Divorce Fraud Leads to 17 years in Prison

GEO#1California businessman Steven Zinnel, age 50, thought he could get away with cheating his wife, his two teenage children, and the bankruptcy court, but he was wrong….boy was he wrong!

Zinnel and his wife, of Gold River, separated in 1999. By 2001 their uncoupling got even more ugly when he told his wife she would get nothing, no assets or support because he was filing for bankruptcy.

Zinnel systematically funnelled millions of dollars into the names of other persons and true to his word, filed for voluntary bankruptcy in 2005. He also laundered money through shell corporations in order to conceal his true income.

Shockingly, he did all this with the assistance of lawyer, Derian Eidson, age 50, who used her trust account, her personal account and a corporation she owned to return the funds to Zinnel after his discharge from bankruptcy.

But he didn’t stop there…Zinnel went on to initiate an FBI investigation of his ex-wife, displaying a hatred that knew no bounds and that eventually led to his own demise.

In the course of the investigation, authorities uncovered Mr. Zinnel’s bankruptcy and divorce fraud. Before U.S. District Court Judge Troy Nunley he was sentenced to 17 years and eight months in prison, fined $500,000, and ordered to disgorge the sum of $2.8 million to the state.

Judge Nunley in bankruptcy court and the 3rd District Court of Appeal in respect of his divorce matter condemned Zinnel for his narcissistic arrogance, and found that while he was articulate and charismatic he used those traits for his own selfish purposes.

Yorba Linda lawyer Ms. Eidson, was disbarred and sentenced to 10 years and one month in prison for money laundering. She was also fined $200,000. Her undoing began when she commenced an intimate relationship with Zinnel and became a victim of her own greed.

As for Mr. Zinnel, his phone call to his son when first imprisoned shows that he still doesn’t get it…he told his son that he was “railroaded” and blamed his ex- wife!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

DISBARRED THE SERIES: GARTH DRABINSKY

GEO_edited-1How far the mighty fall….Garth Drabinsky was an entertainment mogul in the world of theatre, whose productions including Phantom of the Opera, Showboat, Sunset Boulevard, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, garnered nineteen Tony awards for Drabinsky’s production company Livent. Prior to his foray into live theatrical production, he was an independent film producer, and later with a partner co-founded Cineplex Theatres in Canada in 1979, eventually acquiring Odeon Theatres to establish Cineplex Odeon, a venture he was forced out of in 1989 after accumulating unmanageable debt.

Born in Toronto, he obtained a law degree from the University of Toronto in 1973 and was called to the Ontario bar in 1975, working briefly as an entertainment lawyer, but his legal credentials paled in comparison to his success in show business. He became a Broadway darling, said to be responsible for 25% of North America’s live theatre revenues. Along the way he received a Queen’s Counsel designation, the prestigious Order of Canada, took Livent public, and appeared to be at the top of his game.

But things aren’t always as they seem. The reality was that Drabinsky was awash in financial problems due to excessive production costs, along with millions of dollars expended to build or renovate venues for his productions. To the surprise of many, in 1998 Livent received a $20 million dollar injection from Michael Ovitz, co-founder of Creative Artists Agency, the world’s largest talent agency and later President of Walt Disney Corporation.

With new money Drabinsky was on a roll, that is until forensic auditors hired by Michael Ovitz discovered that Drabinsky and his partner Myron Gottlieb were “cooking” the books in order to hide their massive financial losses. In this case, they created two sets of books, one that painted a rosy picture and the second that revealed the stark reality of their nearly bankrupt company.

These events saw the dismissal of Drabinsky and Gottlieb from Livent in August of 1998 and the commencement of a $225 million dollar civil lawsuit against them. But worse things were down the pike.

In 1999 authorities in New York indicted Grabinsky and Gottleib accusing them of misappropriating $4.6 million dollars from Livent. Meanwhile the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and securities regulators in the United States and Canada began investigating.

Finally, in 2002 four Livent executives, including Drabinsky and Gottlieb, were charged with fraud and accounting irregularities between 1989 and 1998. The allegations were ugly: forged financial statements, Livent purchasing large blocks of theatre tickets to falsely create an “uber-successful” production, and enticing investors to inject over $500 million dollars into the company based on fake documents.

