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A lawyer who helped a groundskeeper obtain a $289 million verdict against the maker of Roundup has been charged with trying to extort $200 million from an unnamed company.
Federal prosecutors allege that Litzenburg approached a company in fall 2019 and showed it a draft lawsuit that alleged that the company was liable for making harmful chemical compounds used to create Roundup.
The company then hired outside counsel who spoke with Litzenburg.
Litzenburg allegedly made a proposal that involved a $200 million “consulting agreement.”
According to allegations in the complaint, Litzenburg said the company or its corporate parent company could pay him and an associate $200 million for the consulting work. The agreement would create a conflict that prevented him from suing the company, Litzenburg allegedly said.
The outside lawyer contacted federal prosecutors and consented to recordings of an upcoming phone call and meeting with Litzenburg.
In the phone conversation, Litzenburg allegedly said he was not obligated to recommend that his clients sue the maker of the chemical, and he would steer his clients away from such suits if there was a consulting agreement.
As a first step, Litzenburg said, he would settle the draft lawsuit for one of his clients for $5 million, the complaint alleges.
If the consulting fee was paid, Litzenburg allegedly said, he would “almost sort of take a dive” and “ask the wrong questions” during a deposition with the defendant’s toxicologist before settlement of the lawsuit. The company could then keep the deposition “in a vault somewhere” to be used at a later date to undermine any future litigation, he allegedly said.
If the company faces lawsuits, there is no way the company “gets out of it for less” than a billion, Litzenburg allegedly said.
Litzenburg is charged with transmitting interstate communications with intent to extort, attempted extortion and conspiracy.
Litzenburg is a lawyer with the mass torts firm Kincheloe Litzenburg & Pendleton. The firm’s website was not accessible Friday. A message on the firm’s website homepage read: “Site is being updated Please return soon.” Litzenburg did not immediately respond to a message left on his voicemail at a number listed by the state bar.
Roundup was made by Monsanto, which has denied any links between Roundup and cancer. The company told Law360 that it is not the company approached by Litzenburg. Litzenburg worked for a different law firm during the groundskeeper’s trial.