Former law firm partner Keila Ravelo was sentenced to five years in prison Wednesday for conspiring to defraud her former law firms and client out of $7.8 million using bogus litigation vendors.
U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty of the District of New Jersey imposed the sentence on Ravelo, a former partner at Hunton & Williams and Willkie Farr & Gallagher, along with three years of supervised release.
The judge appeared to be splitting the parties’ recommendations. The government had recommended Ravelo be sentenced to six years, while Ravelo asked for four years.
Ravelo, who is 52, is anticipated to surrender by January. She was recommended for FPC Alderson, a minimum-security federal prison for women in West Virginia, and she was permitted to participate in a residential drug abuse program. In court documents, Ravelo’s attorneys point to a “long-term prescription drug addiction.”
Ravelo’s sentence is one year longer than that of Melvin Feliz, her now-estranged husband who pleaded guilty to taking part in the same scheme and has agreed to a four-year sentence for his crimes. He will serve that sentence consecutively to a 10-year sentence for a separate narcotics charge.
Ravelo was first arrested alongside Feliz in December 2014. New Jersey federal prosecutors said the two used bogus litigation vendor companies to obtain more than $7.8 million from Willkie and Hunton & Williams and their client, MasterCard. They said she used her partner position at the law firms to submit false invoices and funnel millions of dollars to the vendors, which provided no services.
Federal prosecutors said Ravelo and Feliz put most of the money into a joint bank account and used it for personal expenses and investments. Prosecutors also said Ravelo and Feliz, after swindling nearly $8 million, failed to pay $2 million in taxes.
As part of a plea deal, Ravelo pleaded guilty in November 2017 to one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and tax evasion.
While Ravelo argued she should receive a four-year sentence like Feliz, whom she called the “architect and primary beneficiary” of the scheme, McNulty appeared to take into account the prosecution’s arguments that Ravelo abused her position of trust to commit the crime.
It was Ravelo, not Feliz, who was a partner at Hunton and then Willkie and who had built relationships with the firms and the client, prosecutors said, and it was Ravelo who manipulated the payment mechanisms to keep the conspiracy going.
Prosecutors said Ravelo went to great lengths to keep the conspiracy going. For instance, they said, Ravelo posed as the head of one of the bogus vendors and lied to her law firm and each of her partners in order to cover up and extend the conspiracy. They also said Ravelo used people over whom she had influence to help hide her illegal activity, including at one point causing an associate she led to submit a summary chart detailing alleged vendor work product to Willkie.
The government said in 2012, after Willkie almost detected the activity, she orchestrated the payment of the bills through an accounting firm that would be reimbursed by the law firm.
Prosecutors said she used the money for a “lifestyle of the rich and famous,” owning multiple properties in New York, New Jersey and Florida, buying valuable artwork and jewelry and spending lavishly on private jet airplanes and vacations.
Ravelo, in court documents, said she has accepted responsibility for her actions and made no excuses for her conduct, but she also placed blame on Feliz. She claims he abused and manipulated her and it was Feliz who initiated the fraudulent scheme and opened and operated the two litigation support companies that served for his benefit.
Ravelo said her professional success was a point of contention throughout her “troubled, abusive marriage” to Feliz, and she “worked hard to help Melvin succeed in his business endeavors so that he would no longer feel animosity” toward her.
The government argued Ravelo was aware of and involved in the conspiracy since 2008, but Ravelo claimed she did not join in the conspiracy until 2012.
When she learned that Feliz “had not, in fact, been providing much of the work product that he had been paid to provide for Willkie (and, in turn, MasterCard), I pleaded with him to make it right by producing the work. He did not,” she said, according to court documents. “But instead of reporting him, as I should have, I helped to cover up his fraud. To say that this was an extremely poor decision is an understatement, and I make no excuses for it. I was stupid and wrong.”
Going forward, Ravelo “intends to put this tragic experience to good use by teaching and warning the next generation of lawyers, business people and anyone who will benefit from her story—including women in dire situations of bullying, manipulation and verbal and emotional abuse,” according to her court documents.
Ravelo was represented by Gibbons attorneys Lawrence Lustberg and John Haggerty, as well as Steve Sadow, special counsel at Schulten Ward Turner & Weiss. Sadow and Lustberg declined to comment on the sentence.