A former Dentons litigation associate was arrested in Los Angeles Thursday on charges that he tried to extort the firm for $210,000 and a piece of artwork from the office.
Michael Potere, 32, accessed one of his partner’s email accounts, downloaded sensitive documents, and then threatened to leak them to Above the Law if the firm did not pay up, according to claims in a federal complaint filed by the FBI and the US Attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
The authorities charged Potere with violating Title 18 of the U.S. Code Section 1951 (a), interference with commerce by threats or violence.
Potere’s threat to leak the documents, the complaint said, came after the firm declined his request to let him keep working until he started a political science graduate degree program in the fall.
The complaint alleged that Potere told several partners he did not care about professional disciplinary issues or about the bar because he didn’t intend to practice law again. It also claimed that he understood his graduate program might revoke his acceptance, but that he was prepared for the possibility.
“I have nothing to lose, it’s already been taken,” Potere told partners during a recorded meeting, according to the complaint. “It’s already gone. So, and that’s just like what’s happening to me and my friends professionally all the time. And everyone gets away with it all the time.”
The complaint stated Potere said he was not worried about serving jail time because people who rape other people don’t get jail time. The complaint did not provide a direct quote from Potere.
Potere received the partner’s email login information while working on discovery for a case in 2015, according to the complaint. Then in 2017, after accessing the email account again and discovering an email about him that he found disparaging, Potere searched the partner’s emails for confidential firm documents to download, the complaint said. He presented this information to several partners during meetings in which he requested the money and the art, according to the complaint.
After demanding the money and the artwork, Potere claimed to have set his email account to automatically release the documents, the complaint said. Later, in recorded meetings with unnamed partners, he said he would have nothing to lose if he didn’t receive his settlement terms, and that the only question was “just how much damage I could do,” according to the complaint.
Potere spent Thursday night in jail and was set to appear in Los Angeles federal court on Friday at 2pm local time, according to a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office. His defense counsel is listed as Asal Akhondzadeh, a public defender.
Attempts to reach Potere and his attorney were unsuccessful.
Potere joined Dentons as a junior litigation associate in 2015, following a stint at the Illinois Attorney General’s Office, a clerkship in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and a year at Kirkland & Ellis in Chicago, according to his LinkedIn profile . He received his JD from Northwestern Law in 2012.
A spokesperson for Dentons confirmed that Potere is no longer at the firm.
“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,” the spokesperson said. “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.”
The Daily Journal in Los Angeles earlier reported the news.
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