After years of delay, said to arise from Garth Drabinsky’s lawyer, Eddie Greenspan, being fully occupied by the Lord Conrad Black fraud case in Chicago, Drabinsky finally faced justice. After a 65 day trial, Drabinsky was found guilty and sentenced to a seven-year prison term, which ultimately after appeal, was reduced to five years.

Recently steps were taken by the Canadian government to rescind his Order of Canada, and last week the Law Society of Upper Canada disbarred him, despite glowing reference letters from former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Frank Iacobucci.

Has Garth Drabinsky taken responsibility for his crimes? Sort of, but he still says that the fraud was a result of computer software that he didn’t understand.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

A Snake in a Suit

10950859361151CDPNew Jersey lawyer Paul Bergrin spent five years working for the “good guys” as a prosecutor in Newark, New Jersey. That is one of the reasons his slide into the ranks of the worst criminals is so astounding.

Bergrin then took up a career as a criminal defence lawyer and was hailed as an aggressive and brash advocate who acted for gang members and drug dealers. His clients also included Oscar-nominated actress/singer Queen Latifah and rapper L’il Kim.

Bergrin gained a reputation as someone who would do whatever it took to get a client acquitted. His reputation first took a hit when he was arrested for running a brothel called NY Confidential whose owner, his former client Jason Itzler, had been incarcerated for money laundering, among other offences.

This brothel gained notoriety with the revelation that New York attorney-general Eliot Spitzer was a frequent flyer of their $1,000.00 per hour services.

If felony charges had been pursued Mr. Bergrin could have served as many as 25 years in prison, however, the matter was heard as a misdemeanor and he received three years probation and a $50,000.00 fine.

But his troubles were far from over. In 2009 Bergrin was charged with conspiracy to murder, witness intimidation and faced RICO charges for racketeering and belonging to a criminal organization. RICO legislation was originally enacted in the US to cripple the Mafia. The RICO charges were later dismissed by a trial judge, but reinstated once the Court of Appeal had its say.

Bergrin’s alleged defence tactics were far from the norm and included the provision of sexual services, courtesy of his brothel, to influence jail guards, police officers and informants. Even more unusual was the sudden death of persons who were witnesses in cases where he was defending the accused.

It was discovered that in eight Superior Court cases, witnesses were murdered or paid to give false evidence. One case involved the slaying of a FBI informant and in another, Bergrin hired a hit man to take out a witness against his client. With one dead witness, the only other witness recanted and Bergrin’s client walked away from capital murder charges.

When Bergrin attempted to get bail the State played tapes of conversations that Bergrin had with the alleged hit man, an undercover officer. He was denied bail.

Life has changed for Paul Bergrin. He was in solitary confinement for six months and remains in jail awaiting his trial. He no longer wears the stylish suits he was known for and I am sure he misses his beachside home.

Truly, a snake in a suit.

UPDATE:

On March 18, 2013, a jury convicted attorney Bergrin of all 23 counts on which he was tried, including conspiracy to murder a witness and other racketeering, cocaine and prostitution offenses.

The U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Paul J. Fishman, announced the verdict saying: “Bergrin’s conduct was a stunning violation of his role as an officer of the court and a betrayal of his roots as a member of law enforcement. Today, the jury returned the verdict compelled by the evidence and imposed the justice he deserved. We take no joy from his tragic fall, but I am extremely proud of the work done by those in my office and agents from the FBI, IRS and DEA that led to this just result.”

Bergrin received a life sentence on Sept. 23, 2013.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

DISBARRED- THE SERIES: ALAN EAGLESON

_DSC4179 - Version 2Alan Eagleson graduated from the University of Toronto’s Law School and was a prominent Toronto lawyer and Member of Parliament in Ontario before he began his lengthy career as agent, promoter and hockey guru extraordinaire.

His accomplishments in the world of hockey were pivotal to the growth and stature of professional hockey and its players. It was Eagleson’s impetus to form a union for players that birthed the National Hockey League Player’s Association in 1967.

He became the NHLPA’s first executive director and held that position for 25 years. By 1979, Eagleson was providing financial services to some of hockey’s biggest stars, encouraging them to invest wisely in order to retire financially secure.

