White-Collar Crime

For a while, interest in the Dewey drama seemed to be flagging (at least according to our traffic statistics). But lately it has revived, thanks to the recent criminal charges against the firm’s former leaders, plus the arrival on the scene of Zachary Warren — a total Dewey & LaBoeuf-Cake.

Interest in Zach Warren has been keen — and not just because of his good looks. His tale seems to resonate with Above the Law readers because, as Matt Kaiser recently noted, “he seems like one of us.” Although Above the Law’s readership is expanding, with more than a million unique visitors a month, it’s still fair to say that a young lawyer, recently graduated from a top law school, is within ATL’s demographic sweet spot.

Over the past few days, we’ve learned more about Zachary Warren. Dewey want to share this knowledge with you? Of course we do….

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The indictment of Zachary Warren is troubling for a lot of lawyers because, well, he seems like one of us. His post-Dewey path to a great law school, two cool clerkships, and an offer from a great law firm, is something we, as lawyers, can identify with.

What’s most frustrating about Zachary Warren’s situation is that it looks like he was charged largely because he decided to talk to law enforcement without hiring a lawyer first.

Most of us would like to think that, as lawyers, we’re smart enough to make the right legal moves if we’re in a place where we need to. Yet Warren talked to law enforcement, when most of us know that’s the wrong move (and, if you don’t know that’s the wrong move, there’s a short video on my firm’s webpage explaining how we look at it). What’s up with that?

As Lat mentioned earlier this week, there’s a dispute about what happened. Some of Warren’s friends say he was essentially duped about his status or the nature of the interview he participated in. The Manhattan D.A. has pushed back, through spokeswoman Erin Duggan Kramer: “The facts [in this New York Times piece] are incorrect. The claim that an attorney with a federal clerkship could have any misunderstanding of what it means to speak with and agree to meet with the D.A.’s office is preposterous.”

Kramer’s point makes seems intuitively compelling. Why would a smart lawyer talk?

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Over the years, we’ve covered many Biglaw employees who have been accused or convicted of insider trading. This should come as no surprise, given the confidential and market-moving information that regularly flows through the hallways and computers of leading law firms.

The latest accusations of insider trading involve a lawyer who worked at a white-shoe law firm. This individual stands accused of taking confidential information he was privy to by virtue of his work and passing it along through a middleman to a broker, who then allegedly traded on it. According to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the scheme generated over $5.6 million in illegal profits, with over $168,000 going to the Biglaw tipster.

At which elite law firm did this defendant work, and from which school did he receive his law degree?

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Dewey & LeBoeuf: back in the headlines.

Last week brought some good news for Georgetown University Law Center. In the latest U.S. News law school rankings, GULC moved up one spot to tie at #13 with Cornell. Go Hoyas!

Alas, over the past year the news has been less happy for some individual GULC students and graduates. About a year ago, former student Marc Gersen got sentenced to four years for meth dealing. Earlier this year, alumnus Stephen Glass got rejected for California bar admission, due to his notorious past as a dishonest journalist.

In recent weeks, a very accomplished (and handsome) GULC graduate, currently clerking for a federal appeals court judge, got indicted in connection with the collapse of Dewey & LeBoeuf. What Dewey know about Zachary Warren?

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There are so many interesting parts of the Dewey criminal charges, it’s hard to count them all.

For starters, there are the emails laid out by the SEC in its complaint, such as:

  • “I don’t see how we’ll get past the auditors another year.”
  • “I assume you [k]new this but just in case. Can you find another clueless auditor for next year?”
  • “I don’t know anything about [the contracts] and I don’t want to cook the books anymore. We need to stop doing that.”
  • “I don’t know. He’s starting to wig a little. Maybe he’s hearing and seeing too much . . . .”

Sadly for people and happily for prosecutors, regrettable emails are simply a fact of modern electronic life. Still, “I don’t want to cook the books anymore” has to be pretty high on the list of things that one is likely to regret putting in an email.

(These emails, and more, are collected in the Bloomberg piece by Matt Levine wonderfully titled “Law Firm Accountants Were Bad at Accounting, Law.”)

But, probably more interesting than these regrettable emails is what the Dewey prosecution can tell us about white-collar prosecutions in New York more generally….

