U.S. District Judge John Walter of the Central District of California, said it was "difficult to reconcile" Weiss's numerous charitable contributions with his criminal conduct, which "strikes directly at the core and heart of the judicial system."
Weiss is set to report to prison on Aug. 28. His lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, requested that Weiss serve his sentence at a men's minimum security facility in Morgantown, W.V.
The sentencing approved an earlier plea deal in which Weiss agreed to forfeit $9.75 million and pay a $250,000 fine. Walter said Weiss must pay $5 million of the forfeiture in seven days, with the remaining due within 180 days.
"I want to apologize to my family, to my professional colleagues and people within the organization that I built over the last 45 years," said Weiss, who bowed his head during most of the hearing. He said his "contrition is profoundly genuine," and that his punishment great, given he would lose his "life’s passion and my ability to earn a living as a professional."
After the hearing, Brafman said he had anticipated Walter to sentence Weiss to 33 months. "Accordingly, we’re pleased that the court recognized the extraordinary life of Mr. Weiss and counted it in the sentencing analysis."
Prosecutors allege that Milberg and seven of its partners, including Weiss, obtained $251 million in attorney fees by paying $11 million in illegal kickbacks to lead plaintiffs.
On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that prosecutors are close to a $75 million settlement with Milberg, which faces an August trial.
Nine defendants have pleaded guilty to federal charges including conspiracy and racketeering. Six have agreed to forfeit more than $32 million in gains obtained from their alleged criminal activity.
In April, Weiss pleaded guilty to a federal racketeering conspiracy charge, admitting he lied to judges and secretly paid kickbacks to plaintiffs, in cash or through intermediary law firms, as part of a criminal enterprise that lasted 25 years. Under a binding plea deal he reached earlier this year, he agreed to forfeit $9.75 million, pay a $250,000 criminal charge and serve 18 to 33 months in prison, with the option of home or community confinement for no more than half the sentence.
In recent weeks, Brafman, citing his client’s age and charitable contributions, among other things, had sought a sentence of 18 months. More than 250 letters were submitted from former judges, law professors and lawyers, including Leonard Barrack, founding partner of Barrack, Rodos & Bacine and Stephen Susman, founding partner at Susman Godfrey.
In court, he referred to Weiss as "one of the greatest lawyers of this generation" and "one of the legal giants of the bar." Citing his charitable work, which involves helping the victims of the Holocaust and Sept. 11, he asked the judge to "give back some months for all that he has given."
Prosecutors, on the other hand, backed a pre-sentencing report that recommended 33 months.
Walter, in his decision, said there was "no question that Mr. Weiss’s charitable and civic work was extensive," but that his criminal conduct " effectively destroyed his personal legally and forced him to watch his law firm deteriorate."
He disagreed with Brafman that Weiss's sentence should, at the worst, mirror that of William Lerach, another former partner, who was sentenced in February to 24 months in prison, the maximum allowable under a plea deal he reached with prosecutors last year. Lerach, who pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, agreed to pay $8 million in fines and forfeitures and reported to prison last month.
Unlike Lerach, Weiss did not withdraw from the conspiracy after the government’s investigation began, Walter said. Further, Weiss obstructed the investigation, he said.