It was Eagleson’s foray into internatonal hockey, notably the 1972 match between Russia and Canada, that cemented his now international reputation. His esteem, in his clients’ eyes, was multiplied when he took on one of the off-ice hockey officials in the 1972 game insisting that the referees had missed a Canadian goal.

As matters escalated, soldiers of Russia’s Red Army began to converge around Mr. Eagleson. Canadian fans jumped from the bleachers to intervene on Eagleson’s behalf. After this confrontation he turned on his heels and “fingered” the Soviet hockey fans as he walked back to the bench.

As Eagleson’s power base grew, suspicions arose as to the inner workings of the NHLPA and several American sports journalists began investigating Eagleson and the NHLPA in 1989/1990. By this time, Eagleson was a living legend in Canada and vague allegations of mismanagement were ignored by Canadian journalists, many of whom owed favors to Eagleson. This year also saw Eagleson obtain the Order of Canada and admission into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The beginning of Eagelson’s demise occurred when evidence revealed that he had been playing around with player’s pension funds such that when Bobby Orr retired he was almost bankrupt, with significant unexpected tax liabilities.

Even more egregious was Eagelson’s skimming of funds from international games, money that was used to provide a lavish lifestyle for Eagleson. The players were told that their salary from international play would be deposited to their pension accounts. Instead, Eagelson embezzled the money for his own use.

Eagleson also defrauded injured players who sought to rely on their insurance funds when their playing days were over. He charged extraordinary fees alleging that it was only through his negotiation with insurers that the players received their settlements. None of it was true.

Eventually in 1993 Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper ran with the story and began their own inquiries. In 1994 Eagleson was indicted in the United States for racketeering, obstruction of justice, embezzlement and fraud.

It was only after one of Eagleson’s clients wrote a book outlining his criminal conduct that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police began their own investigation and in 1996 Eagleson was charged with eight counts of fraud and theft.

Eagleson managed to avoid extradition to face the US charges for three years, using his considerable clout with Canadian authorities. He later plead guilty to three counts of mail fraud in a Boston court and was fined $700,000.00

Eagleson was charged with eight counts of fraud and embezzlement by the RCMP and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. His disbarment followed, together with the withdrawal of his Order of Canada and his removal from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

To the surprise of many Americans, Eagleson was pardoned in Canada in 2005. Canadian pardons are a dime a dozen, since the central criteria is to “keep your nose clean” for five years.

Just another tale of greed that ruined Eagleson’s reputation and his life. The question is: Why do the most successful fall prey to this avarice?

“Greed is a fat demon with a small mouth and whatever you feed it, it is never enough.”
Janwilliam van de Wetering, Dutch writer

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Another Nigerian Scam: Fake Fertility Clinic

BarristerA married couple from the United Kingdom tried for eight years to have a baby with no luck at all. After years of disappointment the couple were referred by family members to the Miracle of God Fertility Clinic in Port Harcourt Nigeria. They travelled there, and after paying $20,000, she underwent a fertilization procedure and became pregnant, according to Dr. Chinyere at the Clinic.

With much joy the couple returned to their home in England to await the birth of their child. Their first stop was a visit to their family doctor who informed his patient that she was not actually pregnant.

However, she was undeterred, relying on the Clinic’s advice that due to the nature of the procedure, her pregnancy would be more difficult to detect. As expected, she began to gain weight as well.

Nine months passed and the couple returned to Nigeria for the birth of their baby. After a painful birthing process under heavy sedation, the couple were presented with their baby, complete with its umbilical cord.

Arriving in England, they took their baby to its first medical check-up. Their doctor was stunned to see the child and contacted the police and social services who took their baby into custody after the doctor advised them that his patient had never been pregnant. DNA testing confirmed that the child was not biologically connected to the couple.

Court proceedings ensued where the couple sought the return of their child. The Crown, however, alleged that the parents of Baby D were fully aware of the child’s true circumstances and had knowingly participated in a fraud.

In a hearing before Mr. Justice Coleridge the couple were found to be innocent victims of a fertility scam. The Judge said:

“Gullible they may well have been, dishonest they most certainly were not. They had no inkling of the scam in which they were involved and the light only dawned after the production of the DNA tests. That is the conclusion to which the police and the Local Authority each independently have come and I think they are right.”

