Wiggin and Dana's litigation team.
Wiggin and Dana’s litigation team. ()

When big companies face big problems, they usually hire giant law firms with deep benches of lawyers. But one more modest-sized Connecticut firm is often hired to enter the ring against government prosecutors and regulators.

Wiggin and Dana’s white-collar defense, investigations and corporate compliance practice group fights above its weight class, its lawyers say. The firms has 150 attorneys in Connecticut, New York City and Philadelphia, but takes on the types of cases usually handled by much larger firms, said James Glasser, the firm’s litigation department chairman.

For its success representing clients that include hedge funds, defense contractors, health-care providers, insurers, accounting firms and tech firms, Wiggin and Dana has won the Connecticut Law Tribune’s Litigation Departments of the Year Award in the government investigations and corporate compliance category.

One of the practice group’s strengths is that many of its nine partners and 15 associates have worked on the other side—as federal prosecutors or regulators.

Practice group chairman Joseph Martini worked nine years for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut, prosecuting cases involving export violations and defense contractor fraud, among other things. Glasser spent 19 years there, serving as counsel to the U.S. attorney, chief of the criminal division, chief of appeals and assistant-in-charge of the Fairfield County office.

Partner Margery Feinzig was an assistant U.S. attorney for 18 years in the Southern District of New York. David Hall served 23 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in Philadelphia. Richard Levan worked for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

David Ring spent 17 years with the Justice Department, serving in the public integrity section before moving on to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut and then to the post of United Technology’s Corp.’s global director of compliance investigations. Many of the associates are former prosecutors, too.

Said Martini: “A lot of the time you only expect to see that level of governmental experience from a big New York City law firm.”

Said Glasser: “The wealth of governmental experience we have, both as federal and state prosecutors and working for different agencies and regulators, gives us the ability to … know the playbook.”

Inside knowledge helps Wiggin’s white-collar defense attorneys know what is going on during various stages of an investigation. Governmental service also offers “tremendous courtroom experience,” Martini said.

Just as important, said Glasser, the attorneys are able to help clients avoid court in many instances by demonstrating “to regulators why what they think is at issue is not in fact at issue,” Glasser said.

In 2013, Wiggin says it convinced the SEC not to pursue charges against Connecticut and New York hedge funds; the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission not to pursue charges against a Connecticut-based securities broker-dealer; and the U.S. Attorney’s Office not to pursue criminal charges against a U.S. subsidiary of a British company accused of supplying defective items to the U.S. military.

Further, the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Asset Control was persuaded to resolve, “for a small fraction of the possible exposure,” the millions of dollars in fines and penalties a global defense contractor faced after an employee sent antenna systems to a distributor who intended to sell them to an Iranian-owned tanker company.

The law firm’s normal approach in these instances is to report to prosecutors and regulators that the firm has conducted its own investigation, and that while violations may have occurred, the problems have been corrected. “We have had a lot of success in that regard,” Martini said.

The firm also does a lot of preventive work. Major companies who suspect employee fraud or embezzlement retain Wiggin to conduct internal investigations. Clients that export products, particularly defense contractors, receive guidance on complying with federal and international trade regulations.

White-collar practitioners are operating in an environment of more aggressive enforcement, Martini and Glasser said. While the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Connecticut still focuses a lot of attention on drugs and violent crimes, it is also prosecuting more health-care fraud and white-collar matters, Martini said.

There also are many more federal government regulators now, Martini said. In the past, he said, aggressive enforcement was largely limited to the Justice Department, SEC, Department of Health and Human Service and Internal Revenue Service.

Now white-collar attorneys must understand the prerogatives and the priorities of regulators from lesser-known agencies such as the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. There are even new challenges from SEC whistleblower programs that give employees incentives to report securities law violations.

“Federal authorities have been very aggressive in pursuing their cases and their matters,” Glasser said, specifically mentioning enforcement of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. “They’re doing it with great vigor.”

Wiggin’s white-collar unit also represents clients targeted by state agencies, including the Office of the Chief State’s Attorney and the Attorney General’s Office. Defending companies accused of violating the Connecticut False Claims Act is taking up more time and energy.

Glasser said that Wiggin and Dana is equipped to handle a more complex and aggressive regulatory environment on behalf of clients because the white-collar group does this sort of legal work full time and stays on the cutting edge.

“We’ve got a deep bench,” said Glasser, “and it’s a bench that doesn’t dabble.”•