Former Winston & Strawn partner Jonathan Bristol, who laundered money through attorney escrow accounts for investment advisor Kenneth Starr and his Ponzi scheme, will not serve any prison time, Southern District Judge Deborah Batts (See Profile) ruled yesterday.
Batts said a non-guidelines sentence was warranted even though Bristol “was a lawyer and a partner in a firm and used his position to launder over $18 million for the infamous Kenneth Starr for no financial gain.”
Bristol pleaded guilty on May 2, 2011, to a one-count information of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was sentenced to no prison time.
Batts pronounced sentence after hearing Bristol and his lawyer, Susan Kellman, ask for mercy. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Bosworth had sought a five-year prison term.
Bristol, 57, told the judge, “It has been my dream to be a lawyer and to be a member of the bar. I’m sorry about the events that occurred. I was wrong. I know it was wrong.”
Bristol said that he was attracted to Starr, a disbarred attorney who is now serving a 7½-year prison term for a $35 million Ponzi scheme, because of Starr’s celebrity clients, including Lauren Bacall, Nora Ephron and Matt Lauer.
“The glamour did appeal to me and I thought by helping him with these wire transfers it could help me [enhance] my practice,” Bristol said, adding later, “I just wanted somebody to pat me on the head, pat me on the back and Ken Starr did that for me.”
Batts agreed, saying, “Hero worship clouded his judgment over an extended period of time to the detriment of his family and victims.”
(For more on Bristol’s role in Starr’s scheme, see “Starrstruck” from the November 2011 issue of The American Lawyer.)
Both Kellman and Bristol spoke of his depression and treatment by a psychotherapist and what Kellman described as his “horrific history” of abuse as a child, which was not discussed in open court.
Batts held Bristol jointly and severally liable with Starr for $18.9 million in restitution, the amount that passed through two escrow accounts but not until Starr pays the first $5 million of the restitution he was ordered to pay by Judge Shira Scheindlin (See Profile). Starr is on the hook to pay a total of $30.1 million in restitution.
Bristol described himself as a child of divorce whose mother earned meager pay as a school crossing guard. He won a scholarship to a community college, transferred to Amherst and went on to earn his law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law.
He said Starr offered him “a lot of razzmatazz—a lot of celebrities.”
Bristol said he is now contrite, has accepted that he has a major depressive disorder, that he has “worked hard with my psychotherapist to get my head on straight” and will be on medication for the rest of his life. He also said his marriage has “since fallen apart” and he has lost his house as a result.
“I am now living alone with my dog in a small one-bedroom apartment,” he said.
Kellman, a solo practitioner, said her client had shown “excruciatingly bad judgment” and had suffered the “tremendous humiliation” of having to surrender his law license.
“He had nothing, built everything and lost everything,” she said. “I can’t see my client in prison, although I know he’s a survivor.”
Bosworth said five years in prison was appropriate despite the fact “there is much that is sympathetic about Mr. Bristol’s upbringing.”
Bristol, he said, made Starr’s extensive fraud possible and “he did it as an attorney, as an officer of the court” to try and “gain a glamorous life” and a “glamorous list of clients.”
A longer sentence was needed, he said, to deter others and to deter other attorneys.
After the hearing, Bristol wept and said “Thank God” as he accepted hugs of family members and friends outside of Judge Batts’ courtroom.
Asked whether he wanted to comment, Bristol smiled before stepping into the elevator and said, “Just that I have the best lawyer in America!”
He was sentenced before a jury box full of elementary school students from the Aaron School, a K-12 special education school in Manhattan, who were there to learn about the court system.