A partner in a large Washington law firm who had spent years prosecuting fraud cases was arrested and accused of trying to sell a copy of a sealed federal lawsuit to a Silicon Valley company targeted in the suit.
Jeffrey A. Wertkin, 40, joined the Akin Gump law firm in the District last April after about six years at the U.S. Department of Justice, according to court documents filed in California, where he was arrested allegedly wearing a wig and demanding $310,000 after handing over the secret court files to an undercover FBI agent.
Over the course of the alleged payoff scheme, court files show, Wertkin upped his money demands to include travel costs and suggested that he be paid in untraceable bitcoins before finally agreeing to a cash handoff in the lobby of a Hilton Garden Inn in Cupertino, Calif.
“My life is over,” Wertkin said at his Jan. 31 arrest, according to an affidavit from FBI Special Agent William Scanlon filed in federal court in San Francisco on Feb. 1 and unsealed Monday.
Wertkin’s attorney, Julia Jayne, did not respond to requests for comment.
In his alleged negotiations, Wertkin used a pseudonym and said it would be in the company’s interest to buy his copy of the lawsuit to get ahead of the investigation into the company’s dealings, according to the court filings in his case, and offered up the first page of the suit to a company employee to launch discussions.
The employee later spoke with the FBI and agreed to record conversations with the man ultimately identified as Wertkin, court files state.
The firm is not identified in the Wertkin case but is described in court files as a company headquartered in Sunnyvale, Calif., that provides technology security and is the target of the still pending lawsuit that Wertkin allegedly shared.
The January 2016 lawsuit was filed in San Francisco under a federal law that allows whistleblowers to try to recover funds on behalf of the government by suing companies, with the lawsuits remaining secret while the Justice Department investigates claims that taxpayers were cheated. Wertkin, according to a biography cited by the FBI, worked extensively as a trial lawyer at Justice on that type of major fraud case brought under the False Claims Act.
The Justice Department declined to comment “on this pending matter,” spokeswoman Nicole Navas said.
After his arrest, Wertkin made his first court appearance Feb. 1 and was released on $750,000 bond secured by a condominium in Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood, according to court documents. He is to be arraigned Feb. 22 on one count of contempt of court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim in San Francisco.
Benjamin J. Harris, a spokesman for Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, said in a statement that “we are shocked and deeply troubled by the conduct alleged in the charges filed against Mr. Wertkin. . . . Immediately upon learning of these charges, we took swift action and Mr. Wertkin is no longer with the firm.”
Wertkin also had taught a seven-week class on federal agency rulemaking as an adjunct professor for three years at Georgetown University but does not currently teach there, said Georgetown spokeswoman Rachel Pugh.
The affidavit from the FBI agent alleges that a man later identified as Wertkin first raised a deal anonymously to the Sunnyvale company by leaving a callback number in a voice mail Nov. 30 with an employee.
After arranging to get the first page of the lawsuit by regular mail — because the caller balked at using email — the employee, in a series of recorded calls, was given a price and detailed plans for the exchange of a full copy of the lawsuit and the money, according to allegations detailed by the FBI agent in court records.
The Jan. 31 handoff was arranged by text with the employee who said a co-worker — who was the undercover FBI agent — would be the one bringing the cash and would be carrying a blue duffel bag to the hotel meeting, court files state.
On the morning of the meeting, the undercover agent was directed by text to sit in a chair that would have a newspaper resting on the seat, where he then would be met by the person who allegedly had been in contact with the company, the FBI agent said in his affidavit.
“Approximately 10 seconds after I sat down, a male approached me and held a copy of the complaint out and handed it to me,” Scanlon, the FBI agent, wrote in the affidavit. “At that point he was immediately arrested by FBI agents who were present in the hotel lobby.”
The man, in a wig, was identified as Wertkin, according to the accusations in the court filings.