaii after he was involved in a car accident and came to the attention of police, Lee said.

Cristy Cusmano pleaded no contest to money laundering and in October was placed on five years probation and ordered to pay $25,000 restitution, Lee said.

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