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Ill. lawyer wins appeal in NY trial of $2.4B fraud
Politics | 2012/01/09 09:56
A Chicago lawyer sentenced to seven years in prison in a $2.4 billion fraud at Refco Inc. is entitled to a new trial because of errors the judge made in dealing with the jury, a federal appeals court said Monday.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of Joseph P. Collins, saying U.S. District Judge Robert P. Patterson erred when he failed to disclose the contents of a jury note and didn't include lawyers when he spoke with a juror accused of trying to barter his vote.

"This sequence of events deprived Collins of his right to be present at every stage of the trial. Because the deprivation was not harmless, we vacate and remand for a new trial," the appeals court wrote.

The lawyer from Winnetka, Ill., was convicted in July 2009 of conspiracy and other charges. Federal sentencing guidelines had called for 85 years in prison.

Refco was once one of the nation's largest independent commodities brokers.

The company in the mid-1990s sustained hundreds of millions of dollars of losses through losing trades and engaged in an elaborate campaign to cover them up, attracting the attention of federal authorities. Refco filed for bankruptcy in 2005, just weeks after going public and soon after revealing that a $430 million debt owed to the company by a firm controlled by former Refco CEO Phillip Bennett had been concealed.

Egypt court orders prominent blogger freed
Politics | 2011/12/23 16:11
An Egyptian investigative judge ordered the release Sunday of a prominent blogger detained nearly two months ago by the ruling military, which had accused him of attacking soldiers during deadly clashes in October.

Alaa Abdel-Fattah's father, Ahmed Seif, told The Associated Press his son would remain in custody for several more hours until the paperwork has been completed. He said his son has been banned from travel abroad.

Abdel-Fattah's sister, activist Mona Seif, told the AP her brother was on his way to the Egyptian capital's security headquarters where he would be freed later in the day.

Military prosecutors detained Abdel-Fattah on Oct. 30 after he refused to answer questions about their allegations that he played a role in the clashes.

The violence on Oct. 9 began when groups of stone-throwers attacked a crowd of Coptic Christians protesting an attack on a church in southern Egypt. TV footage showed the military moving in with force, including using armored vehicles to run over the crowds.

Haiti: Aristide can have passport, hasn't applied
Politics | 2011/01/30 22:52
Former Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide is eligible for a passport but has not applied for one, Haitian officials said Monday.

That followed a letter from the ousted leader's U.S. lawyer, Ira Kurzban, telling officials at Haiti's foreign affairs and interior ministries that he understood they had agreed to issue Aristide a diplomatic passport.

"I kindly request that his diplomatic passport be issued immediately and that plans for his return commence immediately," he said. The letter was forwarded to reporters.

But Interior Minister Paul-Antoine Bien-Aime said in an official letter, sent later Monday, that no passport had been requested. "It appears that to date, neither ministry had received a request for issuance or renewal of passports from the former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide," he wrote.

Aristide is a former priest and liberation theologist who rose to become Haiti's first democratically elected president. He was overthrown in a coup, restored to power, then ousted again in 2004. His return was forced by the threat of a U.S. military invasion; debate has raged for years over what role the U.S. played in his departures.

Morgan Lewis Gives Offers To Less Than 30 Percent Of Summers
Politics | 2009/09/01 09:10
The Legal Intelligencer reports that now that the firm has finished informing summer associates of their status and has made a firmwide announcement Tuesday morning regarding the decisions, Morgan Lewis & Bockius has provided more concrete numbers when it comes to offer rates.

Firmwide hiring partner Eric Kraeutler said there were 102 eligible 2Ls across the country in this year's summer program. Of that group, 28, or 27.5 percent, were given offers to start as first-year associates in the fall of 2011 -- a year later than would normally be the case given the deferrals of the 2009 first-year class until the fall of 2010.

