NEW YORK, Jan 11 (Reuters) - A son of Irish immigrants who
was the first in his family to earn a college degree and rose
to become a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell was sentenced to
more than two years in prison on Wednesday for evading taxes on
$10.8 million in income.
In sentencing John J. O'Brien, U.S. Magistrate Judge Henry
Pitman said the lawyer's rise and fall from stature was "a
Greek tragedy" but noted that there were millions of dollars
O'Brien used the money for personal expenses such as the
purchase of a weekend home, international travel and the
funding of a rare books business in an effort to maintain a
relationship with a man he met in 1996, according to court
records. His lawyer, Russell Neufeld, described O'Brien as a
gay man whose failure to pay taxes between 2001 to 2008 was
"the direct result of a serious mental disorder and his
dysfunctional relationship with his partner."
O'Brien, 48, pleaded guilty in August to four criminal
misdemeanors and owing $2.5 million in taxes while he worked
for Sullivan & Cromwell. The judge sentenced him in Manhattan
federal court to a total of 28 months -- 7 months for each
count to be served consecutively.
The former law firm partner faces a disciplinary hearing
and could lose his law license. Sullivan & Cromwell was not
accused of any wrongdoing and it reported all his partnership
income to the Internal Revenue Service.
A spokeswoman for the firm could not immediately be reached
"I never believed for one minute that I was going to
somehow escape the tax liability," O'Brien told Pitman as his
parents, brother and partner listened in court. "I made a
stupid decision to put it off."
O'Brien's wrongdoing was personal and had nothing to do
with his clients, the judge said. He ordered O'Brien to pay
restitution of $2.8 million in back taxes and interest owed,
but did not impose a fine.
O'Brien was born in Philadelphia to an Irish immigrant dock
worker father and his mother was a public schools clerk and
custodian. His career track was described by the judge as one
that "epitomized the American dream come true."
He graduated from Princeton University, the London School
of Economics and New York University Law School on his way to
becoming an associate and then a partner in mergers and
acquisitions in 2001 with Sullivan & Cromwell. He resigned in
U.S. prosecutor Stanley Okula said in court that O'Brien
was motivated by greed and made a conscious decision to use the
money for his own purposes. "He was writing these checks
instead of paying the IRS," Okula said.
O'Brien told the judge that he was determined to practice
law again one day. Pitman ordered him to report to prison on
The case is USA v. O'Brien, U.S. District Court for the
Southern District of New York, No. 11-00652.
For the USA: Assistant U.S. Attorney Stanley Okula.
For O'Brien: Russell T. Neufeld of the Law Office of
(Reporting by Grant McCool)
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