A former administrator of a psychotherapy institute in New York pleaded guilty in state court to stealing more than $2.5 million from the organization, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office said.
Jeffrey Bernstein, 62, the former director of administration for the Albert Ellis Institute on East 65th Street in Manhattan, pleaded guilty today to first-degree grand larceny before Supreme Court Justice Gregory Carro, the district attorney’s office said.
“Mr. Bernstein is extremely remorseful for his conduct and is hopeful to make a sizable restitution payment to the victims of his offenses in the very near future,” his attorney, Michael Bachner, said in a telephone interview.
Bernstein was indicted in February on one count of first- degree grand larceny and two counts of first-degree money laundering, according to a statement from Vance’s office. He was accused of stealing the money by making almost 80 unauthorized wire transfers to three business accounts that he controlled.
Bernstein used the stolen money to pay business and personal expenses, including loan repayments, legal and accounting fees, credit card bills, car expenses, insurance and condominium fees, according to Vance’s office.
The institute is a not-for-profit psychotherapy organization founded in 1959 by its late namesake, Dr. Albert Ellis. It is “committed to promoting emotional well-being through the research and application of effective, short-term therapy with long-term results,” according to its website.
The institute sued JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) in federal court in Manhattan over the theft in August 2011, saying the bank let it happen. JPMorgan has asked for the complaint to be dismissed, saying that the institute had given Bernstein the authority to make the transfers and transactions.
Bernstein was first elected to the institute’s board of trustees in March 2006 and was chosen as president of the board in July 2006, the institute said in the lawsuit.
He was named acting director of administration in January 2010 and appointed to the permanent post the following month, according to the lawsuit. Bernstein resigned from all offices he held at the institute after the fraud was discovered in February 2011.
“Although Jeffrey Bernstein’s actions have been detrimental to the institute, we have continued to carry out our mission of training psychotherapists and providing affordable mental health services for the community,” Kristene Doyle, director of the Albert Ellis Institute, said in a statement.
Bernstein, who is being held in lieu of bail at Rikers Island, faces as many as 10 years in prison when he is sentenced on Oct. 10.
The case is Albert Ellis Institute v. JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, 11-cv-5504, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). The criminal case is New York v. Bernstein, 00045/2012, New York state Supreme Court (Manhattan).
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