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The United States would like Stanley Tollman back. For more than four years, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York have sought the extradition of the prominent New York hotel magnate who settled in London shortly before being charged with dozens of counts of bank and tax fraud in 2002. As would be expected, Tollman has hired white-collar defense attorneys on both sides of the Atlantic. What’s far less conventional is his decision to hire a lobbying firm in Washington. For just over two years, Tollman’s PR agent has paid BGR Holding, formerly Barbour Griffith & Rogers, more than $1.8 million to represent the family’s interests in Washington. (To put this in perspective, India has paid the firm only $1.2 million in a similar time frame to lobby for a nuclear accord.) Despite the high-dollar account, BGR has kept a low profile on the Tollman case. With the case in British courts, BGR was wary of a public effort that would “look like we were trying to find a political solution” to Tollman’s legal problems, CEO Lanny Griffith says. That may soon change. A British magistrate found in June that an American prosecutor’s pursuit of Tollman was overzealous and dishonest. Barring a reversal on appeal, the 77-year-old Tollman may have less need for his American criminal defense attorney, Benjamin Brafman of New York’s Brafman & Associates. But he’s keeping the lobbyists. According to BGR and Alan Kilkenny, Tollman’s U.K. publicity agent, the Tollman family has begun a public policy and media campaign decrying American prosecutorial abuse and the current U.S.-U.K. extradition treaty. British civil rights and business groups, as well as former Assistant Attorney General Viet Dinh, are publicly aligned. A wanted man hiring lobbyists to advocate for judicial reform may seem whimsical, but Tollman’s campaign assuredly isn’t. DIRTY MONEY? The South Africa-born Tollman built a hotel empire with partner Monty Hundley, borrowing hundreds of millions, some of it personally guaranteed, to buy the Days Inn hotel chain in 1989. In the early 1990s, however, the pair defaulted and, according to prosecutors, persuaded their creditors to sell $100 million in steeply discounted bad debt to “European investors” who were actually straw buyers for the men themselves. Prosecutors from the Southern District filed the bank and fraud charges against Tollman in 2002. Other Tollman family members also faced charges. By 2004, Tollman’s son, Hundley, and three executives at their company all pleaded guilty or were convicted of tax fraud. Tollman and his wife, who had left for Britain, were deemed fugitives. Prosecutors didn’t let the Tollman family go easily. In January 2005, Tollman’s nephew Gavin was unexpectedly arrested on tax charges by Canadian authorities after arriving in Montreal for a two-day business trip. Acting on a secret request originating with Assistant U.S. Attorney Stanley Okula, police intended to simply drive Gavin to the border and pass him into U.S. custody, according to court documents obtained by the Ottawa Citizen. But the end run around the normal extradition process didn’t go off as planned. Gavin Tollman fought extradition for two years in Canada before a judge declared the U.S. efforts “an abuse of process” and sent him back to the United Kingdom. More formal U.S. efforts to extradite Stanley and Beatrice Tollman from the United Kingdom also ran aground in June, when a British magistrate denied the request. While partly rooted in procedural grounds, the magistrate’s opinion describes Okula’s behavior as “reprehensible” and suggests that he lied, threatened 74-year old Beatrice with a “perp walk,” and acted without the approval of his superiors in the Southern District. (The Justice Department declined to comment for this article.) BOOKING BGR In 2005, in the midst of their extradition battle, the Tollmans hired BGR through Kilkenny. Exactly what the firm was supposed to accomplish was vague. Griffith describes the work as monitoring in preparation for the possibility that their case would burst into the media or into a Washington debate about hard-nosed prosecutorial tactics. “Very little of that actually happened,” Griffith says, though the firm regularly met with the Tollmans’ legal team in London and kept the attorneys apprised of the affairs of the New York Southern District office. Griffith says BGR never contacted the Justice Department about the case. In the event that the district secured the Tollmans’ extradition and continued to use what the family perceived as unfair tactics, Griffith says, the plan was to plead on the Hill for congressional oversight of the district’s methods. Of course, there are higher powers that could have been appealed to: Tollman’s predicament bears a resemblance to that of Marc Rich, a politically connected fugitive financier who was pardoned by President Bill Clinton in his waning days in office. Tollman was a friend of Margaret Thatcher, a generous contributor to the arts, and a stalwart backer of Republicans who made six-figure contributions and once stayed overnight in the Reagan White House. He was also a stalwart of the social scene: making the New York Post‘s Page Six, telling good jokes, and wearing a signature red carnation in his lapel. While the idea of a pardon has certainly occurred to BGR, Griffith says he was never asked to explore it by the Tollmans. He downplays the couple’s political clout, describing their contributions as socially motivated. “They had a home in New York and a home in Palm Beach,” he says by way of explanation. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK As the Tollmans’ legal jeopardy eased, BGR began talks with Kilkenny about the larger issues involved in the case. The Tollmans, Kilkenny says, saw advocacy as a way to stand up to legal injustice and an extradition system that robs British citizens of their rights. “We shouldn’t have this sort of thing going on between two allies,” Kilkenny says. In London, news coverage of the United States’ strong-arm tactics with the elderly Tollmans has fed protests over the perceived misuse of a 2003 British fast-track extradition law meant to aid the U.S. in terrorism probes. Decried by the Confederation of British Industry and the human rights group Liberty, the resulting extradition process has yet to yield a terrorism suspect — efforts are currently under way in a few cases — but has piped more than 50 white-collar suspects across the Atlantic for trial. “A mere assertion by a U.S. prosecutor is enough to justify extradition,” says Alistair Graham, a partner at the London office of White & Case who represents Ian Norris, a former Morgan-Crucible CEO battling extradition on price fixing. Along with protesting extradition policy, Griffith says, the firm plans to argue for greater supervision of prosecutors and potentially build a coalition with victims of prosecutorial misconduct who are less deep-pocketed. “What is it about our policy that allows things like the Michael Nifong case to happen?” Griffith asks, envisioning an effort that combines think tanks, government, and media. (Nifong is the North Carolina district attorney disbarred over ethical violations in rape charges he pursued against three members of the Duke University lacrosse team.) On the publicity front, the Tollmans have already retained Prism Public Affairs, a communications shop headed by Powell-Tate alumni. Last week, Iowa’s former attorney general, Bonnie Campbell, authored an opinion piece in The National Law Journal, an ALM affiliate, decrying prosecutors’ treatment of the Tollmans and calling for checks on prosecutorial misconduct. An editor there says Prism marketed the piece; she was unaware of the firm’s connection with the Tollmans. Campbell did not respond to messages seeking comment. The Tollmans are also keeping up the pressure in the United Kingdom. Last month, Dinh, the man who authored huge swaths of the USA Patriot Act, blasted the United States’ use of terrorism laws to extradite British white-collar suspects as “national security protectionism” in an interview with London’s Daily Telegraph. Griffith introduced Dinh to Kilkenny; Kilkenny says he both hired Dinh, now a partner at D.C.’s Bancroft Associates, and helped line up the story with the Telegraph. How far the campaign will go has yet to be determined. The Tollmans would like to see the charges against them dropped and their reputations restored, Griffith asserts, but the effort isn’t about them. “This is about knowing that out of this legal nightmare, there may be an opportunity for someone else to avoid what they’ve been through,” he says.
Jeff Horwitz can be contacted at [email protected].

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