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How a lawyer who went to prison for 9/11-related fraud got his law license back and became an ordained minister along the way

  • After nearly two decades without practicing, Jeff Grant got his law license back this May.
  • He served over a year in prison for lying about office space to get federal relief money after 9/11.
  • He then went to seminary and opened a ministry serving white-collar defendants.

Jeff Grant started his law career the way many young lawyers would dream of starting. He launched his own firm shortly after graduating from New York Law School in 1981 and grew it, first in Manhattan and then in Westchester County, adding employees and clients. He served as outside general counsel to two large real-estate companies and kept adding staff.

But then the cracks appeared.

After rupturing his Achilles tendon in a basketball game in 1992, he was prescribed opioids for pain relief. He said he quickly became addicted and continued to take them daily for the next decade.

He made a habit of borrowing money from his clients’ escrow accounts to cover payroll, which he was in danger of not paying because of his personal spending habits and inattention to the business.

And after the attacks on September 11, 2001, he lied about his office location on an application for a low-interest Small Business Administration loan. He wrote that he had a satellite office just a few blocks from ground zero, but he had only an agreement with another firm in that building to use a conference room, which he had never used. He received a $247,000 loan and used it to cover personal credit cards, which he said were used to keep his firm afloat, and other personal expenses.

A New York attorney grievance committee launched an ethics investigation into his misuse of client funds, while federal prosecutors initiated a criminal inquiry over the loan.

Grant was disbarred in December 2002, five months after surrendering his legal license. He pleaded guilty to one count each of wire fraud and money laundering and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2006. In the interim, he went to rehab, and he said he has stayed sober since.

On the road to recovery

He served nearly 14 months in a low-security prison, where he attended services for a range of religions: Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam. After he was released in 2007, Grant spent a couple of years volunteering. Then a friend recommended he attend seminary. Grant was hesitant.

“I was a Jewish kid from Long Island,” he said. “I didn’t even know what it was.”

But he enrolled in Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, earning his master of divinity in 2012. He accepted a position as an associate minister later that year in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and later became an ordained minister in an Independent Catholic church (not affiliated with Roman Catholic). He said he was also baptized as a Protestant and still identifies with Catholicism, Protestantism, and Judaism.

In 2013, he and his wife founded Progressive Prison Ministries in Greenwich, Connecticut. He says it’s the world’s first ministry helping people prosecuted for white-collar crimes. His work came to include mentoring, career counseling, and spiritual support.

But something was missing, he said.

He said that while he loved doing “the good work,” it could get frustrating. The people Grant ministered to always had legal questions, he said, but he was barred from giving legal advice.

In 2018, he decided to try to get his law license back.

‘Light at the end of this crazy tunnel’

Grant submitted a motion for reinstatement to the New York State Bar at the beginning of 2019 that included a tell-all, 10,000-word narrative of how he’d unraveled his life and then worked to put it back together.

The committee on character and fitness investigated him — lawyers need to show remorse and prove that they’ve changed and are trustworthy and honest in order to be reinstated — and recommended his approval in October 2020. But a state court still needed to officially OK it.

Every day for the next several months, Grant checked to see if his name appeared on the court’s docket.

Then, on May 5, Grant saw it: He was a lawyer again, effective immediately.

He hasn’t struggled to find work since, he said.

Grant says he’s one of the very few practicing attorneys who have been prosecuted and incarcerated for white-collar crimes. His clients seek him out because of his past, he said.

“It brings hope and comfort that there actually might be light at the end of this crazy tunnel,” he said.

Some of his old clients even gave him a shout when he shared the news that he had his license back, asking for him to represent them once again.

Four decades after graduating from law school, Grant says he feels content.

“This might be the first time in my life where I feel like I’ve arrived at where God needs me to be,” he said.

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