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A lawyer who chaired the corporate department at Fox Rothschild O’Brien & Frankel for many years was sentenced by a federal judge in Philadelphia Thursday to 18 months probation and ordered to perform 500 hours of community service for making a false statement to the Securities and Exchange Commission in connection with an insider-trading investigation. Ramon R. Obod, 66, was also fined $5,000. He no longer practices law and voluntarily gave up his partnership at Fox Rothschild but continues to work there as a consultant. “I am filled with remorse, sadness, embarrassment and shame,” Obod said in a brief statement just before the sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge J. Curtis Joyner of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. “I made a terrible mistake, and it saddens me that, after living more than 60 years and practicing law more than 40 years, I am scarred by this,” Obod said. Joyner didn’t chide Obod but instead asked several questions in an incredulous tone, saying he wanted to know what would make someone with a sterling professional record and solid reputation such as Obod jeopardize everything. In most criminal cases, Joyner said, the defendants didn’t have the benefits and circumstances that Obod enjoyed. He said he was curious what could possibly have motivated Obod to commit a crime. “It was just a dumb thing on my part. It was stupid. There’s no other explanation,” Obod said. About 50 friends, colleagues and family members submitted letters on Obod’s behalf urging the judge to be lenient and to consider the toll that the case had already taken on Obod’s life. Obod’s wife of 41 years, Ilien Obod, wrote that “the last few years have been extremely painful for me as we observed Ramon’s anguish and shame.” Fox Rothschild managing partner Louis W. Fryman said in his letter that he “still cannot believe” Obod’s current situation and described his former partner as “a person of honesty and integrity” who is “forthright in all of his comments.” Fryman went on to say that “it was a tragic event when Ray resigned as a partner of our firm after a career at Fox Rothschild of over 42 years.” But Fryman said that even in leaving, Obod showed depth of character. “His voluntary departure from the practice of law was a deep, if not fatal, blow to his professional as well as his personal being; nevertheless, the firm came first. This indeed was another example of his character,” Fryman wrote. Fox Rothschild attorney Abraham C. Reich wrote that Obod’s crime was “an aberration in an otherwise exemplary career.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Goldman also seemed to sympathize with Obod, saying that he did not intend to make any statement at the sentencing hearing because any description of the crime in open court would only “rub salt” in Obod’s wounds. According to the charges, Obod was on the board of directors of American Travelers and also served as outside counsel to the insurer, representing them between 1986 and 1996. In August 1996, he was involved in negotiations that led to the acquisition of American Travelers by Conseco Inc. Soon after the announcement of the merger, a representative of Transport Holdings Inc. sought an introduction to Conseco for possible merger discussions. The representative asked Travelers’ president, John Powell, to introduce him to Conseco but asked Powell to keep the information confidential. Later that day, Powell received a call from an investment banker at Donaldson Lufken & Jenrette who asked whether he believed that Conseco and Transport Holdings would make for a good merger. Powell cut the call off short and telephoned Obod to get advice on what to do next. Goldman said Powell later introduced Transport to Conseco, and merger discussions began. Within a month, a deal had been struck, he said, and news of the merger was related from Conseco to Powell and from Powell to Obod. Two days later, on Sept. 23, 1996, Goldman said, Obod purchased 500 shares of Transport Holdings and sold them three days after that — on the day the merger was publicly announced — to earn a handsome, after-tax profit of $5,700. In late October 1996, Goldman said, Obod was interviewed by the SEC and was asked directly why he had purchased the Transport securities. Obod replied that he “had a feeling that Conseco might buy them,” Goldman said. Obod went on to tell the SEC investigator that he may have had discussions with people at Donaldson Lufken & Jenrette or at Travelers about whether Transport would be a good acquisition candidate for Conseco, Goldman said. But Obod insisted that if he had such discussions, it was merely “throwing names around” or “shooting the breeze,” and not a discussion of actual negotiations between the companies, Goldman said. Obod went on to tell the investigator that he might have spoken to someone, whose name he could not recall, who was going to recommend a deal between Transport and Conseco to the president of Conseco, Goldman said. But Obod ended the conversation by stating that he was “astonished” when he learned of the acquisition from his broker, Goldman said. In a guilty plea hearing in July, Obod admitted that his Oct. 21, 1996, conversation with the SEC constituted a false statement because he failed to disclose the fact that he had been informed of the imminent acquisition by a representative of Travelers who had personal knowledge of the ongoing negotiations. Obod’s lawyer, J. Clayton Undercofler, urged Judge Joyner to consider sentencing Obod to community service in a volunteer position he has already begun with the Philadelphia Zoo. A vice president from the zoo was in court to say that Obod has already logged 80 hours in the zoo’s development office, doing everything from complex tasks such as grant writing to simpler duties such as stuffing envelopes. Undercofler also submitted a large binder of letters in support of Obod from an impressive array of friends and professional contacts, including several CEOs, big-firm lawyers and family members. State Rep. Lita Cohen, whose husband, Stanley Cohen, is a Fox partner, wrote that she has long considered Obod a friend and adviser. New York attorney Howard Gittis, who was a classmate of Obod’s at both Central High School and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, said their careers took parallel paths as Gittis joined Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen and Obod joined Fox Rothschild. “The Ramon Obod I know for more than 50 years is not a criminal and should not be sentenced as such,” Gittis wrote. Also writing letters on Obod’s behalf were Fox Rothschild attorneys William A. Whiteside, Joseph Smukler, Jay G. Ochroch and Samuel E. Dennis; attorney Sanford K. Moses; Dilworth Paxson partner Martin J. Sobol; attorney Rotan E. Lee of Lewis & Munday; and Rabbi Gerald I. Wolpe of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, who was Obod’s rabbi for many years. Letters were also submitted by Angelo Brothers Co. CEO Stanley Angelo; Philadelphia Hide Brokerage Co. CEO Michael Halpert; Penn Detroit Diesel CEO Chris Cannon; Regal Corrugated Box Co. Chairman S.J. Epstein; attorney Richard A. Silfen of Morgan Lewis & Bockius; and Mark A. Kessler of Wolf Block.

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