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Parents in College Scandal Hire Formidable Array of Lawyers

Patricia Hurtado, Erik Larson and Janelle Lawrence
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Parents in College Scandal Hire Formidable Array of Lawyers

(Bloomberg) -- What do you get the parents who have everything?

If they’re accused of cheating their kids’ way into college, a damn good lawyer.

The parents charged in the college admissions scandal that erupted last week are hiring lawyers at some of the nation’s most prominent firms. Among them: Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, which has represented Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Jeff Bezos in his battle with National Enquirer owner American Media Inc., and Ropes & Gray LLP, which handled a sexual-abuse investigation for the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Other firms include Latham & Watkins LLP, the second-largest law firm in the U.S. by revenue, Sidley Austin LLP, the sixth, and Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, the 21st, according to the American Lawyer’s 2018 ranking.

Then there are the bicoastal boutique firms. Patric Hooper’s Los Angeles-based shop, Hooper, Lundy & Bookman PC, is representing Dr. Gregory Colburn and his wife, Amy, with lawyers from the firm’s offices in San Francisco and Boston. Hooper said in an interview that the husband, a radiation oncologist, can’t work because the case has triggered a review by the California medical board.

The Justice Department is “painting all the parents and the children with the same brush,” he said. “We’re not knocking the other parents,” but the Colburns, who allegedly paid to have someone else take their son’s SAT, weren’t accused of bribing college sports coaches, he said.

’Defending Doctors’

“We’re not a big law firm, but we are a national one,” Hooper said. “I’ve spent 40 years defending doctors in matters brought by the government.”

The U.S. attorney in Boston charged 50 people, including 33 parents, in the nationwide scandal, calling it the biggest college admissions scam the Justice Department had ever prosecuted. The parents allegedly paid college consultant William Rick Singer to pay off coaches and exam proctors to get their kids into elite schools such as Yale, Stanford and Georgetown -- $25 million in all.

The parents are charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest-services mail fraud. While that carries a maximum of 20 years in prison, lawyers say they’re unlikely to serve much if any time in jail under sentencing guidelines.

But they’re not taking any chances and will spend whatever it takes to hire accomplished defense lawyers, especially those with expertise in Boston, said Kent Zimmermann, a principal at Zeughauser Group in Chicago who advises law firms on strategy. At a minimum, that tells prosecutors the defendant is prepared to fight, Zimmermann said, helping them in plea bargaining.

Such lawyers can cost $1,000 an hour or more, he added.

“It’s like if you’re having heart surgery,” he said. “You’re going to hire the surgeon who’s done the surgery thousands of times and has a great track record.”

Canadian businessman David Sidoo is being represented by Las Vegas-based lawyer David Chesnoff, who defended Robert Durst and former rap producer Suge Knight and is joined in Sidoo’s defense by Boston lawyer Martin Weinberg. Prosecutors claim Sidoo had an impostor take the SAT for his two sons at $100,000 apiece. Sidoo is the only parent to have been indicted and enter a plea, of not guilty.

Chesnoff said in a statement that Sidoo will “contest both the legal and factual basis for the charge.”

Bill McGlashan, who founded TPG’s growth-investing platform and was fired after being charged, has hired two former federal prosecutors.

One is Sidley’s Jack Pirozzolo, a former first assistant U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, who prosecuted mobster James “Whitey” Bulger’s girlfriend, Catherine Greig.

The other is John Hueston, now at Hueston Hennigan LLP in Los Angeles, who was tapped by Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk for the battle over his tweets with the Securities and Exchange Commission, and who represented billionaire Bill Koch when he became the victim of a wine fraud.

Hueston spent 13 years at the Justice Department, where he was reputed never to have lost a case. When he left the U.S. attorney’s office in L.A., Wayne Gross, one of his bosses there, said “taking the stand against John is like agreeing to play one on one with Michael Jordan in his prime.” Hueston successfully represented T-Mobile US Inc. in a lawsuit alleging Huawei Technologies Co. stole its technology. The suit led to the government’s indictment of Huawei for theft of trade secrets.

‘Straight Shooter’

“If a judge knows and has experience with the lawyer, and the judge trusts the lawyer as having the highest level of integrity and for being a straight shooter, that’s probably helpful,” said Zimmermann.

The Colburns’ defense team includes David Schumacher, who used to work in the U.S. attorney’s office in Boston. Among other local lawyers are ex-prosecutor Martin Murphy of Foley Hoag LLP, who is representing actor Felicity Huffman, and Tracy Miner of Miner Orkand Siddall LLP, a new boutique.

Miner is known for defending former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr., who was convicted for joining Bulger’s crime ring. In the admissions case, her client is Homayoun Zadeh, a dentistry professor who prosecutors say took out a second mortgage to pay a $100,000 bribe to a coach at the University of Southern California to recruit his daughter.

Whitewater Prosecutor

Gordon Caplan has lined up a phalanx of attorneys.

Caplan, who co-chaired international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher until he was put on leave after allegedly paying to improve his daughter’s test scores, has hired veteran New York lawyers Peter Cane of Cane Law LLP, Michael McGovern, a Ropes & Gray partner, and Patrick Smith of Smith Villazor LLP.

McGovern is a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan, where, as a supervisor in the organized crime and terrorism unit, he took on al-Qaeda figures and John Gotti’s son. As a defense attorney, he was on a team of lawyers that represented John Poindexter, national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan during the Iran-Contra investigation, and helped get his conviction overturned on appeal.

Smith, who was a federal prosecutor in Manhattan as well, also worked on the Whitewater investigation.

Caplan has two lawyers from Ropes & Gray in Boston, including Joshua Levy, a former federal prosecutor in Massachusetts.

“In a matter like this, the results are more important than the price,” Zimmermann said, “for anybody who can afford the best.”

The case is U.S. v. Abbott, 1:19-mj-06087, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts (Boston).

(Updates with background of Hueston in sixth and seventh paragraphs under Read More box.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Patricia Hurtado in Federal Court in Manhattan at pathurtado@bloomberg.net;Erik Larson in New York at elarson4@bloomberg.net;Janelle Lawrence in Boston at jlawrence62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Glovin at dglovin@bloomberg.net, Peter Jeffrey, Heather Smith

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