A longtime accountant who was fired by the Miccosukee Indians days before she was to give a deposition in the tribe’s malpractice lawsuit against the Lewis Tein law firm testified tribal lawyer Bernardo Roman III tried to influence her testimony and wanted her to lie.
Jodi Goldenberg, who worked for the Miccosukees for 21 years, said at the deposition attended by Roman that she was not told why she was fired but suspected there were several reasons.
"One being that I know the truth in some of these cases that are going on, and I think that what I’m going to say is contrary to what the tribe’s attorney wants me to say. Maybe he wanted me to appear to be a disgruntled employee," Goldenberg said.
The tribe is suing the Miami law firm and its name partners, former interim U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis and former federal prosecutor Michael Tein, alleging they took millions of dollars for work they never performed under former Miccosukee chairman Billie Cypress. Lawsuits in federal and state courts claim Cypress funneled money to the firm in a wrongful death case.
Carlton Fields partner Paul Calli, who represents Lewis Tein, filed excerpts of Goldenberg’s Feb. 1 deposition with Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Thornton to support a motion for sanctions against the tribe in its case against the law firm.
Lewis Tein maintains the checks it received from the tribe were loans to Tammy Billie and her father, Jimmie Bert, for their legal defense in the traffic death of Liliana Bermudez. Her family won a $3.2 million judgment against Bert and his daughter, who say they have no money to pay it.
When Calli questioned the fired accountant at the deposition, Goldenberg recalled several discussions with Roman.
Q: Did you ever talk to Mr. Roman about the loans?
Did you do that in advance of being fired?
What did he say?
He said they were not approved loans.
Goldenberg testified Roman told her he represented her under the umbrella of the tribe.
Why would you say you think he wanted you to believe he was your lawyer?
Because he didn’t want me to bring my own lawyer.
Why — is that your belief?
Because I think he wanted to get me to say what he wanted me to say.
So is it your testimony that you believe that Mr. Roman did not want you to testify to your knowledge that these were loans the tribe made to Bert and Billie?
Later in the deposition, Calli asked Goldenberg why she believed Roman did not want her to tell the truth.
Because he — because he is saying they’re not approved loans.
Is there anybody else at the tribe, anybody, tribe member, community member, employee, executive administrator, that has asserted that these aren’t loans that you’re aware of?
Roman already had filed an affidavit stating there are no financial books or general ledgers reflecting loans made by the tribe to Bert or Billie for legal fees.
Goldenberg brought to the deposition three invoices with purchase orders and check stubs for payments to Lewis Tein and was asked where she obtained the documents.
The copies that these copies came from were something that I had in my office because of what was going on in this case and I had been transporting the many depositions that Bernie gave me back and forth between home and the tribe to try to read through them for preparation and I inadvertently picked these up along with it.
Do you know where the originals are?
They would be at the tribe.
Thornton had not seen Goldenberg’s transcript the next morning when he started a hearing with an observation.
"I’ve only been on the bench for five-and-a-half years, but I have never seen vindictive and nasty motions as I’ve seen come out in this case ever. If it happens again, people will be held in contempt," the judge said.
The tribe also has sued Lewis, Tein and a third former tribal attorney, Dexter Lehtinen of Tew Cardenas in Miami, for alleged breach of fiduciary duty.
Members of the tribe are under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service for failure to pay income taxes on profits made on their gambling operations.
The Lewis Tein motion for sanctions against the tribe in the malpractice case asserts the tribe filed frivolous lawsuits as "a political ploy" to shift blame to its former officers and outside lawyers for its tax problems.
The wrongful death case and its spinoff litigation have generated numerous issues moving back and forth between trial courts and the Third District Court of Appeal. In the Bermudez case alone, lawyers for the tribe and family have exchanged at least 20 sanctions motions since the judgment was issued.