Prosecutors in Guam dropped felony charges Monday against the Miami-based law firm Greenberg Traurig in a case tied to the firm's imprisoned lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
The firm agreed to refund $324,000 in lobbying fees to the Guam judiciary in exchange for the dismissal of charges of theft by deception, theft and conspiracy.
"Greenberg's agreement to immediately return these fees avoids the necessity of what would certainly be protracted litigation, which would severely strain the resources of the office of the attorney general," said a dismissal order signed by Guam's chief prosecutor Phillip Tydingco. He did not return calls for comment before deadline.
The dismissal order noted Greenberg cooperated with the Guam attorney general's investigation, "self-reported the transgressions of Mr. Abramoff to the Department of Justice when it first became aware of his illegal activities" and cooperated with U.S. prosecutors in other investigations as well.
Ever since Guam amended charges against the lobbyist and court administrator Anthony P. Sanchez to include the firm March 11, Greenberg had insisted the charges would be resolved quickly.
"We are grateful that the attorney general's office recognizes our cooperation with this investigation," the firm said in a statement announcing the dismissal. "The firm has also agreed to continue to cooperate fully with the office of the attorney general on this matter, as it has done in the past with all other investigations of Mr. Abramoff's conduct while at our firm."
Greenberg became entangled in the criminal investigation after Abramoff billed the territory for work done on projects he wasn't hired to pursue, Guam prosecutors charged.
In one instance, Guam prosecutor Lewis W. Littlepage charged the law firm billed the U.S. territory for work on an open-skies project to expand international air service to the U.S. mainland through Guam.
Abramoff had been retained by the Guam Superior Court to try to keep Congress from amending a law to create an appellate court on the island.
The original 2006 indictment charged Abramoff, Sanchez and territorial policy expert Howard Hills, who also has cooperated in the Abramoff investigation and was listed as Greenberg's client in the territory. When Littlepage amended the charges last month, he dropped Hills as a defendant and added the law firm.
Greenberg said some of Abramoff's conduct was unknown to the firm until he pleaded guilty in Washington in 2006 to federal charges of aiding and abetting mail fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy for his dealings with American Indian tribes.
The next day, he pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Paul Huck in Miami to charges tied to an illicit loan to buy SunCruz Casinos. Abramoff is serving a sentence of almost six years in prison.
The firm also has negotiated settlements with several of Abramoff's tribal clients. One confidential deal came last year with the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, which claimed Abramoff and others took part in a scheme that shut down the tribe's casino.
Peter Henning, a criminal law professor at Wayne State University who follows high-profile corporate criminal law, said he was perplexed by the order of events.
"This all could have been done before the charges were ever announced and could have saved everyone a lot of grief," he said. "Certainly Greenberg Traurig didn't advocate what he was doing. In fact, they cut him loose after they found out about it."