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Koteles Alexander didn’t want to sign the Senate lobbying registration. Unemployed for nearly a decade, the disbarred D.C.-area lawyer was trying to quietly move into a new profession. But when he was hired to lobby Congress on behalf of a client, Alexander knew he had no choice but to come out of the shadows. Once upon a time, Alexander was the charismatic leader of one of the nation’s largest minority-owned and -operated law firms. In its heyday, the Silver Spring, Md.-based firm known as Alexander, Bearden, Hairston & Marks had 37 lawyers and a client roster that included Riggs Bank, NationsBank, the D.C. Housing Finance Agency, and Black Entertainment Television. But the firm had serious financial problems and collapsed in 1997 amid allegations of fraud and misrepresentation. And by the time the firm filed for bankruptcy that spring, claiming to be $1.8 million in the hole, those problems had spiraled out of control. Alexander was arrested by Montgomery County, Md., police for allegedly assaulting a name partner. He then vanished — secluding himself for years while his former partners, associates, and clients were left to sort through the wreckage. Even then, problems mounted. In 2005, he was disbarred by the D.C. Court of Appeals for misappropriating $77,000 from a client. It’s all left Alexander understandably gun-shy of any type of publicity, and he complains about the negative media attention he received at the height of his problems. But he realizes that unresolved issues from his past remain. Numerous financial judgments against Alexander and his former firm have yet to be paid — the latest one levied against the defunct firm in 2005 by Montgomery County for $25,000. Still, those who knew Alexander were confident he would resurface. Just this year, he was hired by former Rep. Carrie Meek (D-Fla.) to help her run her Florida-based lobby shop, the Carrie Meek Group. Without a law license, Alexander is hoping to rebuild his career, this time as a lobbyist. Alexander, 52, says the decision wasn’t easy, especially when it came to publicly registering to lobby Congress on transit issues for the Metro-Dade Transit Authority. “I was reluctant to do it,” Alexander says from Miami, where he currently lives. “It was not my goal to do anything that would put me in a public light again.” Since working for Meek, first as an executive at her nonprofit Carrie Meek Foundation in 2006 and now as her lobbying assistant, Alexander has proven himself, Meek says. “Mr. Koteles was candid with me and told me that he did have problems in his practice. He said from the beginning that he’s not able to practice law because of his prior situation,” Meek says. “I have found him to be one of the most intellectually prepared and hard-working assistants. He is reliable, and he’s been trustworthy as well, and that’s important.” Though Alexander has yet to lobby Congress himself, Meek says he helps analyze issues and creates talking points for her. “He’s diligent, and he knows what the political scene is all about,” Meek says. “I’m impressed with his ability to get things done. And he’s well-liked in the community here.” THE ASCENT Alexander is attempting to get his life back on track after experiencing what he calls a “spiritual enlightenment” about how and why things happened the way they did. “I was going through anything you can imagine a person would when his world falls through,” Alexander says. After graduating from Texas Southern University School of Law, Alexander had a dream of creating a minority-run firm that would break the glass ceiling and open up unlimited opportunities for minority lawyers by attracting blue-chip corporations as clients. In June 1987, he opened Gartrell & Alexander, a general litigation, corporate, government, and appellate law practice. Alexander wanted to compete with top minority firms like Leftwich & Ludaway, one of the oldest and largest minority-owned law firms in Washington, and Detroit’s Lewis White & Clay. “I wanted to try to expand what they were doing and go one step further,” Alexander says. “In the minority community, they were proud of what we accomplished and the type of work we were introducing.” In 1994, the firm, then known as Alexander, Gebhardt, Aponte & Marks, had a solid reputation that was on the rise. It represented former National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Executive Director Benjamin Chavis Jr. in his settlement of sexual harassment charges filed against him by staffer Mary Stansel and was the legal force behind former Prince George’s County, Md., state attorney Alexander Williams Jr. winning unanimous approval from the Senate for a federal judgeship. Other clients included Crestar Bank and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games. The firm was also retained by the city of Baltimore to represent a lawyer in a school funding lawsuit against the state of Maryland and by a former D.C. attorney in a race discrimination case. With a staff of black, Hispanic, Asian-American and white lawyers, the firm became known as one of the most successful minority-run firms. Robert Drummer, a lobbyist and principal of Drummer & Associates, worked with Alexander in 1995, shortly before the firm started down the road to disintegration. Drummer says he was always impressed with Alexander’s vision of running a model diversity firm. “He was very client-focused and was very driven to deliver quality service and representation at — and, frankly, above — the levels provided by larger, �uptown’ firms,” Drummer says. But the success wouldn’t last. Trouble was brewing. THE TUMBLE The firm, which had changed name partners five times in six years, was now facing a mountain of expenses. Clients’ payments were arriving late, sometimes by an entire year. In one case, the client didn’t pay at all. It soon became difficult for the firm to stay afloat. Then another obstacle loomed. Alexander says he was constantly denied help from banks as he sought financing to repay $1 million in back taxes the firm owed the Internal Revenue Service. (Alexander says the firm did repay the back taxes.) All the problems made recruiting new clients that much more difficult. “We had a problem convincing clients that we could do the business, despite proving ourselves and convincing financial institutions that we