In Philadelphia, the offer rate was slightly higher with seven of the 23 2Ls, or 30.4 percent, receiving offers. Morgan Lewis' offer rates are lower than some of the other local firms who have given offers. Blank Rome gave offers to about 50 percent of its class. Dechert said it gave offers to more than half of its firmwide class and is holding out on deciding whether to give offers to the rest of the class until after the new year.

Obama Moves to Block AIG Bonuses
Politics | 2009/03/19 11:19
A tough-talking President Barack Obama moved yesterday to block the $165 million in bonuses for American International Group executives that prompted a new wave of outrage at corporate America and taxpayer bailouts.

Despite the aggressive approach, it's unclear whether he can get the payments back. But the White House said it would modify the terms of AIG's pending $30-billion bailout installment to at least recoup the $165 million the bonuses represent. That wouldn't rescind the bonuses, just require AIG to account for them differently.

Separately, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said he will subpoena the names of AIG officials involved and copies of their employment contracts to determine whether the bonuses are legal, given the firm's weak finances.

Manhattan-based AIG was saved from insolvency by $170 billion in taxpayer-backed loans - and reported a $61.7-billion loss in the fourth quarter last year. It revealed on the weekend that it used more than $90 billion in its federal aid to pay out banks, some of which had received their own U.S. government bailouts.

Yesterday, Obama gave voice to rising disgust since Saturday, when the bonuses became public. Cuomo said the bonuses were paid to members of the specific AIG unit at the root of the firm's near-collapse from bad, mortgage-backed debt.

"How do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?" Obama asked. He asked Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner "to use that leverage and pursue every legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole."

AIG has said it had no choice but to pay the bonuses under agreements signed last year before it got into difficulties and sought a bailout. Spokeswoman Christina Pretto said: "We are in contact with the attorney general and will, of course, respond to his request."

Obama didn't specify a possible legal strategy for blocking the payments. However, Cuomo said he was investigating whether the employment contracts cited by AIG were legally flawed - technically "fraudulent" - under state debtors and creditors law. They would be, he said, if AIG management knew when it signed them that weak finances would render them unable to pay the bonuses without outside help. Contracts can be renegotiated, he said, adding, "You could argue that if the taxpayers didn't bail out AIG those contracts would be worth the paper they're printed on."

Experts in corporate law said the Obama administration has an important advantage in the controversy. In return for the bailout, the government now owns 80 percent of the company. "They're the big dog in the room now and can put some leverage on AIG to straighten this out," said attorney Jim Ervin, a partner at Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff Llp in Ohio.

Attorney Ross Albert, a partner at Morris Manning & Martin Llp of Atlanta, said it's difficult to be specific about the government's options without seeing the contracts in question, but added, "If the bonus is based on achieving some bench mark and it turns out the bench marks achieved were through accounting hocus-pocus, not reality, they wouldn't even have a legal right to this bonus," Albert said.

But Stephen Breitstone, a tax specialist in the Mineola law firm Meltzer, Lippe, Goldstein & Breitstone Llp, said the law Cuomo cited is intended for cases where companies facing bankruptcy are seeking to keep money away from creditors by giving it to employees or others. "If he can prove that's what this is, that's a pretty bold accusation," Breitstone said.

Labor and employment attorney Carmelo Grimaldi, who works with Breitstone, said, "I think the government is going to have a difficult situation given the fact that these contracts were made. If they provide for bonuses, AIG faces a breach of contract if they don't pay these bonuses."

This story was supplemented with Bloomberg News and Associated Press reports.

Challenges to AIG's actions

President Barack Obama wants to block bonuses paid by AIG. Here are two weapons in his arsenal:

NEW TERMS. Modifying terms of AIG's pending bailout installment to at least recoup the equivalent in bonuses.

MAJORITY OWNERSHIP. The government owns 80 percent of AIG - an important advantage because it can force the company to change practices.

State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has begun issuing subpoenas for AIG information.

KEY PROBE. He is investigating whether AIG employment contracts were "fraudulent" by promising bonuses executives knew the company could not afford.

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