Business Monday cover: Aspen-area law firm part of $500 million Ponzi suit in aftermath of Shapiro, Woodbridge
A Roaring Fork Valley law firm and one of its attorneys are part of the ongoing fallout of convicted Ponzi scheme artist Robert Shapiro and the shuttered real estate investment firm Woodbridge Group.
Balcomb & Green PC, which has offices in Aspen, Basalt and Glenwnood Springs, is among the defendants in a civil case alleging they aided Shapiro in his $1.3 billion real estate scam. Also named in the suit is attorney Larry Green, now of counsel with the firm that has used his name since 1998.
Shapiro is a former Carbondale-area resident and the ex-CEO of Woodbridge, which before its collapse had offices in Carbondale; Boca Raton, Florida; Sherman Oaks, California; Tennessee; and Connecticut.
In an email Friday responding to a query from The Aspen Times, Green said he and the firm had no role in the scam that put Shapiro behind bars for 25 years and forced Woodbridge into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
“At this time the only information I can share with you is that we have reviewed the complaint and we know that the allegations against me and Balcomb & Green are wholly without merit,” Green said. “We had absolutely no knowledge and no participation in any of the activities of the Woodbridge group of companies that led to the losses suffered by the victims described in the complaint.”
On Dec. 2, Michael Goldberg, who is the trustee in Woodbridge Group’s bankruptcy case, filed a 170-page complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court against nine law firms with presences on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and in the Midwest and Colorado.
“This case arises out of the $1.3 billion Ponzi scheme orchestrated by Robert Shapiro. Shapiro’s criminal enterprise masqueraded as a real estate investment company known as the Woodbridge Group of Companies,” the suit begins.
It goes on to say that the “law firms and attorneys that are Defendants in this Complaint aided and abetted numerous securities violations and fraudulent acts. Some drafted offering documents replete with false statements that they knew were false. Some prepared negligent legal opinion memorandums to be shared with investors. Some assisted Shapiro in concealing his fraud.”
The California-based Woodbridge, which developed high-end properties in the Roaring Fork Valley, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2017. The filing came after the SEC said in October 2017 that it had launched a probe into Shapiro and Woodbridge. Dozens of Woodbridge affiliates, including some in Carbondale, also declared bankruptcy in conjunction with the flagship firm’s filing.
Last week’s lawsuit filing is part Woodbridge’s pending bankruptcy case.
The lawsuit says the Balcomb & Green firm, as well as Green individually, were retained in July 2012 “for the purposes of helping Shapiro acquire real property using Woodbridge investor funds and to put the properties into LLCs, created by Balcomb, that were controlled by and affiliated with Shapiro. Balcomb would name these LLCs with names that were designed to hide their affiliation with Shapiro.”
The firm set up at least 100 LLCs that Shapiro secretly controlled, the complaint alleges, as part of a complex scheme to defraud investors.
Both the firm and Green face civil allegations of aiding and abetting Shapiro in such transgressions as fraud, securities fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty. Among the other claims are negligent representation and professional negligence.
“We’re trying to pick up the pieces for these people and help them recover their massive — and tragic — losses,” said attorney Skip Miller, of Miller Barondess LLP in Los Angeles, in a news statement. Miller represents Goldberg, the bankruptcy trustee. “We look forward to facing the defendants in a court of law and holding them responsible for the devastating losses they helped cause.”
In October, Shapiro was sentenced in Florida to the maximum 25 years in prison. He had previously pleaded guilty to orchestrating and leading an investment fraud scheme that ultimately swindled his mostly elderly investors out of $470 million. He also admitted to tax evasion for failing to pay more than $6 million in taxes due and owing to the IRS for calendar years 2000 through 2005.
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