On Thursday, August 3, 2023, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals suspended attorney Benjamin M. Soto for making a false statement to Disciplinary Counsel and omitting critical details of a complex transaction to obscure his actions in altering a deed and tax form.

The case is entitled “In the Matter of Benjamin M. Soto,” and was brought by the Disciplinary Counsel with case no. 22-BG-0601.

In a report and recommendation of the Ad Hoc Hearing Committee, it was stated that attorney Benjamin M. Soto faced allegations of violating several rules of professional conduct including knowingly making false statements in a disciplinary matter, knowingly failing to respond reasonably to Disciplinary Counsel’s lawful demand for information, committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer’s fitness, dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation and serious interference with the administration of justice of the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct. The charges against Soto stemmed from his role as a settlement and title insurance agent in a real estate transaction and his conduct during the subsequent disciplinary investigation.

Specifically, Soto was charged with multiple serious violations, including falsely altering a Deed and its corresponding tax form by changing the consideration amount from zero to $450,000, and then misrepresenting to Disciplinary Counsel that the altered consideration was legitimate. Furthermore, he was accused of delaying the recording of crucial documents and failing to distribute funds in accordance with the HUD-1 settlement statement. Additionally, Soto’s failure to provide complete records related to the transaction during the investigation compounded the gravity of his alleged misconduct. Collectively, these actions had adverse consequences for the Littlejohn estate, involving forged documents and significantly hindering the administration of justice.

The Disciplinary Counsel then sought disbarment as a sanction, alleging multiple violations. However, Soto vehemently denied all charges and advocated for dismissal or, in the alternative, a less severe sanction such as a public censure or informal admonition. On the other hand, the Ad Hoc Hearing Committee found Soto guilty of violating Rules 8.1(a), 8.4(c), and 8.4(d) but cleared him of the charges related to Rules 8.1(b) and 8.4(b). The committee also did not establish the aggravating circumstance of intentional false testimony. Consequently, they recommended a six-month suspension as the appropriate sanction for Soto.

On August 10, 2022, the Board of Professional Responsibility filed a report and recommendation concerning Attorney Soto’s case. The board determined that the Disciplinary Counsel had provided clear and convincing evidence supporting the violations of Rule 8.1(a), 8.4(c), and 8.4(d). Consequently, they recommended a six-month suspension of Soto’s law license. While acknowledging the gravity of the misconduct, the committee did not find enough evidence to establish Soto’s intent to defraud the government. According to the committee, this distinction set his case apart from those that resulted in one-year suspensions for intentional dishonesty with government agencies. Ultimately, the Committee’s proposed six-month suspension aimed to strike a balance between the seriousness of the violations and mitigating factors.

Unsatisfied, both parties involved in the case disagreed with the recommended suspension. The Disciplinary Counsel argued in favor of a one-year suspension, while Soto proposed a less severe sanction.

In response to the charges, Soto submitted an answer, acknowledging certain aspects of the charges while denying others. He stated that any errors in the transaction were unintentional and that he had followed standard industry practices. Soto argued that he had not personally benefited from the transactions and that his conduct was not fraudulent. He also asserted that he had contacted the D.C. Recorder of Deeds to ensure that the method of calculating consideration for a Deed in lieu of foreclosure was accurate, based on information provided by his client.

The response states:

“Mr. Soto asserts that any errors that may have occurred in the course of the real estate closing activities referenced in the SOC were inadvertent and unintentional.”

While Soto’s past disciplinary history was considered, the Board determined that a six-month suspension aligns with similar cases, emphasizing the seriousness of his misconduct and its adverse impact on the administration of justice.

The Disposition states:

“Accordingly, respondent Benjamin Soto is suspended from the practice of law in the District of Columbia for six months, effective thirty days from the entry of this order. We direct Soto’s attention to the requirements of D.C. Bar R. XI, 14, and their effect on his eligibility for reinstatement. See D.C. Bar R. XI, 16(c).”

According to Foundationhousing.com, Mr. Sotto is an attorney who practices real estate transactions and bankruptcy. He is the owner of Premium Title & Escrow, LLC, which is a full-service title company servicing DC, MD, and VA.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.