A junior associate at Dentons has been arrested for allegedly threatening to send confidential and sensitive information to a legal blog if the firm did not hand over around £160,000 and a piece of artwork from its office.
The extraordinary tale from Dentons’ Los Angeles office has come out in an affidavit filed by FBI special agent Sean Sterle in support of a criminal complaint of extortion and arrest warrant for Michael Potere, who was arrested last week.
Mr Potere had worked for Dentons since 2015 when, in March 2017, he told the firm that he intended to leave to pursue a graduate degree in political science. He asked to continue working until the course started in the autumn, but the firm rejected the request and said his last day at the firm would be 1 June.
The associate had been given access to a senior partner’s email account in the summer of 2016 as part of a deal they were working on.
After being told he would have to leave the firm in June, he accessed the partner’s emails and found one about him that he considered defamatory.
According to the affidavit, he then downloaded confidential files and other emails, and in several meetings told partners at the firm that he would forward them to leading US legal blog Above The Law if they did not pay him $210,000 and give him the artwork near his office.
The documents were said to include financial reports, details of how the firm determined its billing rates, a list of clients and the amounts charged to them, items for partner meetings, and staff reviews.
He even claimed in one meeting recorded by the FBI to have an email set to release the documents on an auto-timer if his demands were not met, and that he had also given a friend a sealed packet containing them.
He apparently told two partners that he felt like “people his age were getting ‘screwed’ and that hypothetically he might have a chance to ‘screw back’”.
The affidavit recorded Mr Potere saying that if he was “fairly paid, everything goes away. If I’m screwed over again, well then, why should I protect people who went out of their way to hurt me?”
He also supposedly said that he did not care about professional disciplinary issues or about the local bar association because he did not plan to practise law again.
US legal publications have been unable to contact Mr Potere or his lawyer.
A Dentons spokeswoman said: “Dentons understands that Michael Potere, formerly an associate in our Los Angeles office, is the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.
“We are cooperating with law enforcement and, as we do at all times, we have taken appropriate and necessary steps to protect the safety of our employees, the confidentiality of our clients, and the property of our firm.
“Dentons is very appreciative of the highly professional and diligent nature with which the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Attorney’s office have conducted their investigation.”