Long before Nevin Shapiro gained infamy as a rogue University of Miami booster and Ponzi schemer, he was a regular kid growing up on Miami Beach.
His best friend was Marc Levinson, and together they played on the same soccer team, hung out at each others houses and formed a rat pack of friends at Miami Beach Senior High.
By 2003, Levinson, who by then was an attorney with the major Miami law firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon, started advising his buddy on Shapiros $1.5 million investment in a Florida sports agency.
A decade later, Levinson and the law firm now find themselves accused in a lawsuit of aiding and abetting Shapiros violations of federal securities laws during his $930 million investment scam, as well as his violations of NCAA regulations involving his alleged cash payments to UM star athletes.
The bankruptcy trustee for Shapiros former company, Capitol Investments USA, has sued Levinson and the 500-lawyer firm in a bid to recover some of the $110 million lost by victims fleeced by the convicted Miami Beach businessman. The 43-year-old Shapiro, who was charged with and pleaded guilty to securities fraud in 2010, is serving a 20-year federal prison sentence.
Shook, Hardy & Bacon, a Kansas City, Mo.-based law firm that retained a Miami attorney to represent itself and Levinson, issued a statement saying it was disappointed over the legal fight with the bankruptcy trustee. Coincidentally, the suit was assigned to U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez, who once worked as a civil defense attorney alongside Shook, Hardy & Bacons lawyers representing Big Tobacco companies against a massive Florida smokers class-action case. Martinez recused himself from the case Friday.
We will diligently defend ourselves in this case, and will continue our commitment to resolve any issues that arise in a reasonable, judicious and professional manner, the statement said. It added: Nevin Shapiro deceived many people, including those closest to him, and is serving a prison sentence for his reprehensible conduct.
Since Miami attorney Joel Tabas became the trustee for Shapiros bankrupt business in November 2009, his legal team has recovered $35 million from various parties and redistributed $13 million so far to about 40 victims. More distributions are planned this year. For its work, Tabas law firm gets to keep about $11.5 million of the total take.
Among Tabas previous claw backs with links to the Shook, Hardy & Bacon case:
• $400,000 in legal fees recovered from Shapiros former criminal defense attorneys, Guy Lewis and Michael Tein, who also received Shapiros Riviera sport-fishing yacht as part of their legal payments;
• $19,000 recovered from Miami attorney Paul Calli. Calli agreed in a settlement to pay back the money, which he had borrowed from Shapiro in June 2009 before the Ponzi schemer went to prison the following year, according to the bankruptcy case. Calli declined to comment;
• $900,000 from South Florida sports handicapper Adam Meyer, who had sold game picks to Shapiro and placed some bets for him in Las Vegas.
Shapiro had a serious gambling problem, betting millions of dollars on college and pro football games, while his business of brokering groceries nationwide spun out of control, according to court records.