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May 2, 2011 7:03 PM

Ex-Winston & Strawn Partner Pleads Guilty to Money Laundering Charge

Posted by Brian Baxter

Jonathan Bristol, a former Winston & Strawn partner accused of being an accomplice in a multimillion-dollar fraud scheme, pleaded guilty on Monday to charges he used attorney escrow accounts to launder client funds.

The New York Law Journal, a sibling publication, reports that Bristol entered a guilty plea in U.S. district in Manhattan to a single count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. Bristol's name first surfaced last June when federal prosecutors filed charges against Kenneth Starr, a nonpracticing lawyer and financial adviser alleged to have misappropriated $7 million in client funds.

Starr plead guilty to fraud charges last September and received a 7.5-year prison sentence in early March for bilking clients out of $33 million. Bristol was indicted in December with laundering nearly $20 million in client funds, and was also sued by the SEC for his role "aiding and abetting" Starr's fraud scheme.

That same month James Wiatt, the former chairman and CEO of the William Morris Agency, and his wife, Elizabeth, sued Winston & Strawn, Bristol, and Starr. Represented by lawyers from Jenner & Block and Drinker Biddle & Reath, the firm filed a response to that suit in March, seeking to have the complaint dismissed.

The NYLJ reports that on Monday, Bristol, dressed in a blue pinstripe suit and flanked by his attorney, Brooklyn solo practitioner Susan Kellman, broke down before a federal court in Manhattan and apologized for his role in the Starr scheme. Bristol, 55, told U.S. district court judge Deborah Patts that he was under the care of a psychiatrist and taking medication, according to the NYLJ.

Bristol joined Winston & Strawn in November 2008 after the collapse of his former firm, Thelen. Bristol was initially promised compensation of about $1.35 million over two years but the NYLJ reports he agreed in August 2009 to reduce his draw to $500,000 plus a bonus if he hit certain markers. It was around that time when Bristol brought on Starr as a client.

But when Starr failed to pay his legal fees to Bristol, the former Winston & Strawn partner found himself under pressure to produce $750,000 in fees to his employer. When Bristol promised that Starr would pay $100,000 of the total amount owed in outstanding fees, Starr did just that, but the money came from his clients and was laundered through attorney escrow accounts controlled by Bristol, according to the NYLJ.

When one disgruntled client--widely reported to be actress Uma Thurman--asked Starr why $1 million in her funds had found themselves into Bristol's account, Starr repaid her with cash taken from Wiatt's account.

While Wiatt and his wife have sued Winston & Strawn, the firm has not been named in either the SEC action or criminal case against Bristol and Starr pursued by the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan.

A Winston & Strawn spokesman released a statement on Monday saying that "the conduct to which ex-partner Jonathan Bristol pleaded guilty was neither authorized by or known to others at the firm."

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