Lowell McAfee Birrell was born in 1907 in Whiteland, Indiana, the son of a Presbyterian minister and graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, where he served on the editorial committee of the Michigan law Review.

Out of law school, he joined the New York law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft. On of his clients was New York Yankees pitcher Vernon "Lefty" Gomez, who he represented in a family law action (pictured below, Birrell to the left of Gomez).

He later started his own law firm but he began to dabble in corporate law and investments, and gradually amassed a considerable personal fortune.

He learned the SEC's rule book inside out and immediately, began to manipulate it. He would set up several puppet companies and play one off the other or use one to artificially financially buttress the other before raking in the cash. He even enlisted his brother Herbert, who lived in Canada.

One of the prosecutors, Paul Windels said in a 2007 interview, in regards to Birrell:

"He was a very sophisticated New York lawyer and knew the loopholes. He worked through three or four listed companies—he controlled Swan-Finch, which was the principal, but he used that to buy control of other companies, and then they’d begin to issue stock back and forth. Swan-Finch stock would be issued for the assets of another company."

Lowell Birrell (left)In 1955, he held control of United Dye & Chemical Corp., a 164-year old company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. He was believed to have stolen up to $14-million from a variety of stockholders. When he got a subpoena from the US Government, he looked for a country without an extradition treaty with the USA.

He bought a phony Canadian passport, packed his belongings, including seven cars, and was soon basking in the sun in Cuba and, later, Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

The indictment was filed July 20, 1961, but Birrell was then outside the United States and did not return until April 23, 1964, when Brazil inked an extradition treaty with the USA. Birrell served sixteen months in preventative detention awaiting trial, released on bail in JUly of 1965.

The case finally went to trial on December 4, 1967.

On December 28, 1967, the jury found the defendant guilty on eleven counts of securities fraud and sentenced him to two years in prison.

Awaiting further charges, he was detained until released on bail in September 1968.

The Government had become aware that he had tried to manipulate the market in 1966 and he was now charged and convicted of transmitting interstate wire communications in executing a fraudulent scheme. Birrell did everything he could to delay the trial, including taking a legal aid lawyer and then trying to fire him. Then, the judge (Herlands) died and rather than start over, the Government folded its case.

Again, in 1970, a jury found he guilty of perjury.

Birrell served a further two years imprisonment.

On May 3, 1973, Birrell was set free from detention

In Lawyer: A Life of Counsel and Controversy, Arthur Liman wrote that Birrell was:

"... the most notorious stock swindler of the 1950s (and) perhaps the leading wrecker of corporations and deluder of investors in the postwar era."

REFERENCES:

  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Law's Hall of Shame
  • "High Finance: Broken, Broken, Broken", Times Magazine, August 3, 1959
  • Liman, A., Lawyer: A Life of Counsel and Controversy (New York: PublicAffairs, 2002).
  • McDonnell v Tabah and others 297 F. 2d 731 (1961)
  • Millinery Creators' Guild v Federal Trade Commission 312 U.S. 469 (1941)
  • United States v. Birrell 269 F.Supp. 716 (1967)
  • United States v. Birrell 286 F.Supp. 885
  • US v Birrell 400 F. 2d 93 (1968)
  • US v Birrrell 447 F.2d 1168 (1971)
  • US v Birrell 470 F.2d 113 (1972, United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit)