Morgan Stanley Money Manager in Hit-and-Run Controversy

DA says decision to drop felony charges, pursue misdemeanor isn't about money.

BySUSANNA KIM
November 08, 2010, 1:12 PM

Nov. 8, 2010&#151 -- The District Attorney's office in Colorado dropped felony charges against a Morgan Stanley Smith Barney private wealth manager who allegedly hit a bicyclist with his car in Eagle, Colo., instead choosing to press lesser misdemeanor charges.

Martin Joel Erzinger, a financial advisor in Denver, Colo., was accused of hitting Dr. Stephen Milo with his car on July 3 then driving away. He was caught a short time later in a parking lot across town.

"When you take a case through jury trial, there's always certainly a bit of uncertainty. This is a guarantee that he will have this on the record for the rest of his life," Mark Hurlbert told ABC News.

Hurlbert, who was also the prosecutor in the rape case that was dismissed against Kobe Bryant in September 2004, said the decision to drop the felony charge was not an act of leniency based on Erzinger's wealth or occupation. Instead, Hurlbert said a felony charge through a jury trial was uncertain to be as punitive as two misdemeanor charges.

The victim had wanted Erzinger to plead to felony as part of deferred judgement. In such cases after two to four years the felonies could drop from his record if he met certain conditions. The prosecutor said there were no drugs or alcohol involved and Erzinger had no criminal record.

"He [Erzinger] could say in two to four years that nothing happened, which I could not stomach. So we decided to have two misdemeanors. We talked to Dr. Milo and he did object. We did take his thoughts into account but we thought misdemeanors would be better," Hurlbert said.

Erzinger, 52, now faces two misdemeanor traffic charges for leaving the scene of an accident and causing serious bodily injury.

"For the rest of his life, Mr. Erzinger will have on his record that he drove carelessly and caused serious bodily injury to another human being," said Hurlbert. "He may face potential jail time, which is up to a judge. And he'll lose his driver's license and pay restitution."

Milo, 34, who lives in New York City, suffered spinal cord injuries and bleeding from his brain.

But the district attorney told the Vail Daily that the decision to drop the felony charges against Hurlbert was also based on the possible effects on his income-earning ability and, therefore, his ability to pay restitution.

"Felony convictions have some pretty serious job implications for someone in Mr. Erzinger's profession, and that entered into it," Hurlbert told the paper. "When you're talking about restitution, you don't want to take away his ability to pay."

Erzinger reportedly manages more than $1 billion in assets and would have to publicly disclose any felony charge under the North American Securities Dealers regulations.

Milo and his attorney, Harold Haddon, in pressing for the felony charges, said they are not after Erzinger's money.

"Mr. Erzinger struck me, fled and left me for dead on the highway," wrote Milo in a letter to D.A. Hurlbert. "Neither his financial prominence nor my financial situation should be factors in your prosecution of this case."

Milo wrote that the case "has always been about the responsibility, not the money."

Calls to Milo's attorney were not immediately returned.

Erzinger allegedly hit Milo from behind on the road in Eagle County, Colorado, with a 2010 Mercedes Benz sedan and fled the scene. Another driver stopped to help Milo and called 911.

Erzinger was later arrested and told police that he was unaware he hit Milo, according to the Vail Daily. He eventually stopping in a parking lot on the other side of town and called the Mercedes auto assistance service and asked that his car be towed.

According to court records, Erzinger didn't call the police. When they tracked him down, he was placing his rear-view mirror and a piece of the bumper in his trunk.

A spokesperson for Erzinger's employer Morgan Stanley said: "This is an unfortunate situation. We are monitoring it and will take any actions necessary when it is finally adjudicated."

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