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A Chicago lawyer sentenced to seven years in prison in a $2.4 billion fraud at Refco Inc. is entitled to a new trial because of errors the judge made in dealing with the jury, a federal appeals court said Monday.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conviction of Joseph P. Collins, saying U.S. District Judge Robert P. Patterson erred when he failed to disclose the contents of a jury note and didn't include lawyers when he spoke with a juror accused of trying to barter his vote.

"This sequence of events deprived Collins of his right to be present at every stage of the trial. Because the deprivation was not harmless, we vacate and remand for a new trial," the appeals court wrote.

The lawyer from Winnetka, Ill., was convicted in July 2009 of conspiracy and other charges. Federal sentencing guidelines had called for 85 years in prison.

Refco was once one of the nation's largest independent commodities brokers.

The company in the mid-1990s sustained hundreds of millions of dollars of losses through losing trades and engaged in an elaborate campaign to cover them up, attracting the attention of federal authorities. Refco filed for bankruptcy in 2005, just weeks after going public and soon after revealing that a $430 million debt owed to the company by a firm controlled by former Refco CEO Phillip Bennett had been concealed.



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