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Law firm charged in alleged kickback

LOS ANGELES One of the nation's highest profile class-action law firms was charged yesterday with an alleged scheme that paid more than $11 million in kickbacks to get people to take part in shareholder lawsuits.

The charges follow years of investigation into the way New York-based Milberg Weiss, Bershad & Schulman conducts shareholder lawsuits against major corporations. The lawsuits generated hundreds of millions of dollars in attorneys' fees, the indictment said.

The firm was a lead plaintiff in more than half the federal shareholder suits settled from 1997 to 2004.

The law firm and attorneys David J. Bershad and Steven G. Schulman were charged with secretly paying about $2.4 million to Seymour M. Lazar, a Palm Springs lawyer involved in real estate, and others to act as class-action plaintiffs since 1981 and conceal payments.

''The government's allegations of wrongdoing have been categorically denied by the indicted partners, and the firm intends to join with them in vigorously defending against the charges," the law firm said in a statement.

The government seeks to recover at least $216 million in ''tainted attorneys' fees."

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