Lawyer jailed for pilfering estate of late Slave Theater owner

Attorney Frank Racano could not account for $2 million following the auction of the Bed-Stuy property
March 28, 2016 01:07PM

A Queens attorney is in jail after he admitted dipping into the estate of the late “Kung Fu” Judge John Phillips, who for years owned the Slave Theater in Brooklyn.

Frank Racano, working for Phillips’ nephew and estate executor, Rev. Samuel Boykin, “robbed Peter to pay Paul” by writing checks from Phillips’ escrow account to himself over the course of two years, he said. Racano used the estate money to pay off debts, he confessed.

The judge, who died in 2008, owned several properties in Bedford-Stuyvesant, including the iconic Slave Theater. He was nicknamed the “Kung Fu Judge” because of his affinity for the martial arts.

Racano was sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine for contempt of court, after he and Boykin failed to comply with a court order holding them responsible for $2 million from a 2012 auction of the landmark theater and a nearby property. The $2.28 million made on the auction was supposed to be inherited by Phillips’ relatives after the late judge’s debts and taxes were paid off. Boykin said Racano stole almost $1 million.

“The account was in (Racano’s) name, not mine, he never gave a bank statement to any of the family members, he only had excuses whenever we asked for one,” Boykin told the Daily News.

The Slave Theater, a landmark for civil rights activism, has traded hands several times since Phillips’ death. It was sold to developer Eli Hamway of Industrie Capital last November for $18.5 million, part of a three-parcel assemblage spearheaded by Brooklyn-based investor Yosef Ariel.

In the midst of demolition, the Fulton Street theater’s ownership was disputed late last year when an 81-year-old Brooklyn man claimed Philips had transferred the estate to him in 1999. [NYDN]Cathaleen Chen