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Oakland labor law firm Van Bourg, Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld has agreed to pay $120,000 in restitution to a former client and to expunge the name of founder Victor Van Bourg from its masthead to avoid federal prosecution for fraud and false statements. The deal was announced May 2 by U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Roscoe Howard Jr., and involves Van Bourg’s alleged role in a scheme that bilked the International Association of Iron Workers of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Van Bourg, who died of a heart attack in 1999, was the D.C.-based union’s general counsel for 15 years. “Beginning at least by 1992, Victor Van Bourg was an active and leading participant with the union’s President Jake West, other top union officials, and the union’s outside accounting firm in a conspiracy to defraud iron workers and the U.S. Department of Labor by concealing and covering up the full amount of union expenditures” for several top union officials, Howard’s announcement said. According to the U.S. attorney’s office, top union officials spent nearly $1.5 million dining, drinking and golfing at various restaurants and country clubs. Van Bourg participated in the effort to conceal those expenditures to union members by filing false annual financial disclosure documents known as L-2 Reports. He also allegedly withheld incriminating documents from a 1998 grand jury investigating the corruption. To date, 10 people, including several top union officials and the union’s accounting firm, have pleaded guilty in the case. The U.S. attorney agreed not to bring charges against the Van Bourg firm in return for the firm carrying out a series of remedial actions. The firm will change its name to Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld, pay $120,000 to the iron worker’s union and an affiliated pension fund, pay $30,000 for costs associated with the investigation, and undertake internal reforms and training to avoid any similar misconduct by its other attorneys. Moreover, the firm must send out a mea culpa letter to all of its union clients. “Since his death, we sadly have learned of instances of misconduct and poor judgment by our former colleague Victor Van Bourg,” reads the letter. “Among other things, we have learned that Mr. Van Bourg participated for a number of years in the creation and submission of false and misleading LM-2 Reports.” “Although we cannot undo the past,” the letter goes on, “we wish to declare unambiguously our disappointment and disagreement with Mr. Van Bourg’s conduct by the change in our firm’s name.” The 40-lawyer firm represents labor unions exclusively and counts hundreds of such clients, says name partner Stewart Weinberg. He lamented the posthumous challenge to Van Bourg’s reputation. “Victor’s dead; he has no way of defending himself,” said Weinberg. “And the charges come from individuals who could have made the same accusations while Victor was alive so he could have responded to them.” Van Bourg was a legendary and polarizing figure in the labor world. A Boalt Hall School of Law graduate who argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court four times, Van Bourg represented Cesar Chavez’s National Farm Workers Union in its 1996 merger with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee. “He was one of the pioneers of the labor bar and a very, very fine lawyer,” said Seyfarth Shaw labor attorney Mark Ross, who was unaware of the corruption investigation. “He was very committed to his side of the cause.” But Van Bourg also had his share of critics within the unions he represented. Some rank-and-file union members accused him of selling them out. In 1998, a crowd of union protesters attempted to burn an 8-foot-tall effigy of Van Bourg in front of a dinner event on Treasure Island that he was scheduled to attend. Mark Thierman, a Nevada labor lawyer who sparred with Van Bourg on many occasions, said that while he hadn’t heard about the firm’s involvement in the corruption investigation, he thought removing Van Bourg’s name was silly. “For all his faults, he was a historical figure,” Thierman said. “What good does it do? The man’s dead; they can’t punish him.”

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