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Ex-ImClone General Counsel Is Now CFO, Top Lawyer at Hemp Outfit

June 7, 2021, 4:24 PM

Clifford Saffron, once swept up in legal proceedings involving Martha Stewart, has now joined her in the growing business of marketing cannabidiol products with a new position as legal chief for Optimus Healthcare Services Inc.

Stewart, who entered the legal weed industry through a CBD products partnership with Canadian cannabis giant Canopy Growth Corp., spent five months in prison after being found guilty in 2004 of lying to federal investigators about her stock sales in biopharmaceutical company ImClone Systems Inc.

Saffron, ImClone’s former general counsel, was announced June 3 as the chief financial officer and general counsel for Optimus, a hemp and CBD products company formerly known as Between Dandelions Inc.

Optimus said in a statement that Saffron has “assumed responsibilities related to aligning corporate growth and the long-term strategic vision” for the company. Saffron didn’t respond to a request for comment about his new role at Optimus, which acquired Between Dandelions in December and earlier this year signed a letter of intent to buy chronic care compliance platform AdhereRx Inc.

Saffron parted ways with ImClone in 2005, three years before the company shook off the Stewart-related scandal and was sold for $6.5 billion to drug giant Eli Lilly & Co.

Saffron, who joined ImClone in early 2002, was promoted to general counsel a year later to replace former legal chief John Landes. When Saffron left ImClone he turned over the company’s top legal role to fellow former Proskauer Rose lawyer Erik Ramanathan, now a top bundler for President Joe Biden.

Saffron subsequently became a principal in the life sciences advisory practice at KPMG, ImClone’s former accounting firm. Saffron’s LinkedIn profile shows that he retired from KPMG in 2018 and became president of Hoffman Technologies Inc., an early-stage pharmaceutical company known as Varent Life Sciences.

In April, Saffron filed a lawsuit in a New York state court against Tomas Infernuso, founder of the Animal Surgical Center in East Meadow, N.Y. The 16-page civil complaint claims that Infernuso hired Saffron in March 2020 to serve as CEO of the veterinary surgical business, but fired him shortly thereafter when the former ImClone legal chief sought to change an allegedly toxic workplace culture.

Saffron is being represented in the dispute by Douglas Wigdor, a go-to lawyer for sexual harassment cases, and his partner David Gottlieb. In an email to Bloomberg Law, Gottlieb said Saffron’s case against Infernuso is pending and in the early stages of discovery. Counsel for Infernuso have yet to enter an appearance in the matter.

As for Saffron, he was never implicated in any wrongdoing at ImClone, although as its top in-house lawyer his name surfaced in court filings and congressional testimony related to the company’s legal troubles.

ImClone’s former CEO Samuel Waksal, whose brother subsequently resigned as CEO of the company, eventually returned to the biotechnology industry after he reached a civil settlement and served jail time following a guilty plea to insider trading, bank fraud, perjury, and obstruction of justice charges.

Stewart also rehabilitated her own career in the years after the ImClone affair, as Canopy Growth recruited the lifestyle guru in early 2019 to advise on a new line of products for humans and animals. Stewart’s work in the cannabis space led to an unlikely business partnership with rapper, entertainer, and entrepreneur Snoop Dogg, one of several celebrities who have inked deals with Canopy Growth.

Saffron, as he prepares to embark on his new legal and financial role at Optimus, has remained on the periphery of celebrity.

He has been a longtime school board trustee in Roslyn, N.Y., an affluent New York City suburb where Saffron once helped with an investigation of Frank Tassone, a superintendent given a prison sentence in 2006 for his role in one of the largest school embezzlement schemes in U.S. history.

Tassone’s crimes—stealing an estimated $11.2 million from the Roslyn school district—recently returned in fictionalized form with “Bad Education,” a film released on HBO last year starring Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com
Rebekah Mintzer at rmintzer@bloomberglaw.com

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