April 2010 Archives

April 29, 2010

Oxycodone More of a Problem than Cocaine in South Florida

Cocaine trafficking and cocaine possession used to be the largest problem facing South Florida in the 1980's and 1990's. However, cocaine is no longer the most serious problem in Miami-Dade and Broward County. Cocaine has been replaced by pills taking the form of prescription medications. A recent report revealed that there are more pain clinics in the pill dispensing business in Broward County than McDonald's restaurants. While pain killers are not illegal if prescribed by doctors, there are serious consequences for trafficking in or selling medications such as oxycodone or hydrocodone.

Due the addictive nature of the prescription medications, the minimum mandatory sentences for trafficking pain medications is the same as for heroine trafficking. Merely possessing one pill is a third degree felony punishable up to five years in prison. As the number of pain clinics have grown in South Florida, Miami criminal defense lawyers are finding themselves defending more and more of these types of cases. If some is charged with trafficking in oxycodone or hydrocodone, minimum mandatory prison sentences will attach. There are three levels of minimum mandatory penalties that apply to these types of cases. Possession of more than four, but less than 14 grams of either of these prescription drugs carries a 7 year minimum sentence. Possession of more than 14 grams, but less than 28 grams carries a 15 year minimum sentence. Possession of more than 28 grams carries a 25 year minimum sentence.

Within the last year Broward County was the home to 176 pain clinics dispensing prescription medications. Law enforcement has become aware that these clinics are handing out pills rather than sending people to pharmacies. Florida legislators have passed a law that was developed to track the sale of pain killers. The politicians passed the law due to the fact that death related to prescription medications keep rising every year. In fact, there are more deaths related to overdoses from prescription medications than from cocaine or heroine. While the tracking system in theory will work, no funds have been allocated to the program. While Broward County is mostly effected by the pain clinics, Palm Bach County has seen a recent influx of the pill dispensers. Simply put, the clinics appear to be moving north through the State of Florida.

As law enforcement steps up their efforts to close down the clinics, clinic owners, as well as the doctors prescribing the medications will be under strict scrutiny. If an individual is arrested for oxycodone trafficking, sale of oxycodone or oxycodone possession is imperative to hire an criminal defense law firm experienced in defending drug charges. If you are being investigated or has been arrested for any of the aforementioned offenses, remember to invoke your right to remain silent and seek the assistance of a criminal lawyer. By speaking to law enforcement officers, you will be limiting the types of defenses that can be used to beat your case.

Invasion of the Pill Mills in South Florida, Time.com, April 13, 2010

April 28, 2010

Chief Operating Officer at Rothstein Firm Charged in Federal Court

The federal government filed an information against a former chief financial officer for her alleged involvement in the Rothstein $1.2 billion Ponzi Scheme. The information alleges one count of money laundering. Apparently, Debra Villegas is cooperating with federal investigators. The majority of cases filed in federal court are charged by indictment. However, federal prosecutors often charge cooperating defendants by information. Villegas is scheduled to appear in federal court with her criminal defense attorney for her arraignment this week. Her lawyer told reporters that his client would surrender at the arraignment and that she has in fact been cooperating with law enforcement, as well as, the prosecution since the inception of the case.

Villegas is facing 10 years in federal prison for allegedly helping her boss, Scott Rothstein, run the Ponzi scheme. She assisted him in fabricating legal settlements that were sold to wealthy investors. Villegas is the first co-conspirator to be charged along with Rothstein. Rothstein entered a guilty plea back in January to charges including racketeering, money laundering and wire fraud. Court documents revealed that Rothstein richly rewarded Villegas for her assistance in the scheme to defraud. In exchange for forging names of fictitious plaintiff's and defendants on fake court settlements, she received a home an expensive car and a $125,000 a year salary. Like all Ponzi schemes, the federal authorities are seeking an asset forfeiture for those items. In forfeiture proceedings, lawyers for the government have to prove that the items were obtained from ill-gotten gains. However, when defendants enter plea agreements with federal prosecutors, there is language in the agreement requiring the defendant to waive all rights to an asset forfeiture hearing.

