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A New York attorney accused of forging a federal magistrate judge’s order and lying to the government took the stand Monday in his own defense, proclaiming his innocence and saying he was frightened when seven FBI agents arrived at his home. The decision to put Perry S. Reich, 56, on the stand seemed to be forced by a damaging day for the defense on Friday, when prosecutors used a character witness as a basis for questioning Reich’s dealings with his former Lindenhurst, Long Island, law partner, Steven M. Schapiro, who died of cancer last year. Prosecutors suggested that Reich changed the beneficiary of an insurance policy he had taken out on his partner’s life from Schapiro’s family to the firm without first amending their partnership agreement, as the agreement required. But Reich said Monday that in the end, he received “not a nickel” from the $250,000 policy, because Schapiro again changed the beneficiary, this time from the firm to his girlfriend, before he died. He said that when he initially spoke to Schapiro about the changes, Schapiro told him to do whatever Schapiro’s family believed was best. Schapiro had taken a loan of $50,000 to $100,000 from his mother in the name of the firm, Reich said. He said the changes were made so the firm would be able to settle that debt. He also said Schapiro faced incredible debts, including liens on his house and a threat from the Internal Revenue Service to foreclose on his home. “He owed a tremendous amount of money,” Reich said. As for the accusations that he forged a magistrate judge’s order, Reich denied that he had any involvement. At times he raised his voice in defiance; at other moments he seemed to sniffle and nearly cry, as when he recounted the death of his dog, Sparky. Reich said federal prosecutors had indicated that he could have avoided a criminal prosecution if he admitted that he faxed the bogus order, which prosecutors contend he fabricated to embarrass an attorney representing a brokerage firm that Reich accused of mismanaging his life’s savings: $2 million. Reich said he could not admit it, “no matter the circumstances.” “I will never say that I did something I didn’t do,” he said. When seven FBI agents came to his home in the summer of 2003 to execute a search warrant, Reich said, he was afraid and nervous. He said one agent, Richard Wilfling, was “overzealous” and threatened to shoot his dogs if he did not secure them. “I was scared of him,” Reich said of the agent, a lanky man who stands at least 6 feet, 3 inches tall. “To me he was terrifying.” Reich said he cooperated fully with the FBI and prosecutors. “I was pretty damn scared,” he said. “I just wanted you guys out of my life.” PHONE CALL CALLED MISTAKE On cross examination, Reich said that a three minute, 25 second phone call that was made to his adversary’s fax machine from his home was a mistake. He said he tried to call the attorney to set up a deposition and jumpstart settlement talks concerning his claim that the brokerage firm “churned” his accounts — sold and resold shares of stock to generate fees — until their values were reduced from $2 million to about $50,000. Reich maintained he had tried to call the adversary but dialed his fax number by mistake. He said he hung up immediately and was unable to explain why the call lasted so long, other than saying that he had had trouble with his phone line in the past and experienced an “all circuits busy” message earlier that morning when he tried to call his mother. When Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter N. Katz asked Reich if he had tried to call the adversary after his mistaken call — later that day, the next day, or the next week — Reich said no. He also said he dropped his claim against the brokerage firm just before his indictment, largely because Agent Wilfling had accused him of trying to exhort money from the firm. “You don’t forget Agent Wilfling,” Reich said. “He’s just a striking personality.” Reich’s attorney, Richard J. Sgarlato, tried to give the jury a more full picture of Reich the man, as well as build on previous testimony from James E. Pelzer, the clerk of the Appellate Division, 2nd Department, that Reich was a highly respected attorney whose indictment surprised the legal community. An only child, Reich still lives in the house in which he grew up (his mother has moved to Florida). He said the first thing he does every day shortly after waking is call his mother. Reich said he graduated first in his class from Hofstra University School of Law. He now faces an inquiry from the Grievance Committee of the 2nd Department, which he said was being held in abeyance pending his trial. He added that he had received the highest rating, both for ethics and legal competence, from the Martindale-Hubbell legal directory. Katz worked to blunt those assertions in his cross, asking Reich, “Is it fair to say attorneys are not always the same outside the courtroom as they are inside?” “Yes,” Reich said.

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