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LOS ANGELES — Securities class action attorney William Lerach has agreed to plead guilty to a federal conspiracy charge as part of a criminal investigation into whether he paid kickbacks to named plaintiffs. Lerach, a former partner at Milberg Weiss, also agreed to forfeit $7.75 million to the government, pay a $250,000 fine and serve one to two years in prison, depending on the judge’s discretion. Lerach could serve some home detention as part of his prison time. “I have always fought for my clients aggressively and vigorously in order to hold powerful corporations responsible when their actions harmed people, however, I regrettably crossed the line and pushed too far,” wrote Christopher Lahane, a spokesman for Lerach, in an e-mailed statement on Tuesday. “For my actions, I apologize and accept full responsibility for my conduct.” Prosecutors allege that Milberg Weiss and two of its former partners, Steven Schulman and David Bershad, collected more than $200 million in attorney fees by paying secret and illegal kickbacks to named plaintiffs. Earlier this year, Bershad and a named plaintiff, Steve Cooperman, agreed to plead guilty to the same conspiracy charge. In a criminal information filed on Tuesday, federal prosecutors charged Lerach with conspiring to obstruct justice and make false statements under oath from 1981 to 2002. As part of the agreement, Lerach, a former partner at Milberg Weiss, acknowledges that he and others hid secret payments to plaintiffs in class action lawsuits from federal judges presiding in those cases. He also acknowledges that he made such payments to named plaintiffs who were promised 10% of the attorney fees in Milberg Weiss cases, and admits that the named plaintiffs who received the kickbacks made false statements in court regarding those payments. Specifically, Lerach admits he paid Cooperman, through intermediary lawyers Richard Purtich and James Tierney, with checks disguised as “referral fees” or other types of payments. Purtich pleaded guilty last year to funneling Milberg Weiss kickback payments to Cooperman. Cooperman used money from the alleged kickbacks to pay Tierney, who was convicted alongside Cooperman in 1999 of insurance fraud related to art theft. As part of the deal, Lerach has not agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Also, prosecutors have agreed not to charge Lerach’s former firm, now called Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins, or two of its partners, Patrick Coughlin and Keith Park, as part of the investigation. On Tuesday, Dan Newman, a spokesman for Coughlin Stoia, issued an emailed statement: “The plea agreement announced today between William S. Lerach and the U.S. Attorney’s Office categorically, definitely and unequivocally confirms that this firm has no exposure or liability in the matter.” Attached to the firm’s statement was a letter from U.S. Attorney George S. Cardona to Lerach’s lawyer, John Keker, of San Francisco’s Keker & Van Nest, in which prosecutors said they were unaware of any pending criminal probes in other federal districts against Coughlin Stoia, or its predecessor, for violations of federal law, and that they had “no intention to pursue against any of the Lerach Firm Constituents any criminal charges.” In the plea agreement, prosecutors also agreed not to prosecute Lerach for activities relating to his political contributions or investments in the Acorn Technology Fund, over which he faces a civil suit. They also agreed not to prosecute him for activities relating to payments to an unnamed “Princeton expert” he hired for cases while at Milberg Weiss and his former firm. Prosecutors have long been eyeing plaintiff’s expert John Torkelsen, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to the Small Business Administration about his investment fund, Acorn Technology Fund. His ex-wife, Pamela, has been cooperating with prosecutors in the Milberg Weiss probe. Lerach is scheduled to appear in court for an arraignment in the coming weeks. Lerach joined Milberg Weiss in 1976 and left in 2004 to form his own firm, now called Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins. He retired from his San Diego-based firm on Aug. 31. The remaining defendants in the case are Milberg Weiss, Schulman, named plaintiff Seymour Lazar and his former attorney, Paul Selzer. They are scheduled to go to trial in January. Marina Ein, a spokeswoman for Milberg Weiss, declined to comment. U.S. District Judge John Walter for the Central District of California denied their motions to dismiss last month and has scheduled a status conference on Friday, Sept. 21. Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, declined to comment.

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