Gambler Who Sued Casinos Jailed for Theft

Go directly to jail; do not pass go, do not collect $20 million.
That's the sad ending to the tale of a disbarred New York City attorney who sued casinos in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, arguing they knew she was a compulsive gambler and did nothing to stop her from losing nearly $1 million.
Now Arelia Taveras is in jail for stealing clients' money to finance her gambling, most of which was in the seaside resort city that gave streets in the Monopoly board game their names.
She pleaded guilty Monday in a New York court to stealing $130,000 from her clients' accounts and is expected to be sentenced next month to between three and nine years in prison.
“It's sad, but this is what happens with compulsive gamblers,'' said Arnie Wexler, the former head of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey who was in regular contact with Taveras before her guilty plea. “I found her to be a very gentle person, but the gambling made her do crazy things.''
Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said Taveras “violated the trust of her clients and let down the entire legal system, which counts on members of the bar to conduct themselves in an ethical manner.''
Taveras is being held in jail until her sentencing April 27. Messages and e-mails left on her cell phone and with her lawyer were not immediately returned.
In September 2007, Taveras filed a $20 million federal lawsuit against six Atlantic City casinos, and one in Las Vegas, claiming they had a legal duty to notice her compulsive gambling problem and cut her off. It was dismissed last year, and her appeal was rejected this month because she hadn't paid the required court fees.
The suit named Resorts Atlantic City, Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, the Tropicana Casino Resort, the Showboat Casino Hotel, Bally's Atlantic City, as well as the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas as defendants.
She says she often would gamble for days at a time, not eating or sleeping or even going to the bathroom. At least twice, she said, she passed out at the gambling tables, only to resume playing as soon as she came to.
The casinos denied any wrongdoing, claiming in court papers that Taveras brought her problems on herself. A judge agreed.
Taveras made a name for herself representing the families of victims of American Airlines Flight 587, which crashed in Queens, N.Y., in November 2001, killing 265 people.
Her practice had 400 clients and earned her $500,000 a year. She appeared on TV and radio to discuss legal issues, wrote a book for women dealing with deadbeat dads and was a regular contributor to Hispanic culture Web sites.
As an escape from the pressures of her law practice, Taveras said she started going to Atlantic City to unwind in September 2003. While she said she also gambled at the other casinos listed in her lawsuit, she spent most of her time -- and money -- at Resorts Atlantic City, and lost $850,000 there in two years.
In interviews with The Associated Press, Taveras admitted taking money from clients accounts' to help finance her gambling habit. In a video she posted last year on YouTube, Taveras promised to pay them back.
“I am truly, truly sorry for the people that I've injured,'' she said. “I take full responsibility for the consequences of my actions, and I intend to make amends to everyone.''
A spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office said Taveras hasn't paid any restitution but is expected to make at least a partial payment when she is sentenced.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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