A contentious dispute between plaintiffs counsel over more than $2.8 million thought missing from a $17.5 million settlement in an Armenian genocide case has shifted its focus to a Los Angeles attorney who endorsed $300,000 in checks for claimants.
The latest development introduced another complication into an ongoing rift over a botched claims process between Mark Geragos and Brian Kabateck, the plaintiffs attorneys who obtained the settlement, and their former co-counsel, Vartkes Yeghiayan, of Yeghiayan Law Corp. in Glendale, Calif.
Before their acrimonious split, the legal team represented millions of descendants of Armenian genocide victims in a suit against French insurer Axa.
Both sides told U.S. District Judge Christina Snyder on Dec. 5 that they had resolved their dispute “in principle” after an independent accountant identified the recipients of $2.1 million of the money.
During a hearing on June 11, Geragos, a partner at Geragos & Geragos in Los Angeles, and Yeghiayan’s attorney, Roman Silberfeld, managing partner of the Los Angeles office of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, asked Snyder to order the $2.1 million distributed immediately to 100 identified claimants and for the remaining $700,000 to be placed into a separate bank account under Geragos’ and Yeghiayan’s names.
The money previously had been placed in two accounts under the control of Parsegh Kartalian, the claims administrator.
But new problems have arisen. In going through hundreds of files on potential claimants, the accountant was unable to find files for 36 of them, Silberfeld said in an interview. At the same time, 17 checks worth $300,000 written to those claimants had been endorsed by Berj Boyajian of Boyajian & Associates in Los Angeles, he said. In court documents, Geragos said that Boyajian had deposited the money in his law firm account, citing a report filed under seal by Yeghiayan.
During the recent hearing, Silberfeld and Geragos suggested that Boyajian be deposed, although their reasons differed.
Geragos and Kabateck, according to court documents, want to investigate what Yeghiayan knew about Boyajian’s involvement. They asserted that Yeghiayan and Boyajian were formerly “friends and confidantes.” The two have filed a separate lawsuit against Yeghiayan, accusing him of having made up charities to siphon $1 million out of the Axa settlement and another Armenian genocide case for his personal and law firm expenses. Snyder has stayed that case until the underlying claims dispute is resolved.
Silberfeld insisted that his client was no friend of Boyajian’s. In the interview, he said that Kartalian, the funds administrator, testified that he never gave Boyajian any of the settlement checks and that some claimants told him they never authorized Boyajian to sign or deposit checks on their behalf.
“This all appears to be very suspicious,” he said.
Boyajian said in an interview that the checks were deposited “with the consent of the recipients, the claimants.” He declined to say more.
The Axa case, which settled in 2005, involved life insurance payouts to descendants of victims of an episode between 1915 and 1923 during which 1.5 million Armenians were killed in what is now Turkey. The settlement had allocated $3 million for organizations focused on Armenian causes; whatever remained unclaimed was to go to additional charitable institutions.
Last year, as the claims process was winding down, Yeghiayan raised concerns about how the settlement money had been dispersed; more than $2.8 million was found remaining in bank accounts that Geragos and Kabateck, managing partner of Kabateck Brown Kellner in Los Angeles, had sought to close. Snyder refused Yeghiayan’s requests to appoint a special master but ordered Geragos and Kabateck to produce bank records.
During the hearing, Silberfeld credited his client for having first brought up the subject of the missing money. “I don’t know what would’ve happened to that money had Mr. Yeghiayan not spoken up when he did,” he said.
Snyder, who approved distribution of the $2.1 million and the change in control of the bank accounts, stopped short of ordering Boyajian’s deposition, noting that she might have a conflict because her husband might have represented him in a “matter in Kansas City.” But she seemed open to an investigation of Boyajian.
She scheduled the next hearing for Aug. 27.
Contact Amanda Bronstad at firstname.lastname@example.org.