Federal prosecutors are using Rothstein and Villegas to get other perpetrators that were attached to the Ponzi scheme. Former employees of the now defunct law firm of Rothstein, Rosenfeldt and Adler law firm are currently being investigated. It is believed that former partners Stuart Rosenfeldt and Russell Adler are being looked at as possible co-conspirators along with another senior partner named Steven Lippman. The former chief financial officer and general counsel are also being investigated. The criminal defense law firms representing those individuals claim that their clients were not involved and had no knowledge of the organized scheme to defraud. Both Rothstein and Villegas are seeking to reduce their prison sentences by providing substantial assistance to the authorities.

Pursuant to the Florida Sentencing Guidelines, defendants will often cooperate in the prosecution of other defendants in their case or help make other cases. If the defendant provides substantial assistance, federal prosecutors will file a motion stating that the defendant provided substantial assistance in the investigation or prosecution of another person who has committed an offense. The actual motion filed by the government is referred to as a 5K. The court will evaluate the usefulness and nature and extent of the defendant's assistance in determining the appropriate sentence reduction. When a defendant must take a plea do to overwhelming evidence, the best way to reduce a sentence is by providing substantial assistance.

Officer in Rothstein Firm Charged, The Miami Herald, April 28, 2010.

April 27, 2010

Principal Stands Trial for Sex Offense Coverup

The former principal at Northwestern High School is standing trial for his alleged involvement in covering up a sexual crime that occurred at his school. The allegations charge that Dwight Bernard protected a football player that was accused of statutory rape. The star football player was accused of having sex in a school bathroom with an underage girl. In 2007 a grand jury indicted Bernard on two counts of official misconduct. While the prosecutor accused the defendant of covering up the crime, his criminal defense lawyer claimed that her client committed no crime.

The setting for the trial began in 2006, when the high school football player and a 14 year old female student had sex on a bathroom floor. The mother of the young girl found out about the incident and reported it during a parent-teacher conference which occurred the following month. The following day, the mother met with the principal and other school administrators to discuss the allegation. According to the indictment, Bernard failed to report the sex crime to the school police and in fact failed to report the episode to anyone. A school counselor believed Bernard would report the offense to the police once she informed him of his obligation to do so. Bernard is also accused of falsifying reports about his role in the investigation.

Police reports indicate that the incident continued to go unreported even after other students were caught have sex with the same underage girl. It was not until the victim's mother told another school employee that an investigation into the allegations regarding the football player were initiated, which eventually led to an arrest for lewd and lascivious battery on a child. The charges were filed in juvenile court. The high school student accepted a pre-trial intervention program in lieu of standing trial. The pre-trial intervention program is available for first time offenders. If the defendant completes all the conditions set forth by the prosecution, the charges will be dismissed after being enrolled in the program for approximately six months.

Individuals charged with sexual offenses must retain criminal defense law firms with significant experience in the defending these types of cases. The majority of sex offenses carry severe punishments that can land a defendant in prison. Not only is a long prison sentence possible, but anyone convicted of a sexually motivated offense will be listed with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as a sexual offender, or even worse a sexual predator. Once an individual receives this type of classification, there are very serious ramifications. The current laws in Miami-Dade County and around the State of Florida puts restrictions on where sex offenders can live. While there has been recent changes to the local laws, a sex offender title will place limitations on where a person can reside. Additionally, sex offenders' photos are placed on the internet which is embarrassing situation. Also, sex offenders are required to register four times a year so law enforcement can track their whereabouts. While a talented criminal lawyer can avoid jail and prison sentences for sexual offenses, it is important that charge bargaining occur so that individuals who do enter pleas avoid the connotation of being a sexual offender.

Trial Over Sex Scandal Begins For Former Northwestern High Principal, The Miami Herald, April 23, 2010.

April 26, 2010

Harsh Sentencing Laws Getting a Second Look in Florida

For the past 30 years, the Florida Legislature has enacted various laws regarding sentencing which are among the toughest in the United States. Florida uses a series of minimum mandatory and habitual offender sentencing laws that has caused the state's prison population to explode. Florida currently houses in excess of 100,000 inmates which is only exceeded by Texas and California. In certain jurisdictions, including Miami-Dade County, repeat of offender (ROC) courtrooms have been established to deal with the habitual offenders. While some believe the habitual offenders should be sentenced to long prison sentences to keep our communities safe, their havebeen discussions that certain minimum mandatory sentences outside of the habitual sentencing laws are Draconian in nature and need to be repealed or amended. Miami criminal lawyers practicing in state criminal circuit court are aware of the pitfalls of the minimum mandatory sentences.

