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December 11, 2004

The Musty Money Mob — Skoog v. Casadei

Filed under: Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 10:52 pm

update (March 25, 2008) See “getting his musty money back” [which includes a Dec. 2009 follow-up detailing the federal prosecution of Michael Cassadei for mortgage fraud; also see the update at the end of this posting].

update (Dec. 29, 2007): Like a musty odor in the basement, this saga continues to haunt our judicial system. See “Trial set in case of cash in the wall” (Daily Gazette, by Steven Cook, Dec. 29, 2007).

help with mistakes An article that appeared today in my hometown Schenectady, NY, newspaper, is a ready-made, multi-subject law exam question for students, professors or lawyers wanting to show off their issue-spotting skills. It’s a tale that leads one to ask: “Is there intelligent life in this once prosperous home of Thomas Edison, GE, and legal giants?” (Daily Gazette, “$200K in cash found in wall has 3 claimants: Smelly money later buried in Tupperware,” by Stephen Cook, Dec. 11, 2004, p. A1, A8)

You decide, while spotting issues of law, equity, ethics, etc. Here’s an outline of the facts (according to the newspaper account):

In October, 2003, home owner (and landlord, entrepeneur) Michael Casadei wanted a better security system for his residence, in the City’s Historic Stockade District. He gave the job to a man who called himself Kevin Graham, although “Graham” (who was later identified as Kevin Skoog) “could provide no references or other credentials” and said he had just arrived in town from North Carolina and “was down on his luck.”

As Skoog worked in the Casadei basement, “he came across some loose bricks, behind which he found a bag,” that Skoog recalls contained “stacks and stacks of hundred dollar bills” that smelled old and looked old.

pointerDudeNegS Skoog says Casadei told him the house had once been the home of Marvin Friedman, who died more than a decade ago, and who was the “founder and former owner of the venerable Van Dyck Restaurant” [and jazz club, which the MacDonald family reopened in June 2009], which is located next to the residence. Skoog insists Casadei confided that Friedman might have hidden money in the house.

Skoog concluded the money wasn’t Casadei’s, he told authorities, and decided it was his to take. According to the Gazette, because Casadei had only owned the house for four months, Skoog’s attorney Paul M. Callahan “questioned how the cash could get so smelly and musty in such a short period of time.”

Skoog is also quoted as feeling “blessed,” and “promptly went on a spending spree, buying a new motorcycle, a used SUV, another car, rings and other items.” Schenectady County Sheriff Harry Buffardi notes “He was spending like a drunken sailor.”

Casadei immediately realized the money was missing and, rather than contacting the police, hired a private investigator, who learned “Graham”‘s real identity. There was an outstanding warrant for Skoog in Monroe County, NY, for felony weapons possession (for which Skoog has since served one year). Casadei went to the Sheriff and gave him information that turned out to be correct as to the amount of money and who had it. Skoog was arrested, turned over about $20,000 hidden under a carpet in his apartment, and took the authorities to a tree in a nearby woods, where he had buried over $100,000 in $100 bills in Tupperware.

past due Casadei offered not to press charges if the money were returned, but Skoog claimed ownership and was charged with one count of second-degree criminal possession of stolen property, a felony. However, Skoog was not indicted within the required six months, and charges were dropped.

Buffardi, “with a total of $130,000 in smelly, musty $100 bills sitting around, deposited the money in the bank by summer” of 2004. Wanting his money back, Casadei sued in the local Supreme [trial] Court. “Apparently without a clear accounting of the bills, Friedman’s heirs and Skoog filed their own claims on the cash.”

As of Friday, Dec. 10, 2004, neither Sheriff Buffardi nor attorneys for the three parties believed that photographs of the bills existed.

But photos were discovered Friday afternoon as Buffardi went through the criminal file with a reporter.

“Thirteen stacks of cash are visible in the evidence photo. Twelve of them are topped with large, offset portraits of Benjamin Franklin, meaning that these ‘Benjamins’ were produced no earlier than 1996.

pointerDudeNegS Counsel for the Friedman heirs, Albany attorney Harlan Harrison, expressed surprise when hearing about the existence of a photograph of the money, saying “If that’s true, that would be important.” He declined to discuss the implications.

Skoog’s attorney, Callahan, said the photo doesn’t explain who put the cash there or where it’s been since 1996. Callahan points to a case from the 1960s, where a plumber found $5000 behind a toilet in a home in Buffalo, NY, and the money was awarded to the plumber, not the homeowner.

Casadei’s attorney, Adam G. Parisi, says that case doesn’t apply and the photo negates the other claims to his client’s money, although a final resolution could take as long as a year. Casadei states that people “that don’t have any scruples . . . want to try and steal my money.”

