Attorney Faces Hard Time on U.S. Charges

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — An attorney for a pet store chain faces charges that could put him in a cage for life, if convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice during a multimillion-dollar contract dispute.
     Joel Zweig, of New York, was representing Pet Food Express in a $23 million breach of contract lawsuit against Royal Cain USA, in California. A 12-count grand jury indictment, filed under seal on May 17, accuses Zweig of four counts of wire fraud, four counts of perjury, two counts of obstruction of justice, aggravated identity theft and making false statements to a government agency.
     The mess started with a dispute over the distribution of Royal Cain’s high-end pet food. The contract gave Pet Food Express 5 percent of sales of Royal Cain’s product in territories where the pet store chain already had stores or was planning stores. Pet Food Express was not in New York yet, but $1.6 million of the company’s complaint against Royal Cain was based on the premise that the company had planned to put a store there.
     To support this claim, Zweig allegedly altered documents from a lease he’d negotiated for another client in New York, Better Living LLC. According to the indictment, Zweig altered the Better Living lease and forged signatures after receiving an email on Nov. 8, 2010, from Pet Food Express co-founder Michael Witriol, who said he needed the documents for a deposition on Nov. 11.
     After creating the phony document, to make it appear that Pet Food Express had a lease in Manhattan, he scanned it, forged a notary seal and sent it by email to Witriol, according to the indictment.
     The lease was forwarded to Royal Cain nearly a year later when the quarreling parties were ordered to exchange exhibits. On Aug. 8, 2011, less than three weeks before trial was to start, Royal Canin filed a Notice of Potential Fraud, claiming the document was false.
     Zweig responded in a declaration filed under penalty of perjury that he had received the lease from Better Living’s owner and had forwarded it without reviewing it, according to the indictment. He also is accused of creating an affidavit from Better Living to back up his claim.
     If convicted of all charges and maximum prison terms are stacked, Zweig could be sentenced to 127 years in prison and fined $3 million.
     The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not return a call seeking comment. Zweig could not be located for comment.

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