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Hillary, Dems Deep Ties To Crooked Law Firm

The New York Times tries its hand at a little journalism for a change:

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Accused Law Firm Continues Giving to Democrats

October 18, 2007
By MIKE McINTIRE

Over the years, as it became Exhibit A for critics of shareholders’ class action lawsuits, the law firm of Milberg Weiss often enjoyed the support of Democrats who called the suits an invaluable weapon in the universal conflict between big business and the little guy.

The Democrats, in turn, enjoyed the support of Milberg Weiss and its partners, who together have contributed more than $7 million to the party’s candidates since the 1980s.

Last year, the firm was indicted on federal charges of fraud and bribery. But the political partnership has not been entirely severed. Since the indictment, 26 Democrats around the country, including four presidential candidates, have accepted $150,000 in campaign contributions from people connected to Milberg Weiss, according to state and federal campaign finance records. And some Democrats have taken public actions that potentially helped the firm or its former partners.

The recent contributors include current and former Milberg partners who had either been indicted or were widely reported to be facing potential criminal problems when they wrote their checks. One, William S. Lerach, was a fund-raiser for John Edwards’s presidential campaign until his guilty plea last month. Melvyn I. Weiss, a founder of the firm, gave the maximum $4,600 to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York in June. Other firm members contributed to the presidential campaigns of Senators Barack Obama of Illinois and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware.

Milberg Weiss reaped billions of dollars in legal fees over four decades as the acknowledged king of class action lawsuits, which accused executives of misleading investors with erroneous financial statements or some other fraud. According to the indictment, the New York-based firm ran a “racketeering enterprise” that collected a quarter billion dollars in 250 cases in which people were paid secret kickbacks for serving as plaintiffs

In addition to the kickback charges in the Milberg Weiss case, federal agents have investigated accusations that the firm funneled campaign contributions through plaintiffs and expert witnesses in the 1990s, said two lawyers familiar with the inquiry. The guilty plea entered by Mr. Lerach hinted at that, but it also specified that prosecutors would not pursue campaign finance violations, in exchange for Mr. Lerach’s admission that he had conspired to obstruct justice by concealing the kickbacks.

Beyond campaign contributions, Milberg Weiss became deeply ingrained in the financial firmament of the Democratic Party in other ways. Members of the firm gave $500,000 toward construction of a new Democratic National Committee headquarters, and some became partners in a private investment venture with several prominent Democrats. They included former Senator Robert G. Torricelli of New Jersey, who is a fund-raiser for Mrs. Clinton, and Leonard Barrack, a Philadelphia trial lawyer who was once the national fund-raising chairman for the Democratic Party.

Along the way, as Milberg Weiss’s brass-knuckles legal strategy made it a target for Republicans advocating limits on class action suits, it usually could count on Democrats in Washington to protect its interests. After federal prosecutors indicted the firm in May 2006, four Democratic congressmen issued a joint statement, posted on Milberg Weiss’s Web site, accusing the Bush administration of persecuting lawyers who take on big businesses.

The statement, signed by Representatives Gary L. Ackerman, Carolyn McCarthy and Charles B. Rangel, all of New York, and Robert Wexler of Florida, contained several passages that appear to be lifted directly from a “class action press kit” distributed by a national trial lawyers group. All but Mr. Wexler have received campaign contributions from Milberg Weiss partners.

More recently, Mr. Edwards, a trial lawyer who became wealthy pursing personal injury cases, joined labor unions and consumer groups last May in pressing securities regulators to intervene in a lawsuit against banks brought by Mr. Lerach on behalf of Enron investors. His campaign said Mr. Edwards’s actions had nothing to do with Mr. Lerach, and were consistent with the candidate’s longstanding defense of working people.

Still, Mr. Edwards’s willingness to be seen doing anything that could benefit Mr. Lerach, and allowing him to raise money, provided fodder for critics. At the time the Edwards campaign took on Mr. Lerach as a fund-raiser, it was already widely reported that Mr. Lerach, who left Milberg Weiss in 2004, was one of the unnamed co-conspirators cited in court documents related to the firm’s indictment.

In all, Mr. Edwards collected about $16,000 from people connected to Milberg Weiss, including Mr. Lerach and two other former Milberg Weiss lawyers who had joined him at his new firm, Patrick J. Coughlin and Keith F. Park. Federal authorities agreed not to prosecute them as part of the plea deal with Mr. Lerach. (Mr. Lerach also raised $64,000 for Mr. Edwards from members of his new firm who were not named in the Milberg case.)…

Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the Edwards campaign, said that it had given Mr. Lerach’s $4,600 personal contribution to charity and that “should anyone else be found guilty of wrongdoing, we will donate their contributions to charity as well.”

A spokesman for Mrs. Clinton said her presidential campaign did not intend to return the contribution from Mr. Weiss. A spokesman for the Obama campaign, whose Milberg Weiss contributions came from lawyers not directly involved in the kickback scandal, declined to comment…

The firm found a friend in President Bill Clinton, who, a few days after being seen chatting and shaking hands with Mr. Lerach at a White House dinner in 1995, vetoed legislation that clamped down on class action suits. Congress overrode the veto, but the image remained of a close relationship between the president and Mr. Lerach, a Lincoln Bedroom guest during the Clinton presidency who donated more than $100,000 to Mr. Clinton’s presidential library.

Beginning in 2000, federal investigators began looking into Milberg Weiss’s litigation practices, particularly its uncanny ability to beat other firms in the race to be named lead counsel in large class action suits, thereby ensuring itself a larger percentage of fees. By last year, two people had pleaded guilty to accepting kickbacks from Milberg Weiss in return for being on call to serve as plaintiffs in more than 100 lawsuits; an expert witness used by the firm was implicated in the fraud; and two partners, Steven G. Schulman and David J. Bershad, had been indicted.

Both Mr. Schulman and Mr. Bershad have since pleaded guilty. Late last month, Mr. Lerach also pleaded guilty, leaving Mr. Weiss as the only named partner facing criminal charges

Of course, despite this news being reported in the pace-setting New York Times, the rest of the media will ignore it.

After all, they understand that even The Times is obliged to pretend to cover stories like this — for appearances sake.

But everyone knows it’s not to be taken seriously.

Anyway, we see the now familiar refrain:

Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the Edwards campaign, said that it had given Mr. Lerach’s $4,600 personal contribution to charity and that “should anyone else be found guilty of wrongdoing, we will donate their contributions to charity as well.”

Maybe we should all take up careers robbing banks. And when we get caught, just announce that we might some day give our ill-gotten gains to an unnamed charity.

Exactly what guarantee do we have that the money will be given away before the election, if indeed ever at all? When will we ever see the list of who got what from all of these Democrat scandals?

And note this, too:

The guilty plea entered by Mr. Lerach… specified that prosecutors would not pursue campaign finance violations, in exchange for Mr. Lerach’s admission that he had conspired to obstruct justice by concealing the kickbacks.

Why should Mr. Lerach go to so much trouble to cover-up his donations to the Democrats?

If The Times and the rest of our watchdog media have their way, we will probably never know.

By the way, if you have some time to kill you can go to the FEC’s advanced search form and enter in the name “Milberg Weiss” under employer/occupation.

Then peruse the TEN FULL PAGES of their contributions to Democrats that the FEC has on record.

This article was posted by Steve Gilbert on Thursday, October 18th, 2007. Comments are currently closed.

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