White-Collar Crime

Former BigLaw Partner Gets 2 Years in 'Greek Tragedy' Tax Evasion Case


John J. O’Brien told a federal judge in Manhattan today that he never expected to get away with failing to pay $2.5 million in tax on $10.8 million in income he earned as a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell.

“I never believed for one minute that I was going to somehow escape the tax liability,” O’Brien, 48, told U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman. However, “I made a stupid decision to put it off.”

The price for his delay is now hefty, reports Reuters reports: Pitman called the situation “a Greek tragedy” but gave O’Brien seven months on each of the four criminal misdemeanor counts to which he pled guilty last year. The sentences must be served consecutively for a total of 28 months.

O’Brien, who said he hoped to practice law again someday, faces a legal ethics case.

He resigned from Sullivan & Cromwell in 2009 and the criminal case against him did not implicate the firm or any of O’Brien’s work there. Sullivan & Cromwell reported all of O’Brien’s partnership income to the Internal Revenue Service, the Reuters article notes.

O’Brien’s lawyer, Russell Neufeld, blamed “a serious mental disorder” and O’Brien’s dysfunctional relationship with his gay partner for his failure to pay income tax between 2001 and 2008.

Earlier coverage:

ABAJournal.com: “Former Sullivan & Cromwell Partner Allegedly Failed to File Returns and Pay Tax on $10.8M in Income”

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