Keila Ravelo, a former Hunton & Williams and Willkie Farr & Gallagher partner who admitted to taking part in a $7.8 million fraud, has been disbarred in New York.
The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department, issued a ruling on June 28 ordering Ravelo’s disbarment and the removal of her name from the attorney listings in New York. The disciplinary sanction marks the latest fallout for Ravelo after her arrest in late 2014, when prosecutors said she cheated Hunton & Williams, Willkie and a former corporate client, Mastercard Inc., out of millions of dollars.
Along with her husband, Melvin Feliz—who has also had his own separate legal troubles—Ravelo was accused of setting up a pair of dummy litigation support companies, then using her partner position at the two law firms to submit false invoices and funnel millions of dollars to the vendors, which provided little or no service.
New Jersey federal prosecutors said Ravelo and Feliz put most of the money into a joint bank account and used it for personal expenses and investments. Ravelo was also accused of failing to report the earnings on her tax returns.
Ravelo served as an antitrust partner at Hunton & Williams between 2005 and 2010 and was at Willkie starting in 2010 until she resigned in 2014, shortly before her arrest.
Prosecutors said the fraud took place between 2008 and 2014 and resulted in the phony litigation support companies’ receiving more than $7.8 million. Hunton & Williams and Willkie Farr believed the vendors were legitimate and billed and received reimbursements from MasterCard, according to court documents.
Ravelo initially entered a plea of not guilty when faced with a nine-count indictment, but later reached a deal with prosecutors and last November pleaded guilty in New Jersey federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of tax evasion. Feliz admitted to his role in the scheme earlier, entering a guilty plea in August 2015 to the same charges.
In its disbarment ruling, the First Department wrote that Ravelo’s felony conviction, through her guilty plea, automatically triggered the disciplinary sanction. While New York state law doesn’t have a direct equivalent for one of the federal charges Ravelo admitted to—conspiracy to commit wire fraud—the First Department wrote that her conduct would amount to a similar New York felony of scheme to defraud in the first degree.
Such a federal conviction, the First Department wrote, “will result in automatic disbarment if an equivalent felony exists under New York law.”
Under Ravelo’s criminal plea deal, prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence of 48 to 72 months in prison, plus three years of supervised release. Ravelo also agreed to sell off real estate holdings in New Jersey and Miami, as well as a 2009 Bentley sedan that she owned, to meet the nearly $7.9 million she owes in restitution.
Ravelo’s sentencing has been delayed more than once, but she’s now scheduled to appear in Newark federal court on Sept. 26 to be sentenced.
The criminal case against Ravelo had spillover effects on massive antitrust litigation against major credit card companies over the “swipe fees” they charge merchants who accept the cards in their shops. After Ravelo’s 2014 arrest, Willkie, as one of her former firms, conducted an internal review and found behind-the-scenes contact between Ravelo, who had a hand in Mastercard’s defense in one swipe fee case, and a plaintiffs lawyer on the other side of the swipe fee litigation.
Ultimately, a federal judge in 2015 rejected a proposed settlement in the swipe fee litigation against American Express Co. in light of Ravelo’s communications with the plaintiffs lawyer.
A defense lawyer representing Ravelo in her criminal case, Steven Sadow of Atlanta-based Schulten Ward Turner & Weiss, didn’t immediately respond on Friday to a request for comment. Ravelo did not have an outside lawyer representing her in connection with the attorney discipline action in New York and did not respond to an attorney grievance committee’s recommendation that she be struck from the state’s lawyer rolls, according to the First Department.