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LOS ANGELES � Federal prosecutors who struck a plea agreement with securities plaintiffs’ lawyer William S. Lerach in the Milberg Weiss case are contesting a pre-sentencing report’s recommendation that he serve 15 months in prison and are seeking 24 months instead, according to court papers filed on Monday by the government. Lerach’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 11. Lerach, a former partner at Milberg Weiss, pleaded guilty to one count of federal conspiracy as part of the government’s kickback probe, which alleges that Milberg Weiss and several of its partners obtained $250 million in attorney fees by paying secret and illegal kickbacks to lead plaintiffs in more than 150 class action and shareholder lawsuits. In a plea deal reached in October, Lerach agreed to serve one to two years in prison, plus forfeit $7.75 million and pay a $250,000 fine. In court papers filed on Monday, prosecutors differed with the pre-sentencing report on the prison time portion of the deal. A pre-sentencing report is recommending 15 months given “no evidence that Lerach personally committed any overt acts after 2002″ and based on 2001 sentencing guidelines. But prosecutors, citing 2007 sentencing guidelines, want more prison time because, in part, “the conspiracy of which defendant was a member continued at least through 2004, while defendant was a partner at Milberg Weiss, and the government is aware of no evidence whatsoever that defendant undertook any measures to withdraw from the conspiracy.” They said that Lerach, until he left the firm in May 2004, received $2 million in attorneys’ fees from class actions involving the paid plaintiffs alleged in the case. A 24-month sentence also is necessary to deter other attorneys from committing the same behavior, prosecutors noted. Lerach used his trusted role as an attorney “to cheat the legal system, and relied on the attorney-client privilege to serve as a wall of silence behind which the criminal scheme thrived and escaped detection for more than twenty years,” prosecutors said in court papers. Despite those factors, the government continued to argue that Lerach’s sentence remain within the two-year scope of the plea agreement, noting that he had initiated plea discussions with prosecutors. Further, Lerach has resigned from his law firm and has been placed on interim suspension to practice law. As a result, prosecutors said, the plea agreement “virtually guarantees that he will never again be in a position to engage in the criminal conduct at issue here.” Moreover, they added: “Defendant, who will be sixty-two years old upon commencement of his sentence, now stands in disgrace before the profession of which he considered himself a national leader, and the courts before which defendant practiced.” Lerach’s lawyer, John Keker, a partner at San Francisco’s Keker & Van Nest, could not be reached for comment.

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