The Tax Man Skimmeth: Could I Trust an Accountant Who Once Stole $1.2M?

Steven Rubenoff. (Photo: Shao-yu Liu)

Steven Rubenoff. (Photo: Shao-yu Liu)

My widowed mother is 89 and has dementia. Last year, she gave me power of attorney and I took charge of managing her finances. Still, I didn’t think too much of it when the accountant who had been preparing her taxes found another job and my mother’s file, along with mine, was reassigned to someone else at the same firm.

I Googled our new accountant’s name, mostly out of habit. I don’t know exactly what I expected to find, but it certainly wasn’t a 2008 press release from the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office announcing that he had pleaded guilty to stealing $1.16 million from DV Capital LP.

The release explained that Steven Rubenoff faced nine years in prison after he had “funneled the money through his daughter’s college fund to finance a drug and gambling problem.” There were news stories, too. “$1M SCAM FUELED COKE & BET BINGE,” blared the headline in the Post.

Each new search pointed to this man and our new accountant being one and the same. Martin Cohen, who bought out the small firm we were working with last year, had apparently put a felon in charge of doing my mother’s and my tax returns. It was the weekend, so all I could do was vent on Facebook. “Run!!!!” one close friend advised.

On Monday I called Mr. Cohen, who told me he had hired Mr. Rubenoff after he was paroled in June 2010, at the request of a local rabbi.

“I agreed to give him a job to help in the rehabilitation of this gentleman,” explained Mr. Cohen, who is an attorney as well as a CPA. “With Mr. Rubenoff, I did a mitzvah. I believe I have a responsibility to help my Jewish brothers and sisters. My philosophy is, if someone does something, and they’re truly repentant and they’ve evened their score with society, we start fresh.”

But what about my philosophy—and did it include giving a first-degree grand larcenist access to our Social Security numbers and brokerage and bank account numbers?

We were already doing business with Martin Cohen’s firm, and I had believed a reputable firm would hire reputable

accountants. While it was commendable that Mr. Cohen felt a responsibility to help his Jewish brethren, why should Mr. Rubenoff’s rehabilitation come before our security?

He assured me that Mr. Rubenoff doesn’t have direct access to clients’ money, as he had in his former position. “He’s not a fiduciary,” he insisted. “But I understand your point—rehabilitate him on your time, not mine.” I hadn’t made that point, but it seemed like a good one.

I thought that Mr. Cohen should have given me some warning. But when I had called the firm in mid-March and asked the receptionist for my mother’s accountant, I had simply been transferred to Mr. Rubenoff.

After I made this discovery, Mr. Rubenoff, 52, agreed to sit down with me to explain himself. We met at Martin Cohen’s Lower East Side offices—a one-story warren of cluttered cubicles with a fish tank in the window and a sign out front reading “Law and Income Tax Offices.”