August 25, 2015 / 10:37 PM / 4 years ago

Man linked to rejected AmEx accord admits cheating NY law firms

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A man whose wife was a key figure in the recent rejection of an antitrust settlement between American Express Co and a group of retailers pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiring with her to defraud two New York law firms where she was a partner out of $7.8 million.

Melvin Feliz, 48, of Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, admitted to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of tax evasion before U.S. District Judge Kevin McNulty in Newark, New Jersey.

The plea was announced by U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman in New Jersey.

Prosecutors said Feliz and his wife Keila Ravelo, 49, set up bogus limited liability companies that from 2008 to 2014 billed Hunton & Williams and later Willkie Farr & Gallagher, which both employed Ravelo as a partner, for litigation support services that were never performed.

Feliz also admitted to not reporting the income on his tax returns, prosecutors said.

According to his plea agreement, Feliz could face four years in prison on top of his punishment in a separate drug conspiracy case, when he is sentenced on Dec. 14.

Jason Orlando, a lawyer for Feliz, declined to comment.

A lawyer for Ravelo, who faces related criminal charges, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On Aug. 4, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis in Brooklyn, New York, rejected a $79 million class-action settlement between American Express and retailers seeking to charge more for accepting its credit cards.

Garaufis said the accord was tainted because Gary Friedman, a lawyer for the retailers, had shared confidential information with Ravelo, who was his friend and was at Willkie representing MasterCard Inc in a similar case.

That decision could affect a separate $5.7 billion settlement between retailers and both MasterCard and Visa Inc . Some retailers want to void that accord.

An American Express spokeswoman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ravelo resigned from Willkie last November and was criminally charged the following month.

Tuesday’s case is U.S. v. Feliz, U.S. District Court, District of New Jersey.

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