Minimum mandatory sentences apply to a variety of charges including drug trafficking and firearm charges. The minimum mandatory sentences take all discretion away from the trial courts with a few exceptions. A judge can waive the minimum mandatory sentences if defendants are sentenced as youthful offenders or the defendant provides substantial assistance to law enforcement or prosecutors regarding other cases. The minimum mandatory sentences that apply to drug trafficking cases are part of the problem. In the 1980's, Miami and South Florida became known as the drug trafficking capital of the United States. As a result, the Florida legislature implemented drug trafficking minimum mandatory sentences for offenses such as cocaine trafficking and heroine trafficking. Minimum mandatory sentences were all passed for illegal pills such as oxycodone, as well as other non-prescription pills.

Examples of minimum mandatory drug trafficking sentences:

Drug Trafficking Offense

25 to 2,000 pounds/ 3 years
2,000 to 10,000 pounds/7 years
10,000 pounds or more/15 years

28 to 200 grams/3 years
200 to 400 grams/7 years
400 grams or more/15 years

4 to 14 grams/7 years
14 to 28 grams/15 years
28 grams or more/25 years

4 to 14 grams/7 years
14 to 28 grams/15 years
28 grams or more/25 years

In 1999, the Florida Legislature passed the 10/20/life law which created minimum mandatory sentences for defendants possessing firearms during the commission of an offense. If a defendant possesses a firearm during the commission of an offense the 10 year minimum penalty applies. If a shot is fired from the firearm a 20 years minimum apples. If someone is shot by the defendant at the time of the offense, that person can be sentenced for 25 years to life in prison. Opponents of the legislation claim the prison overcrowding and high budgets are a result of these potential sentences, while proponents claim that the crime rates in Miami-Dade County have decreased as a result of these harsh penalties. Due to the harsh sentences that apply to these types of charges, it is imperative to hire a qualified and experienced criminal defense law firm to defend these cases. While minimum mandatory sentences apply to certain cases, a good defense team can break down a case to force the prosecution to waive the minimum mandatory sentence that is applicable to a specific case.

Given Florida's Budget, Some Look to Ease Sentencing Laws, Ocala.com, April 26, 2010.

April 22, 2010

Sports Donor Charged in Multi-Million Dollar Fraud

A local businessman was charged and arrested for running a multi-million dollar investment scam. The case is like so many that have occurred over the past couple of years. Considered a philanthropist, he donated large sums of money to the University of Miami. A federal indictment charged Nevin Shapiro with one count of money laundering and one count of securities fraud. The Securities and Exchange Commission also levied civil fraud charges. Shapiro based on the charges is facing up to 20 years in prison and fines of up to $5 million. He surrendered to federal authorities in New Jersey where he appeared with counsel from a criminal defense law firm. Shapiro was granted a $10 million bond by the federal magistrate at the pre-trial detention hearing.

A pre-trial detention hearing occurs one or two days after the initial arrest is made by law enforcement. The defendant is entitled to appear before a federal magistrate and request a bond or other forms of pre-trial release. The federal magistrate will consider two factors in determining whether pre-trial release is appropriate. First, the defendant's risk of flight will be analyzed. The court will consider an individuals ties to the community, such as property ownership, location of family, travel history and overseas bank accounts. If the court believes that a defendant is not a flight risk, typically they will require the defendant to surrender travel documents such as passports and visas to prevent any travel outside of the country. Secondly, the court will consider whether the defendant is a danger to the community. The court will mostly consider the charges pending against the defendant. White collar crimes are more likely considered not to be a danger to the community as opposed to drug trafficking or other crimes which involve violence or will cause physical harm to the general public.

If the federal magistrate determines that a person is not a flight risk or a danger to the community, he will set a bond commensurate with the charges. There are several types of bonds that can put in place by the magistrate including personal surety and corporate surety bonds. Personal surety bonds allow for the defendant or family members to sign over homes and property that are subject to forfeiture if the defendant fails to appear in court. Corporate surety bonds require a bondsman to post a percentage of the total bond to secure a defendant's release. On many occasions those bonds are preferred by the court because if the defendant fails to appear at a hearing, the bondsman is in jeopardy of losing the entire amount of the bond. If the defendant fails to appear, the bondsman or his representatives will seek out the defendant to protect their interests. The court can also imposed a combination of different types of bonds to ensure the defendant does not flee the jurisdiction.

