BEFORE THE HEARING BOARD
ILLINOIS ATTORNEY REGISTRATION
In the Matter of:
MICHAEL BERNARD POTERE,
Commission No. 2018PR00030
FILED --- May 1, 2018
Jerome Larkin, Administrator of the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, by his attorney, Ari Telisman, pursuant to Supreme Court Rules 753 and 761(d), complains of Respondent, Michael Bernard Potere, who was licensed to practice law in Illinois on November 1, 2012, and alleges that Respondent has engaged in the following conduct which subjects Respondent to discipline pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 770:
(Criminal conduct of unauthorized access to a computer to obtain information,
attempted extortion, and transmitting threatening communications)
1. From 2015 until June 2017, Respondent worked as an associate attorney at Dentons, an international law firm.
2. Prior to December 31, 2015, Dentons gave Respondent access to the email account of a Dentons partner ("Partner C") who had been working on a client matter with Respondent, for the sole purpose of accessing documents that had been emailed to Partner C and were related to the client matter.
3. Prior to July 31, 2016, Respondent concluded all work in connection with the client matter referenced in paragraph 2, above.
4. Accordingly, after July 31, 2016, Respondent no longer had authorization to access Partner C's email account.
5. In March 2017, Respondent informed a partner at Dentons ("Partner A") that Respondent had been accepted into a graduate program, and asked if he could continue working at the firm until graduate school started in the fall. On March 28, 2017, the firm informed Respondent that it would only allow him to continue working there until June 1, 2017.
6. On or about April 15, 2017, and again on or about May 14, 2017, Respondent accessed a computer at Dentons and searched Partner C's email account for emails containing Respondent's name or the word "confidential". Respondent then accessed and downloaded the following documents ("confidential Dentons documents") from Partner C's email account:
Dentons's quarterly financial reports;
documents describing how Dentons determines its billing rates for clients and specific factors relied on to arrive at those rates;
a list of clients, and the dollar amounts charged to those clients;
documents describing how Dentons partners should approach clients who have outstanding and overdue balances with the firm;
documents describing issues to be discussed at meetings for Dentons partners;
documents describing voting for full interest partner candidates;
confidential reviews of associate attorneys; and
detailed analysis describing the recruitment of lateral attorneys, and offers to those attorneys.
7. At no time did Dentons give Respondent permission or authorization to access and download the confidential Dentons documents. At the time Respondent downloaded and obtained the confidential Dentons documents from the Dentons computer, he knew that he was not authorized to search for, download, or obtain those documents because he knew he never had that authority.
8. At no time prior to May 16, 2017, did Respondent inform Dentons that he accessed and downloaded the confidential Dentons documents.
9. Respondent's conduct of accessing Partner C's email account in April and May 2017, searching for emails containing Respondent's name or the word "confidential", and downloading the confidential Dentons documents by improperly accessing Partner C's email account for Respondent's own purposes was dishonest. At the time Respondent engaged in that conduct, he knew it was dishonest.
10. On May 16, 2017, Respondent met with Partner A and another Dentons partner ("Partner B"). Respondent brought with him two bottles of wine to the meeting. At the meeting, Respondent told the partners he had accessed the email account of another partner at the firm and downloaded various documents.
11. The following day, on May 17, 2017, Partner A and another Dentons partner ("Partner D") had a telephone conversation with Respondent, where Respondent demanded $210,000 and a piece of artwork at the firm. During the conversation, Respondent threatened to send confidential documents that he obtained from the partner's email account to Abovethelaw.com, a legal news website.
12. On May 18, 2017, Partner D and another partner of Dentons ("Partner E") had a telephone conversation with Respondent. During this conversation, Partner D told Respondent that there were criminal consequences and ethical issues relating to Respondent's conduct. Respondent responded that he did not care about professional disciplinary issues because he did not plan to practice law again.
13. On May 19, 2017, Dentons contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") about Respondent's conduct described in paragraphs 6 through 12, above.
14. On May 25, 2017, Respondent personally met with Partner D and Partner E. Prior to the meeting, FBI agents outfitted the partners with audio and video recording devices, which recorded Respondent's statements at the meeting. Respondent made the following statements at that time:
Respondent had searched for and obtained confidential firm documents from Partner C's email account;
Respondent demanded $210,000 and a specific piece of artwork, among other things, from Dentons;
If his demands were not met, Respondent planned to send the firm's confidential documents to Abovethelaw.com;
Respondent did not intend to continue practicing law, so he was not worried about bar sanctions.
