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Our History: The Firm Created by Boris Kostelanetz

We are “Kostelanetz LLP” because Boris Kostelanetz (1911–2006) was a founder of our firm, but also because our essence can be traced to his remarkable life and career.

Today, Kostelanetz LLP is a boutique law firm with offices in New York and Washington, D.C., that focuses on tax controversies, white-collar criminal defense, complex commercial civil litigation, trusts and estates, tax planning and advice, and government contracts and procurement. Much of our practice is government-facing, and we’re comfortable handling such matters because many of our lawyers have worked in government. We often handle matters of public importance and understand how politics and media can impact the law. We are thought leaders and involved in bar associations and other professional associations, formal and informal. We value teaching and mentorship, and we believe in possibilities. We know that talent and success emerge from diverse paths.

Boris Kostelanetz

These qualities are also hallmarks of Boris’ seventy-year legal career.

Boris was born in St. Petersburg, Russia on June 16, 1911. After the Russian Revolution in August 1919, Jewish properties were seized, many Jewish communities were dissolved, and expressions of religion and religious education were banned. In 1920, to escape oppression, the Kostelanetz family moved to New York City.

In 1933, during the Great Depression, Boris became a Certified Public Accountant and began his career at Price Waterhouse. While working as a CPA, he enrolled as a night student at St. John’s University Law School.

In 1937, upon graduating from law school, Boris joined the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan. He quickly drew on his financial background to prosecute complex tax and securities fraud.

Boris was an ingeniously effective prosecutor. Much of his success came from working with the Internal Revenue Service’s Special Intelligence Unit (which later became the IRS’ Criminal Investigation division) to develop tax evasion cases.

He gained national prominence, both as an Assistant U.S. Attorney and during a detail as Special Assistant to Attorney General Francis Biddle, prosecuting labor extortion and payoff schemes involving tax evasion in cases against movie industry executives and union leaders, such as Joseph Schenck (a movie industry mogul), Willie Bioff (a movie industry union leader and mobster), George Browne (another union leader), and Louis Campagna (a mobster).

In October 1945, Boris, who was by then the Confidential Assistant to U.S. Attorney John F.X. McGohey, was selected for another detail. He headed to Washington, D.C., to run the War Frauds section of the Department of Justice. The unit, first led by Tom C. Clark (later a Justice of the Supreme Court), was created to investigate and prosecute fraud, collusion, and other types of corruption by government contractors. In leading that unit, Boris oversaw false claims and antitrust investigations and prosecutions.

Boris’ last major prosecution for the U.S. Department of Justice was a highly-publicized tax evasion case against Henry Lustig – who was then the owner of the Longchamps restaurant chain in New York and Washington. Lustig was convicted in July 1946. On July 22, 1946, Boris left government service to start the law firm of Corcoran & Kostelanetz with Howard F. Corcoran, a colleague from the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Howard had attended Princeton and Harvard Law School, and he had worked at the Securities & Exchange Commission. He joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office a few years before Boris and, in 1943, became the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Howard left the U.S. Attorney’s Office to serve as a Lieutenant Colonel in World War II through 1945. Upon his return, he and Boris formed the law firm from which we trace our roots. The two former prosecutors practiced together until 1954 when Howard left the firm to practice in Washington, D.C., where he was ultimately appointed as a U.S. District Judge.

During Boris’ sixty-year career in private practice, the institution now known as Kostelanetz LLP became a legendary boutique law firm, handling civil and criminal tax disputes, other types of white-collar criminal defense and civil litigation, and trusts and estates matters. Boris quickly became renowned as “Dean of the Tax Litigation Bar.”

While in private practice, Boris remained interested in the interplay of government, politics, law, and media. In 1950, he was appointed as Special Counsel to the United States Senate Commission to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, commonly known as the Kefauver Committee. Working with Chairman Estes Kefauver, the duo originated the televised Congressional hearing; the Kefauver hearings, which focused on organized crime, were watched by over 30 million Americans on the new television sets in their homes. Active in politics, Boris served as Senator Kefauver’s New York State Presidential Campaign Chairman in 1952.

Boris was also an active teacher, mentor, and leader in the legal profession. He taught law at New York University and served as a University Trustee. He was President of the New York County Lawyers Association and Chair of the Character and Fitness Committee of the New York State Court’s Appellate Division, First Department. He was also a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and the American College of Tax Counsel.

Brilliant lawyers were attracted to Boris, and many joined his practice, some as his mentees. Jules Ritholtz joined him to form Kostelanetz & Ritholz, and Jack Tigue and Robert Fink later joined them to form Kostelanetz, Ritholz, Tigue & Fink. The firm continued its leadership in government affairs and at bar associations. During this era, Edward I. Koch, then Mayor of New York City, selected Peter Zimroth, one of the firm’s partners, as the City’s Corporation Counsel. To this day, Jules’ role as a founder of the American Bar Association Tax Section’s Committee on Civil and Criminal Tax Penalties is remembered each year through the “Jules Ritholz Memorial Merit Award.” In 1995, Boris joined several lawyers, including Bryan Skarlatos and Kevin Flynn (who are still with the firm) in creating Kostelanetz & Fink, LLP, which was renamed Kostelanetz LLP in 2023. The firm continued to attract other leaders in its practice areas, including the “legendarySid Kess, who passed away in 2023.

Boris died on January 31, 2006. In a memorial shortly thereafter, Kostelanetz partner Bryan Skarlatos noted: “His dedication to the law was true to the end of his life. He was still coming to the office until the week before he died, a reflection of the intensity and energy that he showed throughout his years of practice.” In memory of Boris, each year, the New York County Lawyers Association awards the Boris Kostelanetz Presidents’ Medal to an association member whose record of dedication and service to the association and profession comport with the highest standards.

We see our firm as Boris’ legacy.

Like Boris’ practice, ours is grounded in New York City and Washington, D.C., but is national in scope. For much of our history, we have practiced from Manhattan, but in 2017, we expanded by opening an office in Washington, D.C., where Boris was detailed and his original partner, Howard, worked as a lawyer and federal judge. We remain best known for the practice area that Boris – the Dean of the Tax Litigation Bar – pioneered, but our other practices also have their origins in Boris’ work, ranging from white-collar criminal cases to civil matters in diverse areas such as taxation, contracts, government procurement, and trusts & estates.

Following Boris’ lead in drawing on the Internal Revenue Service’s Special Intelligence Unit, now known as the IRS’ Criminal Investigation division, our white-collar criminal defense and investigations practices include a Director of Investigations, the former head of the IRS’ Criminal Investigation division. Our government contracts and procurement practice – which focuses on New York City and New York State – traces its roots to Boris’ work as Chief of the War Frauds section of the U.S. Department of Justice. Boris’ trusts and estate litigation practice and his work as a CPA laid the groundwork for the firm’s current trusts and estates and tax planning advice practices. And the firm’s congressional investigations practice builds on Boris’ pioneering work with the Kefauver Committee.

Finally, we take inspiration from Boris’ experiences, first as an immigrant, escaping discrimination in his native country, and then as a contributor to his adopted community, as a lawyer, accountant, leader, professor, and mentor. We honor Boris’ commitment to public service through our pro bono efforts, our bar association participation, our mentorship, and our work as adjunct law school professors, and we adhere to Boris’ belief in inclusivity and equal opportunity through our own diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives.