A former Dentons associate who stole the firm’s confidential files and then tried to extort cash and artwork from the firm now faces attorney discipline charges.
The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission’s complaint alleged ethical violations based on the criminal conduct of Michael Bernard Potere, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to federal prison for unauthorized computer access. The complaint was served July 10 but recently posted.
Potere was an associate in Dentons’ Los Angeles office from 2015 until June 2017, ARDC said. While working on a matter, Potere was given access to a partner’s emails. After the matter ended, and along with it his authorization to access the emails, Potere downloaded numerous confidential firm documents, such as financial reports, documents about partner meetings, client lists, billing information, and recruiting-related information, ARDC said.
Potere accessed the files after the firm denied his request to continue working at the firm for several months until he started a graduate program, ARDC said.
Potere then met with two partners, ARDC said. He brought two bottles of wine to the meeting and told the partners about the documents he obtained. Potere demanded $210,000 and a specific piece of artwork, or he would send the documents to a legal website, Abovethelaw.
Dentons contacted the FBI and partners were given recording devices before meeting with Potere again, ARDC said.
Criminal charges were brought and a grand jury returned two extortion related counts. Potere pleaded guilty to misdemeanor unauthorized computer access. As part of his plea, Potere admitted to accessing and downloading, without authorization, various confidential documents, and demanding money and art in exchange for their return.
He was sentenced to five months in federal prison, followed by a year of supervised release.
Given Potere’s criminal conduct, ARDC said he violated Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct 8.4(b) (criminal act that reflects adversely on “honesty, trustworthiness, or fitness") and 8.4(c) (dishonestly, fraud, deceit, misrepresentation).
Disciplinary proceedings are also pending in California.
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