California

Calif. State Bar investigating Geragos for siphoning Armenian Genocide insurance settlement money

California attorneys Mark Geragos and Brian Kabateck are under investigation for their involvement in a life insurance settlement case for Armenian Genocide victims. 

The State Bar of California’s Board of Trustees Chair Ruben Duran announced Tuesday that the pair are under investigation. 

In a statement, Duran spoke to allegations in the past few years against the State Bar and famed attorney Tom Girardi, who was disbarred in July. 

“The State Bar is charged with protecting the public. Confidence in our ability to do so has unfortunately been shaken in recent times by the Girardi matter and what it represents. Restoring and maintaining the public’s trust in the disciplinary apparatus of this agency is imperative,” Duran said. 

“To that end, it is important to emphasize that the State Bar investigates possible misconduct wherever it might occur. The status of attorneys, or the size of their practice, cannot and will not impact our decisions to investigate misconduct. I want to stress that in and of itself this announcement is not an indication of any misconduct by the attorneys being investigated.” 

The investigation comes months after the Los Angeles Times reported that Geragos and Kabateck were involved in millions of dollars in settlement money that were not properly distributed. 

Geragos and Kabateck were some of the attorneys who won class-action settlements in the mid-2000s that totaled $37.5 million for the descendents of victims of the Armenian Genocide who had American life insurance policies. 

Per the report, a French insurance company agreed to a $17.5 million settlement for the descendents of the genocide and Armenian charities selected by a newly created French nonprofit. 

Instead the nonprofit was never created, churches never received the money they were promised and pet charities of Geragos and Kabateck – such as $1 million to their alma mater, Loyola Law School – were beneficiaries. 

The Times reported that hundreds of thousands of dollars were also given to sham claimants. 

Ultimately less than eight percent of claims submitted by Armenians were approved, even as applicants were denied after presenting evidence including insurance records, birth certificates, ship manifests and hand-drawn family trees. 

Over the last dozen years, the State Bar and law enforcement agencies received complaints about Geragos and Kabateck, but the chief licensing agency for attorneys had never take action against the pair. 

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.