U.S. prosecutors seek two-year prison term for Lerach

NEW YORK Tue Jan 29, 2008 10:35am EST

NEW YORK Jan 29 (Reuters) - Class-action lawyer William Lerach should serve two years in prison for his role in a kickback scheme at his former law firm, Milberg Weiss LLP, federal prosecutors said.

Lerach, best known for winning more than $7 billion in legal settlements on behalf of Enron investors, is due to be sentenced on Feb. 11 after pleading guilty in October to one count of criminal conspiracy.

In court papers filed late on Monday, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles said a two-year sentence was appropriate and that the 61-year-old Lerach "now stands in disgrace before the profession of which he considered himself a national leader."

Prosecutors said they disagreed with a recommendation by federal probation officers that Lerach serve a 15-month term. The government said "a sentence of 15 months incarceration would not provide adequate deterrence to other attorneys tempted to abuse their positions as lawyers for personal gain."

An attorney for Lerach, John Keker, was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

A plea agreement calls for Lerach to serve one to two years in prison, but U.S. District Judge John Walter has final discretion. Lerach already has agreed to forfeit $7.75 million and pay a $250,000 fine.

Lerach, a long-time nemesis of corporate America, once was a senior partner and headed West Coast operations for Milberg, but departed in 2004 to form a new San Diego-based firm. He retired from that firm, now known as Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins LLP, last year before agreeing to plead guilty in the kickbacks case.

New York-based Milberg Weiss and the firm's co-founder, Melvyn Weiss, have been indicted on kickbacks-related charges. They have pleaded not guilty and a trial is set for later this year.

On Monday, an 80-year-old California investor who acted as a plaintiff in class-action suits brought by Milberg, was sentenced to six months of home confinement and two years of probation after pleading guilty to accepting secret kickbacks provided by Milberg lawyers.

Prosecutors recommended home detention for the investor, Seymour Lazar, because of his age and poor health. (Editing by Maureen Bavdek)