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LOS ANGELES-A 1992 letter to the editor of The National Law Journal identified in court documents filed late last month in the kickback case against Milberg Weiss & Bershad provides direct evidence that federal prosecutors have William Lerach in their sights. The letter, along with a preceding article in the NLJ, are mentioned in papers that were filed as part of a Jan. 31 plea agreement with Steven G. Cooperman, a former named plaintiff for Milberg Weiss. Cooperman has admitted he received secret payments from the New York securities firm in order to serve as lead plaintiff in several shareholder class actions. The plea agreement is the latest move for prosecutors, who returned indictments last year against Milberg Weiss and two of its senior partners, David Bershad and Steven Schulman, on allegations that they made $216 million in attorney fees by paying $11.3 million in secret and illegal kickbacks. Partners ‘A’ and ‘B’ According to documents filed with the Cooperman plea agreement, Cooperman received kickbacks from a “Partner B” and “Partner A” at the firm. “Partner A” is widely believed to be Melvyn Weiss, name partner of the firm, while “Partner B” has been linked to Lerach, a partner who left in 2004. The Cooperman plea agreement and the May 2006 indictment against the firm include many of the same references to “Partner B.” The identity of “Partner B” became clear in the recent documents, which identify an article published in The National Law Journal on April 27, 1992, in which Cooperman was cited as one of a handful of plaintiffs who appeared several times in shareholder cases. According to documents associated with Cooperman’s plea agreement, “Partner B wrote a letter to the editor-in-chief of the NLJ in which Partner B insisted, ‘Dr. Cooperman’s reputation and character are impeccable and any inference to the contrary which may be drawn from your article is unfair and unwarranted.’ “ The National Law Journal records identify Lerach as the author of that letter. At the time of the article, Lerach was head of Milberg Weiss’ San Diego office. Lerach, now of San Diego-based Lerach Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, and his lawyer, John Keker of San Francisco’s Keker & Van Nest, did not return calls seeking comment. Weiss did not return calls for comment. Weiss’ lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, a partner at New York-based Brafman & Associates, declined to comment on Lerach and would not confirm or deny whether his client is the “Partner A” referred to in court papers. Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, which is bringing the case, declined to comment. The NLJ article said that Cooperman, a Beverly Hills, Calif., eye surgeon, appeared in 19 shareholder lawsuits filed in federal and state courts and was a defendant in a racketeering suit filed by an insurer claiming that Cooperman failed to disclose a heart condition while buying 18 disability policies from 15 different insurance companies. The insurer’s suit claimed that Cooperman had been collecting $58,000 in monthly benefits to assist in his shareholder litigation cases. Paul Revere Life Insurance Co. v. Cooperman, No. 91-6927-RJK (C.D. Calif.). Cooperman’s lawyer in that case, Richard Purtich, pleaded guilty last year to funneling Milberg Weiss kickback payments to Cooperman. In his letter to the editor, published on July 13, 1992, Lerach noted that a federal judge had thrown out the racketeering claims against Cooperman, who was later informed “that the plaintiff has decided not to amend to further assert the RICO claim.” According to the papers filed with the Cooperman plea agreement, another Milberg Weiss attorney prepared research in March 1992, at the direction of “Partner B,” that was used by Purtich free of charge to dismiss racketeering claims against Cooperman in the Paul Revere case. According to court papers, Milberg Weiss received $133 million in attorney fees from nearly 70 suits in which Cooperman or several of his relatives or associates served as lead plaintiffs from 1988 to 2003. The firm also allegedly paid Cooperman $6.4 million in secret and illegal payments.

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