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Case Steering Probe Catches 11th AttorneyA personal injury lawyer who pleaded guilty Wednesday became the 11th attorney to be ensnared by an investigation ongoing since 1999 into the steering of negligence cases. David Sheeger pleaded guilty to filing a false instrument in a case where Manhattan prosecutors claimed he had paid $500 each for 67 cases brought to him by a "runner" who bribed hospital employees to identify potential clients. Altogether, the 11 lawyers have agreed to pay more than $1.5 million in forfeiture, restitution or fines.
New York Law Journal2007-08-02 12:00:00 AM
A personal injury lawyer who pleaded guilty Wednesday became the 11th attorney to be ensnared by an investigation ongoing since 1999 into the steering of negligence cases.
David Sheeger, 50, pleaded guilty to filing a false instrument in a case where Manhattan prosecutors claimed he had paid $500 each for 67 cases brought to him by a "runner" who bribed hospital employees to identify potential clients.
As a part of the plea agreement, Sheeger agreed to be sentenced to probation for five years. Because filing a false instrument is a Class E felony, Sheeger, of Kafko, Schnitzer & Sheeger, will be automatically disbarred. He also agreed to forfeit $110,000 in fees illegally reaped through the scheme.
All together, the 11 lawyers have agreed to pay more than $1.5 million in forfeiture, restitution or fines.
At the center of the eight-year probe is the runner, Jean Phillipe Landi, who has not yet been sentenced but pleaded guilty in 2005 to enterprise corruption which carries a maximum sentence of 8 1/3 to 25 years in prison.
Barbara Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney's office, declined to comment on whether Landi is cooperating.
According to statements issued by the prosecutor's office in connection with the guilty pleas from seven of the lawyers, Landi bribed hospital employees to gain information on people with possible no-fault claims and then later contacted the potential clients at their homes or at the hospital pretending to be either a lawyer or affiliated with a hospital.
Landi, 48, according to prosecutors, would sell cases to lawyers for as much as $500 each.
In pleading guilty in the latest case, Sheeger admitted falsifying a document called a retained statement, which is required to be filed with the Office of Court Administration. New York's Judiciary Law §482 makes it a misdemeanor for a lawyer to pay a non-lawyer to obtain cases.
Instead of revealing the true source of the referral, Sheeger claimed on the form the cases had stemmed from ads, walk-ins or referrals from someone other than Landi, according to the prosecution.
Seven other lawyers have pleaded guilty to filing false retainer statements in what prosecutors have characterized as an effort to mask their purchase of cases from Landi. Those attorneys were each sentenced to five years probation. Five of the seven lawyers pleaded guilty in 2005. They are Scott Sessler and Daniel Chilewich, who had practiced together at Sessler & Chilewich; Anthony Ferrandino and Lawrence Dicker of Dicker & Ferrandino; and Olga Sorkin.
Lloyd Berns and Eugene Castro of Berns & Castro pleaded guilty in December.
Sessler and Chilewich forfeited $150,000 in fees generated from cases prosecutors said they bought from Landi. Dickler and Ferrandino agreed to forfeit $640,000 in fees; Berns and Castro, $150,000; and Sorkin $50,000.
A ninth lawyer, Frederic Zarkin, was convicted on one count of falsifying business records and two counts of offering false instruments for filing, all Class E felonies, after going to trial. He was sentenced in March to five years probation, fined $5,000 and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service.
STEALING FROM CLIENTS
Two other lawyers, bringing the total to 11, were netted by the investigation though on charges of stealing from their clients rather than filing false statements to cover up illegal referrals, according to prosecutors.
Those lawyers, Michael Mann and Joshua Just, who practiced together as Mann & Just, pleaded guilty to stealing $275,000 from their clients by billing them for expenses, such as medical reports, which were never incurred. Both lawyers pleaded guilty to a scheme to defraud in the first degree, a Class E felony, and were sentenced to 400 hours of community service in addition to five years probation.
Mann and Just each agreed to make their former clients whole and pay restitution, amounting to $206,875 each. According to the Manhattan district attorney's office, an unspecified amount of the total covered repayment of fees generated from cases from a runner who was not identified.
Landi's wife, Mary, also pleaded guilty to third-degree bribery in connection with the probe and is awaiting sentencing.