A long-time New York lawyer earned himself a public censure after a “60 Minutes” segment showed him advising how to park suspicious funds in the U.S. and suggesting that American lawyers typically don’t face criminal prosecution because they “run the country.”
The New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, First Department on Tuesday issued a public censure to Marc Koplik of the Manhattan-based law firm Henderson & Koplik. The lawyer was admitted to the New York Bar in 1973, and according to his law firm biography, spent part of his early career at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton and Debevoise & Plimpton.
“He counseled a client to engage in conduct he knew was illegal or fraudulent and suggested to the client that lawyers in the United States can act with impunity,” the First Department wrote in its disciplinary ruling.
The court also noted several mitigating factors that prevented a harsher sanction, including that Koplik accepted responsibility and that his misconduct was a one-time, “aberrational” situation. Prior to the censure, Koplik didn’t have a record of public discipline in New York.
Contacted at his office Wednesday, Koplik said he had not yet seen the disciplinary ruling and wouldn’t comment until he reviewed it. He told a reporter to call again next week.
The disciplinary action follows Koplik’s appearance in an undercover video produced by a London-based anti-corruption nonprofit group called Global Witness.
In the video footage, clips of which were included in a 2016 episode of CBS’s “60 Minutes” news program, an investigator for Global Witness posed as an adviser to a West African mining minister. The supposed adviser asked a number of lawyers, including Koplik, for advice on how the fictitious mining official might move money into the U.S. through the purchase of a brownstone, private jet or other assets.
Overall, Global Witness met with 16 lawyers at 13 firms. Although neither Koplik nor any of the others ultimately agreed to be retained by the fictitious official, most of them gave informal advice to the supposed adviser, according to the nonprofit. Only one—Jeffrey Herrmann—refused outright to help, saying, “This ain’t for me.”
While speaking to Koplik, the Global Witness investigator suggested that the supposed mining official may have made the money through illicit means.
“I wouldn’t name it bribe; I would say facilitation money,” the investigator said while posing as a potential client, according to the First Department.
Koplik then explained how the official might move the money into the U.S. by establishing shell companies to hide its true source. He also provided assurances related to attorney-client privilege and implied that the American legal system insulates lawyers from criminal cases.
“They don’t send the lawyers to jail because we run the country,” Koplik said in footage showed on “60 Minutes.”
“Another way to look at it is the old adage: A good lawyer knows the law, and a great lawyer knows the judge. Now in point of fact, I went to law school with half the judges that sit on the New York State Supreme and federal district court in New York,” Koplick continued on video shot by Global Witness. “Are they going to throw a case for you? No. But are they going to bend over backwards to be courteous to you? Yes they are.”
Koplik is the latest of at least two lawyers caught up in the Global Witness sting to have received a public censure. The First Department issued that same sanction in September to John Jankoff, another lawyer who was told by the undercover investigator that the mining official’s funds were “gray money” or “black money.”