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Federal judge sentences former Milberg Weiss partner Lerach to 2 years in prison

[JURIST] US District Judge John Walter of the Central District of California on Monday sentenced former Milberg Weiss [firm website] partner William Lerach to two years in prison for his part in the firm's illegal kickback scheme [WSJ backgrounder]. Lerach pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to obstruct justice after reaching an agreement [JURIST reports] with prosecutors in September. In January, the US Attorney's Office for the Central District of California recommended [JURIST report] that Lerach receive two years in prison. Lerach's attorneys filed a sentencing memorandum [PDF text; WSJ report] with the court Friday requesting the imposition of a 12-month sentence to be divided between six months of incarceration followed by six months of home confinement. Lerach's attorneys also provided the court with more than 150 letters written by individuals urging leniency on Lerach's behalf. In addition to prison time, Lerach was sentenced to two years probation and 1,000 hours of community service. He must also pay a $250,000 fine. AP has more.

In October, Milberg Weiss co-founder Melvyn Weiss pleaded not guilty [JURIST report] to federal charges of conspiracy, racketeering, obstruction of justice and making false statements. In May 2006, a federal grand jury indicted [JURIST report] the firm and two name partners, David J. Bershad and Steven G. Schulman, on charges of conspiracy to make false statements and obstructing justice. Lerach was named as "Partner B" in the indictment [PDF text]. As part of the scheme, certain individuals who agreed to serve as lead plaintiffs in class action and shareholder derivative lawsuits were promised 10 percent of the attorney fees eventually gathered by Milberg Weiss. Prosecutors allege that the firm paid up to $11.3 million in illegal kickbacks since 1984. Three individuals pleaded guilty [JURIST report] in connection with the scheme in May 2006, and Bershad pleaded guilty [JURIST report] to conspiracy charges in July.

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