Wednesday, March 14, 2018

On schemes, whistles and influence-peddling

Poor Jeffrey Wertkin. He had it tough.

He left his job as an attorney with the Justice Department and took a gig with Akin Gump for a cool $450,000 a year. He didn't feel it was enough.

Even though he'd be making three times what he made at the DOJ dealing with whistle-blower suits, his pay would have been on the low end of what partners were making at the time.

And, you know, he's probably right. Akin Gump wasn't paying him $450,000 a year for his brilliant legal mind or his courtroom skills. They were paying him because having a former fed in the firm is good for business. Akin Gump figured that that alone would be enough to get current clients to fork over more money in monthly retainers and to get some new business on board.

But nevermind that. Let's get back to poor little Jeffrey.

He hatched a plan to put more money in his pocket.

His plan was to steal secret whistle-blower suits and sell them back to the companies named in the suits. There were qui tam suits in which a private citizen files suit, on behalf of the government, alleging that a contractor has defrauded the government. In a qui tam suit, the government litigates the suit and the citizen who brought the suit gets a cut of the recovery. These suits are filed under seal and sent to the DOJ for review. The company only finds out they're the target of the suit once it's made public.

Mr. Wertkins idea was to extort money from the targets of the suit in exchange for the sealed documents. I know you're asking yourself, what could possibly go wrong with this scheme.

What went wrong is the feds figured out what was going on. I suspect one of the targeted companies called up the DOJ to ask them what was going on and then one thing led to another.

In the end, Mr. Wertkins was taken into custody in a hotel room wearing sunglasses and a wig and waiting for his money.

When asked why he did it, Mr. Wertkins told the court that he felt under a tremendous amount of pressure to perform for his new employer at a salary that he just didn't think was adequate for his experience and know how. But, then again, no one put a gun to his head and told him to leave his government job for a position as a partner in an actual law firm.

Mr. Wertkins pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. His wife asked the judge if he could avoid prison and just go around to law schools and tell students about his tale of woe. I guess the judge thanked her for her input and just said no.

While the saga of Mr. Wertkins may be amusing to some and might serve as a warning for other less scrupulous attorneys, one thing it highlights is the revolving door in government. White shoe law firms and lobbying firms right over the privilege of hiring attorneys and other government officials when they decide they've had enough of the long hours and low pay that defines government work. These firms then advertise to their existing clients and their potential clients that they have yet another connection to a government agency.

These connections are the lifeblood of these firms and they are the tools by which companies, advocacy groups and others try to influence legislation in ways that help their bottom lines. This is where democracy is undermined.

h/t @CJMcKinney

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