Monday, September 24, 2007
Article on cnn.money.com -- Mel Weiss is Sinking HIs Firm, by Peter Elkind. Here's an excerpt:
As the government describes it, Weiss was personally involved in dirty dealings with all three of Milberg’s showcase paid plaintiffs—Steven Cooperman, Seymour Lazar, and Howard Vogel—each of whom secretly received millions for serving as name plaintiff in dozens of Milberg class actions. (Lazar, also a defendant in the case, has pled not guilty. Cooperman and Vogel have pled guilty and are cooperating with the government.) The indictment also ties Weiss to an unnamed trio of Florida residents who were paid to serve as plaintiffs in about 60 more lawsuits.
And the allegations are ugly. Weiss is no longer thinly masked, as he was in earlier government filings, as “Partner A.” The new indictment places him at the scene of the alleged crimes from the beginning. It has Weiss, in August 1979, informing his number-two man, senior partner David Bershad (one of the now-cooperating former Milberg lawyers) that he had struck a deal with California investor Lazar to serve as a plaintiff in Milberg lawsuits in exchange for 10% of the firm’s attorney fees in those cases. It has Weiss, in the early 1980s, informing Bershad not to worry about violating the law by paying a Florida plaintiff because they would be making the payments in cash, and thus there would be no paper trail and little risk of getting caught. Indeed, in the mid-1980s, the indictment says, Weiss personally carried “thousands of dollars in cash” from New York to Florida to make payments to two plaintiffs. The indictment details how Weiss—along with Lerach and Bershad—in January 1986 included a provision in the firm’s partnership agreement that would allow the “conspiring partners” to tap the firm’s coffers to reimburse themselves for cash they’d each kicked in to a slush fund for paying plaintiffs. (Some of this cash was stashed in a safe in Bershad’s office at the law firm.) In December 1987, 1988, and 1999, according to the indictment, Weiss then “caused” the firm to reimburse him a total of about $380,000 in cash for such payments.