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Lawyer admits tampering in MSN, Best Buy case

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A Best Buy lawyer has admitted to falsifying court documents in the longstanding racketeering case against Microsoft and Best Buy, which recently reached a Superior Court in Seattle.

A nationwide class-action suit, filed in 2003, accuses the two companies of conspiring to secretly register thousands of Best Buy customers for Microsoft’s MSN online service.

As reported by the Associated Press, a lawyer with the Minneapolis firm representing Best Buy admitted to altering emails and a paper memo before turning them over to the suit's plaintiffs - though he claims to have acted alone, without the knowledge of either Best Buy or his firm.

"When you have an attorney who openly admits to tampering with discovery documents, it's going to effect the credibility of his client, and there's a danger this could bleed over into Microsoft's side of things as well - particularly if the documents involve cross-licensing agreements between Microsoft and Best Buy," says Sean Dwyer, a partner with the New York law firm Havkins, Rosenfeld, Ritzert & Varriale who specializes in racketeering. The court has not released the documents.

The outcome of the case is still very much in the balance, but under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, the same law that famously brought down several members of the Gambino crime family late last year, Microsoft and Best Buy could be liable for far more than the funds they’re accused of pilfering.

"The racketeering laws allow plaintiffs to collect three times their damages plus attorney fees," says Robert Schwinger, a RICO specialist with the with international firm Chadbourne & Parke. "Collectively, that’s a sizable amount."

According to the suit, between 1998 and 2003, Best Buy surreptitiously registered more than 100,000 customers for a trial version of MSN, failing to explain that their credit cards would be charged after the trial expired. Meanwhile, Microsoft is accused of allowing this practice to continue after it received complaints.

Naturally, Microsoft had agreed to pay Best Buy for each person it registered for MSN.®

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