The Real Deal New York

Behind Rosabianca’s ruin

How a rising NYC real estate lawyer went from throwing lavish Hamptons’ parties to sitting in a Queens’ jail cell
By Rey Mashayekhi | February 01, 2016 11:00AM
Rosabianca

Luigi Rosabianca (Photo: Robert Caplin)

As a lawyer who specialized in brokering luxury property deals for foreign investors, Luigi Rosabianca rode the wave that propelled the New York City real estate market in the years following the recession.

As property values climbed and wealthy buyers the world over clamored for high-end Manhattan condos, Rosabianca built a seemingly lucrative career.

He became a media darling, quoted frequently in publications like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and even The Real Deal, as an expert on the buying strategies of rich and foreign buyers.

A striking, dark-haired bachelor who dressed in Ferragamo, he seemed to be breaking into the city’s high-end lifestyle, buying a $2.3 million apartment in the Financial District and throwing lavish parties in the Hamptons. In the words of one person who knew him, “Everything about him looked expensive.”

But it all came to a dramatic end last October, after Rosabianca was arrested on charges that he had stolen upwards of $4.4 million from six separate clients, including $630,000 from a man who was unable to attend a closing due to his wife’s failing health, and $455,000 from an estate where the sole heir was a woman suffering from schizophrenia, according to the Manhattan District Attorney.

Today, Rosabianca,41, sits in a city jail cell in East Elmhurst, Queens, held on $4.5 million bail. His next court date is Feb. 19.

If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison for first-degree grand larceny.

Against the backdrop of stories about Wall Street embezzlement, $4.4 million is not an eye-popping sum. But among cases involving New York City lawyers — like the recent grand larceny charges against former real estate lawyer Claudine King, who allegedly stole more than $500,000 from clients — Rosabianca’s alleged crime has been singled out by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. as “a massive theft.”

It all represents a startling fall from grace for Rosabianca, who succeeded in cultivating a sphere of influence in the competitive world of New York real estate. A first-generation Italian-American, he parlayed his connections and bilingualism into becoming a head broker for the New York office of WIRE International Realty — a Venice, Italy-based boutique brokerage that oversees a network of more than 50 branches around the world and caters to European buyers seeking to invest in real estate abroad.

Charismatic and well-liked, Rosabianca gave off no whiff of hardship- — nor deceit.

Some described him as a ladies’ man, who was “always dating a lot of beautiful women.”

But he was also known as a “gentleman,” a history buff, an avid biker and a major fan of the Italian soccer team, Juventus.

“For all intents and purposes, a reputable, hard-working young man,” is how Frank Desiderio, a partner at the Midtown-based law firm Grunfeld, Desiderio, Lebowitz, Silverman & Klestadt, described him. The two together served on the board of the Italy-America Chamber
of Commerce.

Robert Schalk, an attorney for Rosabianca, declined repeated requests for interviews.

‘The record was great’

The son of Sicilian immigrants, Rosabianca was raised in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. After graduating college from St. John’s University, he earned his law degree from Brooklyn Law School, and then ventured into the world of commercial litigation and transactional law.

He started his own law firm around 2001, according to state business records. Over time he brought on about a half a dozen attorneys and within just a few years, Rosabianca had become a self-described “real estate expert” whose nous extended from both commercial and residential property law to construction and estate planning. His younger brother, Santo, joined him at the firm not long after graduating from the College of Staten Island in 2010.

In 2012, Rosabianca made a career-changing connection. Through a mutual acquaintance, he and Santo met Italian businessman Angelo Cinel, the founder of WIRE Consulting, then known as Fenice International Realty. Having opened a branch in New York in 2009, Cinel was now on the hunt for a New York point person to grow the company’s business in the city.

Rosabianca-quoteCinel first brought on Santo, who had recently received his real estate license. About a year later, Rosabianca proposed that he help lead the firm’s New York push and that WIRE move into his office at 40 Wall Street.

“You could trust him as a person, and the record was great, [so] for me he was a good option,” Cinel told TRD.

By working with Cinel, Rosabianca capitalized on New York’s booming property values and soon established a network of foreign clients from Italy to Singapore.

And as his business grew, so did his profile.

In June 2014, he and his brother were prominently featured in a New York magazine cover story that documented the influx of foreign wealth entering New York City real estate. The elder Rosabianca was quoted about the less-than-legitimate methods some buyers use not only to store wealth in real estate, but also to launder money.

“It’s something that is never discussed, but it’s the elephant in the room,” he said. “Real estate is a wonderful way to cleanse money. Once you buy real estate, the derivation of that cash is forgotten.”

The irony was that, according to the DA’s indictment, Rosabianca was already stealing from his clients and using his spoils to pay for personal expenses or to pay back money stolen from previous victims. His theft of cash from client escrow accounts allegedly stretches back to at least June 2013. Attorney malpractice complaints go back to October 2011.

A cat-and-mouse game

In late 2014, Guy and Corrinne Neale reached out to Rosabianca to serve as counsel in the sale of their West 22nd Street condo in Chelsea. Rosabianca had represented the Neales, who are based in Singapore, when they purchased the apartment in 2009.

It didn’t take long to find a buyer; the condo sold for $3.7 million in January 2015, according to city records, with the Neales due a tidy $747,000 profit on their investment. The couple did not attend the closing. They gave Rosabianca power of attorney to seal the deal on their behalf.

By the end of that month, however, the Neales had yet to receive the proceeds of the sale.

In a lawsuit filed in New York State Supreme Court in February 2015, the couple claimed Rosabianca stole more than $2 million from the sale.

The Neales said that Rosabianca “began making a series of implausible — and ultimately false — excuses as to why the wire transfers [of the proceeds] were
not completed.”

Four weeks after the closing, the Neales were contacted by an attorney at Rosabianca & Associates who informed them that lawyers at the firm “had pressed Rosabianca for an explanation” regarding why he had failed to send his clients their money, according to the suit.

Not only that, but Rosabianca’s colleagues couldn’t even confirm whether the funds were still in the firm’s client escrow account, which he had sole access to, the lawsuit said.

Attorneys at the firm eventually filed a grievance against Rosabianca over his failure to address the concerns expressed by the Neales and other clients.

In March 2015, amid mounting lawsuits, Rosabianca’s law license was suspended. By that time, most of the attorneys at his firm had fled.

According to sources with knowledge of the disciplinary proceedings, his suspension and subsequent disbarment in July was an open-and-shut affair, with bank records leaving a clear paper trail to the allegations against him.

Looking back, there had been signs that Rosabianca couldn’t support his lifestyle. The condo board of the Cipriani Club Residences at 55 Wall Street, where he owned a unit, sued him in April 2014 for more than $54,000 in unpaid charges.

Soon after Rosabianca’s suspension, WIRE broke off its relationship with him. The company told TRD that it subsequently discovered that he had misrepresented himself as a co-founder and principal at WIRE International Realty. The brokerage also claimed he created a company called Tri-Insula LLC that was fraudulently conducting its business under the WIRE International Realty name.

Santo, who declined to comment for this story, still works for WIRE Consulting. “We have no reason to discriminate against him for his surname and the actions of his brother,” a WIRE spokesperson told TRD.

As for Rosabianca, many who knew and worked with him remain shocked by both his current predicament and the crimes he stands accused of.

“I’m heartbroken about this whole situation,” Desiderio said. “I thought he was a very nice kid … I would think he had goodness in his heart.”