Legal Ethics

Sentence ‘Quite Harsh’ for Ex-Mayer Brown Partner in Refco Fraud

A federal judge has sentenced former Mayer Brown partner Joseph Collins to seven years in prison for helping a commodities trading company defraud investors, saying the case was spurred by “excessive loyalty to a client.”

U.S. District Judge Robert Patterson of Manhattan said Collins did not personally profit from the fraud at Refco, the New York Law Journal reports. Collins was accused of helping Refco hide its precarious financial situation before the company went public.

Federal prosecutors pointed out that work for the trading company brought millions of dollars in legal fees to the law firm. But Patterson said Collins would have been paid by his firm in any event.

“I don’t believe Collins committed these crimes for greed or money,” Patterson said. “I think this is a case of excessive loyalty to his client.”

Collins had sought a sentence of mostly community service. Patterson said he was imposing a significant prison term “to deter other lawyers from doing this,” the Associated Press reports.

New York University law professor Stephen Gillers told the Chicago Tribune that the sentence will attract attention from lawyers. “Seven years is quite harsh,” he said. “Being a lawyer ups the ante. The judge understandably expects more from lawyers than from people not trained in the law.”

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