Lewis Kasman, who for years was the right-hand man and "adopted son" to crime boss John Gotti, says the Mafia has nothing on Florida when it comes to stealing money.
Now Kasman, who turned government witness and helped indict dozens of organized crime figures, is looking to get payback from his divorce attorney, Fort Lauderdale's Barry Roderman, claiming he had a personal conflict of interest with his wife's female attorney. The lawsuit alleges "extortion of fees, legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract" and is asking for damages in excess of $2 million.
"The lawyers are the best extortionists of all," Kasman told me today. "They beat the Mafia any day of the week, especially in Florida."
The most explosive charge contained in the lawsuit filed on Kasman's behalf by Coral Springs attorney Nicholas Steffens is that Roderman was involved in an "inappropriate personal relationship" with the opposing counsel in the divorce, Carol Kartagener, of the Weiss Handler law firm in Palm Beach County.
Also representing Kasman is prominent Palm Beach divorce attorney Joel Weissman, whom Kasman refers to as his "consigliere."
"Plaintiff Kasman saw Defendant Roderman taking part in a compromising physical embrace with Kartagener in the parking lot of the South County Courthouse in Delray Beach, Florida," Steffens wrote in the lawsuit.
Kasman, who worked in New York's garment industry when he teamed up with Gotti, has a more direct way of putting it. "I was walking out in the parking lot after a court hearing when I saw them together and he had his tongue down her mouth," he says.
Roderman denies the allegation, calling it "disgusting" and "absurd." He denies there was any parking lot encounter at all and says that while he and Kartagener have a professional relationship and had worked cases together, they are both happily married and never had any kind of romantic relationship.
"Check the source," said Roderman. "This guy's a pathological liar. He's been convicted of perjury in the past. Right now, he calls himself indigent, lives in a million-dollar house with his mother, drives an expensive car, and bashes
judges and lawyers all day."
In addition to the perjury conviction, Kasman pleaded guilty last year to fraud but was given no jail time because of his extensive cooperation with the federal government, which began as early as 1996. He admits that he committed crimes with the Gambino crime family but says that the problems with his divorce case should shine a light not on him but on a deeply flawed legal system.
Kasman says that during his divorce trial in October 2009, he testified that he saw the two lawyers in the embrace, prompting what he calls an hysterical -- and tell-tale -- response from Kartagener.
Kasman, who paid for Gotti's funeral and gave his eulogy, is no stranger to the press
New York Daily News
"She stormed out of the courtroom in tears with her client in tow," said Kasman. "She ran into the bathroom and laid on the floor kicking and screaming. My ex-wife had to compose her and bring her back into the courtroom. There were many witnesses, including the judge and my lawyer. It's a fact."
Kartagener didn't return a call for comment left on her office phone at Weiss Handler.
Kasman, who was indeed convicted of perjury and served a prison term after lying on the stand in defense of Gotti in the early 1990s, says he blames Roderman for the only other time he ever went to jail.
That happened in 2008 when Judge Martin Colin jailed him for contempt of court in the divorce case for failing to pay his wife $10,000 a month. He would spend nine days in jail despite the fact that, according to the lawsuit, there was never a written order that he pay the $10,000 a month.
Roderman "stood silent when I was sentenced to jail," says Kasman. "He did nothing."
Roderman counters that he was "totally shocked" when Colin sent Kasman to jail and that he did everything he could to keep it from happening. He also insists that the order did exist (though there is evidence to the contrary).
"I did not think the judge would do that," said Roderman. "I argued like crazy but the judge made up his mind that Kasman was in contempt and that he took the kids' trust money and he didn't pay the support. I was in shock. I never lost a guy to jail in a divorce case before. I've lost them to jail in criminal cases, but not divorce cases."
Kasman, who was in the protective custody of the U.S. government during much of the divorce proceedings due to his cooperation with the FBI against his former associates, spent nine days in jail that he claims was totally unlawful.
Colin, it turned out, also had a conflict of interest with the Weiss Handler firm -- his girlfriend (and current wife) was represented by the firm in her divorce and Colin took professional calls at the firm as well. Colin recused himself from the case after Kasman exposed the conflict.
"It's unbelievable what is going on in that courthouse," said Kasman. "The behavior of these judges and lawyers speaks volumes."
Roderman acknowledges that he and Kartagener have worked together on cases in the past, including one in 1993 that landed an $11.5 million judgment (which Kartagener still touts her bio on the Weiss Handler website). He said that he told Kasman about his professional relationship with Kartagener and that one of the reasons Kasman hired him was that he knew about his closeness with Kartagener and her boss, Henry Handler.
"She is a brilliant academic lawyer," Roderman says of Kartagener. "I'm not. I'm a good trial lawyer. I have great respect for her but at the time of the divorce I was opposed to her. I thought she was over-litigating the case. But she did nothing but a brilliant job for her client."
In reality, says Kasman, Kartagener took hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from his ex-wife, Eileen, only to lose at trial. She was awarded only one dollar a year in alimony and a small amount in child support. "Kartagener left my ex-wife destitute," he says.
In the lawsuit, Kasman claims that Roderman failed him on several counts:
-- Failed to warn him about Colin's conflict of interest, which he should have known about.
-- Failed to disclose his own conflict of interest with Kartagener and the Weiss Handler firm
-- Failed to protect him from being sentenced to jail on a motion that never existed
Roderman says it is he who is the victim of Kasman rather than the other way around.
"I spent 40 years to build a great reputation," says Roderman. "This guy is trying to destroy it with all kinds of stupidity. Finally we're in court. I think his lawsuit is frivolous. I think it will be dismissed."
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.