Breaking NewsLaw.com and associated brands will be offline for scheduled maintenance Friday Feb. 26 9 PM US EST to Saturday Feb. 27 6 AM EST. We apologize for the inconvenience.

 
X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
UPDATE: On April 14, the attorney general’s office of Guam dropped the criminal charges it brought against law and lobbying firm Greenberg Traurig last month. The dark legacy of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff still haunts Greenberg Traurig four years after they parted ways. With Abramoff locked in a federal prison in Maryland, a far-off U.S. territory is dragging Greenberg’s four-year stint as the notorious lobbyist’s employer back into the public eye. Greenberg’s alleged offense — billing Guam for services that had nothing to do with the lobbying task Abramoff agreed to undertake. The firm faces felony counts of unlawful influence, theft by deception, and conspiracy. “There were a lot of things like travel with nothing related to it,” said Lewis W. Littlepage, the former Guam prosecutor who indicted the Miami-based firm. “It appeared to be a practice of illegal billing.” The Miami-based law firm issued a statement last week, saying, “We are working closely with the Guam attorney general and are near a resolution of this issue.” After its indictment, the firm issued statements saying it was innocent and noting the firm has cooperated with “all investigations into” Abramoff. “Any employee or shareholder who refuses to cooperate with internal or government investigations will be asked to leave the firm,” the firm wrote. TRAVEL ON $4,000 A DAY Billing practices put the firm in the cross hairs of Guam prosecutors last month. In one instance, Greenberg billed the territory $4,000 for one day’s travel for lobbying work that had nothing to do with Guam Superior Court, the agency that hired the lobbyist, Littlepage said. Guam Superior Court administrator Anthony Sanchez has been charged along with Abramoff and his former firm. Less than a week after amending the charges March 11, Littlepage ended an eight-year career as an assistant attorney general in Guam and went into private practice, a switch he said he made for personal reasons. “It was time for a change,” he said. Greenberg said it was caught completely off guard by the charges. Littlepage said he didn’t see a reason to notify the firm when he amended a 2006 complaint to charge the firm. “You usually don’t notify criminals ahead of time,” he said. Guam’s investigation of Abramoff and his former employer center on a political fight in Guam’s government that broke out after a flawed attempt by Congress to create an appellate court for the territory. The Guam Supreme Court was created in 1996, but the law unintentionally left the territory’s high court subordinate to the legislative and executive branches of government on the island, according to congressional testimony in 2004. Until Congress amended the law that year, the Supreme Court was beholden to the other two branches of government — significant because the Supreme Court was stocked mostly with Democratic judges, and the Guam Superior Court was a Republican stronghold. It also made the island’s top appellate court a rival to the island’s trial court, which took the position during the feud that any judicial reform in Guam shouldn’t be made by Washington lawmakers but should come from within. Under the direction of Sanchez, Guam Superior Court paid Greenberg for Abramoff’s services — directing him to lobby U.S. Senate contacts to kill off a federal attempt to make the Guam Supreme Court an independent and top appellate court, according to the Guam public auditor, which examined lobbying efforts by Abramoff and payments made to the lobbyist that were suspected to subvert the island’s procurement laws. Guam Superior Court paid almost $500,000 to territorial policy expert Howard Hills, a Los Angeles attorney who would transfer most of that money to Abramoff through Greenberg, according to the auditor’s report. Hills was paid in $9,000 installments to avoid the territory’s procurement laws, the auditor said. Littlepage said Greenberg also billed for work that it was not hired to do, including a totally unrelated open-skies initiative to lobby for additional flights by foreign carriers to the U.S. mainland through Guam. The original 2006 indictment charged Abramoff, Sanchez, and Hills. When Littlepage amended the charges last month, he dropped Hills as a defendant and added Greenberg. The amended charges do not necessarily free Hills from criminal prosecution, Littlepage said. He noted Hills is cooperating with the investigation. Hills deferred comment to his attorney, Carol Elders Bruce, a partner with Bracewell & Giuliani in Washington. “He has cooperated fully with the Guam attorney general’s office, and they have concluded that he’s not culpable,” she said. “He’s innocent, and they recognize that now.” Greenberg has retained Kevin Downey, a partner with Williams & Connolly in Washington, to defend the firm. Downey directed calls about the case to Greenberg. SENDING A MESSAGE Criminal charges against a law firm — or any corporation — are unusual. The potential penalties are financial, said Brian Bieber, a white-collar criminal defense attorney with Hirschhorn & Bieber in Coral Gables, Fla. “It’s quite rare that the government will indict a law firm, and the differences are significant because the bottom line is that an individual is not going to lose his or her freedom,” he said. “The government [of Guam] is sending a message to the principals of the law firm and to the legal community as a whole — if you turn a blind eye to what lobbyists you affiliate yourself with are doing, the government will not tolerate it,” Bieber said. If Greenberg opted for a settlement, Littlepage said it probably would mean paying restitution of about $324,000 plus possible fines. He doubts the law firm will go to trial. “The firm’s in a very delicate position,” said Peter Henning, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit who teaches corporate law and white-collar defense. Henning also said that the investigation into Abramoff’s activities in Guam had especially come under the microscope because of the 2005 demotion of Guam U.S. Attorney Frederick A. Black. According to the Los Angeles Times, the demotion effectively killed a federal grand jury investigation into Abramoff that had been launched in 2002. The demotion sparked an outcry that the Bush administration was trying to contain the fallout from Abramoff’s misdeeds. Black’s demotion came less than two weeks after he contacted the Justice Department to ask for support in the Abramoff investigation. “The case has taken on a life of its own because of the allegation of interference,” Henning said. Black, now an assistant U.S. attorney in Guam, declined to comment. IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands comprise a 16-island chain in the South Pacific with a combined population under 300,000. The Marianas are a commonwealth like Puerto Rico, but both territories — like Indian tribes — are administered by the Interior Department in Washington. The islands are exempt from some federal laws, differentiating them from other U.S. jurisdictions. One notable example is the exemption in the Marianas from federal wage laws. This has helped build a flourishing garment industry there, which critics charge are sweatshops on U.S. soil. The Marianas paid Abramoff to lobby Congress to keep the wage law exemption, which is still on the books. According to a report published by the Office of the Public Auditor in the Northern Marianas, the commonwealth paid $9.5 million for lobbying services from 1994 to 2001. Most of that money went to Preston Gates when Abramoff was with his former firm. The territory also paid $500,000 to Greenberg Traurig for Abramoff’s lobbying services in 2001. The public auditor of the Marianas launched one of the early investigations into Abramoff and issued a report in November 2001. The auditor focused on the effectiveness of his lobbying efforts and focused on his billing and how it related to what he and others were doing on behalf of the Marianas. After Greenberg’s contract with the Marianas expired in October 2001, the territory renewed it for the rest of the year for $300,000 to work on keeping the territory’s wage exemption intact. The firm has negotiated settlements with several of Abramoff’s tribal clients. The firm cut a deal with the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas last year for an undisclosed amount of money. The tribe had sued Abramoff and several others in a federal court in Texas, claiming they took part in a scheme that shut down the tribe’s casino. But Greenberg avoided being named in that case.
Billy Shields is a reporter for the Daily Business Review , the ALM publication where this article first appeared.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.