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 RICO legislation was originally enacted in the US to cripple the Mafia.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

Conrad Black Must Wait in Court Line Like Everyone Else

352c45a9a449851d47da3cd61856bca7Conrad Black’s battle to retain his Order of Canada designation will not be resolved quickly, much to his dismay.

Upon receiving notice that the Governor-General’s Advisory Council was reviewing his membership in the Order of Canada, Lord Black sought an opportunity to make oral submissions to the Council, a suggestion rebuffed by them. His attempt to obtain a court order from the Federal Court also failed when they ruled that the removal process only permitted written submissions.

Mr. Black filed an appeal to the Federal Court of Appeal and brought a motion asking the Appeal Court to expedite his appeal hearing, however, he ran into a roadblock when the Court refused to move his case to the front of the line.

The expression “justice for all” comes to mind, or in this case, the delay in Canada’s justice system is an annoyance that does not differentiate between rich or poor, high-profile case or minor nuisance, or expensive lawyer or legal aid.

What it does underscore, however, is the frustration of litigants who wait not months, but years, to access what is reputedly one of the world’s leading justice systems, and everyone is complaining.

Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin, who also happens to Chair the ten-member Advisory Council,in a recent speech at the Empire Club in Toronto, identified “delay” as one of the greatest challenges to our court system. She noted that murder trials that used to occupy five to seven days of court time, now take five to seven months and quoted statistics that an average trial in Vancouver in 1996 took 12.9 hours and only six years later, required an average of 25.7 hours to complete.

Mr. Black is waiting for a date in the Federal Court, a system that is bogged down by thousands of immigration cases and no wonder, when you consider cases like Parminder Singh Saini, a convicted hijacker who entered Canada using a false name and then tied up the Federal Court system for fifteen years in his attempts to avoid deportation.

Meanwhile, Ashley Smith, the young woman who died in prison custody and is now the subject of a coroner’s inquest in Toronto, filed a grievance with the Federal Court, who has jurisdiction over prisons and inmates, that was only opened two months after her death.

So now Conrad Black is at the back of the 12 to 18 month line-up that plagues not just the Federal Court but Provincial and Superior Courts across Canada.

Welcome to the world of single mothers waiting for child support hearings; wrongfully dismissed employees longing for recompense for lost wages; car accident victims who desperately wait for their damage awards and tens of thousands of others who still want to believe that Canada has the finest justice system in the world.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Elder Abuse: Death By Power of Attorney

Elder abuse is a world-wide phenomenon that has only recently received the attention and research dollars that it deserves. For our senior citizens who are victims of caregivers or family members, the emotional and physical damage and financial exploitation is often hidden behind closed doors.

Such is the case in a recent elder abuse situation in Missouri that has now been exposed by authorities who have charged Kansas City lawyer, Susan Elizabeth Van Note, age 44, with first degree murder and felony forgery.

Ms. Van Note’s 67-year-old father and his long-time girlfriend, who he intended to marry, were attacked by an intruder in their Ozarks vacation home. Mr. Van Note’s girlfriend, Sharon Dickson, age 59, did not survive her gunshot wounds and died at the scene.

Mr. Van Note survived and was transported to hospital, but died four days later, after his only child, Susan, gave his medical team a durable power of health care attorney, that authorized her to determine whether or not to “pull the plug”. She decided that life support should be terminated. With the death of her father and his fiance, Susan Van Note became the beneficiary of his multi-million dollar estate.

Authorities later determined that the power of attorney was a forgery.

A September 2012 criminal indictment against Ms. Van Note says that she “knowingly caused the death of William Van Note by shooting him…either acting alone or by knowingly acting together with or aiding another or others” and used a forged power of attorney to deny him potentially life-saving treatment. No charges have yet been brought against her in respect of the death of Sharon Dickson.

Two high school friends of Ms. Van Note’s have also been charged with felony forgery and second degree murder. Desre and Stacy Dory also plead not guilty.

