Disbarred lawyer Emmanuel Roy got a chance Tuesday to explain himself in a South Florida case where a federal judge found Roy behaved so outrageously that he should return $275,000 in exorbitant fees to a former client.
Instead of explaining, Roy invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination — more than 80 times in less than an hour — when called to testify in federal court in Miami Tuesday by the lawyer who is now representing Roy's former client.
"I'm exercising my Fifth Amendment right," Roy said in response to questions from lawyer Paul Petruzzi.
The answer was the same regardless of the question — does Roy have any bank accounts, has he hidden assets in other people's names, does he currently live with his wife, could he identify himself in a photograph? It got so repetitive that Roy, who is also facing mortgage fraud charges in New York, abbreviated his answer to "Exercising my Fifth Amendment right" over and over again.
The extraordinary case began in 2008 when Patrick Coulton, a former Broward resident, was arrested on drug and money-laundering charges. Coulton hired Roy, who involved his friend Peter Mayas, a lawyer in Plantation and Miramar, in the case.
U.S. Magistrate Judge William Turnoff ruled a year ago that Roy and Mayas broke numerous rules when they represented Coulton. Neither lawyer had permission to work in federal court in South Florida and the judge said they abandoned their client after he reached a plea agreement and was sent to prison.
The judge found Roy and Mayas in contempt of court last year and ordered them to repay the fees or explain why they couldn't pay. Both men ignored the order for months until Mayas, 48, agreed last month to turn over his vehicle, his home in a gated Miramar community and the contents of his house to Coulton to comply with the judge's order.
Mayas had previously claimed that he no longer owned the house but had a change of heart when he figured out the judge wasn't entertained by his antics.
Coulton's lawyer said it's unclear how much Mayas's property will fetch, though it won't come close to what Mayas and Roy owe Coulton.
"Their conduct was outrageous, disgusting, abhorrent. [I] would go so far as to describe it as being the most outrageous in ... 25 years on the bench," Turnoff wrote in September 2011.
But in an abundance of fairness, Turnoff gave Roy, 45, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and sometimes Florida, another chance to explain himself this year.
After hearing all the evidence, Turnoff said he will write a report in the next few weeks making recommendations to U.S. District Judge Joan Lenard who will have the final say.
Petruzzi alleged in court that Roy was hiding considerable assets — including a Brooklyn apartment and a 2001 Mercedes — by putting them in other people's names.
Roy referred questions to his court-appointed lawyer Richard Della Fera who said his client is broke and no one has proved he has any money — hidden or not.
By law, judges can hold a person in contempt and jail them if they believe there is evidence they are hiding assets that could be used to comply with a court order. But Della Fera said there is no such thing any more as "debtors' prison" and if Roy can prove he has no money, he can't be locked up for failing to pay the court-ordered debt.
Petruzzi elicited testimony from witnesses that Roy is involved in an effort to get permission for international investors to build homes in Haiti and to mine natural resources in the country, an effort one witness said could yield multi-million profits – if it works out. Roy claimed to have links to Haitian President Michel Martelly and was photographed with him, according to court records.
Though Mayas said Tuesday that he and Roy were like "brothers," he testified that Roy had told him Mayas was "stupid" because he had kept his assets in his own name that were then subject to seizure by the court.