Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Los Angeles lawyer Richard Purtich entered into a plea bargain with federal prosecutors and will cooperate in the prosecution of Milberg Weiss and two of its name partners for allegedly making secret payments to representative plaintiffs in class action cases in which the law firm served as counsel to the class. The indictment identifies three representatives plaintiffs -- Howard Vogel, Seymour Lazar, and Steven Cooperman -- as the recipients of the payments, and Purtich admits that he served as the conduit for payments to Cooperman. According to an article in The Recorder (here), Purtich stated that he passed along $3.5 million to Cooperman from 1993 to 1996, and that the funds were not referral fees, a key aspect of Milberg Weiss's defense to the charges (see earlier post here).
Interestingly, the crime Purtich admitted committing was a tax charge and not fraud. Cooperman pled guilty to a 1999 insurance fraud a few years ago, and during that investigation Purtich testified before a grand jury. The Recorder article claims that Purtich may have had some exposure to a perjury charge arising from that testimony, which may be contradicted by what Cooperman admitted in his plea. While the tax charge may not trigger disbarment for Purtich, his grand jury testimony will certainly be fodder for the defense cross-examination at trial. To this point, the government's key witnesses in the case appear to be Vogel, Cooperman, and Purtich, along with some Milberg Weiss partners who are supposed to have received immunity. Whether the government will have any "untainted" witnesses, i.e. people without deals, remains to be seen. Look for words like "liar" and "scam artist" to be thrown around the courtroom should the case get to trial. (ph)