Friday, February 5, 2010

GEO Group Adds Board Member with Questionable Ethics by Andrew Strong

Christopher C. Wheeler

"" Effective from February 1st, Christopher Wheeler will work as a board member for The GEO Group, the second largest prison corporation in America. The announcement to the public came earlier today and went over his history: a Cornell Law graduate who recently retired from his work as a lawyer for Proskauer Rose, LLP. He also works with the Ronald McDonald house, a private school, a university, and multiple hospitals as a volunteer.

The GEO Group's CEO, George Zoley, had this to say about the recent hire: "We are fortunate to have Christopher Wheeler join our Board of Directors.

Mr. Wheeler brings extensive experience and unique leadership qualities to our company. We welcome Mr. Wheeler to our Board and look forward to continuing our efforts to enhance shareholder value" (Business Wire).

Taken for face value, it appears that Mr. Wheeler is a fairly straight-shooter. However, after some simple vetting I was able to find some disturbing claims against Wheeler and Proskauer Rose that could prove the contrary.

In 2004, Wheeler was arrested for a felony traffic offense of driving with a blood alcohol content of .207%, over two times the legal limit, and getting in a wreck with another car, sending both Wheeler and the other man to the hospital (Delray Beach PD Police Report).

His lawyer, Eric Turner, made a public statement downplaying the incident as a misdemeanor and commented that the Florida Bar Association would not get involved unless Wheeler was convicted (Boca Raton News). What is interesting about this is that Wheeler was in fact convicted of the crime, yet his license to practice law was not revoked -- perhaps due to his work with the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida?

Wheeler's DUI case only scratches the surface. He has also been accused of patent and copyright misappropriations, antitrust violations, RICO violations, tortuous interference with business relationships, conflicts of interest, a perjured deposition, giving false and misleading information to the Florida state court and Florida state Bar Association, misappropriation and conversion of funds, breach of fiduciary responsibilities as a director of an Advisory Board, and a breach of attorney-client privileges.

The majority of these claims ride on the back of his more widely-known instances of corruption: his involvement with Proskauer Rose in taking a patent idea from a client, Iviewit, and forming their own company, MPEGLA, organized by Christopher Wheeler and other lawyers which set out to profit from the stolen technology.

The technology was used to develop digital zooms on cameras, a feature that is available in almost any digital camera around. You can read shareholder documents about the situation here that give an inside view on the fraudulent depositions and scheme to steal the technology. So far, no RICO or fraud charges have been filed against Wheeler or Proskauer Rose.

It seems as though Christopher Wheeler has a sizable amount of enemies from his past dealings. With such a rocky history it is surprising that a corporation like The GEO Group, one that is under constant scrutiny and the public eye, would choose to hire Wheeler. Maybe those days are behind him and he is a changed person -- who am I to judge?

All I know is that I will have my eye on this fellow and The GEO Group this year. He has a lot of powerful connections in Florida, the home state of GEO, so I am interested to see what happens with him on the board.""

Written by Andrew Strong

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Andrew Strong