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The Association of U S West Retirees
 

 

 

It's serious if an attorney lawyers up
By Al Lewis, Staff Columnist
Denver Post
Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Denver criminal defense attorney Gary Lozow represented the parents of Dylan Klebold after the Columbine massacre -- and telecom executive Marc Weisberg in the Qwest scandal.  Now, in yet another high-profile case, Lozow has an attorney of his own.

One of Lozow's clients, Howard Vogel, 61, of Englewood, N.J., and Florida recently pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement in court.  This guilty plea is the first federal prosecutors have garnered in their six-year investigation of Milberg Weiss Bershad & Schulman.

Lots of powerful people would love to see Milberg Weiss swing.  The law firm is famous for filing costly class-action securities lawsuits against large corporations and their top executives, including, locally, Qwest and its ex-CEO, Joe Nacchio.

In his pleading, Vogel says he and his family took nearly $2.5 million in kickbacks from Milberg Weiss in exchange for being the lead plaintiffs in 40 cases against companies including Valero Energy Corp. and Oxford Health Plans between 1991 and 2005.

Vogel, a retired mortgage broker said he twice used "an attorney in Denver" to collect kickbacks from Milberg Weiss:  nearly $70,000 in 1994 for his role in the Valero lawsuit and $1.1 million in 2003 for his role in the Oxford case.

In his pleading, Vogel said his Denver attorney flew to New York to discuss payments with a Milberg Weiss partner, face to face.  Citing attorneys close to the case, The Recorder, a legal newspaper in California, last week identified the attorney as Lozow and the partner as Melvyn Weiss, a lead partner at Milberg Weiss.

Lozow declined comment but said he hired Denver attorney John Walsh, a former federal prosecutor, to represent him.  "We're working closely with the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles," Walsh said Monday.  "It's an ongoing investigation, so it's hard for us to comment."

It's not yet clear whether Vogel's plea would make Lozow a target for prosecution, a witness against Milberg Weiss, or both.  In any case, Lozow's testimony could conceivably help prosecutors finally build a case against Milberg Weiss after six long years of probing.

Milberg Weiss and other class-action law firms often race each other to court when a company's stock price declines.  The firm that files first is often awarded lucrative lead-counsel status in what becomes a combined case.  So, getting a lead plaintiff on board quickly is imperative.

As part of his plea, Vogel, a retired mortgage broker, agreed to forfeit $2 million in ill-gotten gains.  He also faces five years in prison and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in their ongoing investigation of Milberg Weiss.

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, declined comment.

Anthony Accetta, a former federal prosecutor and a financial crimes investigator based in Denver, called the allegations against Lozow disturbing.

"If the observations ... are true and accurate, they represent a disturbing activity for any lawyer to be involved in," he said.  "That activity runs the risk of being called criminal."

Lozow is one of Denver's top criminal defense attorneys, often representing defendants in headline-making cases involving murders, child molestation and white-collar crime.

In December, Lozow's client Weisberg pleaded guilty to one felony count of wire fraud and avoided a prison sentence.  He was accused of secretly asking Qwest suppliers for low-priced stock offerings for himself and his family.

Before Weisberg's guilty plea there was an unusual twist.  Prosecutors told the court they might call Lozow as a witness, an unusual request that would have disqualified Lozow as Weisberg's attorney.

Prosecutors said they would introduce evidence regarding Lozow's conduct that was raised during Qwest's internal investigation of Weisberg.

At the time, Steve Peters, Weisberg's co-counsel, called it a tactic to interfere with Weisberg's defense.  The case ended before the feds brought their evidence.

Lozow's visibility makes him an attractive target for federal prosecutors.  But Milberg Weiss is an even a more attractive target.  Are Vogel and Lozow keys to this long-investigated case?  Stay tuned.

Al Lewis' column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Respond to Lewis at denverpostbloghouse.com/lewis, 303-820-1967 or alewis@denverpost.com.

http://www.denverpost.com/business/ci_3799595