As a white-collar criminal, the now-deposed king of the plaintiff bar was supposed to serve his sentence at a minimum-security prison camp.
Instead, William Lerach is getting a taste of hard time.
Earlier this summer, Lerach was placed in administrative segregation -- locked down for 23 hours a day -- after he allegedly offered a corrections officer the use of his San Diego Chargers season tickets, say three people familiar with the situation. Should a formal administrative proceeding go against him, Lerach would likely be forbidden from returning to the camp, and would instead be placed in a higher-security facility.
Lerach could also lose any "good time" he had accumulated toward early release.
Once the top securities class action lawyer in the country, Lerach pleaded guilty to participating in a scheme to pay kickbacks to lead plaintiffs. Federal Judge John Walter in Los Angeles sentenced him to a 24-month prison term in February. Lerach arrived at the United States Penitentiary in Lompoc, near Santa Barbara, Calif., on May 19, and was housed in the complex's satellite prison camp.
Little more than a month after he got there, Lerach was chatting with a corrections officer, sources said, when the conversation turned to sports. The guard indicated he was a San Diego Chargers fan, and Lerach said he could use the season tickets if he wanted.
The guard reported the conversation to Lompoc authorities, which kicked off a disciplinary investigation against Lerach, these sources said.
The government does not comment about a specific inmate's discipline situation, said a Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman. Lerach's lawyer, John Keker of Keker & Van Nest, was not available to speak on Monday afternoon.
It is standard BOP procedure to place a prisoner in administrative segregation while a disciplinary investigation is ongoing, said Alan Ellis, a San Francisco Bay Area sentencing specialist who is not involved in Lerach's case. Eventually, an administrative hearing is held, Ellis said. An inmate is not allowed a lawyer in those proceedings, which are closed to the public, he said.
Lerach's hearing has not yet been held, sources said.
Offering a staff member anything of value is considered a "high category" offense for an inmate, according to BOP guidelines. In the four-tier federal discipline system, that's one step below the most egregious kinds of violent behavior.
Other examples of high-category offenses include escape, wearing a disguise or mask, fighting, making sexual proposals to another inmate, encouraging a demonstration, or persuading others to participate in a work stoppage.
For Lerach, one possible discipline would be a transfer out of the minimum-security camp, and into a low-security prison. According to the BOP's Web site, the latter facility has "double-fenced perimeters, mostly dormitory or cubicle housing, and strong work and program components. The staff-to-inmate ratio in these institutions is higher than in minimum-security facilities."
The prison complex at Lompoc has a low-security facility on-site, along with a medium-security penitentiary.
Less serious punishments for a high-category offense include taking away an inmate's property, his prison job or his commissary, movie and recreation privileges.
In June, Keker asked Walter to send Lerach to Lompoc's residential alcohol treatment program, but the judge declined.