Mayer Brown partner Joseph P. Collins was found guilty Friday of conspiracy and four other charges in connection with a massive fraud at now-bankrupt Refco Inc.
Mr. Collins, who testified in his own defense that he was kept in the dark about more than $2.4 billion in debt hidden by top officials at the financial services firm, bowed his head and closed his eyes in pain as the jury foreman recited the guilty verdicts before Southern District Judge Robert P. Patterson.
The verdict came during the seventh day of sometimes-heated deliberations by a jury that had been confined to a 15th floor courtroom for almost two months. Citing “acrimony” among jury members—one juror complained Thursday that another threatened twice to cut off his finger—Judge Patterson insisted that each juror be polled individually to ensure no votes were made under duress.
Mr. Collins was convicted of a single count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and make false filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission and four substantive counts—two each of securities fraud and wire fraud.
Mr. Collins, who is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 3, technically faces a maximum of five years on the conspiracy count and 20 years on each of the substantive counts. However, he is likely to receive far less.
The verdict came in shortly after the jury sent a note to Judge Patterson that it was deadlocked on several counts. Over the objection of defense lawyer William J. Schwartz of Cooley Godward Kronish, the judge said he was willing to accept a partial verdict and sent word back to the jury.
The jurors then filed into the courtroom and announced their guilty verdict on five counts. Judge Patterson thanked them for their service and declared a mistrial on nine additional counts: two on wire fraud, two on making false filings to the SEC and five on bank fraud.
The conviction of Mr. Collins, who is on leave from Mayer Brown where he headed the firm’s derivatives group, came with the assistance of government cooperators, Refco’s ex-Chief Financial Officer Robert C. Trosten and former executive vice-president Santo C. Maggio.
Both men have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. Former Refco Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Phillip Bennett pleaded guilty in the case and is serving 16 years in prison. Former Refco Group Ltd. President Tone Grant was found guilty by a federal jury and is now serving a 10-year prison sentence.
The prosecution put both Mr. Trosten and Mr. Maggio on the stand to place Mr. Collins at the center of the action, saying he was well aware that the company would not be disclosing hidden debt.
Mr. Collins responded to their accounts and that of other witnesses with several days of his own testimony, telling the jury that Refco officials had lied to him and insisting that his job was not to police the company. (NYLJ, June 19).
Mr. Collins testified that he prepared documents for back-to-back loans from Refco to hedge funds and other customers who would, in turn, send money to a holding company partially owned by Mr. Bennett, RGHI.
He claimed he was unaware Refco was also parking debt of its own at RGHI in a series of sham loan transactions that were designed to hide the true financial condition from auditors. The debt was also hidden when the company obtained a credit facility from JPMorganChase, when a majority stake in Refco was purchased through a leveraged buyout by Thomas H. Lee Partners in 2004, and when people bought shares in Refco during an initial public offering in 2005, right before the fraud was exposed and the company plunged into bankruptcy.
Mr. Collins, discussing the back-to-back loans, said they were routine transactions he delegated to an associate.
“I didn’t personally spend a lot of time. I delegated them,” he said. “I didn’t structure them. I didn’t negotiate them. I didn’t talk to customers about them. They just didn’t require much of my time.”
The Refco account managed by Mr. Collins took up the lion’s share of his billable hours at Mayer Brown. The defense team put his billing records into evidence to show how little time he spent on the questionable transactions and to emphasize another point made by Mr. Schwartz in his opening argument—that while Mr. Bennett and others used Refco to fund a lavish lifestyle, “not one cent” of the fraud proceeds went to Mr. Collins and he therefore had no reason to lie (NYLJ, May 14).
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Garcia told the jury that same day that Mr. Collins had more than an adequate motive to “lie for Refco” because the company was “his biggest client” from 1997 through its collapse.
“This man made more than $40 million for his firm,” Mr. Garcia said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas S. Goldin also prosecuted the case.