Thursday, October 16, 2008

A Little Hollywood Drama in the Plea Bargaining World

Michael Edison, a con man who stole $2 million from the widow of Atherton Phleger, a founding partner of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison, pleaded guilty to all charges this week in return for an agreement that the government will not seek prison time for his wife, an alleged accomplice in trying to obstruct justice by deceiving Edison's attorney. The full story of how Edison perpetrated his con is a story that involves a Hollywood star, private jets and yachts, and fake documents from Switzerland. For his part, Edison agreed to serve 63 months in prison and pay $2.5 million in restitution. has an article regarding the events.

Michael Edison admitted targeting Jean Phleger, widow of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison founder Atherton Phleger, in a financial swindle. Originally introduced to Phleger by her son-in-law, the actor Don Johnson, Edison agreed to refinance Phleger's house, pay down her old mortgage, and use $2 million in leftover cash to pay Phleger's bills.

But Edison instead used the money for a private jet, a boat docked in Malta, cars, and goods at Kmart, Foot Locker and other stores, according to court filings.

Describing his occupation in court Tuesday as "an entrepreneur, really, or a turn-around executive," Edison also admitted cheating another set of business partners out of $182,000.

Prosecutors indicted Edison last year for mail fraud. He landed in Santa Rita Jail in Dublin, unable to make bail.

Edison then set out to deceive prosecutors, sending a letter to his wife -- who was living in Switzerland -- with instructions to dummy up documents to make it seem that Phleger loaned Edison the money. Deborah Edison sent the false papers to Edison's attorney, Michael Thorman of Bonjour Thorman Baray & Billingsley, and let Thorman present them to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Finnigan.

But jail officials had already intercepted Edison's instructions to his wife. Their maneuvers led to charges against her for obstruction of justice, Thorman getting bounced from the case, and additional counts tacked on to Edison's indictment.

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