A rising Miami legal star and community activist has quietly agreed to a plea deal in which he has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and money laundering in connection with his role as in-house counsel to an indicted billionaire businessman.
Few in Miami have known that Richard Simring, a former partner at Stroock Stroock & Lavan and Jorden Burt, pleaded guilty in July in the Eastern District of Virginia and is facing possible suspension of his Florida Bar license.
Simring took the plea deal, in which he faces a possible five years in prison and must testify against his former boss, before a grand jury could indict him, according to his lawyer, Brian Tannebaum of Miami's Tannebaum Weiss.
"He's taking responsibility for what the government says he did," Tannebaum said. "He didn't want to roll the dice and face... a jury."
Simring was charged in connection with his role as chief legal counsel to Ed Okun, a Carmel, Calif., billionaire who operated the "1031 Tax Group." The company was one that specialized in 1031 tax exchanges, a way to defer capital gains taxes by exchanging one investment property for another. U.S. v. Richard Simring, No. 3:08cr00321-REP (E.D. Va.).
A former law clerk for Rosemary Barkett, former chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court, Simring is a community activist who received the Florida Bar President's Pro Bono Service Award in 1999. He's a summa cum laude graduate of George Washington University Law School. Barkett now serves on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
MANSIONS AND AIRPLANES
Okun, who once owned four mansions, a helicopter, three airplanes and a 130-foot yacht, was indicted in July and is now in a Virginia jail.
Prosecutors allege that he financed his lifestyle by misappropriating $132 million that he was supposed to be holding in escrow for hundreds of real estate investors. U.S. v. Edward Okun and Lara Coleman, No. 3:08cr132, (E.D. Va.).
Okun and two other company officials were indicted and have pleaded not guilty. Okun's attorney, Carolyn V. Grady of the Federal Public Defender's Office in Richmond, Va., did not return calls for comment by deadline.
Simring is accused by prosecutors of assisting Okun in a scheme to mislead clients that their funds were safe, when in fact, they were allegedly being transferred into Okun's personal bank account, allegedly used for large executive salaries and for his company's operating expenses, and are now gone.
According to the "information" filed by prosecutors, Simring began representing and consulting Okun in 2006, while working at Jorden Burt, where he stayed on as of counsel until he resigned in June. He was hired by Okun in 2007 at an annual salary of $850,000 plus a signing bonus of $100,000.
Simring, according to the information, told Okun that he must stop transferring client funds, and that he risked going to jail. In 2007, Simring became aware that Okun was continuing to misappropriate millions from clients and was on the verge of insolvency, according to the information.
That's when the Okun resigned and Simring was appointed interim chief executive officer.
According to the information, Simring complied with Okun's orders to continue transferring millions of dollars of client money. Simring resigned three days after assuming the role of CEO. Okun's company soon after filed for bankruptcy.
Facing 12 to 14 years in prison and having just become a father for the second time, Simring pleaded guilty, said Tannebaum. He's agreed to testify against Okun and faces a maximum five years in prison.
Tannebaum said Simring -- who has no record of Bar complaints or crime -- regrets going to work for Okun.
"If he had it to do all over again he wouldn't make the same choices," Tannebaum said.
Simring has notified the Florida Bar of his charges and agreed to temporarily stop practicing law. The Bar will appoint a referee to determine whether to impose any disciplinary action, which sources say will likely mean suspension.
Simring is a former valedictorian at Hollywood Hills High School in Florida and a magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University He later developed a successful commercial litigation practice.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Michael S. Dry and Trial Attorney Brigham Q. Cannon of the Justice Department's Criminal Division's Fraud Section. The continuing investigation is being conducted by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Internal Revenue Service and the FBI.