Richard Zuckerman
Richard Zuckerman

Richard Zuckerman is taking some time to unwind in Metro Detroit as he waits for his next big opportunity.

After a long and storied career as a white-collar criminal defense lawyer working with some of the most important cases in the last few decades, attorney Richard Zuckerman is back in town.

Zuckerman, whose most recent assignment was serving three years as acting attorney general of the Tax Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., is taking some time to unwind in Metro Detroit as he waits for his next big opportunity.

It’s a strategy that has worked for the Yonkers, N.Y., native since the mid-1960s, when he graduated from the University of Michigan and spent four years in the U.S. Navy. Time and time again, interesting opportunities came knocking at Zuckerman’s door without him really looking for them. His career was a sort of a domino effect where one thing led to another, putting him in the right place at the right time.

The journey began after his time with the Navy ended. Zuckerman attended Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles where he took a mix of business and criminal law courses. He wanted to find a way to combine the two. “I didn’t want to pick one area over another,” Zuckerman said. “I took a lot of tax courses, and I liked tax.”

One day, an opportunity to connect his two passions arrived. An employment placement signup sheet at his law school showed that the Department of Justice was hiring. “It’s a one in a million chance to get hired by the Department of Justice at a law school,” he recalled. He decided to take a practice interview for it. At least, he thought it was a practice interview.

Zuckerman sat down with a member of the DOJ. He expressed an interest in white-collar criminal law, and it just so happened that the person he interviewed with was a deputy chief of the organized crime section of the Criminal Division.

“I decided that I could marry criminal law and corporate law by doing organized crime prosecutions,” Zuckerman said. “Not the violent stuff, per se, but the economic aspects.”

He aced his interview and received a job with the DOJ, moving to D.C. for training. From there, a career in white collar crime with a subspeciality of tax was born.

High-Profile Cases

It was a fluke, he said, that eventually brought him to Detroit. In the mid-1970s, a department head mentioned that the Detroit Strike Force office had an opening. Having met his wife at the University of Michigan, Zuckerman asked to be assigned to Detroit. By January 1975, he was working in the Motor City.

During his time in Detroit, Zuckerman worked on some of the highest-profile cases in the city, including the 1975 disappearance of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa and the income tax evasion of Detroit mafia captain Anthony Giacalone, among others.

Zuckerman then spent 30 years as part of the Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn law firm, now Honigman LLC, in Detroit, mostly as head of its white-collar crime and government investigations practice group. He also represented the Detroit Free Press in the text messaging scandal involving former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, another high-profile case to add to his roster.

In December 2017, Zuckerman left Honigman to accept his most recent position with the Tax Division of the DOJ in the Trump administration. He was part of the senior leadership of the department, directing some 350 lawyers and 150 support staff to carry out enforcement of the nation’s tax laws.

His appointment ended on Jan. 20 with the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Now, Zuckerman has returned to his longtime home of Michigan with no plan other than to see what might happen next.

As an integral part of the local Jewish community, Zuckerman was one of the founding members of Temple Shir Shalom, also serving on its board. He served on the board for the Detroit chapter of the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science as well.

“I’m still interested in practicing if the right thing came along,” Zuckerman says. “But I’m not in a great hurry to go back. I’ve decided to take it easy for a while and see what comes along.”