The securities lawyer William S. Lerach agreed to plead guilty today to a criminal conspiracy charge in connection with a class-action scheme involving his former firm, now known as Milberg Weiss, the United States attorney’s office in Los Angeles said.
Mr. Lerach, 61, who has long been under investigation by federal authorities, will enter his plea in Federal District Court in Los Angeles, the prosecutor said.
He has agreed to plead guilty to the conspiracy charge, forfeit $7.75 million to the government, pay a $250,000 fine and accept a sentence ranging from one year to two years in federal prison, according to a statement from the United States attorney. An arraignment will be at a later date.
In his plea agreement, Mr. Lerach acknowledges making secret payments to Dr. Steven G. Cooperman, and acknowledges that others received payments from other partners of Milberg Weiss. These individuals were generally promised 10 percent of the attorneys’ fees received by Milberg Weiss. The payments were kept secret from the courts overseeing the class actions, and the named plaintiffs who received the kickbacks made false statements under oath concerning the payments.
Dr. Cooperman, a former eye doctor in Beverly Hills, Calif., pleaded guilty in July to accepting $6.1 million in secret kickbacks for serving as a lead plaintiff in securities lawsuits filed by Milberg Weiss, a New York investor class-action law firm. His sentencing is set for June 30, 2008.
“William Lerach’s plea can be credited to the thoroughness of this investigation and the dedication of the investigative team, to ensure that justice is done,” said Pete Zegarac, postal inspector in charge. “The U.S. Postal Inspection Service remains committed to the investigation of a conspiracy until each and every perpetrator has been brought to justice.”
The plea comes amid a seven-year investigation into whether Mr. Lerach and other senior lawyers at Milberg Weiss conspired to pay kickbacks to individuals who agreed to serve as named plaintiffs in class-action lawsuits.