It’s a miracle Jeffrey Wertkin passed the bar ethics exam, if FBI allegations against him are true. The Washington, D.C. attorney not only blew off his professional duties, but engaged in a blatantly criminal—and truly stupid—scheme to sell confidential documents, the agency said.
In a criminal complaint unsealed on Wednesday, an FBI agent said Wertkin called an unnamed Silicon Valley company, saying he could provide a copy of a top-secret whistleblower lawsuit. Wertkin suggested the tech company could “get out ahead of the investigation” by seeing the case in advance.
Wertkin, who previously worked at the U.S. Justice Department, allegedly told an employee the price would be a $300,000 “consulting fee” and asked for the payment in the hard-to-trace crypto-currency bitcoin. What followed unfolded like an episode of America’s Dumbest Criminals.
In the course of several more calls, Wertkin was said to have arranged for an associate of the employee to meet him at a hotel in Cupertino, Calif. By then, the attorney had given up on his demand for a payment in bitcoin and agreed to accept cash, but he also upped his demand to $310,000—the extra $10,000 was meant to compensate for his travel time.
Shortly before the meeting, Wertkin asked the employee’s associate to provide a cell phone number so he could be sure it was not a “sting,” the complaint said. He then sent text messages, asking the associate to sit down in a hotel lobby chair that had a newspaper on it. As an extra measure of security, Wertkin turned up in a wig.
When Wertkin went to meet his contact in the chair, a gaggle of FBI agents promptly appeared and arrested him, the complaint alleges.
“My life is over,” Wertkin reportedly said as he was arrested. Wertkin could not be immediately reached for comment.
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The lawyer now faces contempt-of-court and obstruction charges. His employer, Akin Gump has already removed him from the firm’s website and said it is “shocked and troubled” by his alleged conduct.
As for the underlying whistle-blower lawsuit, it is still under seal, and so it is unclear which company is involved. The only clue in the FBI agent’s statement is that the firm “provides technology security and is headquartered in Sunnyvale.”
The lawsuit is a so-called “qui tam” case, which lets people (usually employees) secretly blow the whistle on companies defrauding the government, and collect a portion of the restitution. (You can read all the FBI allegations here).
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Wertkin came across the lawsuit while working at Akin Gump; the firm saws it had no knowledge of the whistle-blower case.