A tale of fraud `Unraveled’

November 8, 2012 By Alex O’Sullivan-Pierce For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Marc Dreier, and the law firm whose masthead bore his name, was once at the pinnacle of the legal profession. In a meteoric rise to fame and fortune, Dreier achieved what many desire, but few accomplish: He was a veritable “celebrity lawyer.” 

But today, the mention of Dreier’s name sends chills down the spine of anyone familiar with his Faustian fall from grace.  For those who do not know, or do not wish to remember, Dreier LLP was lauded as an innovative and wildly successful Manhattan law firm before its founder was accused of, and ultimately pled guilty to, fraudulently acquiring hundreds of millions of dollars by writing bogus notes to hedge funds between 2002 and 2008.

“Unraveled,” a documentary by filmmaker Marc Simon, provides a glimpse into the ruins of Dreier’s world after his crime was exposed and a reflection on how he executed an audacious scheme involving forgery and impersonation. In October, students at Brooklyn Law School were treated to a screening of the documentary about Dreier and a panel discussion featuring the film’s director and several attorneys who dealt with the aftermath of this cataclysmic con. 

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Brooklyn Law School professor and well-known criminal defense attorney Gerald Shargel coordinated this event as a part of his Current Events in Criminal Law Seminar. Professor Shargel, who represented Dreier during his guilty plea and sentencing, invited Jonathan Streeter, the former Assistant US attorney who was assigned to prosecute Dreier, and defense attorney Ross Kramer, an associate of Shargel’s who worked closely on the Dreier case.  

Together, these attorneys discussed their involvement in the case and how it affected their careers and perspectives. Streeter explained how the government pushed for Dreier to receive the maximum, one hundred-plus year sentence, while Shargel and Kramer discussed how they argued for a lower sentence for their colossally unsympathetic client.

“Unraveled” covers the 8-week period between Dreier’s guilty plea and his sentencing on a slew of charges totaling over $400 million in illegitimate loans. In a town that has seen more than its fair share of rackets, Dreier’s crime has the ignominious distinction of being, some say, the biggest fraud New York has ever known. Nationally, Dreier’s crime is topped only by Bernard Madoff, who received a sentence of 145 years for running a decades-long Ponzi scheme. The drama of “Unraveled” revolves around whether Dreier will receive a sentence commensurate with Madoff or something lower. 

In compelling style, “Unraveled” tells the story of how a brilliant, charismatic attorney became unsatisfied with his personal success and set out to “borrow” a sum of money which he used to buy homes in the Hamptons and the Caribbean, private yachts, famous works of art, and build a 250 person law firm with his name on the door. 

The film features clips of Dreier chomping cigars and playing golf with professional football players, who at the time considered him a celebrity.  Interspersed with crisp animation sequences and haunting piano licks, the film shows Dreier at the height of his extraordinary excess contrasted with sobering interviews of the crook as he meets with his lawyers in his empty apartment, lamenting his misdeeds against the stark back drop of the bare walls that Warhols and Matisses once adorned.

Writer and director Marc Simon, known for critically acclaimed documentaries “Nursery University” and “After Innocence,” was uniquely situated to tell this story because of his experience as an attorney. Not only is Simon a practicing entertainment lawyer and a partner at a Manhattan law firm, he was also an employee at the infamous Dreier LLP from 2003 until the firm’s collapse in 2008.

Simon’s personal relationship with Dreier was one reason Simon was allowed access to interview Dreier about his crimes.  The other reason was that the project’s financial backers put up the funds necessary to pay for retired police officers to supervise the then-penniless Dreier 24 hours a day while he was under house arrest between his plea and sentencing.

A particularly surreal moment of the film catches Dreier gazing at the television, reacting to the news of a professional baseball player being caught using steroids.  The Harvard Law School graduate-turned-criminal chastises the athlete on the screen, saying, “You had all the talent in the world, and you threw it away.”

Unraveled is available on iTunes, and will air this weekend on on CNBC.

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