Taylors commit $1.7M to aid lawyer's scam victims

James Taylor and his wife, Kim, shown last November, will pay $1.7 million to victims of a scam perpetrated by Kim Taylor's brother, Albert Hessberg III, a former Albany, N.Y.-area attorney. Hessberg is scheduled to be sentenced Friday on charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and filing a false tax return.

To the tune of $1.7 million, Berkshires troubadour James Taylor and his wife, Kim, are compensating victims of a 12-year scam perpetrated by a now-disbarred Albany, N.Y., lawyer.

That's because the attorney, Albert Hessberg III, is the brother of Kim Taylor, the former Caroline Hessberg, who was born and raised in New York's Capital District.

Hessberg, 64, disbarred in June by the New York Supreme Court, is due to be sentenced Friday, after his guilty plea in May on charges of wire fraud, mail fraud and filing a false tax return, as first reported by the Times Union of Albany.

Hessberg admitted to stealing over $2 million from 15 clients and from his law firm, Barclay Damon, for "desperately needed money" to cover personal expenses, including income taxes, school tuition and wedding costs, the report said.

The Taylors live in the town of Washington, close to the Lenox town line. Kim Taylor, who usually tours with her husband and is a vocalist with his band, is a Boston Symphony Orchestra trustee and was the BSO's longtime publicity director. The Taylors are major benefactors of the orchestra and also donate the proceeds from the second of the two JT shows, typically on July 3 and 4 most years.

In a statement sent via email to The Eagle, Kim Taylor explained the family's decision to step up.

"Families stand together. This is what families do. I have the great good fortune and luck to help make restitution to those who suffered from my brother's actions," she wrote. "He has never had a lavish lifestyle: just an abiding love for his children. He is a good and loving man who made a terrible decision and has been awash with contrition from the first moment he told me and the world what he had done.

"Our love for him stands undiminished," she wrote. "As Shakespeare wrote: 'Love alters not ... but bears it out even to the edge of doom.' "

Hessberg, a resident of Slingerlands, an Albany suburb, had worked at the firm for 37 years handling trust and estate cases until he was fired in March 2018.

The prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Barnett, recommended to U.S. District Court Judge Mae D'Agostino a federal prison sentence of seven years, three months. Barnett argued that Hessberg committed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of separate criminal acts from 2006 to 2018.

"Greed was his only motivation, as he stole solely to fund a lifestyle he could not have otherwise afforded and did not want to work for," Barnett argued, adding that he had "betrayed the dead and defrauded the dying."

In advance of sentencing, Hessberg wrote a memo to the judge, titled, "My Statement of Responsibility and Shame."

"I desperately needed money for my family, needing to pay for school tuitions, income taxes and other necessities including wedding expenses," he wrote. "I rationalized my actions every way I could, always believing that my financial situation would work out and that I would be able to quickly fix my mistakes. From the very beginning, professionally and ethically, I knew what I was doing was wrong, and I have been ridden with guilt."

James Taylor wrote a letter of support to the judge seeking leniency for Hessberg, as did Kim Taylor, other family members, Albany County Comptroller Michael Conners, and numerous prominent members of the city's legal establishment and business community.

"How did such a thoroughly decent man commit such a breach of trust? We all ask ourselves and each other but, in the end, we are baffled," the singer-songwriter wrote. "There is literally no one I know less likely than Ab [as he was known] to have done what he has done. This event has rocked our world." Taylor added that he believes Hessberg is "sincerely contrite."

In all, more than 100 letters of support were sent to the judge and to Hessberg's attorney, E. Stewart Jones.

In his pre-sentencing memo, Barnett, the prosecutor, acknowledged that Hessberg's victims will be paid the face value of their loss "almost exclusively to the generosity" of the Taylors.

"The Taylors' decision to pay $1.7 million toward the defendant's restitution obligation shifts much of the financial loss to them," Barnett wrote. "This is particularly unfortunate given their philanthropic and charitable contributions. One can infer that as a result of the defendant's fraud, the Taylors will have less money to bestow on charitable and philanthropic causes."

According to the Times Union report, Barnett wrote that "he lied to, deceived and manipulated clients who had placed their trust in him, including a woman dying of cancer. He exploited relationships that went back decades, to his father's time serving earlier generations of the same Albany families."

"He repeatedly lied to the courts of the state of New York," Barnett argued, seeking a lengthy prison sentence. "He defrauded the law firm that employed him for his entire career. He betrayed his profession, making a mockery of the positions he held — trustee, fiduciary, guardian. And he never expressed remorse directly to his victims, and always gave them the back of his hand."

The prosecutor pointed out that Hessberg's victims will not receive lost interest and investment income, nor attorney and account fees incurred as Hessberg's fraud was investigated.

Barnett included several letters from victims.

"His plan to confuse and obfuscate the situation made us each feel at times humiliated, angry, embarrassed, incompetent, and misaligned," one victim stated. "In hindsight we now see that he created a barrier of lies to shield his misdeeds by portraying himself as a reliable authority figure and casting us as `greedy grandchildren.' "

But Conners, Albany County's top fiscal officer, wrote in a letter seeking leniency that he has known Hessberg for more than 40 years.

"His actions that resulted in this legal matter are so out of character that I believe this has to be an isolated and tragic mistake that will never occur," Conners stated. "Please do not imprison Mr. Hessberg, there is a better alternative."

In his memo of apology, Hessberg told the judge he accepted full responsibility for his actions.

"The best part of my day is the first few seconds after I wake up in the morning," he wrote. "For those first few seconds I have forgotten about the people I hurt, the shame I feel, and the embarrassment that will continue to face my friends, colleagues, and my family for the rest of their days. Living in shame is not easy, but the feeling of remorse that pierces through my chest every day is literally physically taxing."

Information from the Times Union of Albany, N.Y., was included in this report.