Allegedly, Collins drafted documents to disguise fraudulent information for Refco's former CEO, Phillip Bennett. The 57-year-old Collins was Refco's outside lawyer from 1994-2004 and brought the company to his current firm, Mayer Brown, LLP. However, if Collins began participating in the company's fraud instead of simply advising its workers, the attorney crossed a shaky line.
||However, if Collins began participating in the company's fraud instead of simply advising its workers, the attorney crossed a shaky line.|
"It is not a crime to [have] a client who commits a crime," said Michael Garcia, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Take the bankruptcy of Enron in 2001, for example, where advising lawyers were sued and interrogated, and yet none was charged for committing a crime.
But Collins, who "was in a perfect position to protect investors from being harmed chose instead to perpetuate the deception by actively assisting Refco's fraud," according to the associate director of SEC enforcement, Scott Friestad.
"For an attorney to cross the line from being an adviser and advocate and move into the realm of being a participant is very rare," said Ralph Ferrara, a partner at Dewey & LeBoeuf, LLP, in Washington.
However, according to Collins's defense attorney, William Schwartz, "Joe Collins is an innocent victim of the Refco fraud. This indictment should send a chill down the spine of every transactional lawyer who believes he or she is representing an honest client. We intend to fight these charges to acquittal."
And Mayer Brown, which stands by Collins, claimed, "Our review of the evidence available to us shows that the firm acted in a professional, competent, and ethical manner in its work on behalf of Refco."
Refco, one of the largest independent futures trade companies in the U.S., filed for bankruptcy in 2005 after Bennett owed Refco hundreds of millions of dollars. Bennett, along with the company's ex-chief financial officer, Robert Trosten, is scheduled for trial next year.
Of Collins's indictment University of Virginia law professor George Cohen said, "Behind the scenes, it will have a very big impact. It's a great development in the sense that it reminds lawyers that assisting in fraud is a crime. Lawyers need to wake up and realize you can't go along with these things just because it's an important client."