D errell Williams, an ex-FBI special agent who’d worked with Gage for almost a decade, intercepted him as he walked from his car toward the front steps of his building.
“Hey, Chief. I had a meeting over at the U.S. Attorney’s Office on your antitrust case. The good news is that they were so thrilled to have the thing handed to them in a package that they did a little more tongue wagging than they should’ve.”
“And the bad news?” Gage asked, eyes fixed on Williams.
“You better watch your back. The word is that Peterson is pretending to be playing the SatTek case like it’s a game of Sunday touch football, but inside his four walls he’s been screaming that you’re screwing up his indictment and that he’s going to hammer you.”
Gage nodded. “Thanks for the heads-up.”
Williams smiled. “That’s what you always say, and then you do whatever you were going to do anyway.” His smile faded. “But I’m not sure that’s a safe way to go this time. My old partner was at the meeting. On the way out, he whispered that Peterson asked him whether there’s a connection between you and a Hong Kong company called TD Limited. He thought it was chickenshit. But it sounds to me like Peterson is following your tracks, trying to get you into his crosshairs.”
Gage knew Williams was right. Peterson was looking for a way to make him duck and run. Toxic Disposal Limited was a front company he and Burch created to smuggle medical supplies through Pakistan by mislabeling them as contaminated equipment sent for recycling. It was the only way to keep it from being stolen and sold on the black market. The problem was that the scheme required first presenting fraudulent export documents to U.S. Customs, a felony that could cost Gage both his license and a year in federal prison.
“Sounds that way to me, too,” Gage said, “but I’m working on getting Peterson into mine. We’ll see who locks on first.”
Alex Z hustled to catch up with Gage as he walked down the hallway toward his office.
“You guessed it, boss,” Alex Z said, following him inside. “There’s a connection. The partner at Simpson amp; Braunegg who’s handling the SatTek suit was a frat brother of Peterson at Cal. Franklin Braunegg. And they’re golfing buddies now. They even belong to the same country club.”
Gage pointed at a chair in front of his desk. “How’d you find out?”
“Alumni bulletins. That kind of thing.” Alex Z sat, then flipped open a folder and turned it toward Gage. “I even found a photo of them holding up a trophy from a tournament. They play in what’s called the Winter Circuit.”
“Can you find out whether Peterson was ever-”
“Already did.” He slid over a spreadsheet. “I found three securities cases where Peterson was the prosecutor and Braunegg was the class action lawyer. A total of about fifty-five million dollars.”
Gage gazed out of the window while doing his own calculation. “If Braunegg’s firm got thirty to forty percent, that would be fifteen or twenty million. Even if they had a few million in expenses, they made out like bandits in slam-dunk cases.”
“Slam-dunk? I thought these cases are more complicated than that.”
Gage looked back at Alex Z. “If Peterson can prove a criminal case to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, then even a second-or third-rate attorney can reach a preponderance of the evidence in a civil trial. It’s not that hard to tip the scales, especially when the defendants all have fraud convictions.”
Alex Z’s eyes widened. “You mean a guy driving on a suspended license facing a four-hundred-dollar fine can’t be convicted unless the jury finds him one hundred percent guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but Mr. Burch could be wiped out based on fifty-one percent to forty-nine percent?”
Alex Z threw up his hands. “That’s absurd.” He looked down, shaking his head, then up at Gage. “I see what Braunegg gets out of it, but what about Peterson?”
“Peterson can use Braunegg to take advantage of civil discovery rules that force defendants into depositions. The smart thing is for Jack to take the Fifth. He could do it secretly in front of the grand jury. But he knows if he did it in a deposition, Braunegg would leak it to the media.”
Gage cringed as he imagined the press stationed on the sidewalk in front of Burch’s house, and the humiliation inflicted by cameras riveted on his car window as he drove from his underground garage.
But there was something worse: “In a criminal case, a jury can’t hold it against you if you take the take the Fifth; in a civil trial they can. Braunegg would crush Jack with it.”
“But I thought they delayed-”
Gage shook his head. “There’s no way a judge would delay the civil case until the criminal trial is over. A lot of the shareholders are elderly. The court will want them to get their money back, not die waiting.”
“Well, then Mr. Burch should just let himself be deposed. Maybe once everyone hears the truth that will be the end of it.”
“It’ll only make things worse. Not only will Peterson assume Jack is lying, but it’ll give Matson a chance to adapt his story to Jack’s defense. In fact…” Gage imagined Braunegg and Peterson forehanding Burch back and forth like a tennis ball on an imaginary red clay court at a very real old boys’ club. “Braunegg can tailor his questions to what Peterson is forcing out of witnesses at the grand jury.”
Alex Z drew back. “That’s not right. Grand juries are supposed to be secret.”
“Only in theory.”
“But I thought Peterson was a straight shooter. NFL and all that.”
“Sports build muscles, not character. How many times do you think Peterson held a blocker, tripped a half-back, forearmed a quarterback, took a penalty rather than let the other side score? You think any coach ever complained? The only thing a coach ever said to him was, ‘Don’t get caught next time.’”
“A calculating little scavenger.”