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As the star expert for the plaintiff firm Milberg Weiss, John Torkelsen became a legend for his ability to cap an all-night binge with a crack performance in a deposition the next morning. But his latest hangover won’t be so easy to shake. As Torkelsen gets ready to start a five-year federal prison sentence � he pleaded guilty last year in a scheme to defraud the government of investment cash � he’s feeling the squeeze of L.A. federal prosecutors. They indicted Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman and two of its name partners last month on charges of paying illegal kickbacks to clients, and sources close to the case say they’re looking deeper into Torkelsen, hoping to generate new charges against the firm � and to continue their pursuit of William Lerach, Milberg Weiss’ former star partner, who now heads his own firm in San Diego. While Torkelsen has long been of interest to the Milberg prosecutors, his presence could underscore plaintiff lawyers’ criticism that the prosecution is politically convenient for the Bush administration. Milberg Weiss is a huge Democratic booster and scourge of Republican supporters, and prosecutors’ probe of whether Torkelsen used money from Milberg to make donations could add fuel to that argument. Of course, like much else in the six-year Milberg probe, the prosecutors’ focus is far from new: Torkelsen has long been accused by securities defense lawyers � and the business press � of essentially being paid on contingency. That’s a particularly stinging charge, given his job was to establish the value of shareholder losses in suits, and since he and the lawyers who employed him told courts that he was paid an hourly rate. That criticism gained steam after a 1998 deposition by L.A. defense lawyer Marshall Grossman, in which Torkelsen admitted he received more than his hourly rate in some cases, and no payment in ones where Milberg didn’t get fees. Democrats’ friend = GOP woe? Torkelsen’s political contributions, like those from many others who received substantial sums for doing work for Milberg, have also been the subject of scrutiny for more than a decade by Republicans and magazines like Forbes. They’ve accused Milberg Weiss of asking people who received fees from the firm to funnel some of that cash into campaign contributions. None of those accusations turned into legal problems, and in recent years it seemed that even if prosecutors were interested, Torkelsen’s relationship with the firm � which had waned around 1997 � would make them obsolete for prosecutors. Now that’s changed. L.A. prosecutors, sources familiar with the case say, could bring Torkelsen into the current indictment by arguing that any improprieties having to do with his payment arrangements are part of an ongoing practice of perjury or obstructing justice. And then there’s the situation of Torkelsen’s ex-wife Pamela, who also entered a guilty plea in connection with the venture fund. Sources close to the case say she is cooperating with L.A. prosecutors � and that she had direct knowledge of the cash flow through Torkelsen’s various business ventures. With her assistance and documents relating to that cash flow that prosecutors have requested, they’re hoping to connect at least some of the expert’s campaign giving to fees paid by Milberg Weiss, said several sources close to the case. Also at issue is Torkelsen’s own prison sentence: Several people close to the L.A. investigation say he could face new charges in L.A. � creating a possible incentive to cooperate. That incentive has not been there in the past for the former expert, who has quite a bit of familiarity with federal probes. Twelve years ago, the Justice Department poked around a $50,000 campaign contribution he made to Bill Clinton after a White House call from the then-president. That probe went nowhere, and the situation looked good for Torkelsen in the ensuing years: He continued to get rich on work for Milberg Weiss, and by the late 1990s, his wife was able to tell guests about the $1 million it took to install the marble deck behind their New Jersey home. And he remained a Democratic big shot. “He was a big fundraiser for Bill Bradley,” said Robert Torricelli, like Bradley a former New Jersey senator. He said he met Torkelsen “through Democratic politics.” Torkelsen’s giving was significant. Between 1990 and 1998, Torkelsen and his family members poured about $400,000 into federal elections. That doesn’t include the $225,000 he gave to a California ballot initiative supported by Lerach. Fall from grace But after Torkelsen stopped his expert work � partially, sources familiar with his work say, because plaintiff lawyers felt his credibility was hurt by the accusations of being paid on contingency � his slide toward ignominy began. A promising tech venture fund he launched to combine private cash and money from the U.S. Small Business Administration quickly began to look like a bad deal for its investors, who included many plaintiff lawyers and Torricelli. When it became clear that the fund would fold, many investors stopped paying money they’d committed. The SBA sued Torkelsen and those investors, including Lerach and Torricelli, arguing that the government money had been provided as matching funds contingent on the other investors meeting their commitments. The SBA civil suits quickly turned criminal, and federal prosecutors in Washington, D.C., indicted him and his wife last year for using the venture fund to steal investment money from the SBA. Whereas Torkelsen’s plea did not involve an explicit agreement to cooperate, his wife’s did. And her sentencing has been delayed for more than a year now because, sources close to the case said, she continues to cooperate with the Milberg probe.

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