Law enforcement officials have arrested a Virginia lawyer involved in litigation over the health risks of Monsanto's Roundup weed killer product, with prosecutors accusing him of trying to extort an unnamed company into a $200 million consulting fee with his legal firm.
Timothy Litzenburg, 37, was charged with interstate intentions to extort, the U.S. Department of Justice said on Tuesday. Litzenburg represented a former school groundskeeper last year against agribusiness giant Monsanto over Roundup, which has been linked to cancer (The settlement was later reduced to $78 million.)
In the Justice Department complaint, federal officials didn't name Monsanto as the company Litzenburg allegedly tried to extort and instead described Litzenburg's victims as "Company 1" and "Company 2." Company 1 is a privately owned chemical manufacturer, and Company 2 is a publicly traded corporation that acquired Company 1 in 2018, the complaint states.
Publicly traded Bayer acquired privately owned Monsanto in June 2018. "Monsanto is not a party to this matter," a Bayer spokesperson told CBS MoneyWatch.
Federal officials allege Litzenburg contacted the companies in October and said they had a potentially large liability for making a harmful chemical used in their household product for killing weeds. Litzenburg threatened to find people who he would advise to sue the companies for exposing them to the chemical, according to the complaint. Litzenburg told the companies lawyers that he would cease searching for potential plantiffs in exchange for a multi-million-dollar consulting agreement, the complaint claims.
"Our demand/proposal related to a consulting agreement with my firm is two hundred million to be shared by our firms," the federal complaint reads, citing an email Litzenburg allegedly sent to the unidentified companies. "As I previously mentioned, please do not misconstrue this demand as indication that we would accept half that or less."
Litzenburg made his demands repeatedly through phone calls and emails, as well as in a meeting with company lawyers, federal officials said.
Federal prosecutors said Litzenburg described the $200 million as "a very reasonable price" when compared to what the companies could be forced to pay if faced with additional litigation from "Roundup Two," according to the complaint. Litzenburg told the companies that not fulfilling his request could create a "public relations nightmare" that create "a 40% stock loss coming off the top," the Justice Department said.
Litzenburg did not immediately return requests for comment Wednesday. Litzenburg was an attorney at the Miller Firm during the Monsanto case, but has since started his own firm, Kincheloe, Litzenburg & Pendleton.