Gary Friedman ()
After court documents pointed to New York attorney Gary B. Friedman as a “possible co-conspirator” with Keila Ravelo, a former law firm partner charged in a fraud scheme, Friedman is speaking out, stating he is not a suspect in any crime and he expects to testify at Ravelo’s upcoming criminal trial.
“I certainly feel like I got thrown in the middle of this whole shit-pot of criminal activity … not having bargained for it,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s a real betrayal, I was used in a terrible way.”
In response, Ravelo’s attorney, Steven Sadow, special counsel at the Atlanta-based firm Schulten Ward Turner & Weiss, said Friedman is making “self-serving statements” and he looks forward to the opportunity to examine Friedman in court.
Friedman was head of his own firm, Friedman Law Group, made up of about six attorneys. He was plaintiffs counsel in two massive antitrust cases, one against American Express, In re American Express Anti-Steering Rules Antitrust Litigation, 11-MD-2221, and another against Visa and MasterCard and various banks, In re Payment Card Interchange Fee And Merchant Discount Antitrust Litigation, 05-MD-01720.
While she was a partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher, Ravelo was among the defense counsel for MasterCard in Interchange.
In December 2014, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey charged Ravelo and her husband, Melvin Feliz. The government alleges she engaged in a scheme that used phony litigation support vendors to fraudulently obtain $7.8 million from two law firms where she was a partner—Willkie and Hunton & Williams—and from her client, MasterCard.
According to federal prosecutors, from 2008 through July 2014, Ravelo and Feliz had two companies that purported to offer litigation support for Hunton and Willkie but provided no actual services. Ravelo, as a partner at both firms, approved payments to the vendors, prosecutors said.
She has pleaded not guilty.
When the U.S. Attorney’s Office subpoenaed Willkie for documents and the firm conducted an internal review, the law firm found communications between Ravelo and Friedman regarding the antitrust cases and notified the parties. After the communications were revealed, they led to Eastern District Judge Nicholas Garaufis rejecting a far-reaching settlement in the American Express case, citing “egregious conduct” by Friedman, according to an August 2015 opinion in that case.
Friedman was forced to withdraw from both cases, and he said his law firm dissolved.
The extent of Friedman’s role in Ravelo’s criminal case was not extensively known until New Jersey U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty’s decision Tuesday that outlined testimony by federal agents.
In his ruling denying Ravelo’s request to suppress evidence recovered from her cellphone, McNulty outlines testimony from a federal agent who had identified Friedman as a “possible co-conspirator” of Ravelo.
According to McNulty’s ruling outlining her testimony, IRS special agent Cheryl Matejicka was aware that fabricated documents submitted by Ravelo in support of fraudulent invoices originated with Friedman’s law firm.
The agent was also aware that at least two payments had “flowed from Ms. Ravelo’s companies”—the vendors—to Friedman, McNulty said in the opinion.
On the day of Ravelo’s arrest in December 2014, Matejicka accessed Ravelo’s cellphone, immediately observing that an email was open, either to or from Friedman.
“Agent Matejicka immediately recognized that the presence of an email from Friedman was of evidentiary, even incriminatory, value,” McNulty said in his ruling Tuesday. “The evidentiary value of the email evidence in demonstrating the relationship between Ravelo and Friedman, an alleged co-conspirator, was thus apparent to her.”
But in an interview Wednesday, Friedman said he had nothing to do with the vendors at the heart of the alleged criminal scheme.
He said he sent documents to Ravelo that were related to the Interchange case, but that she or somebody working for her “doctored” them to make it appear as if they were produced by a vendor. Friedman said Ravelo used this to support her claims that the vendor’s work was legitimate. Friedman claimed Wednesday there is evidence that exists to prove the documents were doctored.
As far as the payments from Ravelo’s companies to Friedman, Friedman said he believes this testimony is referring to a personal loan repayment from Feliz to Friedman.
“I had nothing to do with the vendors,” he said.
Ravelo’s trial is scheduled for early next year, but it could be delayed. Her defense team is attempting to access documents from the antitrust class action cases in the Eastern District to support her defense.
When asked if he will be called as a witness by the government, Friedman said, “I’m sure I will be.” But he said he has no immunity deal with the government and he believes he is not a suspect and doesn’t expect to be charged.
“I have no deals because I have nothing to hide,” he said. “I fired all my lawyers and I’m talking openly.”
“The truth will set you free, that’s my attitude and it’s cheaper than paying lawyers,” he said.
He said he is working on a couple class action cases now across the country, but he is mostly spending his time writing a book “about this whole affair.”
Asked about the status of his longstanding friendship with Ravelo, he said he is deeply saddened.
He said he wonders if it’s “possible for her to explain herself to me and for her to truly say she’s sorry.” He added, “It’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder, do you know somebody all along?”
In his statement, Ravelo’s attorney, Sadow, said, “It does not surprise me that Mr. Friedman would now make self-serving statements to the government. I look forward to the opportunity to examine him in court about his conduct and interaction with Mel Feliz.”
Matthew Reilly, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey, declined to comment on Friedman’s role in Ravelo’s criminal case.
Originally published on New York Law Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.