Shapiro was granted the bond despite the large amount of money involved in the alleged scheme to defraud. The indictment alleged that he sold securities through his investment firm's wholesale grocery distribution business. He promised investors an annual 26% return on their investments. As with all Ponzi schemes, much higher than normal annualized returns are a signal that something is amiss. The indictment alleges that Shapiro used stolen funds to support a lavish lifestyle. He purportedly spent investors funds on jewelry, homes, yachts, tickets for sporting events and made large contributions to the University of Miami. Shapiro is now added to the list of people charged with defrauding investors.

U.S. Charges Miami Sports Donor with $900 Million Fraud, Reuters,com, April 22, 2010.

April 21, 2010

Cocaine Trafficking Kingpin Sentenced in New York Federal Court

The United States Justice Department took credit for the successful prosecution of one of the most notorious cocaine trafficking kingpins. Jorge Mario Paredes-Cordova was sentenced to 31 years in prison for his involvement in armed cocaine trafficking that was allegedly responsible for importing tons of cocaine into the United States. Paredes attempted to fight the charges at jury with assistance of an excellent criminal defense law firm, but was nonetheless convicted after a several week trial.

Federal authorities alleged that Paredes was the leader of a Guatemalan drug trafficking organization. His organization purportedly received tons of cocaine from Columbia and Mexican and imported the illegal narcotic into the United States. Paredes worked with other notorious drug trafficking kingpins from Mexico and Columbia. After a lengthy investigation, federal drug enforcement agencies gathered enough evidence to indict the defendant after seizing one and a half tons of cocaine. Paredes was facing life in prison because the cocaine trafficking operations were conducted by armed members of his organization. Courts documents alleged that members of his organization would use boats occupied with escorts carrying machine guns and various other firearms to pick up the cocaine at sea.

Paredes was on the run for several years and was nearly untouchable as he was always surrounded by armed guards. He is alleged to have prevented seizures of his shipments by paying off public officials from Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. Paredes was eventually arrested in Honduras in 2008 while living under an assumed identity. The extradition treaty between Honduras and the United States allowed for him to be transported back to the U.S. to stand trial. The Assistant United States Attorney prosecuting case thanked the efforts of the DEA and other law enforcement agencies for putting one of the most dangerous drug trafficking kingpin behind bars for 31 years.

The case shows that the "war on drugs" is alive and well in the United States. The federal government has become more efficient and effective in rounding up drug traffickers who ship marijuana and cocaine into the United States, but never step foot on U.S. soil until it is time to face federal drug trafficking charges. Despite the efforts and money spent to capture and incarcerate foreign drug lords, it is apparent that others remain to carry on the drug trade out of South and Central America. If you or someone you know is being extradited to the United States to face drug trafficking charges or has just been charged in the Miami or South Florida area with cocaine trafficking, marijuana trafficking, ecstacy trafficking or even oxycodone trafficking, it is imperative to hire a criminal defense law firm with vast experience in defending these types of cases both in state and federal court. Whether charged in state or federal court, individuals are facing long prison sentences and hefty fines if convicted of any of the aforementioned charges.

Guatemalan Drug Kingpin Sentenced in Manhattan Federal Court to 31 Years for Leading Massive Armed Cocaine Trafficking Conspiracy, Rushprnews.com, April 19, 2010.

April 20, 2010

Mortgage Fraud Linked to Marijuana Trafficking Cases

Not if things were bad enough for lenders linked to fraud, but the lenders are now also being sought for marijuana trafficking or grow house cases. While federal prosecutors and the Florida Mortgage Fraud Task Force have been building mortgage fraud cases against lenders in the Miami and South Florida area, the Highlands County Sheriff's Office has been gathering enough evidence to charge the lenders with conspiracy to traffic in marijuana. The attorney for the sheriff's office revealed that evidence exists showing the lenders knew that the fraudulent loans would be used to purchase homes to be used as marijuana grow houses. According to sources, 39 cases have investigated and are ready for prosecution, while 20 others are still being investigated. The marijuana charges will be filed against both lenders and banks. While marijuana possession is misdemeanor, marijuana trafficking is first degree felony.

