LOS ANGELES (Legal Newsline)-Famed securities attorney Melvyn Weiss, who made a lucrative practice out of suing corporations on behalf of shareholders, was sentenced Monday to 30 months in federal prison.
U.S. District Judge John Walter of the Central District of California also ordered 72-year-old Weiss to forfeit $9.7 million in earnings and pay $250,000 in fines. He was instructed to report to prison Aug. 28, in Morgantown, W. Va.
"I stand before you very humbly to apologize to my family, my professional colleagues and people in the organization I built over 45 years," Weiss said before being sentenced. "I also apologize to the court for my wrongful conduct."
He added, "My contrition is profound and genuine."
Prosecutors say the firm Weiss founded- Milberg Weiss, LLP-raked in $251 million in fees from cases in which the firm's lawyers illegally paid kickbacks clients to file lawsuits claiming they suffered a loss because corporate executives misled them about a company's financial condition.
Among corporations targeted were AT&T Inc., Lucent, WorldCom, Microsoft Corp. and Prudential Insurance.
Weiss' former partner Bill Lerach was sentenced to 2 years in prison last year after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy.
Authorities say the kickback scheme lasted for more than 25 years and "had a severely detrimental effect on the administration of justice across the nation as lies were routinely made to judges overseeing significant cases," said U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien in a statement announcing Weiss' plea agreement.
Government attorneys argued that Weiss should serve the maximum 33-month prison sentence allowed under his plea deal. If convicted at trial, he faced 40 years behind bars.
"A sentence that is greater than 33 months would tend to create an unwarranted and impermissible disparity, particularly given Weiss's more advanced age and more substantial philanthropic activities," Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Axel said in the sentencing memorandum.
From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.