had the proper line of credit,” says Alexander, noting that there was an assumption by big corporations that minority-owned law firms couldn’t handle sophisticated work. “The hostility when a minority firm attempts to go after business traditionally handled by major firms was just draining after a while, especially when you have to prove yourself over and over again,” Alexander says. With options running out, the firm sought financing from Classical Financial Services, a lender Alexander knew would charge a higher interest rate than a bank. In March 1996, the firm obtained $1 million in credit from the company. The next year, the company asked the firm to renew its contract, Alexander says. Alexander recalls sitting at his desk and deciding not to sign another one-year contract with Classical, a factoring financing lender (in which a business sells its accounts receivable to a finance company in order to get immediate access to cash owed to the business by its customers). At that point, he knew things were about to fall apart. “That form of financing was killing me,” Alexander says. “I didn’t want to finance it anymore through receivable financing or factoring financing. Despite all the money we were making, that was taking the majority of the profits.” Alexander says the financing deal and the difficulties collecting legal fees from the Resolution Trust Corp., a former client, helped lead to the firm’s demise. “But I had to bear the full burden when the company crashed,” Alexander says. “I was the head of the ship. Of course, I felt disappointed, and I felt that I had disappointed others.” On March 8, 1997, Montgomery County police arrested Alexander and charged him with second-degree assault. According to a complaint filed by a police officer, Alexander grabbed name partner Abbey Hairston and threw her to the ground as she attempted to move out of his Silver Spring residence. (Alexander pleaded not guilty and was given a probation before judgment disposition.) Two days after the alleged assault, Hairston quit the firm. She could not be reached for comment. Alexander says he would not comment on the case, saying that it “is irrelevant 10 years later.” One day after Hairston’s resignation, the firm filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Creditors and vendors began lining up, and 22 employees were laid off. Then Classical Financial sued the firm, claiming that the firm filed fraudulent invoices in order to get the $1 million credit line. The three remaining lawyers, realizing there would be no saving the firm, changed its filing status to Chapter 7 — liquidation. Throughout it all, some said, Alexander was nowhere to be found. Alexander says he simply needed time to get his head together. After meeting with his staff to give them the news that the firm was sinking, Alexander says, “I needed about a week to pull myself together because I was going through it hard.” He ended up taking a much longer break than expected. James Bearden, one of the firm’s last remaining partners, who helped manage the bankruptcy, says he last communicated with Alexander in 2001, adding that it was hard for him to recuperate after the firm dissolved. “I was only a junior partner at the time,” says Bearden, now of counsel at Carter & Thomas in Boca Raton, Fla. “But everyone has to live and reinvent himself. I wish Koteles the best of luck. He wasn’t a bad person. I just think he got caught up in a lot of things.” Alexander was also absent when D.C. Bar Counsel began its investigation into the theft of $77,000 from a client’s estate. In 2005, the D.C. Court of Appeals disbarred him. Just last month, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit disbarred Alexander from practicing before the federal court for failing to respond to a show cause order based on the Appeals Court disbarment. THE RETURN Unemployed and destitute, Alexander says, he lapsed into depression. During the firm’s collapse, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and continues to take medication under his doctor’s care. He says he had no other option but to swallow his pride and live for years with his younger sister and brother-in-law in D.C. They understood his plight and gave him time to recover. Though he hasn’t talked to many people from the firm since it folded, he believed back then that his partners understood the challenges he and the firm faced. “I think back in 2000 or 2001, I may have contacted former associates of mine to see how they were doing, but that’s it. I pretty much wanted to be left alone; it was still painful dealing with this, even at that time,” Alexander says. “My partners were supportive of me in the sense that they were saddened that we didn’t make it. And they were upset by the decisions that I’d made, but they recognized the hardship.” In 2003, Alexander says he moved to Miami, where he continues to take care of his mother, who has cancer. He wound up getting a job as a policy adviser to the Miami-Dade Board of County Commissioners before joining Meek. Meek started her small lobbying practice in 2004, after spending 10 years representing Florida’s 17th District. The practice has lobbied mainly state representatives and has just registered to lobby on Capitol Hill. “I enjoy working for the congresswoman and applying the skills that I’ve learned over the last couple of years,” Alexander says. “By the grace of God, I guess, he put me in front of the right people who have given me an opportunity to put my talents to work.” And Drummer, now a fellow lobbyist, believes Alexander will be successful again. “I’m confident that he will do well in his new practice, because he is quite driven and resilient,” Drummer says. “It also won’t hurt him to be working with a well-known, well-respected former member of Congress in Carrie Meek.” Alexander says he has yet to deal with his outstanding financial debts “because I don’t have the resources to confront them.” He says stepping back into the working world is his way of attempting to make peace with the past. “At one time I was very embarrassed of what happened to the firm, but it was very accomplished,” says Alexander. “I can still say that I’m very proud of what we did. It just wasn’t our time. Perhaps the firm was ahead of its time.”
Osita Iroegbu can be contacted at [email protected].

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