Alex Iler at No Joe’s last Wednesday. Below, the Locust house that Iler fraudulently deeded over to himself after his landlord died. (Photo above by Dan Natale; below by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
A disbarred Red Bank lawyer sentenced to 10 years in state prison last October for stealing the Locust home of his dead landlord and half a million dollars from clients is already out.
Alex Iler, 40, was freed on a court order in February, just four months after he was sentenced, a beneficiary of New Jersey’s “intensive supervision program,” redbankgreen has learned.
In the course of following up on a tip from a reader who was outraged that Iler had been cut loose, redbankgreen ran into Iler in downtown Red Bank last Wednesday. He agreed to an interview.
At six-foot-four, Iler is hard to miss. We recognized him from his prison mug shot while he was having coffee at No Joe’s on Broad Street.
Iler pleaded guilty last August to to one count of second degree theft of immovable property – a house on Locust Point Road in Middeltown – that he had been leasing from owner Lena Spangenberg before her death in December, 2010, at age 84.
The admission followed an investigation by the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s office, which determined that, in December, 2011, Iler forged the signature of Spangenberg’s daughter, Robin O’Hare, on a deed he filed with the county clerk’s office purporting to show he had paid the Spangenberg estate $575,000 for the property. No sale had actually taken place, Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said. Here’s the deed: Spangenberg – Iler Deed
Iler later used the property to secure more than $1 million in mortgages. He also admitted swindling other clients of his Broad Street practice out of more than $500,000.
At the time of Iler’s plea, his lawyer, Dean Schneider, told the court that Iler had been “out of control” with a gambling addiction when the crimes were committed.
With his hands shackled to his waist, Iler told the court that he’d “needed to be arrested. I was headed straight for suicide or something terrible,” NJ.com reported at the time.
“My entire life that I had before this is gone, and probably rightfully so,” Iler told the court.
Last October, Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Francis Vernoia sentenced Iler to 10 years in prison. Iler had already been disbarred and slapped with with more than $530,000 in civil judgments. He was also banned from New Jersey casinos.
By the end of February, he was out.
Iler didn’t spend only four months behind bars, authorities note. According Tammy Kendig, a spokeswoman for the state Administrative Office of the Courts, Iler had spent a year at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution at the time of his sentencing, and another four months in state prison by the time he was released on February 24.
Iler was freed under the state’s Intensive Supervision Program, a 30-year-old system meant to address prison overcrowding, Kendig said. According to the AOC website, the ISP “provides a structure in which certain offenders, sentenced to state penal institutions in the traditional fashion, are afforded an opportunity to work their way back into the community under intensive supervision.”
“By no means is the Intensive Supervision Program a ‘slap on the wrist,'” the website says. “It is, as the name implies, ‘intense.’ For that reason, this program is not suited for everyone facing a prison term, and success is not assured. But for those who do succeed, participation can be a life altering experience.”
The prosecutor’s office did not object to Iler’s early release, according Kendig. Gramiccioni’s office did not respond to requests from redbankgreen for comment.
According to Iler, he’d still be in jail at least until next February if the prosecutor had objected.
“On a second-degree case, you need to be within nine months of your parole eligibility to receive ISP if there’s a prosecutorial objection,” he said, sounding somewhat lawyerly as he sat at a table outside No Joe’s on Broad Street. “It’s right in the statute.”
Iler said friends and acquaintances were sometimes “surprised” to see him out on the street, but no one had expressed outrage to him that he was let go after just 16 months.
“The reception’s been pretty welcoming,” he said.
“With a crime like mine, I would think the victims probably want me out on the street making money to pay restitution,” he said. “I’m not doing anyone any good incarcerated, unable to support my family, unable to make restitution, unable to continue treatment for gambling addiction – all the things that I’m doing.”
Iler said he’s “developing websites for a couple of different lawyers” to earn money and “meeting my obligations.”
Iler said he was “a severely addicted gambler for many years, and as happens with most addictions, my addictions got ahold of me and changed my actions. I was a law-abiding citizen my whole life, and was a good person in the community until gambling got on top of me.”
He said he was no longer gambling. “Looking at everything I destroyed in my life, it’s a pretty easy decision for me not to gamble. It’s not something I even consider as an option in my life,” he said.
“I’m more interested in being productive and saving money, and paying my child support and doing what I have to do for my family and the people that I’ve harmed.”
Spangenberg’s daughter, Robin O’Hare, of Middletown appears ambivalent about Iler’s freedom.
O’Hare said she found Iler “very personable. Honestly, I liked the guy.”
In fact, she told redbankgreen last week, “I tried everything to keep him from ending up in jail, because I felt bad. He’s the same age as my oldest son.” She also hated the idea that Iler’s two young sons would be apart from their father.
O’Hare said she is also sympathetic to Iler’s state of mind as he was in the grip of a raging gambling addiction, noting that one of the mortgages Iler took out was a $679,000 loan from his own mother.
“He must have been a very desperate boy,” she said. “I don’t think he did this intentionally to hurt anyone. He obviously was backed into a corner. That was what possessed him – and I use that term literally – to do this.”
And yet, O’Hare is clearly angry at the mess Iler left behind, both financial and physical. As a tenant, Iler had an option to buy her mother’s house, which has a dock on Claypit Creek, but after Spangenber’s death, he began extensively remodeling it, a process that was interrupted and halted when he was arrested in October, 2012. The house remains unfinished and uninhabitable.
He also stuck O’Hare with a tangle of mortgages to disengage.
“He’s out of prison, and we’re still fighting to get the mortgages off the property,” she said, adding that it had cost her family tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. The estate agreed to pay $50,000 to a Staten Island man who had loaned Iler $250,000 using the house as collateral.
“I’m paying it just to him him off my back,” she said.
“This is our inheritance from our mother,” she said. “This is not fair. We’ve been fighting this for years, and now this guy’s out.”
Still, O’Hare said, “I’m not really outraged. Alex Iler in prison wasn’t doing me any good.”
Iler said he misses the practice of law.
“I loved being a lawyer, and had several published decisions in my short career,” he said. “I was quite good at it, and I left a slew of happy clients. Unfortunately, a lot of that has been wiped out by the handful of clients that I wronged.”
Agreeing to spontaneous interview request from redbankgreen, Iler said, is part of his re-entry process into the world.
“Listen, I did what I did,” he said. “Doing something like this is part of me coming back into society. I’m not embarrassed. I did what I did because of an addiction, I’m better, and I want to become part of the community again, and not be running away. This is my life. I made my bed, I’m lying in it, that’s it.”