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LOS ANGELES � Securities plaintiff’s lawyer William Lerach has pleaded guilty to a federal conspiracy charge as part of a criminal investigation into whether he paid kickbacks to named plaintiffs. On Monday, U.S. District Judge John Walter for the Central District of California approved a plea deal in which Lerach, a former partner at Milberg Weiss, 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, 61, could serve some home detention as part of his prison time. Sentencing is set for Jan. 14. Lerach and his lawyer, John Keker, of San Francisco’s Keker & Van Nest, declined to comment at the hearing. In an emailed statement released last month, a spokesman for Lerach said, “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.” The spokesman, Christopher Lahane, continued: “For my actions, I apologize and accept full responsibility for my conduct.” The plea deal is part of a case in which prosecutors allege that Milberg Weiss and several of its partners collected more than $200 million in attorney fees by paying secret and illegal kickbacks to named plaintiffs in more than 150 class action and shareholder lawsuits. At least two other former partners and three named plaintiffs have pleaded guilty as part of the case. Remaining as defendants are Milberg Weiss and Melvyn Weiss, founding partner of Milberg Weiss, who was indicted last month on obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges. Another defendant, Paul Selzer, a lawyer for one of the named plaintiffs, is in plea talks with prosecutors. In Monday’s plea deal, Lerach acknowledged that he and others conspired to hide secret payments to plaintiffs in class action lawsuits from federal judges presiding in those cases from 1981 to 2002. He also acknowledged that he made such payments to named plaintiffs who were promised 10% of the attorney fees in Milberg Weiss cases. Specifically, Lerach admitted that he paid one of the named plaintiffs, Steve Cooperman, through intermediary lawyers Richard Purtich and James Tierney, with checks disguised as “referral fees” or other types of payments. Cooperman pleaded guilty earlier this year to a federal conspiracy charge, and 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. 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. They also agreed not to prosecute Lerach for activities relating to his political contributions, investments in the Acorn Technology Fund (over which he faces a civil suit) and 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 joined Milberg Weiss in 1976 and left in 2004 to form his own firm. He retired from his San Diego-based firm on Aug. 31.

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