Respondent also gave the partners a flash drive containing copies of the confidential Dentons documents as proof that he had the documents.
15. At all times alleged in this Complaint, there was in full force and effect Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1030(a)(2)(C) and (c)(2)(A), which provide that a person who intentionally accesses a computer without authorization or exceeds authorized access, and thereby obtains information from any protected computer, commits a crime punishable by a fine and imprisonment for not more than one year.
16. At all times alleged in this Complaint, there was in full force and effect Title 18, United States Code, Section 1951, which provides that a person who attempts to obstruct, delay, or affect commerce or the movement of any article or commodity in commerce, by extortion, commits a crime punishable by a fine and imprisonment for not more than twenty years. The statute defines extortion as the obtaining of property from another, with consent, induced by wrongful use of actual or threatened force, violence, or fear.
17. At all times alleged in this Complaint, there was in full force and effect Title 18, United States Code, Section 875(d), which provides that a person who, with the intent to extort anything of value from any person, firm, or corporation, transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to injure the property or reputation of the addressee or of another, commits a crime punishable by a fine and imprisonment for not more than two years.
18. By engaging in the conduct described in paragraphs 6 through 14, above, Respondent attempted to commit extortion by seeking to obtain at least $210,000 and a specific piece of artwork from Dentons, with Dentons's consent, induced by the wrongful use of fear, by threatening to cause economic harm by distributing the confidential Dentons documents to Abovethelaw.com, if Dentons refused to transfer the property to Respondent.
19. On June 20, 2017, a criminal complaint was filed against Respondent in the United States District Court, Central District of California. The case was captioned United States v. Michael Potere, under magistrate's case number 2:17-mj-01555. On June 22, 2017, Respondent was arrested in case number 2:17-mj-01555.
20. On July 18, 2017, a federal grand jury in the Central District of California charged Respondent in a two-count criminal indictment with the offenses of extortion and attempted extortion affecting interstate commerce, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951, and transmitting threatening communications with intent to extort, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(d). The matter was captioned United States of America v. Michael Potere, case number CR17-446-JFW, and magistrate's case number 2:17-mj-01555 was merged into case number CR17-446-JFW. On July 20, 2017, Respondent was arraigned on the indictment.
21. On October 18, 2017, the parties in U.S. v. Potere filed a plea agreement where Respondent agreed to plead guilty via a superseding information to one count of unauthorized access to a computer to obtain information, a class A misdemeanor, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1030(a)(2)(C) and (c)(2)(A). The same day, Respondent pled guilty to one count of unauthorized access to a computer to obtain information.
22. During the plea hearing, Respondent admitted the following facts:
On or about April 15, 2017, and again on or about May 14, 2017, he intentionally accessed a Dentons computer without authorization and downloaded confidential information from the computer that he was not authorized to download and obtain, specifically, the confidential Dentons documents;
On May 17, 2017, he spoke to Dentons partners and demanded $210,000 and a piece of artwork, among other items, from Dentons in exchange for the return of the confidential Dentons documents. He repeatedly stated that if Dentons did not meet his demands, he intended to email the documents to a legal blog website; and
At the time he downloaded and obtained the confidential Dentons documents from the Dentons computer, Respondent knew that he was not authorized to search for, download, or obtain those documents.
23. On January 22, 2018, Judge John F. Walter entered judgment and conviction on Respondent's guilty plea, and sentenced Respondent to the Bureau of Prisons for five months, followed by supervised release for a term of one year. A certified copy of the judgment and commitment order is attached as Exhibit 1.
24. By reason of the conduct described above, Respondent has engaged in the following misconduct:
Violating Rule 8.4(b) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010), by committing a criminal act that reflects adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer in other respects, by conduct including: (1) committing and being convicted of unauthorized access to a computer to obtain information, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1030(a)(2)(C) and (c)(2)(A), (2) committing the crime of attempted extortion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951, and (3) committing the crime of transmitting threatening communications with intent to extort, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 875(d); and
conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation, including but not limited to accessing and downloading confidential information of the Dentons firm by improperly accessing Partner C's email account for Respondent's own purposes, without Dentons's knowledge or authorization, in violation of Rule 8.4(c) of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct (2010).
WHEREFORE, the Administrator requests that this matter be referred to a panel of the Hearing Board of the Commission, that a hearing be conducted, and that the Hearing Panel make findings of fact, conclusions of fact and law, and a recommendation for such discipline as is warranted.
Jerome Larkin, Administrator