The Gazette article notes:

The money, the 49-year-old Casadei said, is proceeds from his real estate work. It was there because of his aversion to banks, he said. He has since changed that practice.

sleuth Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said, Friday night, that questions about ownership of the money would have made for a difficult prosecution of Skoog. “It was muddled to say the least,” he added.

Sheriff Buffardi sums up “The whole thing is unusual, very unusual,” adding “It was a very difficult case to work. … The funny thing is, nobody’s happy about it.” A couple more points, in passing:

  1. The Gazette article makes no mention of the state or federal Internal Revenue Service.
  2. The Editor of this website lived on said block in the Stockade, near the Mohawk River, for more than a decade, and can attest that (1) parking is terrible, and (2) the basements in the homes on Union Street, many of which are well over 150 years old, are very damp and musty.

follow-up (Dec. 15, 2009): The Albany Times Union reports today, in an article headlined “Bank fraud counts filed: Owner of appraisal company allegedly had role in mortgage fraud” (Dec. 15, 2009, by Paul Nelson) that:

The owner of a Capital Region appraisal company facing federal bank fraud charges for his alleged role in a mortgage fraud and property-flipping scheme that authorities say reaped more than $200,000 over a three-year period says the accusations against him are a “mystery.”

The defendant in that indictment is said to be “Michael Cassadei.”  He certainly seems to be the same person as the Michael Casadei described above.  (For example, when suing the County for return of his money, he spelled his named “Cassadei.”  The AAA Allstate Appraisal firm is listed in an online directory as being  located at 241 Union Street, the site of the Musty Money Caper.  Also, both “Michael F. Casadei” and “Michael F. Cassadei” are listed as being from Schenectady and Saratoga County, and 53 years of age, by the online people-search firm Intellus.)  The U.S. Attorney alleges that “the illegal business dealings lasted from December 1998 to January 2001.  The money stashed in the wall of Casadei’s Stockade house was over $200k and went missing in 2004. (Also see the Schenectady Gazette article “Businessman indicted on fraud charges,” by Kathy Bowen, Dec. 15, 2009.)  For more Cassadei perfidy:  See the 2005 decision of New York’s 3rd Dept. Appellate Division captioned Cassadei v. Nationwide Mutual Insurance (decided August 11, 2005, Dkt. 97628), which we describe in some detail in our post “getting his musty money back.”

Mortgage Scam Update:  Mr. Cassadei/Casadei was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010.  The judge used the sentencing guidelines in place at the time of the crime, not the current, harsher guidelines for white-collar crimes.  Casadei’s lawyer,  Donald Kinsella, argued that he has turned his life around with a home-heating fuel coop that helps people, and should merely get house arrest.  See “Prison in mortgage scam,” Albany Times Union, Dec. 29, 2010).  According to the Schenectady Gazette, on the courthouse steps his ex-girlfriend opined “He has no morals and he has no regrets.” (“Galway man gains fed term for bank scam,” Dec. 30, 2010; subscription required).

how delightful–
my damp, sweaty
travel robe

looking now
with greedy eyes
bare winter trees


small talk
in the cellar
spring rain

….. by Kobayashi ISSA, translated by David G. Lanoue

crow with a mouthful

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 10:32 am

on the highwire

crow with a mouthful

buzzed by a sparrow

 

 

 








Christmas eve-
the row of cut trees
no one took home

 



credits: “on the highwire” – “Summerday, Puget Sound,” a haiku sequence

           “Christmas eve” – Modern Haiku XXIX:2 (Summer 1998)


 



by dagosan:  





waiting room –

the masked man

brings his own magazine


                            
   [Dec. 11, 2004]

 

one-breath pundit



Do Lawyers Slow Income Growth?  First we mentioned Prof. Magee’s estimate of lost   plunge graph sm 


productivity; then RiskProf extrapolated some new numbers; now, Walter Olson points

to a recent study on lawyers per capita per state, described in an article at Expansion-

Management.com.   Despite his awesome concession, I’m not sure Walter’s suggestion

of a better yardstick would work very well, either:


“Where you have a lot of business centers, generally you will have a lot of

attorneys, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are bad for the economy,”

said Walter Olson, founder and editor of the Web site, www.overlawyered.com,

and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. Olson said he has a better yardstick.

 

“If you could measure how many attorneys are out there advertising for injury cases,

that would be a much better indicator for how high the expected hassle value is of

doing business in a given state,” he pointed out.

tiny check This time, we agree with Prof. Bainbridge: “it is grossly unethical for a professor to

take money to speak on behalf of some interest group without disclosing the conflict of interest

thereby created. “

 

tiny check We also agree with the NYT editorial staff:  Harry Reid shouldn’t be suggesting

Antonin Scalia for Chief Justice, merely because Scalia’s “one smart guy.”

 

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