According to reports, all of the loans used in purchasing the homes used to cultivate marijuana originated with lenders in Miami. The lenders and banks can be legally charged with conspiracy although they never actively participated in operating the grow houses and manufacturing and cultivating the marijuana. Prosecutors without hard evidence, will be hard pressed to show that the lenders and banks had knowledge of the fact the loans were being used to purchase homes with the intent to grow marijuana. Attorneys charged with defending the lenders will have to show that the prosecution cannot prove knowledge on the part of those accused of providing the monies.

Since 2006, Highlands County has taken down approximately 90 grow houses. The majority of the defendants arrested were from Miami and the South Florida area. Along with arrests, asset forfeitures are certainly to follow. The houses, their contents, including furnishings, power sources, cash and firearms were seized as part of the busts. The police will attempt to keep anything of value and issue forfeiture notices to the owners of the property. Law enforcement authorities claim that they have put an end to grow house operations in Highlands County, although they admit that may have missed a couple of well-hidden ones. They believe the individuals involved in marijuana trafficking may have to the northern parts of Florida or out of the state altogether.

The increased penalties for marijuana trafficking and the constant pressure placed on the growers have purportedly helped curtail the problem. Any arrested for marijuana trafficking (marijuana possession in excess of 25 pounds), faces a three year mandatory prison sentence. There are dozens of defenses to those charged with owning or operating a marijuana grow house. Many times, detectives do not obtain search warrants and attempt to gain access through consent to search. Experienced criminal defense law firms know that many times the consent obtained by the police is coerced, and therefore not voluntary. Examples are when the police threaten to arrest wives and girlfriends if consent is not granted. Another tactic employed is when they threaten to have the Department of Children and Family Services take the children away. In any event, if the consent is coerced and the search is conducted in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the evidence will be suppressed and the prosecution will have to dump the case. Always remember, if the police ever seek consent to search an automobile or home, refuse unless they get a warrant.

Grow House Cases Enter Phase Two, TBO.com, April 19, 2010.

April 19, 2010

Hotline Being Used to Combat Medicare Fraud

Another tool implemented by federal authorities to uncover and prosecute healthcare fraud scams now includes a hot line. The Florida consumer hot line accepts calls from Medicare beneficiaries whose accounts have been billed for medical treatments or medical supplies that were never provided or received. About 80 irate senior citizens contacted the hot line after they received bills indicating that a Miami clinic had submitted bills on their behalf. All of the calls occurred in May 2009, which led to an indictment by September 2009. Federal authorities arrested Filibereto Ramos for Medicare fraud after his company fraudulently billed the federal healthcare program approximately $3.1 million. Ramos received approximately $1.9 million for treatment never provided to patients.

Last month, Ramos entered a guilty plea in federal court and was sentenced to three years in prison. Present with Ramos at his sentencing hearing was his Miami criminal defense lawyer. Despite the number of Medicare fraud prosecutions over the past couple of years, this case is notable because it is the first major prosecution in South Florida that stemmed from complaints or tips received from by the hot line. It is also the first time a clinic owner and operator was prosecuted as a result of the information received by the hot line. The hot line is operated by Safeguard Services and has dozens of people accepting calls in Miramar, Florida. The call center is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in an effort to obtain information about clinics fraudulently billing for healthcare services.

The hotline was created in 2008 and was largely ineffective due to under staffing. Many complaints regarding fraud went unanswered and phone call were unlikely to be returned. At the cost of millions of dollars, the hotline expanded the operation to include 15 telephone operators and 15 investigators. The operators at the hot line speak both English and Spanish. They are responsible for taking down the beneficiaries information and billing history. Once the information has been collected, the information is passed on to the investigative team for follow-up. The majority of the phone calls are regarding billing mistakes while about 15% are related to unprovided services. If the information is considered related to fraud, it is sent to the investigative team that is headed up by a retired FBI agent.

Another example of the Safeguard System led to the closure of another Miami-Dade County clinic. Several tips were provided regarding a medical supply company in Little Havana. While the owners of the company were able to bill for $2 million and received $500,000 for goods never provided, their access to billing was immediately shut down. Once investigators located the business, the owners had already abandoned the business. While the culprits got away, they were unable to continue their operation. The Safeguard System is another example of the measures being taken to shut down the Medicare fraud problem. Clinic owners and medical supply businesses should be aware that investigative measures will only become more sophisticated as more funding and manpower is thrown at the problem.

