Miami-Dade County

Miccosukees sued by their former lawyers

Guy Lewis and Michael Tein
Guy Lewis and Michael Tein Miami Herald

Two lawyers who once represented the Miccosukee tribe are suing their former clients, claiming members engaged in a “criminal scheme” to ruin their reputation through a series of bogus lawsuits.

In their lawsuit filed this week, Guy Lewis and Michael Tein claim the tribe’s legal campaign was marked by perjury, witness tampering and intimidation, and destruction of evidence.

Their lawsuit was filed three months after the Miccosukees agreed to pay Lewis and Tein $4 million in attorney’s fees stemming from the tribe’s series of failed lawsuits against them.

“Attorney’s fees were not intended to – and do not – compensate Lewis Tein for the severe economic damage that the Tribe’s numerous illegal acts and multiple malicious prosecutors caused to the law firm,” according to the suit.

The tribe’s attorney did not return requests for comment on Friday. Lewis and Tein’s lawyer, Curtis Miner, said on Friday: “The complaint speaks for itself.”

The lawsuit is the latest salvo in a long-running legal feud between the lawyers and the small West Miami-Dade tribe that runs a lucrative casino off Tamiami Trail and Krome Avenue.

Lewis is the former U.S. Attorney for South Florida. Tein is also a federal prosecutor. Between 2005 and 2010, their firm represented the tribe in a host of legal issues under then-tribal chairman Billy Cypress.

After Cypress was ousted as chairman in 2011, the tribe went to federal court, accusing him of stealing $26 million from the tribe to spend on numerous gambling trips, shopping sprees, real-estate investments and luxury cars. The tribe claimed that Lewis and Tein conspired with Billie to get kickbacks while keeping the rest of the tribe in the dark about Cypress' spending.

“Mr. Tein and Mr. Lewis were forced to spent years burdened publicly with these unfounded and false allegations,” the lawsuit said, adding the allegation was “designed to publicly embarrass Mr. Lewis and Mr. Tein and ensure coverage in the media of such salacious details.”

A federal judge later dismissed the tribe's claims and ordered the tribe and their lawyer, Bernardo Roman, sanctioned for filing a lawsuit that featured “no evidence or only patently frivolous evidence.”

In a similar state case, another judge wrote that the tribe and its lawyer “in bad faith” continued its lawsuit “in the face of overwhelming evidence demonstrating the claims against Lewis and Tein were unfounded and frivolous.”

Friday’s lawsuit also alleged that the Tribe underhandedly helped the lawyer for the family of Liliana Bermudez, who was killed in a fatal crash with two tribal members represented by Lewis and Tein. The Bermudez family won a $3.1 million judgment, and had gone after the tribe to collect the money.

The suit names the tribe as a defendants, but mentions a host of players, including Roman and Colley Billie, who succeeded Cypress as chairman and led the tribe during its litigation.

Roman, who is no longer employed by the tribe, still faces a Florida Bar inquiry relating to his litigation against Lewis and Tein, as do two other lawyers involved in the legal wrangling.

“Ironically, this may be a new opportunity for the Miccosukees to get their day in court that was denied to them, through procedural technicalities, in order to show to a jury of their peers the wrongs done to them and to other similarly situated families, like the Bermudez family,” Roman said Friday in a statement.

“I am hopeful that in the end truth and justice will prevail.”

The 600-member tribe remains mired in legal woes.

In March, Cypress returned to power as the chairman, seven years after he was ousted from the position. He and the tribe are embroiled in a fight with the IRS over federal taxes on lucrative gambling proceeds from the casino.

Earlier this month, a tribal member lost a contentious tax case that experts believe will strengthen federal government efforts to collect more than $1 billion in overdue personal income taxes.