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I pity lawyers licensed in Virginia, or at other states that require CLE credit. When they go to a conference, they have to actually go to the conference.

For the rest of us, a conference – especially the ABA’s white-collar criminal defense conference – drops much of the pretense of being an educational experience. It’s an odd thing. One would think that the point of going to a conference would be to learn about the law. Yet, sometimes that’s not the move.

I spent some wonderful years in my 20s living in New Orleans. During Mardi Gras, social obligation would require that I attend certain parties before and then after a parade, but they often started really early in the morning and ended very late at night. The entire week before Fat Tuesday became something of a Bataan Death March of merriment, which, when you’re in the middle of it, is not quite so merry after all.

(Relatedly, there’s now a service in New Orleans that will give you an IV of fluids if you happen to have been making merry too much. Gotta love entrepreneurship.)

Aside from the poor schlubs who have to go to the conference to satisfy a state bar that they’re continuing to learn about their profession, laissez les bon temps rouler.

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Dewey & LeBoeuf: it’s baaack (in the headlines).

Criminal charges are on the way for Steven Davis, Stephen DiCarmine, and Joel Sanders — the former chairman, executive director, and CFO, respectively, of defunct Dewey & LeBoeuf.

Almost two years have passed since the Biglaw firm’s bankruptcy filing, causing some observers to think that perhaps the Steves would never get charged. The argument, in a nutshell: they might have been poor managers or even downright moronic, but they didn’t commit any crimes.

Alas, sadly for Messrs. Davis, DiCarmine, and Sanders, it seems that Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance doesn’t agree with that line of thinking. What types of charges can the trio look forward to?

(Please note the UPDATES added to this post, reflecting information from the indictment and the SEC complaint.)

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The biggest business issue confronting the white-collar criminal practitioner is getting paid. It’s trickier in the white-collar world than in other practice areas for a few reasons.

First, normally you’re representing an individual. People normally have less money than companies.

Second, many people who commit crimes to get money do it because they don’t have money to begin with. That includes money to pay you.

Third, if a potential client made money through whatever conduct landed them in a criminal case, the Supreme Court just held that now it’s easier for the government to take that money away from them so they can’t pay you.

As the Chief Justice summarized what the Court did, in dissent,

We have held… that the Government may effectively remove a defendant’s primary weapon of defense — the attorney he selects and trusts — by freezing assets he needs to pay his lawyer. That ruling is not at issue. But today the Court goes further, holding that a defendant may be hobbled in this way without an oppor­tunity to challenge the Government’s decision to freeze those needed assets.

WTF?

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I’ve represented a decent number of people who have been accused of fraud.

Some folks who are accused of fraud are really truly unambiguously guilty. They were presented with an open cookie jar, they thought no one was looking, and they took a cookie (metaphorically). They were presented with a morality test and they just didn’t pass.

Like Glenn Frey teaches us in Smuggler’s Blues, “It’s the lure of easy money; it’s got a very strong appeal.”

Other cases have a lot more nuance.

Most federal prosecutors, I find, tend to see cases as not terribly nuanced. They tend to think that each case is a morality test. Once you get the facts figured out, for the typical AUSA, the moral judgments follow pretty quickly.

My sense, though, is that the world is almost always less clear and clean, even when you have all the facts.

With that background, I read with interest James Surowiecki’s piece — “Do the Hustle” — in the New Yorker a few weeks ago about America and its con men.  (And, yeah, I know, it was a few weeks ago. You finish the New Yorker right when it comes out? I didn’t think so.).

What does the con man tell us about America?

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Most of the Eastern Seaboard is buried under a snowstorm today. Yet, a deeper, harder freeze is finally lifting.

For too long now, the federal government has been living with sequestration. Agencies have seen their budgets frozen or cut. At the same time that the private sector market for lawyers has contracted, getting a job as a lawyer in the federal government has been incredibly hard. It’s been winter in the federal employment world.

And, this week, the Department of Justice has announced that the DOJ hiring freeze is finally over.

This news was so important that the Attorney General himself made the announcement in a video message on the DOJ webpage. (And, by the way, check out the Attorney General’s tie. Very nice.)

The hiring freeze has lifted as a result of a two-year budget deal that President Obama signed in December.

What does this mean for the legal world? More after the jump…

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