Not surprisingly, Ms. Van Note was removed as the executrix of her father’s will and was ordered to relinquish control of the assets in her father’s estate. She did, however, manage to post cash bail of $1 million dollars after pleading not guilty, a situation that has caused concern because Ms. Van Note filed for bankruptcy the year before her father’s death, claiming assets of $250,000 against debts of $375,000.

The obvious inference is that Ms. Van Note has already helped herself to estate assets.

Ironically, Susan Van Note practices estate law touting her “compassionate representation of clients” and expertise in end-of-life issues.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Mr. Ponzi, Meet Ms. Divorce

They say there is a sucker born every minute and I have to agree. The number of Ponzi schemes that have unravelled in the last several years is remarkable. The wave began with the outrageous scandal that Bernie Madoff created when it was discovered he had defrauded $160 billion from his closest friends, his family, and the public for several decades, while he became a fat-cat at the expense of everyone he encountered, including his son, who later committed suicide.

Since then there has been a parade of white-collar con artists whose greed has also done them in, including Earl Jones from Canada and Lou Perlman and R. Allen Stanford from the United States, to name a few.

It was inevitable that in the world of high-stakes investments the collapse of financial empires would impact the milieu of high net worth divorce. Two such cases have wound their way through the New York divorce courts.

One case involves commodities trader Stephen Walsh who defrauded investors of more than $550 million in a thirteen-year Ponzi scheme. While hundreds of innocent investors lost everything, Mr. Walsh’s wife, Janet Schaberg, cashed in during her divorce from Walsh, which predated the demise of his phony financial firm.

While admitting that Ms. Schaberg was innocent, the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission went after her money alleging that her net worth was largely as a result of the fraud her husband had perpetrated during their marriage. As a result almost $8 million in cash was frozen pending the outcome of the SEC’s lawsuit.

Ms. Schaberg won the lawsuit which enabled her to retain the assets she acquired in her 2009 divorce. The New York Court weighed the competing interests of an innocent spouse of a scam artist against the rightful owners of the funds, who had been taken in by a sophisticated fraud.

In ruling in her favour, the Court compared her with an architect who was paid to build a home for a thief. The architect would not be forced to disgorge the funds he had received from the thief and neither should Ms. Schaberg.

In another New York courtroom this week, the final chapter in the Steve Simkin/Bernie Madoff case was written.

Steve Simkin is a prominent real estate lawyer in New York City with blue-chip law firm Paul, Weiss. He and his wife Laura Blank separated in 2002 after 30 years of marriage and entered into a separation agreement in 2006 that divided equally their significant assets including a home in Scarsdale, an apartment in Manhattan and a stock portfolio managed by Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities. Simkin’s Madoff account statement showed a value of $5.4 million and he paid his wife about $2.7 million as her fifty percent share of the asset.

To fund the payment to her, he liquidated a portion of his Madoff account, retained the balance and continued to operate this account with Madoff.

In 2008 Mr. Simkin learned he was a victim of Maddof’s criminal scheme and there was no account with Madoff’s company. The statements Simkin relied on were fraudulent. Simkin filed a lawsuit seeking to recover the funds he paid his wife for her share of the portfolio. His lawyer argued that Ms. Blank had received a “windfall” and on the basis of a “mutual mistake” the agreement should be varied and Mr. Simkin should receive reimbursement from his ex-wife.

A Manhattan trial judge disagreed and tossed out Simkin’s lawsuit. She ruled there had been no mistake, as at the date of the separation agreement the account held funds, a portion of which were used to payout Ms. Blank.

On appeal the Court revived Mr. Simkin’s suit ordering a new trial, but this week Judge Victoria Graffeo ruled in Ms. Blank’s favour, unwilling to upset the agreement both parties had entered into in good faith.

The rationale is sound for several reasons, not the least of which is the righteous preclusion of a former spouse with investment or real estate losses from looking to his or her ex to regain assets already divided between them, because of changes in the marketplace.

