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LOS ANGELES-A former named plaintiff for Milberg Weiss & Bershad who told federal investigators about the alleged kickback scheme now under investigation has agreed to plead guilty to a conspiracy charge. Steve G. Cooperman will admit that he received secret payments from Milberg Weiss in order to serve as a lead plaintiff in several shareholder class actions, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, which is prosecuting the case. The plea deal is part of an investigation in which Milberg Weiss and two of its senior partners, David Bershad and Steven Schulman, were indicted on allegations that they made $216 million in attorney fees by paying $11.3 million in secret and illegal kickbacks. Schulman has since resigned and is no longer a name partner; Bershad has taken a leave of absence from the firm. According to the government, Milberg Weiss obtained more than $133 million in attorney fees from nearly 70 lawsuits in which Cooperman or several of his relatives and associates served as lead plaintiffs. The cases, which spanned from 1988 to 2003, allowed Cooperman to receive more than $6.4 million in kickbacks. In the recent plea deal, Cooperman admitted that he conspired with the kickback scheme by falsely stating in court that he would not receive additional compensation as a named plaintiff. Instead, he received up to 5,000 times greater compensation than he would have as a class member. Allegations denied Milberg Weiss allegedly hid the kickbacks by paying in cash and distributing the money through other attorneys, including Richard Purtich, who pleaded guilty last year to funneling Milberg Weiss kickback payments to Cooperman. In an e-mailed statement, William Taylor, a partner at Washington-based Zuckerman Spaeder representing Milberg Weiss, said “Steven Cooperman has been ‘assisting’ the government for over seven years, since shortly after his conviction for art theft and insurance fraud. His allegations about Milberg Weiss are not new. They have never been credible and they are no more so today.” Cooperman received kickbacks from a “Partner B” and “Partner A” at the firm, according to documents filed with the plea agreement. “Partner A” is widely believed to be Melvyn Weiss, name partner of the firm, and “Partner B” has been linked to William Lerach, a partner who left in 2004. Calls were not returned for comment by Lerach, now of San Diego-based Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, or his lawyer, John Keker of San Francisco’s Keker & Van Nest.

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