Ex-Skadden associate gets 30-day jail sentence for lying to Mueller's team

Alexander van der Zwaan, a former associate at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom, has been sentenced to 30 days in jail for repeatedly lying to the US special counsel team investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Van der Zwaan (pictured left), 33, pleaded guilty in February to a single charge that he lied about past communications with former Trump campaign deputy Rick Gates and an unnamed Ukrainian associate of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman. Van der Zwaan apologised in court on Tuesday, saying: “What I did was wrong.”

Skadden last year fired van der Zwaan, a senior associate in the firm’s London office. Van der Zwaan, represented by a defence team from Cooley, has been cooperating with special counsel for the United States Department of Justice Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“The career that he built has turned to dust,” Mark Crofskey, a former Skadden lawyer and van der Zwaan friend, told US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in a letter. “He keenly feels the loss of this hard-won career, as well as the loss of his many colleagues and clients.”

Van der Zwaan’s lawyers had urged Jackson to impose no jail time as punishment. Cooley partner William Schwartz told the court that van der Zwaan’s “professional life has been destroyed”, and that he is likely to lose his UK solicitor’s license.

Van der Zwaan faced zero to six months in jail, according to court papers. His sentencing hearing on Tuesday lasted more than 90 minutes.

Mueller’s team did not recommend any sentence but argued against van der Zwaan’s push for leniency. The special counsel’s office noted that van der Zwaan was represented by “experienced legal counsel” and was himself trained at a “major international law firm”. Van der Zwaan was a Skadden lawyer for 10 years before his position was terminated.

“While there might eventually be additional professional consequences that befall a foreign lawyer who commits a United States felony, those consequences do not themselves obviate the need for his current sentence to reflect the seriousness of his crime, to promote respect for the law, or to provide adequate specific and general deterrence,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memo.

The 30-day jail sentence imposed on van der Zwaan was the first punishment handed down for charges arising from the special counsel’s investigation. Van der Zwaan was also ordered to pay a $20,000 fine and serve two months of supervised release.

Jackson refused van der Zwaan’s request to just pay a fine for lying to Mueller’s team. “We’re not talking about a traffic ticket,” she said.

Gates, along with Trump’s first national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, and former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, have each pleaded guilty to charges stemming from Mueller’s investigation.

No sentencing dates have been set for Gates, represented by Thomas Green of Sidley Austin, and Flynn, represented by Covington & Burling’s Robert Kelner. The Chicago firm Breen & Pugh is representing Papadopoulos.

Van der Zwaan, in his efforts to help Mueller’s team access work and personal devices, offered his fingerprint and, at the request of prosecutors, gave Apple permission to try to recover information from a damaged iPhone.

“The conduct that brings Alex before this court was inexcusable,” his lawyers wrote in a sentencing memo to the court. “And while his actions following his initial meeting with the OSC cannot absolve him from culpability, they are compelling mitigating factors in considering just punishment.”

Photo: Lawyer Alex Van der Zwaan, left, arrives for his sentencing at Federal Court in Washington, D.C., with lawyer William Schwartz, of Cooley, right. Credit: Diego M. Radzinschi / NLJ