Raleigh lawyer charged with embezzlement

ajames@newsobserver.comJune 16, 2012 

STRATASNEW-NE-061312-RTW

Raleigh attorney Nicholas A. Stratas Jr. photographed on June 13, 2012 in Raleigh, N.C.

ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com

— A Raleigh lawyer faces embezzlement and forgery charges after prosecutors say he took more than $30,000 that belonged to his clients.

Nicholas Andrew Stratas Jr. was released from the Wake County jail Friday on $20,000 bond.

The felony charges aren’t the only problem facing Stratas, 54. The North Carolina State Bar has also filed a complaint against Stratas, saying he took clients’ money held in trust. A hearing later this year could result in Stratas losing his law license.

A hearing was scheduled Thursday for foreclosure proceedings involving a home where he had been living on Cowper Drive in Raleigh’s historic Hayes Barton neighborhood. Records show a limited liability company that includes Stratas owes more than $2.2 million on the property.

Meanwhile, the bank has already foreclosed on his Glenwood Avenue law office, valued at $700,000.

An attorney since 1984, Stratas is the son of Nicholas Stratas Sr., a prominent Raleigh psychiatrist, former state mental health official and former chair of the state Board of Medical Examiners.

Stratas said Wednesday evening he has cooperated with the state bar. “I believe when all the facts come to light, it will be revealed there was no willful intent on anyone’s part to take anyone’s money,” he said.

He said prior to this, he had never had a bar complaint in his 27 years of practice.

A disputed settlement

Last week, a Wake County grand jury accused Stratas of taking more than $30,000 from two clients between March 2010 and June 2011.

One of the cases involves Laura Candes, who hired Stratas to pursue an injury settlement after her car was rear-ended on Interstate 440 near Crabtree Valley Mall.

The collision left Candes, 69, with persistent back pain, according to her husband, Chris.

The bar’s complaint against Stratas says the attorney settled the case without the family’s permission. A $24,000 insurance check was deposited into the firm’s bank account, and the family has not received any money, the complaint says.

Stratas cashed the check and kept the money after the couple refused to accept the settlement offer, said Chris Candes, former owner of the well-known Two Guys Italian restaurant on Hillsborough Street.

“I’ve known him for 25 years,” Chris Candes said in an interview Wednesday. “I felt betrayed. I considered him a friend.”

A disciplinary hearing on the Candes case and others has been set by the state bar for Sept. 6 and 7. Stratas has been prohibited from being involved in any financial matters related to his practice since the bar began its investigation in December. The bar alleges that Stratas moved nearly $200,000 of clients’ money into the firm’s account.

Stratas is also a defendant in two domestic cases, records show. Two women have accused him of harassing and threatening them with emails and texts.

One of the women, a former girlfriend, has taken out a protective order that remains in effect pending further hearings.

“I believe I have not committed any act of domestic violence,” Stratas said. “And my attorneys do not believe that, either.”

Sam Weathers, a Raleigh lawyer who practiced with Stratas in the 1990s, said he was saddened to learn of the embezzlement charges.

“I feel bad for him,” Weathers said. “And of course I feel bad for any other folks that are affected by the situation.”

James: 919-829-4870

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