Federal criminal charges were filed this week against attorney Timothy Litzenburg alleging the 37-year-old lawyer demanded $200 million in “consulting fees” in exchange for keeping quiet about information that he threatened would be potentially devastating to a chemical compound supplier to Monsanto.
Litzenburg was charged with one count each of attempted extortion, conspiracy and transmission of interstate communications with intent to extort. He was arrested Tuesday but has been released on bond.
Litzenburg was the attorney for Dewayne “Lee” Johnson leading up to Johnson’s 2018 trial against Monsanto, which resulted in a $289 million jury award in Johnson’s favor. The trial was the first of three that have taken place against Monsanto over allegations that the company’s glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Monsanto, and its German owner Bayer AG, have lost all three trials to date but are appealing the verdicts.
Though Litzenburg had been responsible for preparing Johnson for trial, he was not allowed to participate during the actual event because of concerns about his behavior held by The Miller Firm, which was his employer at the time.
The Miller firm subsequently fired Litzenburg and filed a lawsuit alleging Litzenburg engaged in self-dealing, and “disloyal and erratic conduct.” Litzenburg responded with a counter-claim. The parties recently negotiated a confidential settlement.
The new trouble for Litzenburg came in the form of a criminal complaint filed Monday in federal court in Virginia. The complaint does not name the company Litzenburg was demanding money from, referring to it as “Company 1.” According to the charges, Litzenburg contacted Company 1 in September of this year stating that he was preparing a lawsuit that would allege Company 1 and related companies supplied chemical compounds used by Monsanto to create its branded Roundup herbicide and that Company 1 knew the ingredients were carcinogenic but had failed to warn the public. He also attempted to involve an entity referred to in the complaint as Company 2, described by prosecutors as a U.S. publicly traded company that bought Company 1 in 2018.
Earlier this year Litzenburg told US Right to Know that he was drafting such a complaint against chemical supplier Huntsman International and related entities, but it is not clear if Huntsman is involved in this action.
Litzenburg, who is now a partner with the firm of Kincheloe, Litzenburg & Pendleton, did not respond to a request for comment. Neither did his law partner Dan Kincheloe. Litzenburg has claimed to be representing roughly 1,000 clients suing Monsanto over Roundup cancer causation allegations.
According to the complaint, Litzenburg told a lawyer for Company 1 that he believed if he filed an initial lawsuit many more would follow. To prevent that, Company 1 could enter into a “consulting arrangement” with Litzenburg, the lawyer allegedly told the company. As a consultant Litzenburg would have a conflict of interest that would prevent him from filing the threatened litigation.
According to information the complaint states was provided by an attorney for Company 1, Litzenburg said he would need a $5 million settlement of the drafted lawsuit and a consulting arrangement for $200 million for himself and an associate. The criminal complaint states that Litzenburg put the terms of his demand in writing in an email to the company attorney, warning that if the company did not comply, Litzenburg would create “Roundup Two,” which would cause “an ongoing and exponentially growing problem” for Company 1.
Litzenburg wrote in the email that the $200 million consulting agreement for himself and an associate was “a very reasonable price,” according to the criminal complaint. At least two such “associates” were involved in the scheme, according to the complaint.
The attorney for Company 1 contacted the U.S. Department of Justice in October and investigators subsequently recorded a phone call with Litzenburg discussing the $200 million he was seeking, the complaint states.
According to the complaint, Litzenburg was recorded as saying: “The way that I guess you guys will think about it and we’ve thought about it too is savings for your side. I don’t think if this gets filed and turns into mass tort, even if you guys win cases and drive value down… I don’t think there’s any way you get out of it for less than a billion dollars. And so, you know, to me, uh, this is a fire sale price that you guys should consider…”
During other communications with Company 1, Litzenburg allegedly said that if he received the $200 million, he was willing to “take a dive” during a civil deposition of a Company 1 toxicologist to undermine the prospects for future plaintiffs to try to sue the company.
If Company 1 entered into a deal with him, Litzenburg allegedly said, it would mean Company 1 would “avoid the parade of horribles that has been the Roundup litigation for Bayer/Monsanto.”
Prosecuting the case for the U.S. Department of Justice are Assistant Chief L. Rush Atkinson and Principal Assistant Chief Henry P. Van Dyck of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.