Medicare's Fraud Hot Line Begins to Root out Billing Scams, The Miami Herald.com, April 17, 2010.

April 15, 2010

Scam Artist Sentenced to 115 Months on Fraud Charges

A defendant charged with mail fraud and wire fraud for running an investment scam out of Costa Rica was sentenced to 115 months in federal prison. Dilraj Mathauda was indicted on charges alleging that he operated fraudulent business ventures that would seek out unsuspecting investors. The defendant had previously entered a guilty plea back on January 13, 2010 before a U.S. District Court judge following his arrest in 2009. Court documents indicate that Mathauda was the ringleader of an operation that sold beverage and greeting card opportunities that never came to fruition. The Defendant was represented at his sentencing hearing by a Miami criminal defense lawyer.

Mathauda solicited citizens in the United States to invest in business entities called USA Beverages and Omega Business Systems, Inc. USA Beverages sold stakes in coffee beverage display racks, while Omega sold stakes in greeting card display racks. Both businesses maintained office space in the United States to make it appear legitimate to U.S. investors. In reality, the scheme to defraud was based in and operated out of Costa Rica. The defendant and his co-conspirators made false and fraudulent statements to potential investors such as the length of time the companies were in business, the numbers investors involved with the companies, and the promise of lucrative profits.

As with "Ponzi" schemes, the crime of fraudulently inducing investors to become involved in business opportunities is being taken seriously by federal law enforcement and government prosecutors. Frauds like the one committed by Mathauda are investigated by the United States Postal Inspection Service. The head of the postal service told reporters that the sentence was appropriate in this particular case and promised to investigate and prosecute criminals who defraud American consumers. He warned consumers that these types of scams have become increasingly popular and that serious inquiries must be made by investors prior to becoming involved in these types of ventures.

The judge presiding over the sentencing hearing scheduled a restitution hearing in federal court in 90 days. Undoubtedly, the defendant will be required to repay the investors for their monetary losses. Despite the court order, the investors are highly unlikely to receive any of their money back. The restitution hearing is likely to be protracted due to large amount of losses and number of victims involved in the scheme to defraud. As the lengthy prison sentence indicates, any one charged with defrauding investors faces serious consequences. Anyone being investigated or prosecuted for this type of offense should seek legal representation from a criminal defense law firm experienced in defending charges stemming from fraudulent business practices.

Costa Rica-Based Business Operator Fraud Operator Sentenced to 115 Months in Prison by Miami Judge, PR Newswire.com, April 14, 2010.

April 14, 2010

Defendant Enters Guilty Plea to Massive Heathcare Fraud

A South Florida man entered a guilty plea in federal court to charges stemming from a $60 million Medicare fraud scheme. Ihosvany Marquez appeared in federal court and admitted to a United States District Court judge that he was the ringleader of a healthcare scam that fraudulently billed the heathcare system at least $61 million for HIV, AIDS and cancer patients that never received the treatments. Out of the $61 million billed, Medicare paid out $24 million to eight Miami-Dade and Orlando health clinics owned by the Defendant. Present with the Marquez were attorneys from a Miami criminal defense law firm who will also be present in two or three months for the sentencing hearing.

Marquez entered a guilty plea to the charges of Medicare fraud and money laundering. He admitted to laundering the fraudulently obtained money through a car dealership and two local check cashing stores. According to court records, he used the proceeds to purchase homes, expensive cars and jewelry, and race horses. As part of the plea deal, Marquez agreed to an asset forfeiture of all of these items. Other than losing everything, Marquez is looking at about 20 years in prison, hefty fines and restitution. Marquez was charged along with numerous other unnamed defendants for soliciting "straw patients" to the clinics. The purported patients were provided small sums of money or prescription medications in exchange for their federal healthcare information which was used for billing purposes.

The majority of the other co-conspirators were members of the Cuban immigrant community that were paid hefty sums to sign corporate documents and bank records in order to appear as the owners of the clinics. In reality, Marquez owned all of the clinics and was the director of the massive scheme to defraud. Many of the purported owners have fled the United States in an effort to avoid prosecution. While the U.S. and Cuba's strained relationship does not allow for extradition, the co-conspirators will mostly likely be arrested if they attempt to re-enter the country.

