Federal prosecutors have charged a California lawyer with taking illegal payoffs to act as a plaintiff in lawsuits brought by an unnamed New York law firm that has been identified in published reports as securities class-action giant Milberg Weiss. The indictment, handed down last week, alleges that Seymour Lazar acted as lead plaintiff in dozens of corporate class-action suits filed by Milberg Weiss in return for a share of the attorneys' fees, which is illegal -- though paying a bonus to lead plaintiffs is not. It said that Lazar had received at least $2.4 million in "secret and illegal kickbacks" from the firm, and that the firm had filed false and misleading court documents and hid the payments from the courts. In comments reported in the Washington Post, Lazar's lawyer characterized the payments as common fee-splitting practice, and said that the charges were an attempt to get Lazar to say negative things about Milberg Weiss. The law firm, through a spokeswoman, acknowledged that it was the firm in question, and in various reports said that it was cooperating with the government, and that the accusations were "baseless." The indictment is part of a three-year investigation into the practices of Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach, which split last year into two entities based separately in New York and San Diego.

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