[ATTORNEY DISCIPLINE]

Attorney's foray into art world turns sour, draws suspension


A Glendale attorney's foray into the art world turned sour when he attempted to negotiate the return of two stolen paintings and ended up with a grand jury indictment. Levon Kirakosian [#90857], 52, pleaded guilty to a violation of Penal Code §659, aiding and abetting a misdemeanor -- attempted extortion. He was sentenced to three years of probation, 300 hours of community service and a fine of $100.

Due to his criminal conviction, the State Bar suspended Kirakosian for six months, stayed, and placed him on probation for one year, effective July 2, 1997. He also was ordered to pass the MPRE.

Kirakosian's troubles began in December 1991, when an underwriter from Lloyds of London received information from IFAR magazine that it had been contacted by Kirakosian about some paintings stolen in January 1991 from the Baghoomian Art Gallery in New York.

IFAR is an art trade periodical which publishes a list of stolen artwork sought by insurance companies.

Kirakosian said he had been contacted anonymously by an individual who claimed to have access to the paintings.

The individual requested Kirakosian's assistance in returning the paintings and claiming a reward.

The Lloyds underwriter contacted Kirakosian and told him the customary reward was 10 percent of the claim. Lloyds had paid the Baghoomian gallery $450,000, bringing the reward to $45,000.

The underwriter told Kirakosian that Lloyds would not work with or provide a reward to the thieves, but only to those who innocently acquired art they later discovered to be stolen.

Kirakosian said he knew nothing about the individual who contacted him, but would convey the information.

Several weeks went by with no further communication from Kirakosian, so the underwriter hired a private investigation firm to delve into the matter.

In January 1992, a private investigator from the firm, posing as an underwriter, contacted Kirakosian and learned that the client would not accept a ten percent reward and wanted at least $150,000.

The private investigator believed that attempted extortion was now involved and turned the case over to another investigator within his firm.

The second investigator contacted Kirakosian in January 1992, and recorded all telephone conversations between the two of them. The new investigator, also posing as an insurance underwriter, told Kirakosian that a $150,000 reward was unacceptable and asked for photographs of the paintings for proof of his acces California Bar Journal - August, 1997

[ATTORNEY DISCIPLINE]

Attorney's foray into art world turns sour, draws suspension


A Glendale attorney's foray into the art world turned sour when he attempted to negotiate the return of two stolen paintings and ended up with a grand jury indictment. Levon Kirakosian [#90857], 52, pleaded guilty to a violation of Penal Code §659, aiding and abetting a misdemeanor -- attempted extortion. He was sentenced to three years of probation, 300 hours of community service and a fine of $100.

Due to his criminal conviction, the State Bar suspended Kirakosian for six months, stayed, and placed him on probation for one year, effects to them.

Kirakosian provided the photos and countered with a new figure of $80,000 for the reward. According to the conversation recorded at that time, Kirakosian said, "Now I hope we don't come back with 55 (thousand) and go back, because I think these guys are dead serious. They are at a point where if they don't get a decisive response, God knows what will happen with those pictures."

In February 1992, the investigator called Kirakosian and confirmed that Lloyds had agreed to pay $80,000, subject to an art expert's examination.

Later that month, an undercover officer from the Los Angeles Police Department, posing as an art expert, arrived at Kirakosian's office, along with a real art expert, the investigator and the underwriter.

Kirakosian produced the paintings, which were determined to be authentic, and he was arrested.

In mitigation, Kirakosian maintained that he attempted to handle the artwork negotiations in the proper manner by consulting other attorneys and, upon the advice of an assistant U.S. attorney, contacted State Bar's ethics hotline.

He claimed that the bar's hotline, which does not give legal advice, was unaware of any ethics provisions that would prohibit him from negotiating with the insurance company.

He received advice from at least four attorneys who concurred that he could properly negotiate for the reward.

Kirakosian stated that when the offer of $150,000 was made to the investigator, nothing was mentioned about it being improper, inappropriate or excessive. In fact, at one point, according to tapes of a conversation, the investigator urged Kirakosian to come back with a figure so they could "meet in the middle." The investigator indicated he expected more negotiations before an agreement was reached.

In addition to the misconduct surrounding the stolen artwork, Kirakosian also failed to maintain the required balance of client entrusted funds in hive July 2, 1997. He also was ordered to pass the MPRE.

