Global Investigations Review - The law and practice of international investigations

GIR 100 2018

Ropes & Gray

26 October 2018

Not content with fielding one of the best US investigations practices, the Boston firm significantly strengthened its London team in 2018 with the hiring of partner Judith Seddon.

The firm

Ropes & Gray’s government enforcement team has grown significantly in the past decade. Having started with a handful of partners in the Boston office, it now consists of over 100 lawyers in 10 offices across the globe who work on white-collar investigations and enforcement matters.

Many of the firm’s investigations lawyers are based in Boston. Joshua Levy co-chairs the firm’s government enforcement practice group with Michael McGovern, and advises individuals and companies on FCPA, securities and criminal tax investigations. With him in Boston is Brien O’Connor, a former federal prosecutor in Massachusetts.

The co-coordinator for Ropes & Gray’s core anti-corruption practice, James Dowden, is also a former federal prosecutor in Massachusetts having worked in the economic crimes and public corruption units. Former SEC enforcement lawyer Daniel O’Connor helps clients in authority-led and internal securities-related investigations. The firm’s Boston team also features former SEC lawyer Keith Higgins, who lead Ropes & Gray’s securities and governance practice. Higgins had led the regulator’s corporate finance division before he joined the SEC, and previously spent 30 years at Ropes & Gray.

Ropes & Gray announced in February 2018 that it had hired Judith Seddon from Clifford Chance, who counts UK bank Barclays Bank among her previous clients. Seddon was featured in GIR’s inaugural Women in Investigations survey in 2015, and joins 2018 Women in Investigations nominee Amanda Raad in London. The two partners have said they will work together to build the firm’s London practice.

The firm boasts another Women in Investigations nominee, Washington, DC partner Colleen Conry. She is a former prosecutor from the fraud section of the DOJ’s criminal division, who handles white-collar criminal defence work. She works alongside practice co-chair Alexandre Rene, a former assistant US attorney in DC and DOJ fraud section trial lawyer, who routinely advises on government bribery investigations. Also in Washington, DC is former SEC senior counsel Jeremiah Williams, who joined the firm as counsel in May 2016. He focuses his practice on securities and futures enforcement.

Former DOJ fraud section prosecutor Ryan Rohlfsen is a partner in the firm’s government enforcement practice in Chicago.

Ropes & Gray’s go-to lawyers in Hong Kong include Andrew Dale, who joined in early 2015 as a member of the business and securities litigation practice, and GIR 40 under 40 nominee Mimi Yang, who also featured on the GIR’s Women in Investigations survey in 2015. Yang has been in Asia since 2012 after practising in the US for nine years. She advises on SEC and DOJ investigations and on doing business in China, and has extensive experience acting in matters in China as well as in the US.

While the firm fields a strong investigations team, a string of white-collar lawyers have left in recent years. In January 2018, former New York partner Marc Berger, who had previously spent 12 years as a prosecutor in the US attorney’s office for the southern district of New York, joined the SEC as the director of the New York regional office. In August 2017, five prominent investigations and government enforcement partners from Ropes & Gray’s London, Hong Kong and US offices joined Kirkland & Ellis.

The departures included: Asheesh Goel, co-chair of Ropes & Gray’s anti-corruption and international risks team, and Kim Nemirow, a GIR 40 under 40 nominee in 2014, from the firm’s Chicago office, as well as New York-based Zachary Brez, who co-chaired the business and securities litigation practice. In London, partner Marcus Thompson left the firm, as did Cori Lable in Hong Kong.

Earlier the same year, Davis Polk’s Hong Kong office poached former US prosecutor Patrick Sinclair, who had been working in Ropes & Gray’s office in the same city.

Recent events

GIR Just Anti-Corruption reported that Ryan Rohlfsen is acting for Petros Contoguris, the chief executive of Turkish oil company Gravitas & CIE International. Contoguris was charged in May 2018 for his alleged role in a scheme to launder bribes to foreign officials on behalf of a subsidiary of UK engineering company Rolls-Royce. Rolhfsen said at the time the charges were laid that his client would “vigorously defend himself” against the allegations.

GIR has also previously reported that Rohlfsen advised Zimmer Biomet in January 2017 when the medical device manufacturer agreed to pay US$30 million in penalties after breaching the terms of its 2012 foreign bribery-related DPA.

A four-partner team in Boston, Chicago and Shanghai helped secure the first-ever public declination under the DOJ’s FCPA pilot programme for US internet services provider Akamai in 2016. The company had been accused of making improper payments to officials at Chinese state-owned companies between 2012 and 2015. The DOJ said it declined to prosecute because Akamai had promptly and voluntarily disclosed the misconduct, thoroughly investigated the allegations, and cooperated fully with the government. Akamai also received a rare NPA from the SEC.

Alexandre Rene, based in Washington, DC, was selected in April 2017 as a corporate monitor for Brazilian aviation company Embraer. Embraer had agreed to pay US$205 million in October 2016 to settle Brazilian and US charges that it paid bribes in Dominican Republic, Saudi Arabia and Mozambique. Embraer is not directly a client of Ropes & Gray; it has retained Alex Rene as an independent monitor.

Ropes & Gray has also advised US pharmaceuticals company Aegerion. The pharmaceuticals company was fined US$500,000 in Brazil in July 2016 over its illegal marketing of Juxtapid, a cholesterol-reducing drug. Ropes & Gray advised the company in the US after the SEC began investigations into whether it had also violated the FCPA.

Network

Ropes & Gray has investigations capabilities in all of its US offices, which can be found in Boston, Chicago New York, San Francisco, Silicon Valley and Washington, DC. Outside the US, it can count on lawyers in its offices in Hong Kong, London, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo.

Clients

Ropes & Gray clients have included pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and former GSK executive Lauren Stevens, Stryker Biotech and Kurt Mix, a former BP drilling engineer facing a retrial over his role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The firm also represents clients in investigations into alleged manipulation of benchmark rates including Libor, Tibor, Forex and Isdafix. The firm has also handled work for drug manufacturer Pfizer.

Track record

In November 2015, the US Department of Justice decided to dismiss all obstruction of justice charges against Ropes & Gray client Kurt Mix related to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Michael McGovern, Aaron Katz and Joan McPhee represented Mix.

Ropes & Gray represented biopharmaceutical company Amgen in a 2012 guilty plea, where it agreed to pay the DOJ a US$762 million fine in relation to off-label drug marketing.

In recent years, the firm was hired by GSK to carry out an independent investigation into allegations that the company paid physicians and hospitals to boost drug sales in China. The Chinese investigation was resolved in September 2014, when the company announced it would pay a £297 million fine.

The firm scored a win in May 2016 with a not-guilty verdict for its client Dustin DeNunzio, by a federal jury in Boston. DeNunzio faced down two wire fraud charges related to the sale of land to hotel and casino developer Wynn Resorts. DeNunzio was represented by partners Joshua Levy and Aaron Katz.

Ropes & Gray has advised footwear retailer Genesco in preventing financial services company Visa from obtaining access to communications and reports produced by cybersecurity consultants for Genesco, following a cybersecurity breach. In two decisions, made in 2013 and 2015, a judge in the US District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee denied Visa’s discovery requests.

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