Lawyer in 'Pharaoh' deal surrenders license

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More details here than we were able to smush into the print edition this week on a local legal happening. Leslie Newell Peacock reports:

Elgin Clemons Jr.
  • Elgin Clemons Jr.
When a promised donation of $500,000 to the Arkansas Arts Center ostensibly from a Dubai businessman was a no-show, the lawyer who’d promised the gift made himself scarce as well.

Now, Elgin Clemons Jr., a former member of the Arts Center board and former attorney in the Wright, Lindsey and Jennings firm, has surrendered his Arkansas law license and suggests he himself may have been duped by persons representing Mohammed bin Ali Al Abbar.

Clemons surrendered his license to avoid a disciplinary hearing by the state Supreme Court’s Committee on Professional Conduct, which had information that could have constituted “serious misconduct,” including representing both buyer and seller in several dubious business deals involving a group formed by Clemons, Al Abbar Group LLC. The Supreme Court granted the petition Feb. 24.

Clemons’ personal story is a compelling one: Raised by a single mother in a low-income housing project in Little Rock, Clemons attended Central High School and was elected governor of Boys State in 1984. He graduated from Princeton University in 1989 and New York University Law School in 1994. He practiced in New York before joining Wright, Lindsey and Jennings. Besides the Arts Center, Clemons served on the boards of the Enterprise Corporation of the Delta, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation at Princeton and on the board of trustees of Princeton. His petition lays out this background, and he states, “… somewhere on this journey I made some unfortunate choices as to those with whom I associated in legal and business matters and the problems described below arose.”

The petition says that among other "troubling issues" under investigation was Clemons’ representation of his Al Abbar investment group in its 2009 proposal to pay $99 million — to be funded by Mohammed bin Ali Abbar — to buy CVR, a Texas corporation. Clemons also represented CVR, asking the company to keep its corporate attorney out of the negotiations. Clemons then borrowed $201,000 from CVR, promising repayment when the deal closed. Clemons’ law firm, Wright, Lindsey and Jennings, knew nothing about the loans. Wright, Lindsey and Jennings then undertook an investigation to verify that Clemons represented the real Mohammed Ali Al Abbar, who is an internationally known figure. The results of the law firm’s investigation was sealed by the Supreme Court.

Two “colleagues” bailed Clemons out, paying the $201,000 to CVR. No funding for the purchase of CVR was forthcoming.

In March 2010, Clemons drafted a letter to British law enforcement about his contacts with Al Abbar’s representatives in London, suggesting he may have been duped. He never sent the letter, however.

Clemons created the Al Abbar investment group in August 2008. In November 2008, Clemons told his colleagues on the Arts Center board that he’d obtained a pledge from his “personal friend” Muhammed Ali Al Abbar of $500,000 to help defray costs of the “World of the Pharaohs” exhibit. The money never appeared, though Clemons regularly communicated over the course of 18 months with the Arts Center that the check would be received soon. In his e-mailed communications to then-Arts Center Director Nan Plummer, Clemons said he was manager of another entity, Al Barak Capital Partners LP, which would handle Al Abbar’s funds in the United States and provided a copy of the limited partnership agreement signed by Al Abbar. (At one point, Clemons also blamed the delay in transfer of funds on problems Muhammed Ali Al Abbar was having in his Dubai accounts.)

Those promises “could be found by the Committee on Professional Conduct to all be knowingly false representations,” the petition says, and the committee could have found that Clemons could have engaged in conduct that “involved dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,” in violation of rules. The Committee on Professional Conduct “could find Clemons had no such amount of funds on account with [redacted] or anywhere else at the time.” The Arts Center wrote off the gift in Feb. 1, 2010, its director resigned and Clemons dropped out of sight. He did not return a call placed to a personal phone number in the file of the case.

In another matter, Clemons, as counsel, billed the Native American Energy Group of New York State almost $1 million from 2007 to 2009 contingent on Clemons’ producing new investment in NAEG. The Wright, Lindsey and Jennings firm was not informed of the contingent nature of the billings, the petition says, in violation of rules.

The petition also says Clemons provided information to unhappy NAEG investors that they used in a suit against the company.

Clemons required NAEG to put up $121,000 as a refundable transaction fee to his Al Abbar Group as part of an effort to obtain an $8.8 million investment in NAEG by Al Abbar. The money was wired not to an escrow agent, but to “someone with whom Clemons had a side connection [redacted].” Again, Clemons was acting as counsel for NAEG and Al Abbar, in violation of Arkansas Rule 1.7 on conflicts.

Clemons also billed several hundred thousand dollars of legal services for Wright, Lindsey and Jennings to the New York investment firm Magna Pinpoint, whose major investors were Patricia Winans and Mohamed bin Ali Al Abbar. Clemons did not disclose to his law firm that the billings weren’t to be paid unless Clemons was able to produce new investment funds, in violation of rules. The petition says Winans, who with Clemons met with Al Abbar’s alleged representatives in London in 2008, believed Clemons was meeting with Al Abbar in her offices in New York. Clemons borrowed $100,000 from Winans for his personal use. He repaid her in late 2009 with funds made available by a third party whose identification was redacted in the petition.

Clemons will also surrender his law license in New York, the petition says.

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