Wearing Wig, Lawyer Tried to Sell Confidential Document, U.S. Charges
He was arraigned last week on a charge of criminal contempt of court and was released on $750,000 bond.
His San Francisco lawyer, Julia Jayne, did not respond to requests for comment.
The arrest stunned employees at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, the prominent Washington firm where the magazine The American Lawyer says equity partners averaged $2 million in profit last year.
Mr. Wertkin, 40, had just joined the firm in April after six years as a trial lawyer at the Justice Department. The plan was for him to take a prominent role handling cases for corporate clients amid what the firm said at the time of his hiring was “a slew of prosecutions” related to government contractors.
At the Justice Department, Mr. Wertkin had gone after pharmaceutical companies, managed-care plans and pharmacy benefit managers as well as hospitals and hospice companies, specializing in cases of Medicare fraud under the False Claim Act, a law the government uses to pursue companies and people for defrauding government programs.
When he joined the firm last year, Akin Gump said he would add significant depth to its experience in litigating False Claims Act cases, including in the health care industry.
On Wednesday, the law firm said in a statement: “We are shocked and deeply troubled by the conduct alleged in the charges filed against Mr. Wertkin. Honesty and integrity are at the core of our values and our client relationships. Immediately upon learning of these charges, we took swift action and Mr. Wertkin is no longer with the firm.”
It all began, according to court documents, a week after Thanksgiving, when Mr. Wertkin left a voice message for a “high ranking” employee of a Sunnyvale, Calif., company, which was not identified but was described as providing “technology security.”
In a voice message, the government says, Mr. Wertkin did not identify himself but referred to a sealed lawsuit that had been filed against the company in Federal District Court in San Francisco.
Court documents indicate that the whistle-blower case had been filed in January 2016. That would coincide with Mr. Wertkin’s last weeks on the job at Justice.
He left a callback number, which the tech company employee returned, the government says. On that next phone call, Mr. Wertkin, identifying himself only as “Dan,” said he could send proof that the lawsuit existed.
That proof — part of the whistle-blower’s complaint, with words blocked out in places — arrived in the mail a while later, according to court documents.
The tech company employee then turned whistle-blower on Mr. Wertkin.
In subsequent phone calls. the two arranged to meet in person at the hotel in California, according to court documents. But by late December, after talking to the F.B.I., the tech company employee was recording their conversations.
According to a court statement filed by Special Agent William Scanlon of the F.B.I., Mr. Wertkin initially asked for $300,000 and urged that it be payable by Bitcoin, a virtual currency cherished for the anonymity it provides. Later, he raised his demand by $10,000, saying it was needed to cover travel costs. Mr. Wertkin told the tech company employee it would be in his interest to buy the complaint “so the company could get out ahead of the investigation,” the statement said.
The son of a surgeon and a registered nurse from affluent Westchester County in the New York suburbs, Mr. Wertkin graduated from Haverford College in 1994 and received a law degree from Georgetown University in 2002.
Akin Gump’s news release announcing his hiring said he also was an adjunct professor at Georgetown, teaching a class on federal agencies and administrative rule-making at the university’s public policy school.
In an emailed statement, a spokeswoman for Georgetown said: “Jeffrey Wertkin currently does not teach at Georgetown’s McCourt School of Public Policy. He taught one six-week module at the McCourt School in the spring of 2013 and 2015.”
Before joining the Justice Department, Mr. Wertkin worked at another Washington firm, Patton Boggs.
The court documents do not indicate any possible motive for the actions alleged by the government.
Property records show that Mr. Wertkin bought a three-bedroom, 1,600-square-foot residence in Washington for $751,000 in 2010.
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