September 20, 2020

Former BigLaw partner charged in NJ with bilking NY firms


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Gavel-handcuffs-Vert-201412221814By David Gialanella, From Law Journal

A former partner at two firms was accused by federal prosecutors in New Jersey of forming two litigation-support companies in order to defraud the firms out of more than $5 million.

A Dec. 22 criminal complaint charges Keila Ravelo with using her position at the firms to authorize payments to those companies, though they allegedly performed little or no work.

Some payments came from the firms, while others came directly from an unnamed client, the U.S. Attorney’s Office alleges.

The complaint charges Ravelo, along with her husband, Melvin Feliz, of forming the companies in 2008 and 2011, and using them for several years to accept the payments, which then were allegedly rerouted to satisfy the couples’ personal expenses, including $250,000 worth of jewelry.

An investigation by the Internal Revenue Service and Drug Enforcement Agency revealed that Ravelo authorized all or most of the law firms’ payments, according to the complaint.

Feliz has a preexisting criminal case in federal court in which he is charged with a drug offense, according to lawyers at the couple’s initial appearance Dec. 22 in a Newark federal courtroom.

The complaint doesn’t name the law firms. However, releases from Hunton & Williams and Willkie Farr & Gallagher announcing Ravelo’s hire show that she was with the former firm from July 2005 to October 2010, and with the latter beginning in October 2010.

At both firms, Ravelo was brought on as a partner principally to handle antitrust litigation and other complex commercial matters, the releases stated.

According to the complaint, Ravelo’s employment with the second firm ended last month.

Hunton & Williams, through a spokeswoman, said in a statement that the firm is “committed to meeting and exceeding the highest ethical and legal standards, and any behavior to the contrary is not tolerated by the firm. We are cooperating fully with the investigation.”

In its statement, Willkie Farr said: “Ms. Ravelo is no longer with the firm. We have been cooperating fully with the authorities and have no further comment to make at this time.”

At the Dec. 22 hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Hammer of the District of New Jersey ordered Ravelo, 49, released on $500,000 bond, secured by a Miami condo, a retirement account and a painting purportedly valued at $125,000.

Feliz, 50, who already had been out of jail on bond pending a trial on the drug charge scheduled for next month, had his bond-revocation hearing continued.

Each is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the defendants’ monetary gain or victims’ loss, whichever is greater.

After the hearing, Ravelo’s lawyer, Aidan O’Connor of Pashman Stein in Hackensack, N.J., told reporters, “I think it’s a weak complaint.”

After the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Kogan, who is prosecuting the matter, deferred to office spokesman Matthew Reilly, who declined to comment.

Feliz’s attorney, New York solo Patrick Joyce, also declined to comment.

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