There is a reason why family lawyers remind their clients that “a deal is a deal”.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

College Ticket Scam Threatens Couple’s Settlement Agreement

Americans are crazy about their college ball and more than a few colleges earn huge profits from their basketball and football programs. In fact, it is college ball that pays for other college athletic programs that are not as high profile including swimming, fencing, gymnastics, rowing, and many others.

Where there is money you can usually find someone who can’t resist taking some for themselves, as in the case of associate director of athletics at the University of Kansas, Ben Kirtland.

Kirtland and a few other good ol’ boys at U of K, stole over 20,000 football and basketball tickets over a four-year period until they were caught in 2010 by internal auditors and charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and other similar offences. Kirtland and his co-conspirators sold the tickets through brokers causing losses to the school and reaping millions for themselves.

Mr. Kirtland was sentenced to 57 months in jail and ordered to pay $1.29 million in restitution to the university and forfeit $2 million to the government.

The Kirtland’s owned a home valued at $400,000 that was liened by the university to ensure that the Kirtland’s assets were not disposed of in contemplation of the university seizing his assets to pay civil and criminal restitution orders.

However, the Kirtland’s tried to pull a fast one. Ben Kirtland was confronted about the fraud and resigned from the university in April 2010. In November 2010 his wife Mary Jean Kirtland filed for divorce. In February 2011 her husband settled a civil lawsuit with the university, plead guilty to the charges and was well aware of the monetary consequences that would accompany his criminal behavior.

In April 2011 the Kirtland’s executed a settlement agreement that provided for a transfer of the family home to Mary Jean Kirtland. In May 2011 her husband was sentenced.

Ms. Kirtland’s lawyer made an application to release the lien on the home suggesting his client was another victim of her husband’s scheme and that the house transfer was legitimate. The government disagreed and refused to remove the lien.

A lawsuit is now pending against the Kirtland’s for the fraudulent transfer of the home to avoid monetary penalties they knew were coming.

It seems difficult to believe that hundreds of thousands of dollars flew through Mr. Kirtland’s coffers without his wife knowing about it. Or perhaps she was willfully blind?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

SEC Busts Insider Trading With Help of Ex-Wife

Karen and David Zilkha’s marriage ended in messy divorce proceedings that included spousal abuse, restraining orders, an ongoing battle over their nine-year old twins and a SEC investigation.

Their marriage began in 1998 in Washington State where Mr. Zilkha worked for Microsoft. By 2001 the family had moved to Connecticut and a new job for Mr. Zhilka as a trader with hedge fund Pequot Capital Management. By 2003 their marriage was over and the divorce wars began. Eventually the financial aspects of their divorce were completed with Ms. Zilkha receiving $750,000.00 in assets including the family home.

The conflict started up again in 2008 when child support was to be reviewed. Mr. Zilkha filed updated financial information which included disclosure of a sum of $2.1 million. His ex-wife and her lawyer were mystified about the emergence of this asset, but then Ms. Zilkha remembered that before the collapse of the marriage, her husband had told her that he was negotiating a payment from Pequot.

Ms. Zilkha’s attorney knew that her client had kept the family computer and wondered if there was information about this money in old emails. What she found turned the case from a high conflict divorce case to a Securities Exchange Commission investigation of insider trading.

Emails retrieved from the computer hard drive provided proof that Mr. Zilkha had obtained confidential information from a former colleague at Microsoft that led to Pequot selling Microsoft shares with a payout to Pequot of $14 million.

Investigators at the SEC had long suspected that Mr. Zilkha had been involved in insider trading but with no “smoking gun” the investigation had languished.

CEO of Pequot, Arthur Samberg and Pequot paid fines and penalties to settle the case amounting to $28 million. Mr. Samberg, once the world’s largest hedge fund manager, sold the assets of Pequot and shut it down. Mr. Zilkha faces administrative charges with respect to his role as “tipper”.

Did Ms. Zilkha eventually get her child support? Don’t know, but under new legislation she received a reward of $1 million from the SEC for providing the evidence that was needed to convict.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang