One of the lawyers who represented Stephen
A. Saccoccia, a Cranston precious-metals dealer convicted of money-laundering,
has agreed to give the U.S. government $245,000 of $750,000 he
was paid in attorney fees. Robert D. Luskin was one of five lawyers
hired by Saccoccia, whose legal fees totalling $2 million were
sought by the U.S. government on the grounds that Saccoccia paid
the fees out of drug profits that he had laundered.
JONATHAN D. ROCKOFF Journal-Bulletin Staff
May 10, 1998
One of the lawyers who represented Stephen A. Saccoccia, a Cranston
precious-metals dealer convicted of money-laundering, has agreed
to give the U.S. government $245,000 of $750,000 he was paid in
attorney fees. Robert D. Luskin was one of five lawyers hired
by Saccoccia, whose legal fees totalling $2 million were sought
by the U.S. government on the grounds that Saccoccia paid the
fees out of drug profits that he had laundered.
On Friday, Luskin finalized a settlement
with U.S. Attorney Sheldon Whitehouse. In exchange for giving
up the money, Luskin avoids being held liable as well as having
to continue litigation.
Luskin, a Washington, D.C., lawyer, said
in a telephone interview yesterday that he had reached the agreement
to avoid the costly litigation. And he called the settlement a
"The relative size of the settlement,
compared to what the government demanded, reflects that our arguments
were persuasive," Luskin said, noting that $245,000 was less
than half what Saccoccia paid him.
But Thomas Connell, a spokesman for the U.S.
attorney's office, countered that the sum was actually slightly
more than the $489,000 that Luskin netted from Saccoccia's payments,
after expenses were deducted.
Dismissing Luskin's claim of vindication,
Connell said, "Whether he thinks it's a victory or not, that's
for him to consider. I just want to address the facts."
The U.S. attorney's office's quest for legal
fees, which continues in the cases of the four other lawyers,
followed the conviction of Saccoccia, in 1992, for laundering
$136 million in Colombian drug dealers' money.
In 1993, Saccoccia was sentenced to 660 years
in federal prison, fined $15.8 million and ordered to forfeit
all of the laundered money. His wife, Donna, was sentenced to
14 years for her role in the scheme.
Nevertheless, government lawyers had to continue
searching for the money. As part of that effort, they questioned
the Saccoccias' lawyers, including Luskin, who testified he received
$504,000 in gold bars, the U.S. attorney's office said.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that lawyers
can't be paid with money earned illegally, the U.S. attorney's
office contended. That holding was the basis for the suit demanding
Luskin forfeit all of his fees.
Yesterday, Luskin argued that he first cleared
such payments with the U.S. attorney's office, and took other
steps in order to ensure that Saccoccia paid him with money earned
Luskin painted himself as the victim, arguing
that the government first reneged on their agreement to let him
collect the money, then entwined him in costly litigation that
he had to pay out of his own pocket.
"They carried the field, captured the
combatants and came back to shoot the wounded," he said.
Connell declined to respond that point.
Whitehouse's office said that in reaching
the settlement, Luskin made no admission of liability. No settlement
has been reached with the other four lawyers, federal officials
Luskin is a former federal prosecutor best
known for his role in policing corruption within the Laborers
International Union of North America.
Last month, Luskin began a secret union disciplinary
proceeding into whether Arthur A. Coia, general president of the
huge union, would keep his $254,000 a year job.
Coia, a Rhode Islander, has been charged
by the union with allowing organized-crime figures to influence
the union's affairs.
Luskin was hired by Coia in 1994 to create
an anti-corruption unit as an alternative to the federal government
assuming control of the allegedly mob-influenced union. Luskin
is acting as prosecutor in the internal hearings.