The private law firm of Motley Rice stands to receive at least $23.35 million of the $105 million settlement that the V.I. government reached with Jeffrey Epstein’s estate — and the firm’s lawyers could earn even more in the future, depending on the outcome of a pending case against JPMorgan Chase.
The Daily News obtained a copy of the 2020 agreement through a public records request, which shows that the V.I. Justice Department retained Motley Rice lawyer Linda Singer and her firm on a contingency basis, meaning that they would earn nothing if the case did not result in a judgement or settlement.
The parties did reach a settlement in November, and Epstein’s estate has agreed to pay the V.I. government $105 million in cash, as well as half of the proceeds of the sale of Little St. James island — currently listed at $55 million — and $450,000 to remediate damage to the environment and historic structures caused by Epstein’s illegal development on Great St. James island.
Under the retainer, Motley Rice will receive 25% of any recovery from “cash or liquid assets” up to and including $50 million, “exclusive of reasonable costs and expenses.”
The firm will earn 20% of any portion of any recovery that exceeds $50 million, “up to and including $100 million,” and 17% of any portion of any recovery between $100 million and $150 million, exclusive of costs.
The retainer includes a fourth tier, wherein the firm would earn 15% of any portion of any recovery exceeding $150 million.
Singer has not responded to a request for comment from The Daily News.
The retainer stipulates that the firm will only be entitled to fees, costs, and expenses incurred during the investigation or litigation “from any monetary recovery after judgment or settlement, from an award by the Court to be imposed upon the defendants, by agreement with the defendants, or some combination thereof.”
In addition, “The Value of any in-kind recovery, such as forfeited property, shall be included in the value of the recovery for which a contingent fee is paid. However, nothing in this provision will require the Government to pay the contingency fee except from a monetary recovery or as awarded by the Court or negotiated with the defendants,” according to the retainer. “In other words, while the value of in-kind recovery will be considered part of the total recovery, the contingency fee will still only be paid pursuant to the terms outlined above.”
It’s unclear whether Motley Rice is entitled to a percentage of half of the value of Little St. James, and whether the island is considered forfeited property or part of the cash recovery, given that a sale would convert its value to cash.
It appears from the Nov. 30 press release from George that the island’s value would be included in the firm’s payment, as “Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants will pay the Government of the Virgin Islands $105 million in cash plus one half of the proceeds from the sale of Little St. James, the island on which Epstein resided and on which many of his crimes occurred. The total cash value of the settlement will increase once the island is sold.”
George, who was fired earlier this month by Gov. Albert Bryan Jr., has not responded to requests for comment from The Daily News.
Acting V.I. Attorney General Carol Thomas-Jacobs provided the 2020 retainer with Motley Rice in response to the public records request from The Daily News, but has not responded to any subsequent questions about it.
The term of the retainer began on Feb. 5, 2020 and was set to expire on Jan. 31, 2022 “or until the designated litigation is settled, completed or terminated.”
The contract also includes an option to renew the agreement for successive one-year terms,
It appears that the retainer remains in effect, as Singer and Thomas-Jacobs are also representing the V.I. government in a new lawsuit against JP Morgan, which accuses the bank of turning a blind eye to Epstein’s questionable financial transactions and allowing him to exploit young women and girls.
The recent settlement with his estate resolved claims by the V.I. government that Epstein’s attorneys used a network of shell companies to fraudulently obtain massive tax benefits from the V.I. Economic Development Commission, which helped fund the purchase of Little St. James and Great St. James islands and facilitated Epstein’s sexual abuse of dozens of women and girls.
A convicted sex offender, Epstein died by suicide in August 2019 while awaiting trial on new criminal charges.
His estate and its executors, Epstein’s long-time attorneys Darren Indyke and Richard Kahn, have denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
Bryan signs off on lawsuit
George briefly acknowledged Motley Rice near the end of a four-page press release about the settlement that was issued on Nov. 30, but the terms of her agreement with Singer had not been previously disclosed to the public.
The contract does not appear to have been uploaded to the Property and Procurement website, and Commissioner Anthony Thomas did not respond to questions from The Daily News Monday, a federal holiday.
While it was rumored that Bryan fired George because she was pursuing litigation against Epstein and his associates without his consent, Government House Communications Director Richard Motta Jr. has said that is false.
Bryan was supportive of George’s pursuit of Epstein-related cases, Motta told The Daily News on Jan. 9, but was concerned with the Justice Department’s lack of effort on local cases and ongoing problems with substandard morgue facilities and other issues.
Indeed, the 2020 retainer’s scope of representation explicitly states that the government was engaging Motley Rice “to represent it in litigation related to the Estate of Jeffrey E. Epstein and related matters,” that “require additional resources and expenses, beyond those available to the Office of the Attorney General.”
Singer signed the retainer on Feb. 21, 2020; George on April 17, 2020; Thomas signed a month later, and Bryan signed it in his capacity as governor on June 24, 2020.
The Daily News requested copies of all contracts between the V.I. Justice Department and Motley Rice, but Thomas-Jacobs only provided a copy of the 2020 retainer.
Shadow V.I. attorney?
An earlier contract with Motley Rice from 2017 that is posted on the Property and Procurement website appears to be a transitional agreement intended to keep Singer working for the V.I. Justice Department after she left the firm of Cohen Milstein.
Singer has been representing the V.I. government for years, and previously signed similar contingency agreements with then V.I. Attorney General Claude Walker under the administration of Gov. Kenneth Mapp, while she was with Cohen Milstein.
“The Government terminated its relationship with Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC when attorney Linda Singer joined Motley Rice, LLC,” according to the 2017 agreement. “Under this new engagement under this Contract, the Government will transfer two open matters (Terminix and Takata) from Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, PLLC to Motley Rice, LLC as Linda Singer, the responsible partner, joined Motley Rice, LLC.”
The contract went on to stipulate that “Any fees and expenses recovered in those matters shall be paid, pursuant to this Retainer Agreement, to Motley Rice,” and indemnified the government against any disputes between the firms.
The term of the contract began on Feb. 6, 2017, and ended on Jan. 31, 2018 “or until the designated litigation is settled, completed or terminated. The contract may be extended by the Government for successive one (1) year terms,” according to the retainer.
It’s unclear whether that agreement remains in effect.
As far as Smith’s previous agreements with Walker, news website The Hill obtained a contingency agreement in 2016, which engaged Cohen Milstein to represent the V.I. government “in complex enforcement investigations and litigation.”
Under that agreement, which does not appear to have resulted in any judgements or settlements, Cohen Milstein stood to earn 27% of any recovery up to $100 million, 22% of recovery between $100 million and $250 million, and 18% of recovery in excess of $250 million.
At least some of Smith’s contingency agreements with Walker did result in monetary recovery, and she represented the government in litigation related to the Takata airbag recall, and enforcement litigation against the former Hess refinery on St. Croix.
“The settlement in that case is valued at more than $750 million in revenue and environmental cleanup,” according to Smith’s profile on the Motley Rice website.
The value of those earlier agreements between the V.I. government and Cohen Milstein has not been made public.
Thomas-Jacobs has not responded to a public records request by The Daily News for copies of all agreements between the Justice Department and Cohen Milstein, and there are no contracts with Cohen Milstein posted on the Property and Procurement website.
A former Attorney General for the District of Columbia, Smith has struck similar contingency agreements with top prosecutors in states across the country.
She has represented states like Hawaii, Arizona, and Nevada in litigation ranging from healthcare fraud to “repayment for students who alleged they were defrauded by a chain of for-profit colleges,” according to the Motley Rice website.