Seymour Lazar, Former Lawyer to Miles Davis and Lenny Bruce and Indicted Stockbroker, Dies at 88

Seymour Lazar
AP Photo/Nick Ut

Seymour Lazar photographed on Jan. 28, 2008, in downtown Los Angeles. 

Seymour Lazar, the former entertainment lawyer and stock trader accused of being the kickback-taking middleman in a major fraud scandal involving one of the top class-action law firms in the United States, died on March 30 at his home in Palm Springs, Calif. Lazar's daughter told the Los Angeles Times that he was 88 and died of natural causes.

During his lawyer days in the '50s and '60s, Lazar’s client roster included jazz greats Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley, button-pushing comic Lenny Bruce and “Secret Agent Man” singer Johnny Rivers. Long before she was an acclaimed poet, Maya Angelou counted Lazar as a friend and said he urged her to “be more than a cocktail singer,” she told the Wall Street Journal in 2006.

Described as a “flamboyant renegade” by the New York Times, Lazar sported a long ponytail, often wore suits without a shirt and shunned socks. He took LSD with counterculture figure Timothy Leary and was friends with beat poet Allen Ginsburg.

By the late '60s he grew bored with the law and took up stock trading in a big way, buying and selling more than $300 million in stock in 1967 alone. “If I bought a stock in the morning, and still owned it at noon, that was a long-term investment,” he told New York magazine in the mid-'70s.

Beginning in the late '70s, Lazar began helping class-action law firm Milberg Weiss by buying stocks of potential corporate targets and then serving as a plaintiff. For a fee, he would initiate lawsuits on the firm’s behalf either in his name or the names of relatives. After playing a role in more than 70 Milberg Weiss lawsuits, the jig was up. In 2005, a grand jury indicted him on multiple counts including money laundering and mail fraud. In all, he was accused of taking $2.6 million kickbacks from Milberg Weiss.

Two years after he was indicted, Lazar struck a deal and pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, filing a false tax return and making a false declaration. His sentence was six months home detention, two years of probation and more than $62 million in fines and forfeitures. In the end, Lazar denied his payments from Milberg Weiss were kickbacks. “Did I hurt anybody? Who did I cheat? Did anybody get screwed?” he told the Wall Street Journal. (Melvyn Weiss, founding partner of Milberg Weiss, was eventually sentenced to 30 months in prison in the case.)

The New York-born, Los Angeles-raised Lazar is survived by his wife, Alyce, two sons, a daughter and six grandchildren.