A Swindle Cost a South Florida Attorney Her Law License, Marriage and $155,000

When the bookkeeper for Blanca P. Greenstein’s West Palm Beach law firm allegedly pocketed about $155,000, she moved to repay the money within 48 hours. Now suspended for three years, Greenstein warns of the perils of being “too trusting.”

One mistake.

That’s what West Palm Beach civil litigator Blanca Perper Greenstein says it took to lose more than $155,000, her law firm and her law license—which the Florida Supreme Court suspended for three years, because Greenstein gave control of the firm’s trust account without first conducting a background check.

The mistake, according to the attorney: hiring Rose Cebollero as bookkeeper for Greenstein & Lubliner, a Palm Beach County law firm that has since disbanded.

Cebollero, also known as Roselisse Bustamante, came highly recommended by Greenstein’s then husband and firm CFO, Alan Greenstein, who had worked with the bookkeeper at another company.

If Greenstein had run a background check, she would have discovered that Cebollero was a felon convicted of theft.

But she hadn’t, and that had far-reaching consequences.

Cebollero allegedly went on to steal about $155,000 from the firm’s trust account by writing checks to herself between April 2016 and June 2017, according to documents in the ethics case
against Greenstein.

Late-night discovery

Greenstein said she and then-law partner Richard S. Lubliner found out about the missing money on June 8, 2017, during an out-of-town business dinner. Suspicion had mounted, according to Greenstein, when a client reported a missing check.

“I immediately texted Rose and asked her, ‘Where is the check? Why didn’t they get it?’” Greenstein said. “And she kept telling me that she had overnighted it. And I said, ‘I would like the tracking number.’ She provided a tracking number. We went onto the computer and we entered the tracking number into the website of the mail carrier, and it had reflected that the package never shipped.”

It eventually became clear that Cebollero was lying, according to Greenstein, who said the bookkeeper confessed to taking the money when confronted about it in an emotional 1 a.m. call. By about 2 a.m., Greenstein said she was on the phone with her attorney, Scott Mager of Mager Paruas in Hollywood. And when daylight came, they reported the theft to the police and the Florida Bar.

Cebollero did not respond to emails seeking comment.

The Palm Beach Police Department confirmed that its investigation into the alleged theft is still active. It said it had at one point been closed due to an “uncooperative witness” from the law firm that had disbanded by that time. The department reopened the case on June 20, 2018, at the request of the Florida Bar and State Attorney’s Office.

Personal, professional costs

Court documents show Greenstein repaid the entire amount. The attorney said she did so within 48 hours by borrowing from family, whom she said have now been reimbursed. The way Greenstein saw it, replacing the money immediately was ”purely the right thing to do.”

“I feel, as an owner of the law firm, I have a responsibility to protect my clients,” Greenstein said. “It wasn’t even a thought not to do it.”

Greenstein entered a conditional guilty plea, agreeing to a three-year suspension and $8,261 in costs. She submitted to an audit and voluntarily completed the Florida Bar’s online trust account CLE courses, according to the plea, which the Florida Supreme Court approved June 27.

Greenstein also separated from her husband within a few days, and the couple later divorced. Though Alan Greenstein has continually denied any knowledge of the theft, Greenstein said she’d felt betrayed nonetheless, having relied on him to take care of the firm’s finances and hiring.

“He denies any involvement, and I’ve chosen to forgive him because of our friendship and our children. And although we are divorced, we are still a family and nothing will ever change that,” Greenstein said. “Candidly, I think the ability to forgive was a very important human ability that carried me through this.”

Alan Greenstein didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.

But his former wife said there was never a red flag with Cebollero, who had became a good friend and appeared to be “the sweetest, kindest person.”

“I trusted everyone,” Greenstein said. “I was just too trusting. I had my roles in the law firm and I relied on others to perform their roles.”

Greenstein later hired forensic accountant Kara Stearns Sharp of Kaufman Rossin in Miami to comb through the firm’s accounts. According to an affidavit from Stearns Sharp, neither Greenstein’s nor Lubliner’s names appeared on any electronic transfer, check or wire.

Law firm lawsuit

Greenstein & Lubliner had disbanded by October 2017 when Lubliner sued Greenstein, her former husband and Cebollero, alleging they were all involved in the theft.

Lubliner did not respond to repeated calls and emails seeking comment. But he later withdrew all claims and negative statements against Greenstein, leaving Alan Greenstein and Cebollero to face trial in January 2020.

His complaint alleged some of the stolen money was spent on home improvements for Cebollero and the Greensteins, and claimed that Alan Greenstein implied the bookkeeper had passed a background check. It also pointed the finger at companies belonging to the Greensteins, which allegedly owed thousands to the firm.

In court pleadings, Cebollero denied all allegations against her. She claimed in her answer to the complaint that Lubliner had threatened her into signing an affidavit. That affidavit said Alan Greenstein had full knowledge of the theft, and claimed he owed the firm at least $670,000.

Nathan Nevins of Nathan Nevins Law in Fort Lauderdale represented Cebollero but withdrew in February 2018. He declined to comment.

In court pleadings, Alan Greenstein denied the allegations and filed a counterclaim against Lubliner and the firm, alleging he was owed $450,000 in severance and a loan repayment. His attorney, Carolyn Budnik in Fort Lauderdale, declined to comment.

Howard DuBosar of the DuBosar Law Group in Boca Raton represented Alan Greenstein until May 2018, when he sued over alleged unpaid attorney fees.

Bar’s ‘acute sensitivity’

Greenstein has been practicing law since 1995, so the suspension was difficult.

“But it got to the point where I said, ‘You know what? I can’t spend any more time, any more money and any more negative energy on this situation. I need to accept the consequence that’s been prescribed by the bar and move forward with positive energy,’” she said.

It’s been a long two years, the way Greenstein tells it.

“It’s been like a gunshot to the heart. I have survived it and I have come out stronger, which is really what feeling empowered is,” she said. “Adversity does not and should not change your character. Everyone is going to go through traumatic incidents in their life and situations that create anxiety and difficulty.”

Greenstein said it helped to have her attorney and friend Mager on side. Mager, who has served on an ethics committee for the Florida Bar, said Greenstein’s story should serve as a lesson to all attorneys that the bar has an “acute sensitivity” when it comes to trust accounting.

“Lawyers should be very careful who they have writing checks for them or who they have working for them when it comes to the financial accounting of their affairs,” Mager said. “They have to be very sensitive, because they are responsible for various monies which may or may not be theirs.”

Though Greenstein could have faced disbarment if she hadn’t acted to rectify the damage, Mager felt her penalty was extreme.

“It was a very severe penalty that was visited upon her,” he said. “An unfortunate penalty for someone of such high character and someone who made a real mistake rather than a willful, horrific, intentional act.”

Greenstein said she plans to reapply to the bar in three years. But until then, she’s working full-time on a webcast called the Laws of Life with Blanca Greenstein, aimed at empowering businesswomen and entrepreneurs by promoting networking and collaboration.

“I admire her for moving on and for the character that she possesses,” Mager said. “I respect her just as much before what happened as I do after what happened.”

Kara Sharp, CPA, CFF, CFE, CVA, is a Forensic, Advisory and Valuation Services Practice Leader at Kaufman Rossin, one of the Top 100 CPA and advisory firms in the U.S.