August 31, 2004

Belnick '68 Returns to Lead Pre-Law Program

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In July, Mark Belnick ’68 was acquitted of charges that he stole over $30 million as chief corporate counsel for Tyco from 1998-2002. Now, with the criminal trial over, Belnick plans to return to his position as director of Cornell’s Pre-Law Program and continue his active role on campus.

“I’m very grateful for the support I received from the Cornell community, faculty, administration, and students alike,” Belnick said, claiming that he received dozens of letters of support from those various members of the Cornell community. “Believe me, when you engage in the tough fight I was facing, those messages meant a great deal to me.”

Belnick has long been a prominent member of the Cornell community, taking on roles as a visiting professor for the government department, board member on the Arts and Sciences Advisory Board, and director of Cornell’s Pre-Law Program in New York City. In 2003, despite being indicted for fraud, Belnick continued to teach the Pre-Law Program.

In 2004, the Pre-Law Program was not offered. According to Isaac Kramnick, vice provost for undergraduate education, Belnick was the main energy behind the Pre-Law program and without him the program could not run.

Glenn Altschuler, dean of continuing education and summer sessions, expects the program will return again next summer.

“[Belnick’s] indicated an interest and willingness to teach, I anticipate that the course will be offered in the summer of 2005 with Mr. Belnick as the instructor,” Altschuler said.

In February 2003, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office accused Belnick of receiving a $17 million dollar bonus and $14 million in interest-free loans from his boss, L. Dennis Kozlowski, former Tyco Chairman and Chief executive, without the board of director’s approval. The prosecution claimed that Belnick received the money for helping Kozlowski and the former chief financial officer, Mark Swartz cover up their own illicit actions.

Kozlowski and Swartz allegedly stole over $600 million from Tyco. Last April, their six-month trial ended in mistrial and is scheduled to be reheard next year.

The defense, led by Belnick’s chief defense Lawyer, Reid Weingarten ’71 of Steptoe & Johnson in Washington D.C., claimed that Belnick rightfully earned the bonus through his hard work getting the company through an inquiry in 2000 by the Securities and Exchange Commission without any formal charges. Weingarten claimed that the prosecutions charges of wrongdoing fell flat.

“Mark didn’t commit any crimes,” Weingarten said. “I was very competent the jury would see it that way and happily they did.”

To prove his innocence, Belnick took the stand in self-testimony for several days and refused to accept a no jail misdemeanor offered by the D.A.’s office before hearing the verdict.

According to Weingarten, the prosecutors were trying to save face and offered Belnick a deal to accept guilt with no jail time.

“Because we were confident we were going to win, we turned it down,” said Weingarten. According to Weingarten, Belnick’s involvement with Cornell often came up as evidence in many parts of the trial and all of it was positive towards Belnick’s defense.

“I love the school. I’ve loved it since I was an undergrad there and I’ve loved it more and more every year since then,” Belnick said.

Professor Theodore J. Lowi, government, had nothing but praise for Belnick’s character. “He’s been a marvelous support for the government department,” Lowi said.

The trial only proved that Belnick conducted no criminal actions. Questions still remain on Belnick’s failings to check his eligibility for the huge loans he received and why he failed to report the questionable conduct of Kozlowski and Swartz to the board of directors. Belnick still faces a civil court case filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission and Tyco.

Now that his criminal trial is over, Belnick plans to spend time with his family before taking on any new job. He plans to come to Cornell this fall for the meeting of the Arts and Science Advisory Board. Next summer at the Pre-Law program, Belnick expects to be able to offer his students not only tips on how to be a lawyer but a valuable perspective on what it is like to be the client.

“I imagine I’ll relate some of those experiences to the students,” Belnick said.

Archived article by Casey Holmes
Sun Staff Writer