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B eyond ludicrous” is how celebrity lawyer Robert L. Shapiro describes the allegation that he helped a guilty client hide assets from defrauded investors. That’s what Barry A. Fisher, a receiver appointed by the court to help the investors recoup,is saying happened in a Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit filed Nov. 30. Personal Choice Opportunities v. Shapiro, No. BC-262706 (Los Angeles Co., Calif., Super. Ct.). The suit names Shapiro and his Century City, Calif., law firm Christensen, Miller, Fink, Jacobs, Glaser, Weil & Shapiro. Among the causes of action are conversion and civil fraud. Fisher’s attorney is Louis M. Marlin of Anaheim, Calif.’s Marlin & Saltzman.At issue is Shapiro’s representation of David Laing, who is serving an eight-year sentence after pleading guilty to securities and mail fraud. ‘Death Futures’ In 1996, Laing created a company called Personal Choice Opportunities, which pretended to deal in viatical settlements. Also known as death futures, the transactions entail patients who are terminally ill seeking cash during their lifetime by selling the benefits payable under their life insurance policies to investors. Laing promised investors nationwide a 25% return. In fact, he never purchased any insurance contracts with the estimated $100 million invested. The suit, which seeks disgorgement of unrecovered assets and punitive damages, contends that on the day in 1997 that the FBI arrested Laing, Shapiro met with him at the courthouse. Shapiro then allegedly “coordinated and directed” several unidentified persons who “traveled to Laing’s residence in Palm Springs, retrieving numerous bags of money each containing approximately $500,000″ to help Laing make bail, the suit claims. The suit contends the money was thus hidden from federal agents, who three days later accompanied Laing and Shapiro as they rounded up other caches of ill-gotten gains to begin restitution. Shapiro responds that all the money was turned over, including “one million dollars that was hidden in the wall in someone’s house, and money in a safe deposit box in Las Vegas, and watches worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,none of which the FBI ever would have found on its own.” And he went on the offensive, asserting that receiver Fisher brought the suit as “a way to keep control of a large case and its fees.” When the allegations are resolved, Shapiro hinted he will consider a countersuit. Shapiro is best known to the public for defending O.J. Simpson. These days, Shapiro says, he maintains his criminal practice “outside of and separate” from his law firm, and so Christensen Miller should not be a defendant.

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