In a further court appearance the couple succeeded in obtaining custody of Baby D. A representative of “Children and Families Across Borders” expressed concern about the decision and its potential impact on trafficking in babies:

“Behind every one of these children lies an actual birth mother. She has been coerced, she may have been kidnapped or raped. These children are not given up willingly”.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Texas Judge Arrested for Hiding Evidence as a Lawyer

GEO CASUALMichael Morton was convicted of murdering his wife, Christine Morton, in 1987 and served 25 years in a Texas prison. But justice was not served because prosecutor, now Judge Ken Anderson, purposefully withheld evidence that would have led to Michael Morton’s acquittal.

Instead Mr. Morton, an innocent man, languished in prison until DNA evidence exculpated him because the State of Texas, in the person of Ken Anderson, believed he was guilty, despite evidence that suggested otherwise. Morton was then 30-years old, worked at Safeway and had no police history

Anderson, a judge in Austin Texas for 11 years, was a celebrated “law and order” district attorney for 16 years before that. He prided himself in requesting and receiving the harshest sentences possible for criminals and argued vigorously to prevent inmates from being paroled, even when their prison terms had been served.

In Mr. Morton’s case he buried a bloodied bandana found near the family home, failed to reveal evidence relating to a mysterious green van near the home, from which a man emerged, and hid a statement from Morton’s three-year old son who said that it was a “monster”, not his dad that bludgeoned his mother to death.

To add to Mr. Anderson’s outrageous behavior, when asked during Morton’s trial whether all evidence had been delivered to defence counsel and the court, Anderson lied and said it had.

As is typical in these cases of wrongful conviction, the State erected roadblocks preventing Innocence Project lawyers from obtaining timely DNA testing on the bandana found near the scene. The forensics on this evidence proved that Mark Norwood was the killer, a man who had also murdered another woman near Austin. Last month Norwood was sentenced to life in prison for Christin Morton’s murder.

Judge Anderson’s apology to Mr. Morton was brief. He said “the system screwed up”. Obviously, a man in denial and all because he wanted another “conviction” notch on his belt.

He not only robbed Michael Morton of his life but also Morton’s son, who grew up without a mother or a father.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Twenty-Year Old Divorce Case Reopened: It’s Not Over Til It’s Over

La Spiga 2011-03-22In 1990 New York securities trader Steven Cohen was just beginning to see the fruits of his Wall Street career ripen. The only bad news was that his marriage didn’t survive and he needed to negotiate a financial settlement with his wife, Patricia Cohen.

At the time he told his wife that he had lost $9 million dollars in a co-op apartment investment he made in 1986, leaving his net worth at a mere $8.1 million. She didn’t believe him, but had no grounds to refute his assertion.

Mr. Cohen remarried two years later and built his business, SAC Capital, growing it from $25 million in assets to several billion dollars. Life was very good for him, until 2008.

It was then Ms. Cohen discovered a court file that revealed her ex-husband had settled the investment loss case with one of his co-op partners and recovered $5.5 million. She filed a lawsuit against him in 2009 alleging fraud.

Unfortunately, the first judge who heard the case threw it out saying the claim was too old to pursue and was unsubstantiated.

The Manhattan Appeals Court saw it differently. This month they reinstated Ms. Cohen’s lawsuit holding that the lack of timeliness in its filing was because she only discovered evidence of fraud eighteen years after the divorce.

My advice to Mr. Cohen: “Settle this case now, after all, you are a multi-billionaire and will likely not even notice a shortage of a couple of million.”

Besides, Cohen’s $15-billion dollar hedge-fund is the target of an insider trading investigation that has already seen the arrest of five individuals related to his Connecticut-based business. As well, two companies affiliated with SAC Capital have recently settled insider trading allegations with the US Securities and Exchange Commission for $614 million dollars, the largest insider trading settlement in the United States.

While there have been no charges laid against Mr. Cohen, the SEC is breathing down his neck. He really doesn’t need the aggravation of his ex-wife’s court action and the publicity that accompanies it.

Family law is different however. Cases that should be settled often are not because of petty vindictiveness and the need to win, and of course, Cohen can afford to bury his ex in legal fees.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang