I’ve just learned that Jim Wiatt, the former William Morris Agency CEO who’s now an AOL consultant, and his wife today filed a multimillion-dollar civil lawsuit seeking punitive and compensatory damages from the international law firm Winston & Strawn LLP and its former partner, Jonathan S. Bristol, for their alleged malpractice and involvement with Hollywood moneyman Kenneth Starr Ponzi scheme. Kenneth Starr Pleads Guilty To Fleecing Many Celebrity Clients) Other defendants in Wiatts’ suit include Ponzi architect Kenneth Starr, who recently pled guilty to felony charges, and related Starr parties. The suit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. Starr couldn’t even come up with his bail, so the deep pocket here is surely Bristol and his law firm.
Starr, a celebrity financial adviser and accountant, cheated Al Pacino, Uma Thurman, and others besides Wiatt. He pleaded guilty on September 10th to fraud charges and admitted to a Ponzi-type scheme in which he lost between $20 million and $50 million of his clients’ money over the past 5 years. Not only did he help himself to his clients’ money, but he then moved money from other client accounts to cover shortfalls when questions were asked. The indictment alleged that Starr used the funds to finance such purchases as a five bedroom condo on the Upper East Side that cost at least $7.5 million with a 32-foot lap pool and a 1,500 square foot garden.
The allegations in the Wiatts’ suit today include malpractice and conversion against Bristol and Winston & Strawn as a result of the alleged multimillion-dollar theft from Wiatt and his wife by Bristol and Starr. The lawsuit alleges that Wiatt was referred by Starr to Bristol and Winston & Strawn for legal advice. The defendants then allegedly facilitated the theft of the Wiatts’ funds, which were laundered through a trust account held by the law firm’s partner, Bristol.
The complaint also alleges that Bristol and Winston & Strawn improperly offered to represent the Wiatts in dealing with the Securities & Exchange Commission in what turned out to be its investigation of Starr’s and Bristol’s misappropriation of funds belonging to Starr’s clients, including the Wiatts.
Bristol was indicted on Thursday by federal prosecutors, who claim that he conspired with Starr to help launder more than $20 million in proceeds from Starr’s clients to entities owned or controlled by Starr. At the same time, Bristol was sued by the SEC for helping Starr defraud his celebrity clients and other investors by allowing millions of dollars to pass through Bristol’s attorney trust accounts – monies that were then transferred to Starr for his own personal use. Bristol surrendered to federal authorities on Thursday.
Repping the Wiatts is David S. Stone, managing partner of Stone & Magnanini, who said in a statement, “It was bad enough that Ken Starr defrauded his clients, but what makes this even more egregious is that, Bristol – a prominent partner of a prominent firm – abused his client relationships with the Wiatts. Winston & Strawn was collecting fees from Starr while, at the same time, purporting to represent the Wiatts without disclosing the potential conflicts that were inherent in such representation.” Indeed, as detailed in the complaint, Winston & Strawn has recently gone to great lengths to re-write history in an attempt to erase from its own former press releases facts pertaining to Winston & Strawn’s acquisition of Starr’s business as a result of its recruitment of Bristol.
“The facts alleged in the complaint demonstrate that Starr and Bristol took advantage of the close relationships they had forged with the Wiatts to the latter’s financial and personal detriment,” Stone added in the statement. “This type of conduct warrants not only compensatory but punitive damages to deter such conduct in the future.”