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Lawyer sentenced to prison for role in $2.4 billion fraud at Refco

By Casey Sullivan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former partner at the Mayer Brown law firm whose clients included Refco Inc was sentenced on Monday to one year and one day in federal prison for his role in a multibillion-dollar fraud at the now defunct commodities broker.

Joseph Collins also must spend two years under supervised release following his prison term under the sentence imposed by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Loretta Preska.

Collins was found guilty in November on seven counts in helping the owners and executives of Refco conceal a $2.4 billion fraud that caused the firm's demise in 2005. It was the second trial for Collins, who was found guilty on charges including conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud.

In January 2012, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals tossed the 2009 conviction of Collins, who at that time was sentenced to seven years in prison. The appeals court found that the judge at the first trial should have called defense lawyers in before advising a recalcitrant juror to continue deliberating.

The court remanded the case for a new trial, which began in October 2012.

At Monday's sentencing, Collins' attorney William Schwartz portrayed his client as a family man and a community volunteer in Chicago.

In her ruling, Preska said she took Collins's track record of community service into account. She said his case deviated from a standard fraud trial because Collins did not directly financially benefit from the scheme perpetrated by Refco executives to hide the company's financial woes and that he served in a "secondary role" as an advisor.

The Refco fraud, which was revealed soon after the company's August 2005 initial public offering, led to the prosecution of several executives. Former chief executive Phillip Bennett is serving a 16-year prison sentence and former president Tone Grant is serving 10 years.

Santo Maggio, the former chief of Refco who pleaded guilty to the fraud, died last year.

Schwartz said on Monday that he intends to appeal Preska's ruling and hopes that his client may be allowed bail.

The sentencing marks a rare instance in which a corporate lawyer has been found guilty and sentenced for legal work done in connection with a client's fraud.

In November, California attorney and former Nixon Peabody partner David Tamman was found guilty of helping a onetime client and former investment fund manager cover up a Ponzi scheme that swindled investors out of more than $20 million. He has still to be sentenced.

(Reporting By Casey Sullivan; Editing by Ted Botha and David Gregorio)

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