Deputy State Attorney General Fran Hughes was right.
Melvyn Weiss, the class action lawyer she and Attorney General Darrell McGraw once hired to sue companies on behalf of West Virginians did indeed prove to be a "legend," as she once reportedly gushed.
A legendary fraud, that is.
For the behavior Hughes once commended, this week a California federal judge sentenced Weiss to 30 months in prison. He pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy, or paying people to serve as put-up pawn plaintiffs in countless class action lawsuits he artificially, illegally manufactured.
Lawsuits similar in certain ways to the many he conceived and pursued here in West Virginia.
There was the one he filed against Lucent Technologies on behalf of Teamsters locals in Huntington and Charleston. Weiss' firm pocketed a
cool $98 million in a settlement.
And another in which Weiss' associates stormed the courthouse over $1,800 in stock market investment losses, blaming accounting discrepancies at our state's largest private employer, Massey Energy. The plaintiff would receive nothing. But Weiss and his pack of plaintiff's lawyers got paid $2.5 million in walk away money.
Then there was his firm's "exclusive" representation of our State's Investment Management Board, which manages $8 billion of state employee pension money. McGraw and Hughes rolled out the Mountain State welcome mat to Weiss in 2004, parading him around the State Capitol before deputizing him to take on Corporate America on behalf of West Virginia pensioners.
How'd they make out? In one settlement with the now defunct Worldcom, the pensioners received $2.3 million. Weiss and company walked away with $85 million.
Such are the self-serving class action spoils of which lawyer legends are made. And now indicted and convicted, a new criminal legend is born.
All told, Mel Weiss personally pocketed about $210 million from his plaintiff-paying scam, according to federal authorities.
For his own West Virginia-sanctioned aiding and abetting of this convict, one would think Darrell McGraw would at least acknowledge his mistake, if not issue an outright apology to the people of this state.
We aren't holding our breath.