Biglaw, Crime, Partner Issues, S.D.N.Y., White-Collar Crime

Lawyer of the Day: Jonathan Bristol, Winston Partner Turned Accused Fraudster

Back in June, we wrote about an amusing effort by Winston & Strawn to rewrite history. The firm edited an historical press release to omit all mention of sketchy lawyer Jonathan Bristol, who joined Winston as a partner from Thelen.

Now Winston has even more reason to be embarrassed by its former partner. Earlier today, Jonathan Bristol was both sued by the SEC, for aiding and abetting fraud, and arrested on federal criminal charges, for money laundering. The civil suit and criminal charges arose out of Bristol’s legal work for Kenneth Starr — no, not the former Whitewater independent counsel, but the money manager to the stars who stole money from his celebrity clients.

(Interestingly enough, Ken Starr the fraudster — he’s pleaded guilty, so no need for “alleged” here — is also a lawyer. He graduated from Brooklyn Law School.)

The indictment against Jonathan Bristol, brought by prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, has some juicy details. For example: How much did Bristol earn while at Winston?

From the New York Law Journal:

Mr. Bristol, a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, joined Winston & Strawn along with 18 other lawyers in November 2008 following the collapse of Thelen. Winston initially promised to pay Mr. Bristol, a business and finance partner, $1.35 million for his first full two years, the indictment said.

That’s a nice guaranteed payout. Alas, Jonathan Star Bristol failed to shine once at Winston. Like many laterals, he was something of a disappointment to his new firm:

[H]is practice “was much less lucrative than expected,” according to the U.S. attorney’s indictment, and Mr. Bristol agreed in August 2009 to reduce his compensation to $500,000 plus a bonus if he hit certain thresholds. It was around this time that Mr. Bristol brought in new business from Mr. Starr, business the indictment said would be “important to his compensation” at Winston.

Things went downhill from there, as the NYLJ explains:

Mr. Starr hired Mr. Bristol and Winston to represent him in an investigation by the SEC. Mr. Starr also had hired Mr. Bristol for a dispute with one of his clients regarding an improper investment. Mr. Bristol at the time knew Mr. Starr was engaged in illegal activity, the indictment said.

Winston & Strawn billed more than $1 million for the work, which was important to Mr. Bristol “during an otherwise difficult legal market,” the SEC complaint said.

But Mr. Starr did not timely pay his bills. After Winston & Strawn pressured Mr. Bristol in February 2010 to collect on unpaid fees, a $100,000 check arrived, according to the federal indictment.

The funds were not from Mr. Starr but was money laundered through the escrow accounts, federal authorities said.

Even though Winston may have (unwittingly) received laundered money, the firm emphasizes its innocence. The firm’s statement makes clear that “the indictment against [Bristol] is based on alleged conduct neither authorized by nor known to others at the firm” and notes that Winston “is cooperating fully with the authorities investigating this matter.”

For his part, Jonathan Bristol admits nothing right now. Earlier today, he pleaded not guilty to the money laundering charges and was released on his signature.

You can check out the SEC civil complaint against Bristol via the WSJ, and the S.D.N.Y. criminal indictment via Am Law Daily.

SEC, DOJ Charge Former Am Law 100 Partner in Fraud Case [Am Law Daily]
Double Whammy for Ex-BigLaw Partner Both Arrested & Sued by SEC Today re Alleged Role in $20M Fraud [ABA Journal]
SEC Files Charges Against Lawyer For Money Manager, Ken Starr [WSJ Law Blog]
Ex-Winston Attorney Charged With Laundering Fraud Proceeds [New York Law Journal]

Earlier: Winston & Strawn Tries To Rewrite History By Editing Out a Problematic Partner

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