A former Beverly Hills ophthalmologist whose decision to cooperate with prosecutors helped launch a federal investigation of class-action law firm Milberg Weiss pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Steven Cooperman’s plea in federal court in Los Angeles came a day after David Bershad, a former partner at Milberg who was responsible for the firm’s financial affairs, admitted guilt in the same probe. The back-to-back pleas intensify speculation that indictments are likely for former partner William Lerach and firm co-founder Melvyn Weiss, two of the nation’s most successful class-action lawyers.
Bershad, former partner Steven Schulman and the firm itself were indicted last year, accused of paying clients to sue companies for securities fraud.
Schulman and the firm have denied the charges.
Cooperman ran a Beverly Hills ophthalmology practice during the 1980s that gave him the means to buy rare paintings, property in Brentwood and Palm Springs and letters signed by Johannes Brahms and Napoleon Bonaparte.
But by the early 1990s, Cooperman’s fortunes had dramatically reversed after he let his medical license lapse amid complaints to the state Medical Board that he had fabricated records and performed unnecessary surgery.
Cooperman also suffered big stock losses, which, combined with his extravagant lifestyle, left him at least $4 million in debt. He tried to repair his finances by faking the heist of a Picasso and a Monet, collecting on a $12.5-million insurance policy.
Convicted of insurance, tax and wire fraud in 1999 and facing a likely prison term of seven to 10 years, Cooperman offered to tell federal prosecutors how Milberg Weiss became so successful — by recruiting ready-made plaintiffs like himself, who received illegal kickbacks.