Virginia attorney charged in extortion plot over Roundup

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A Virginia attorney involved in litigation against Monsanto Co. over health risks associated with Roundup weed killer has been accused by federal prosecutors of trying to extort $200 million from an unnamed company.

Timothy Litzenburg, of Charlottesville, was arrested Tuesday on attempted extortion and interstate threat charges.

Prosecutors allege Litzenburg threatened to “inflict substantial financial and reputational harm” if the company did not meet his demand for a $200 million payment disguised as a consulting fee.

An affidavit filed in court to support a criminal complaint against Litzenburg says he contacted a chemical manufacturing company in September saying he was preparing a lawsuit against the company for its role in making compounds used by St. Louis-based Monsanto to make Roundup, which has been blamed in lawsuits for causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers. The complaint does not name the company Litzenburg is accused of extorting, but makes it clear it was not Monsanto.

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The affidavit said Litzenburg told an attorney for the company that he would settle the case for $5 million, but said he also wanted a separate $200 million consulting fee for himself and his associates.

“Litzenburg later described the $200 million ‘demand’ as ’a very reasonable price’ compared to the ‘significant financial consequences to (the company) of a protracted and public ‘Roundup Two,’” Postal Inspector Kevin Towers wrote in the affidavit.

Litzenburg, who has been released on bail, did not immediately return a call seeking comment. His attorney, Thomas Bondurant Jr., did not immediately return a call made to his Richmond office Thursday.

The affidavit says a lawyer for the unnamed company contacted prosecutors from the U.S. Department of Justice in October to report Litzenburg’s demands.

The affidavit contains excerpts from an email Litzenburg allegedly sent to two attorneys for the company in November. In the email, Litzenburg predicts that if he does not get a consulting agreement, he will find “thousands of future plaintiffs” against the company. He said entering a consulting agreement with him “will mean that (the company) avoids the parade of horribles that has been the Roundup litigation for Bayer/Monsanto.”

Roundup has been blamed for causing cancer in users in thousands of lawsuits against Monsanto’s owner Bayer, which denies such allegations and says the product is safe.

Litzenburg formerly worked for The Miller Firm, in Orange, Virginia, which played a lead role in the case of groundskeeper DeWayne Johnson, who was awarded $289 million by a California jury in the first Roundup case to go to trial. The award was later reduced to $78.5 million and is currently being appealed.

Attorney Michael Miller told The Wall Street Journal that Litzenburg was fired by the firm in September 2018. He said his firm has nothing to do with the charges spelled out in the criminal complaint against Litzenburg.

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