Keila Ravelo, a former Willkie Farr & Gallagher partner, faces four to six years in prison and has been ordered to pay $7.9 million in restitution in the wake of her guilty plea Monday in Newark, New Jersey, federal court.
She pleaded guilty to two counts of her nine-count indictment. Ravelo pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of tax evasion, on the condition that the seven remaining counts be dropped. She also agreed to sell real estate and cars she owns to fulfill the restitution obligation.
A sentencing hearing was set for March 5, 2018.
Ravelo, 51, also faces three years of supervised release post-incarceration. She also agreed to refile her tax returns for years 2008-14 before sentencing.
Monday’s hearing before U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty of the District of New Jersey hit a few snags when Ravelo was questioned about details of her actions in order to provide that her guilty plea had a basis in fact. Ravelo engaged in lengthy, whispered consultations with defense counsel, Lawrence Lustberg of Gibbons in Newark and Steve Sadow of Schulten Ward Turner & Weiss in Atlanta, before ultimately answering affirmatively to questions such as whether she committed fraud amounting to $7.8 million through a scheme of fraudulent payments to vendors.
The government ultimately accepted her answers even after she added caveats that her involvement in the scheme began in 2012 and that she did not know the total cost of the scheme.
McNulty said he provisionally accepted Ravelo’s guilty plea pending his receipt of a sentencing report from the federal probation department, and if that report did not allow a sentence within the range of 48 to 72 months, the defendant could withdraw her plea.
Ravelo was first arrested alongside her now-estranged husband, Melvin Feliz, in December 2014.
New Jersey federal prosecutors alleged the two used bogus litigation vendor companies to obtain more than $7.8 million from Willkie and Hunton & Williams, where she previously practiced.
Prosecutors said the couple funneled the majority of the funds into a joint bank account, using the money for personal expenses and investments. Ravelo is further accused of failing to report the earnings on her tax returns.
Ravelo was charged with nine felony counts, including one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud and four counts of tax evasion. The maximum potential sentence for the conspiracy charge and each count of wire fraud is 20 years in prison, while the tax evasion charges each carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
In August 2015, Feliz admitted to his role in the scheme, pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of tax evasion. He is awaiting sentencing on the charges and a separate drug charge.
Before she was arrested, Ravelo was representing Mastercard as a defendant in long-running antitrust litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York. After her arrest in late 2014, Willkie conducted an internal review and uncovered behind-the-scenes communications between Ravelo and plaintiffs attorney Gary B. Friedman that ultimately led a federal judge to reject a settlement in similar antitrust litigation against American Express Co. The judge said Friedman improperly sent Ravelo confidential information and attorney work product.
In Ravelo’s criminal case, her attorney in the past year has been seeking documents from law firms in the credit card litigation and documents from Friedman, a potential witness at her trial.
Meanwhile, Friedman, whose legal career was upended after his communications with Ravelo came to light, is working on what he has called a “deeply personal memoir” related to the drama that will be out in 2018.
After the hearing, Sadow said in a statement, “Ms. Ravelo chose to plead guilty because she felt it was important for her two college-aged sons and family to understand that she has accepted full responsibility for her conduct—the failure to expose her husband’s fraud upon the law firms where she worked and her client Mastercard when she became aware of it in 2012. Instead, and under intense emotional pressure to keep silent, she wrongfully covered up his fraud, and by doing so, allowed it to continue. It has taken her time to come to grips with the reality of her conduct, and after three long years of living with this nightmare and having lost everything, looks forward to putting this behind her.”