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Acting Governor Transferred Assets to Wife to Protect Them from Lawsuits

The Associated Press, Sunday, March 11, 2001, 3:19 PM

Acting Gov. Donald DiFrancesco's real estate deals have been scrutinized in recent weeks, but for the past six years, he technically has owned no property aside from a pair of vacant lots.

In an effort to protect his assets from lawsuits against his former law firm, DiFrancesco transferred the titles of his family's Scotch Plains home, Brick Township beach house and commercial properties in Chatham and Scotch Plains to his wife Diane in 1994 and 1995.

Real estate experts say it's not unusual for a partner in a law firm to put assets in someone else's name.

"There is certainly nothing wrong with the owner of a law firm, as a purely precautionary matter, to switch assets out of his name," Bennett J. Wasserman, a Hackensack lawyer who teaches malpractice law at Hofstra University Law School, told The Sunday Record of Bergen County.

John Coley, the managing partner at DiFrancesco, Kunzman, Coley, Yospin, Bernstein and Bateman, said all the partners were told it would be a good idea to transfer assets to their spouses.

Coley made that suggestion as the firm got involved in bigger contracts that could have resulted in bigger malpractice lawsuits.

DiFrancesco, who is running for a full term for governor and also is president of the state Senate, resigned from the firm in January before he became acting governor.

The property transfer for DiFrancesco also has the potential to prevent creditors from seizing the properties under most circumstances.

In 1994, DiFrancesco borrowed $575,000 from family and friends to pay the mortgage on the Chatham commercial property he and his brother owned.

DiFrancesco's spokesman, Tom Wilson, said transferring the properties had nothing to do with financial problems involving the Chatham property.

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