Feds probe scheme that benefited Morse firm, records show

Robert Snell
The Detroit News
Mike Morse, a man who used publicity to build his law firm over 20 years, could see it damaged by public attention over the accusations.

Detroit — A federal grand jury is investigating a bribery conspiracy that benefited prominent personal injury attorney Mike Morse's law firm, according to records filed Friday in federal court.

The court records describe a scheme involving bribed police officers, a twist on ambulance chasing and Morse's eponymous firm, a high-profile office due to its ubiquitous television commercials and roadside billboards throughout Metro Detroit.

The criminal case involves multiple targets of an ongoing criminal investigation in which FBI agents probed whether the owner of physical therapy centers and others bribed police officers to obtain unofficial accident reports. Once the officers were bribed, the accident reports were sent to several companies, including Morse's law firm, to be used in soliciting clients, according to the court filing.

Morse has not been charged with wrongdoing by the Justice Department. He was not available Friday afternoon at his Southfield law firm.

"Michael Morse and his law firm are not a party to any legal action which asserts that either of them improperly obtained police reports," Morse's lawyer I.W. Winsten wrote in an email to The News. "The reason is simple. They did not."

The full scope of the investigation and additional potential targets were unclear Friday.

“If someone is an incidental beneficiary of bribery or kickbacks it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be caught up in the criminal case,” said Peter Henning, a Wayne State University law professor and former federal prosecutor. “This isn’t a good sign, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Morse will be charged or is even a target of the investigation.”

The money for the bribe payments was laundered through an entity created by physical therapy center owner Jayson Rosett, 50, of Bloomfield Hills and others, according to court records.

The investigation was revealed on the sidelines of a civil lawsuit filed by State Farm Automobile Insurance Co. against 18 defendants, including Rosett, doctors and health facilities, including Elite Health Centers Inc., for alleged fraud and inflated costs involving MRI testing at Metro Detroit locations.

Rosett is trying to delay being deposed under oath in the civil lawsuit because he is the target of two criminal investigations involving some of the same allegations involved in the civil case, according to a filing by his defense lawyer, Ben Gonek.

Gonek revealed the focus of the criminal investigation Friday while trying to delay his client's deposition. He declined to comment Friday evening.

On Friday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Anthony Patti ruled that Rosett must be deposed Oct. 26.

Morse has faced several personal legal issues recently. Last year, Morse was the subject of lawsuits from five women who alleged sexual misconduct or unwanted touching by Morse in separate incidents. Morse – known for providing backpacks and school supplies for disadvantaged children – has denied all accusations.

Morse's lawyer Deborah Gordon called the lawsuits “frivolous” and part of a “coordinated media strategy” to humiliate Morse by attorney Geoffrey Fieger, a high-profile rival.

The civil lawsuit filed by State Farm two years ago alleges Morse "played a critical role in facilitating the success of the (defendants’) fraud scheme and received substantial financial benefits from the fraudulent claims generated by the clinics...," the insurance company's lawyer Kathy Josephson wrote in an earlier court filing.

The financial benefits included $550,000 to buy property for an addition on Morse's house and $100,000 to an entity that owns Morse’s private jet, according to the civil lawsuit.

A separate court filing Friday by the magistrate judge offered details about the first confirmation that federal agents had launched a criminal case.

On April 18, FBI agents raided the Florida home of Rosett's father, Robert Rosett, according to Patti's order. One month later, Robert Rosett, 76, received a letter from the Justice Department indicating he was a target of a grand jury investigation.

Two months later, in July, State Farm served Rosett with a subpoena seeking specific communications between father and son and about payments Robert Rosett received or made for police reports.

In August, Robert Rosett sought to delay providing any information "during the pendency of the criminal investigation against him," according to the magistrate judge's order.

Patti refused to block the subpoena, saying Robert Rosett failed to prove that there is an overlap between the criminal investigation and civil lawsuit.

Earlier this month, Rosett's son tried to delay answering questions under oath in the civil lawsuit.

"Mr. Rosett is currently the target of two federal investigations that involve conduct directly related to some of the allegations State Farm has made in this case," Gonek wrote in an Oct. 4 court filing. 

Jayson Rosett expects to be charged in a criminal information next month, his lawyer wrote in a separate filing Friday. A criminal information indicates a guilty plea is expected and suggests Rosett is cooperating with investigators.

Patti refused to delay the deposition, prompting Jayson Rosett's lawyer to provide new details about the investigation, bribery and Morse's law firm.

Gonek described what happened after the officers were paid bribes in exchange for unofficial accident reports.

"After the unofficial reports were obtained, they were provided to the Elite entities and the Michael Morse law firm for the purpose of soliciting patients for the Elite entities and clients for the Michael Morse law firm," Gonek wrote. 


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Mike Martindale contributed.