United States: Criminal Liability For Construction Trust Fund Diversion & Fraud

Last Updated: January 31 2018
Article by Henry L. Goldberg

Most contractors (GCs and subs alike) are aware of the existence of New York Lien Law Article 3-A, and that it is designed to ensure that entities who provide labor and material on construction projects are fully paid out of a project's own funds. Before trustees at any level (general contractor or upstream subcontractor) are permitted to use funds on any other non-project-related purpose, all trust fund beneficiaries must be paid in full. This includes taxing authorities. Article 3-A prohibits trustees from, essentially, stealing from one job to pay for labor and/or material on another.

Trust fund "diversion" in violation of Article 3-A exposes the trust fund trustee to harsh penalties. Any owner, general contractor and/or upper tier subcontractor who, acting as a trustee, diverts project funds for any purpose other than paying labor and material claims on that particular project is subject to criminal prosecution for larceny. Under New York Lien Law §79-a, diversion would constitute larceny, as follows:

Any trustee of a trust ... who applies or consents to the application of trust funds received by the trustee as money or an instrument for the payment of money for any purpose other than the trust purposes of that trust ... is guilty of larceny and punishable as provided in the penal law...

As criminal lawyers remind us, "larceny is larceny" – what degree of grand larceny is simply a matter of the dollars involved.

Unfortunately, many contractors view the potential for a criminal prosecution for the diversion of trust funds as an idle threat. This is based upon the historic reluctance of prosecutors to bring indictments, or otherwise get involved in what they perceived as a "private breach of contract" dispute, rather than a crime.

Desperate People Do Desperate Things

When a job goes "south," the contractor (or other trust fund trustee) may be tempted to take the chance of using trust funds on one job to bring another job current. This is done believing that, if caught, it is unlikely that the trustee would suffer anything other than court ordered disgorgement of the diverted funds.

Recent cases, however, resulted in the aggressive prosecution of not just the offending construction companies, but their individual principals as well.1

The charges contained in the indictments are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. All factual recitations are derived from documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court.

Recently, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. announced the indictments of three corporations and four individuals for collectively defrauding at least 40 subcontracting companies out of approximately $9.6 million by failing to pay the companies for work completed on 34 projects in Manhattan.

According to the indictment and statements made on the record in court, Artisan Construction (Artisan) was a mid-sized general contracting company specializing in interior construction and renovations of commercial and residential properties with offices located at 65 West 57th Street in Manhattan. Artisan was owned by James Galvin, 45, who also served as the president; Garret Branagh, 44, was the company's chief financial officer. Artisan had 10 to 20 full-time employees, but relied on subcontractors to perform the work on various construction projects.

In addition to failing to pay subcontractors for their work, the defendants are also charged with forging documents and creating false business records in order to induce one of the property owners to continue making payments to the company.

Why Criminal Prosecutions Now?

One explanation might be that the sheer size and brazenness of these diversion-related criminal activities. Artisan and its principals allegedly defrauded scores of subcontractors and suppliers. Another reason why major prosecutions are now being undertaken might be the political pressure being applied to the district attorney's offices at this time.

According to New York County District Attorney Vance:

This type of fraud is harmful to the entire New York City construction industry. It forces the small businesses that complete multi-million dollar projects they do not get paid for, to lay off employees or even declare bankruptcy. It also burdens the property owners with additional costs, and weakens the credibility of honest contracting companies.

Keep It "Vertical" / Never "Horizontal"

Trust funds should always flow straight downhill, ultimately to the intended lower-tier trust fund beneficiaries. Any cross-payments between any two or more jobs is problematic. As a trustee of trust funds, you will have to provide, upon demand, an accounting under oath, (i.e. verified) pursuant to Lien Law §76 or risk significant exposure.

While you don't have to keep separate bank accounts for each project, you do have to have a separate accounting for each project. To be safe, make certain you establish "Chinese walls" between all of your projects.

The criminal defendants in this case pursued their diversions and fraud to such an extreme extent as to virtually assure notice by the authorities. One can only hope that prosecutors will be more willing to fuel such investigations and prosecutions. The honest subcontractors and suppliers of our industry deserve no less.

Originally published in STA


1 The charges contained in the indictments are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. All factual recitations are derived from documents filed in court and statements made on the record in court.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Topics
Related Articles
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions