California State Bar to Investigate Payments to Armenian Genocide Victims

The California State Bar’s chief prosecutor said on Tuesday the agency was taking a fresh look at the conduct of lawyers in landmark Armenian genocide reparations cases following a Times investigation that detailed corruption and embezzlement in one of the settlements.

“The State Bar is reviewing these cases to determine if there is new information that would warrant further action,” said the bar’s chief attorney, George Cardona, a former federal prosecutor appointed last year to lead investigations and prosecutions to the agency that regulates the legal profession in California.

The bar previously sanctioned one lawyer and attempted to sanction two others in connection with the genocide litigation.

“A terrible injustice was done when the descendants of those murdered in the Armenian Genocide were denied their rightful settlements,” Cardona said in his statement. He described those already prosecuted as “most directly responsible for these misappropriations,” but added that “the state bar has a responsibility to take action when it becomes aware of new evidence.”

Cardona’s announcement in a statement to The Times comes after four California lawmakers, including U.S. Representative Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank), called for an investigation into the misconduct described by the newspaper.

Last month’s report relied on newly unsealed court records to explain how a $17.5 million settlement in 2005 for the heirs of genocide victims was marred in subsequent years by a claims process that dismissed 92% of claimants and sent money to bogus claimants, relatives of a settlement administrator and an attorney with no official role in the case. He also exposed irregularities in the distribution of charitable funds, including more than $750,000 that Armenian religious groups say they never received.

Three Armenian-American attorneys – prominent Los Angeles attorneys Mark Geragos and Brian Kabateck and Glendale attorney Vartkes Yeghiayan – were the lead attorneys in the case. The bar has received complaints about the three lawyers and others over the past decade from plaintiffs and members of a court-appointed settlement board, according to court records and complaints submitted to authorities.

The bar has taken no action against Geragos or Kabateck, but has filed disciplinary charges against Yeghiayan and his wife, for allegedly funneling settlement money to family members, their law firm and organizations in nonprofit they controlled.

Yeghiayan died before the trial. His wife was cleared by a bar examination board.

A Beverly Hills attorney who endorsed and deposited paychecks made out to the heirs of genocide victims, Berj Boyajian, was suspended from practicing law and later resigned. He was convicted in a criminal court of two counts of making false statements on the stand.

Representatives for Geragos and Kabateck told The Times that they had done nothing wrong, were not responsible for approving or denying the claims, and that others, including those sued by the bar, were responsible for the fraud in the case.

Asked about the bar’s new review of genocide cases, Kabateck replied via email that he had “several lawyers and others are now investigating you and your motives by writing a false and misleading story that attempts to harm my good name”.

Los Angeles Times

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