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Estate liquidator arrested for stealing more than $100K


Published: September 16, 2011

POLICE ARRESTED longtime Pebble Beach resident and highly regarded businessman Joseph Rousso at his Carmel office Tuesday morning on five counts of embezzlement and grand theft and one count of perjury, alleging he stole from clients who hired him to liquidate estates on their behalf.

The charges stemmed from an investigation launched by retired Carmel Police detective Pete Poitras six months ago after a lawyer representing a Virginia resident told police Rousso, who owns Estate Appraisal and Liquidation Service of Carmel, never paid the woman for the sale of her mother’s estate, even after she sued him in civil court and was awarded a $22,000 settlement.

While researching the case, the attorney discovered a few more victims, according to Poitras, who said the tally reached six by the time Rousso was arrested.

One is a Phoenix, Ariz., resident who contacted Rousso via his real estate business while researching the value of a Peninsula home. The man also needed to sell a $40,000 Honda Gold Wing motorcycle and custom sidecar as part of a Pacific Grove estate, and Rousso offered to help, saying he would keep 10 percent of the total sale for his services.

He reportedly told the man — and later, the court — that he sold the Honda for $15,000, but the victim never saw any of the proceeds, according to Poitras, who discovered through bank records and the purchaser that Rousso had in fact received $22,010 for the bike. Poitras said Rousso did not pay the victim, even after the judge ruled in the Phoenix man’s favor.

In addition, Rousso allegedly lied about the whereabouts of paintings being sold for an estate being managed by a bank. Via email, he had told the client one of the paintings was with an appraiser in San Diego and he was having trouble getting it back.

“In fact, he had sold the paintings and pocketed the money, and had lied to the people about it,” Poitras said.

Most of Rousso’s alleged victims sought redress in civil court rather than reporting the losses to the cops, but after the attorney located several victims and approached police, the criminal investigation was launched.

“A pattern developed here that clearly showed criminal intent,” said Poitras, who put the total amount Rousso allegedly stole at more than $100,000 — a number that will climb if more victims come forward. (Poitras asked that any other possible victims contact him at Carmel P.D. at (831) 624-6403.)

A few weeks ago, Poitras contacted Rousso at his downtown office and asked him to come to the station for an interview.

“He acknowledged that he owed all these people money,” he said. And he admitted he was not truthful about the “disposition of the property belonging to a number of these people, too.”

Poitras said the seriousness of the charges filed against him will depend on how much money and property can be recovered and returned to the alleged victims.

Officers arrested Rousso at 11:50 a.m. Sept. 13 at his office without incident and took him to Monterey County Jail, where he was booked on five counts of embezzlement and grand theft, and one count of perjury for allegedly lying in court about the amount of money he received for the motorcycle.

He was released on $100,000 bail and hired attorney Larry Biegel to represent him. On Thursday, Biegel said he was working to research the civil suits and other facts surrounding Rousso’s problems and the accusations against him.

“This is a guy who is well known for very many years as a very legitimate businessman,” he said. “I’m aware of the fact that a number of people have used him and never had problems before. Obviously, there are some problems now.”

Biegel suspected the economic crisis triggered Rousso’s poor decisions, though he said that was not an excuse for them.

“He clearly admits he’s done some things wrong, but we just need to follow up on it and see what we can do to make it right,” he said.