Shapiro Settles Suit Stemming From Death Futures Scam

Times Staff Writer

Attorney Robert L. Shapiro, who has represented O.J. Simpson, Christian Brando and other celebrity clients, settled Tuesday with an attorney who had sued him for allegedly siphoning $6 million from the proceeds of a $90-million death futures scam.

Terms of the settlement, which was reached as jury selection was about to start in the civil case, were confidential. But attorney Barry A. Fisher had been seeking at least $3.5 million. Shapiro’s attorney, Thomas Girardi, did not return phone calls seeking comment.

In 1997, Shapiro represented David W. Laing, the owner of Personal Choice Opportunities Inc. in Palm Springs, who was charged in a scheme to allow the terminally ill to sell their insurance policies at less than face value so they could use the money while they were alive. Personal Choice promised investors 25% returns. But there was one problem: No insurance policies existed, authorities said.


Laing pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities and mail fraud and served eight years in federal prison before his release a few months ago.

Fisher was appointed by the court to track down the missing money for investors. He filed suit in 2001 accusing Shapiro of arranging for up to 12 bags, each filled with $500,000, to be taken from Laing’s home in April 1997 so the defendant could post bail after his arrest. At least $200,000 went to attorney fees for Shapiro, Fisher charged in court documents.

Fisher argued that Shapiro should have known that the money was “illegally and fraudulently obtained” and should have told authorities about his payment. Shapiro denied any wrongdoing, saying that he had acquired the money from the sale of Laing’s home and that his payment had been approved by a federal judge.

Shapiro’s firm, Christensen Glaser, was originally named as a defendant, but Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Victor H. Person dropped the firm from the suit.

Fisher said outside court he has recovered much of the $90 million for investors, but about $15 million remains unaccounted for.

He is still trying to recover money from a Mexican filmmaker, whom Laing allegedly paid $250,000 as part of a $1-million deal for the rights to 90 Mexican films, Fisher said.

“It’s been nine years of a bizarre tale,” Fisher said.