GUILDERLAND—On Friday, Feb. 23, the state attorney general’s office announced the arrest of lawyer and Town of Guilderland Judge Richard Sherwood for allegedly plundering more than $4 million from family trusts he and an associate were responsible for overseeing.
On Tuesday, Feb. 27, the state Court of Appeals notified Sherwood that he is suspended from serving on the Guilderland bench, without pay, pending review by the court during its March session. Sherwood is now barred from any non-public areas at town court and is not allowed to access any court documents. Represented by William Dreyer, of Dreyer Boyajian LLP, Sherwood pled not guilty to all five felony counts in the complaint accusing him of grand larceny, scheme to defraud and criminal possession of stolen property.
According to the complaint, Sherwood and his associate, lawyer and financial advisor Thomas Lagan, have provided estate planning and related legal and financial services to Capital Region philanthropists Warren and Pauline Bruggeman and Pauline Bruggeman’s sister, Anne Urban, since at least 2006. Each of the Bruggemans created a revocable trust, which contained sub-trusts designed to provide for Anne Urban and Pauline’s other sister, Julia Rentz. Other funds were to be awarded to Anne Urban and Julia Rentz outright upon the deaths of the Bruggemans.
In 2011, an ailing Urban reportedly gave considerable control of her estate to Sherwood and Lagan, naming them trustees on a trust drafted by Sherwood. The same year, the lawyers reportedly induced an attorney for Rentz, who was living in Ohio with dementia, to transfer nearly $3 million in assets to the Urban trust under their control with the understanding the money would be donated to charity.
Anne Urban died in February 2013, at the age of 92, and Julia Rentz, the last surviving heir, died at the age of 95 in September of the same year. Following Urban’s death, residual trust funds were supposed to be distributed among six charities named by Pauline Bruggeman but, according to the complaint, were kept by Sherwood and Lagan.
Not only did each man have a Trustco Bank account in his own name into which he deposited millions of dollars of stolen money in 2015, according to the complaint, the pair also had a joint bank account at NBT, under the name Empire Capital Trust, containing more than $1 million that was “wrongfully taken, obtained, or withheld from the Pauline Bruggeman Revocable Trust, the estate of Anne S. Urban, and Julia Rentz.”
While the complaint indicates that the men moved more than $7 million into accounts they controlled, a spokesperson for the state attorney’s office said the total amount actually stolen is nearer to $4 million.
According to Investigator Mark Spencer, during an interview at the law office of Mazzotta, Sherwood & Vagianelis on Wednesday, Feb. 21 of this year, Sherwood admitted “in sum and substance” to conspiring with Lagan to deceive the Ohio attorney and using the Urban trust to steal the money and that the men divided the money. According to Spencer, Sherwood said that Lagan devised the scheme and the wording of the trusts, but that he drafted the necessary documents.
Since the arrest, Sherwood’s name has been removed from the website of his law firm, where he specialized in estate planning and elder law, and the firm, now known as Mazzotta & Vagianelis, has indicated that he no longer works there. A former vice-chairman of the Albany County Airport Authority and chair of the Albany County Ethic Commission, Sherwood has also worked as a clerk for the state Supreme Court and in the U.S. Attorney’s office in Albany. He worked for 14 years as town counsel in Guilderland before he was elected to the newly-created third justice position in 2013. He was re-elected last fall.
Town Justices John Bailey and Denise Randall will take over Sherwood’s cases in the near-term, according to Town Supervisor Peter Barber, who has scheduled an executive session of the Town Board for Friday, March 2, to discuss how to proceed. (Executive sessions, which are not open to the public or press, are allowed, but not required, under state law when personnel matters are being discussed)
Sherwood also came under scrutiny several years ago, according to County Legislator Mark Grimm, who represents Guilderland. “In 2008,” he wrote in an email, “when I was a Guilderland Town Board member, Sherwood negotiated a $540,500 assessment reduction for Walgreens at routes 20 and 155. This reduction cost Guilderland School District taxpayers alone more than $10,000 a year. The man who signed the mortgage for the Walgreens property was listed then as a lead partner in the law firm where Sherwood was a counsel. Sherwood did not disclose this connection to the Board.” Grimm complained that not enough was done by town Democrats at the time, calling the resultant investigation “a farce” and claiming then-Supervisor Ken Runion “white-washed” the affair.
Lagan, who currently resides in Cooperstown, where he reportedly owns multiple properties, is being represented by Ryan Miosek, an attorney from the area.
No court dates have yet been set in the case. Following the conclusion of the criminal proceedings, Sherwood could face sanction or removal by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.