Kirakosian's troubles began in December 1991, when an underwriter from Lloyds of London received information from IFAR magazine that it had been contacted by Kirakosian about some paintings stolen in January 1991 from the Baghoomian Art Gallery in New York.

IFAR is an art trade periodical which publishes a list of stolen artwork sought by insurance companies.

Kirakosian said he had been contacted anonymously by an individual who claimed to have access to the paintings.

The individual requested Kirakosian's assistance in returning the paintings and claiming a reward.

The Lloyds underwriter contacted Kirakosian and told him the customary reward was 10 percent of the claim. Lloyds had paid the Baghoomian gallery $450,000, bringing the reward to $45,000.

The underwriter told Kirakosian that Lloyds would not work with or provide a reward to the thieves, but only to those who innocentlis client trust account while handling a personal injury matter.

Kirakosian's prior discipline-free record was considered in mitigation but was not accorded any weight because his misconduct stemmed from a conviction for aiding and abetting a misdemeanor. The facts and circumstances surrounding the target offense -- attempted extortion -- was deemed a crime which involved moral turpitude.

His misconduct did not result in any harm to clients.

Also considered as a mitigating factor was Kirakosian's extensive public service record. He is very active in the Armenian community and since his admission to the bar in 1979, at least 30 percent of his practice is pro bono. He is active in Democratic Party politics, has been a member of several Los Angeles public commissions and is an elder of his church.

[CALBAR JOURNAL]

Kirakosian said he knew nothing about the individual who contacted him, but would convey the information.

Several weeks went by with no further communication from Kirakosian, so the underwriter hired a private investigation firm to delve into the matter.

In January 1992, a private investigator from the firm, posing as an underwriter, contacted Kirakosian and learned that the client would not accept a ten percent reward and wanted at least $150,000.

The private investigator believed that attempted extortion was now involved and turned the case over to another investigator within his firm.

The second investigator contacted Kirakosian in January 1992, and recorded all telephone conversations between the two of them. The new investigator, also posing as an insurance underwriter, told Kirakosian that a $150,000 reward was unacceptable and asked for photographs of the paintings for proof of his acces=148 ALIGN=BOTTOM>

s to them.

Kirakosian provided the photos and countered with a new figure of $80,000 for the reward. According to the conversation recorded at that time, Kirakosian said, "Now I hope we don't come back with 55 (thousand) and go back, because I think these guys are dead serious. They are at a point where if they don't get a decisive response, God knows what will happen with those pictures."

In February 1992, the investigator called Kirakosian and confirmed that Lloyds had agreed to pay $80,000, subject to an art expert's examination.

Later that month, an undercover officer from the Los Angeles Police Department, posing as an art expert, arrived at Kirakosian's office, along with a real art expert, the investigator and the underwriter.

Kirakosian produced the paintings, which were determined to be authentic, and he was arrested.

In mitigation, Kirakosian maintained that he attempted to handle the artwork negotiations in the proper manner by consulting other attorneys and, upon the advice of an assistant U.S. attorney, contacted State Bar's ethics hotline.

He claimed that the bar's hotline, which does not give legal advice, was unaware of any ethics provisions that would prohibit him from negotiating with the insurance company.

He received advice from at least four attorneys who concurred that he could properly negotiate for the reward.

Kirakosian stated that when the offer of $150,000 was made to the investigator, nothing was mentioned about it being improper, inappropriate or excessive. In fact, at one point, according to tapes of a conversation, the investigator urged Kirakosian to come back with a figure so they could "meet in the middle." The investigator indicated he expected more negotiations before an agreement was reached.

In addition to the misconduct surrounding the stolen artwork, Kirakosian also failed to maintain the required balance of client entrusted funds in his client trust account while handling a personal injury matter.

Kirakosian's prior discipline-free record was considered in mitigation but was not accorded any weight because his misconduct stemmed from a conviction for aiding and abetting a misdemeanor. The facts and circumstances surrounding the target offense -- attempted extortion -- was deemed a crime which involved moral turpitude.

His misconduct did not result in any harm to clients.

Also considered as a mitigating factor was Kirakosian's extensive public service record. He is very active in the Armenian community and since his admission to the bar in 1979, at least 30 percent of his practice is pro bono. He is active in Democratic Party politics, has been a member of several Los Angeles public commissions and is an elder of his church.

[CALBAR JOURNAL]