Robert A. Altman, a prominent Washington lawyer married to the “Wonder Woman” actress Lynda Carter, relaunched himself as a videogame entrepreneur after being acquitted in a legal case arising from the 1991 collapse of Bank of Credit & Commerce International.
He formed and served as chief executive of ZeniMax Media Inc., which owns Bethesda Softworks and has acquired or developed games including “Doom,” “Fallout” and “Elder Scrolls.” Last year, Mr. Altman capped his second career with a bang by selling ZeniMax to
for $7.5 billion
Mr. Altman died Wednesday at a hospital in Baltimore at age 73. His son James said the cause was complications from a medical procedure.
Born in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 23, 1947, Mr. Altman was the son of Norman Altman, a lawyer, and the former Sophie Robinson, who earned a law degree at Yale and created a long-running TV quiz show, “It’s Academic.”
Mr. Altman earned a law degree at George Washington University in 1971 and went to work for the law firm Clifford & Warnke. There he became a protégé of Clark Clifford, an adviser to Democratic presidents from
to Jimmy Carter.
Mr. Altman met Ms. Carter, an actress, singer and former Miss World USA, in the early 1980s. She was the public face of
cosmetics, then owned by
, for whom he did legal work. After marrying, they lived in what The Wall Street Journal called a Gatsby-like mansion in Potomac, Md.
His brush with banking brought anguish when BCCI collapsed amid allegations of money laundering and drug trafficking around the world. New York state prosecutors led an investigation of the roles of Messrs. Clifford and Altman, who had done legal work for BCCI and served as the two top officers of Washington-based First American Bankshares Inc.
Prosecutors charged that BCCI used front men to gain control of First American illegally and that Messrs. Altman and Clifford lied to regulators about BCCI’s role in the deal. In a 1993 trial, however, the prosecutors were unable to persuade a jury that the lawyers were aware of BCCI’s role.
“This was a case that never should have been tried,” Mr. Altman said after being acquitted in New York. “The government put on a five-month trial and we put on a five-minute defense. There was absolutely no merit to this.” Ms. Carter kissed one of the jurors, leaving a lipstick imprint on his face.
In 1998, the Federal Reserve Board settled other charges against Messrs. Altman and Clifford stemming from the BCCI affair. Without admitting any of the Fed’s allegations, they agreed to pay $5 million in stock of a Netherlands Antilles holding company in which they had served as directors. Mr. Altman agreed not to participate in banking without prior Fed approval.
In 1999, Mr. Altman founded ZeniMax, which bought a struggling game developer, Bethesda Softworks, with basement offices in Rockville, Md. The company bulked up later with acquisitions, including the 2009 purchase of id Software Inc., the creator of Doom and Quake computer games.
Mr. Altman’s survivors include his wife, two children and two sisters.
In a tribute to his father, James Altman recalled that a longtime friend and colleague, Grif Lesher, remarked that Robert Altman would rewrite Shakespeare if given the chance. “That’s because it can be improved,” Mr. Altman shot back.
Write to James R. Hagerty at [email protected]
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