Miami used to be known as the cocaine trafficking capital of the United States, however, that title is in danger of being changed to the capital of healthcare fraud. Anyone operating clinics or medical supply companies must be aware that these types of businesses will continue to be subject to intense scrutiny for the foreseeable future. Federal law enforcement agencies and government prosecutors are being directed to stamp out the problem to make way for the new healthcare initiative. Anyone contacted regarding their involvement in a Medicare scheme to defraud should contact a criminal defense firm with years of experience defending clients in federal court. Remember, never speak with law enforcement without legal representation. Statements provided to law enforcement officers may provide the prosecution with evidence of intent which is an essential element of the crimes of Medicare fraud and money laundering.

Miami Man Admit Guilt in $60 Million Healthcare Scam, Reuters.com, April 13, 2010.

April 13, 2010

Congress Proposing New Legislation to Battle Medicare Fraud

Two members of Congress from South Florida are backing new legislation to combat the massive Medicare fraud that costs U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars every year. The politicians believe the legislation along with the increased efforts of the Medicare Strike Forces created by the federal government will put an end to the ongoing problem or at least decrease the amount of healthcare fraud plaguing Miami and the South Florida area. United States Representatives Illeana Ros-Lehtinen and Ron Klein will discuss the new legislation at a seniors center in Miami-Dade Florida. Criminal defense law firms have kept busy over the past couple of years defending these types of cases in federal court.

Fraud in this county alone purportedly exceeds $3 to $4 billion per annum according to federal law enforcement and healthcare officials. It is estimated that Medicare and healthcare fraud in general, cost the taxpayers in excess of $60 billion a year. The numbers are staggering and with media attention recently garnered by the new healthcare legislation, it is evident that the politicians are getting involved for a multitude of reasons. Although the recent reforms were passed by a democratic Congress, Republicans may step up the plate as mid-term elections are around the corner. The new legislation will unveil stricter penalties for those convicted of healthcare fraud. The proposal suggests that 1 to 2 year prison sentences be enhanced to five to ten years for anyone convicted of filing a false Medicare claim and paying kickbacks in exchange for patient information.

Other than enhanced penalties for Medicare fraud offenders, the legislation also intends to introduce technological advances to pro-actively curb the ongoing problem. The latest technology that will be employed by the federal government. The technology is aimed at preventing the fraudulent filing of claims for medical equipment and medical treatment that is not necessary or is never provided. Biometric technology has also been made part of the bill to ensure patients are physically present at clinics and medical offices. While the costs are sure to be high, many believe the benefits will outweigh the costs.

The legislation also contemplates new laws which criminalize acts such as selling a healthcare provider's billing privileges or selling Medicare recipient's identification and information. Despite the fact that the Medicare Fraud Strike Forces have led investigations that resulted in excess of 500 prosecutions, the federal government believes a more pro-active approach to combating fraud is more effective than the deterrent threat of prison time. The new law will require the Department of Health and Human Services to conduct criminal background checks on all providers and be required to make spot checks of medical offices.

As the federal government moves to imposes harsher sentences and more preventative measures, it is apparent that the war against Medicare fraud has begun and anyone involved in this type of fraudulent practice must take heed that a more thorough program of checks and balances is on the horizon. Anyone being investigated for Medicare or healthcare fraud should contact a Miami criminal defense law firm experienced in defending these types of cases because the consequences of being convicted in federal court on these types of charges are serious. Federal judges have been and will continue to hand down lengthy prison sentences and impose large fines for these types of crimes. Defendants also should be aware that fleeing the jurisdiction can and will result in extradition from a foreign country.

Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, Ron Klein Unite Against Medicare Fraud, The Miami Herald.com, April 13, 2010.

April 12, 2010

Key Witness Faints During Marijuana Trafficking Sentencing Hearing

The lead investigator in a marijuana trafficking case fainted during a hearing in federal court. While being cross examined during the sentencing hearing, the lead DEA agent fainted on the witness stand. As a result, the United States District Court Judge presiding over the case rescheduled the sentencing hearing. The case involves a four co-defendant marijuana trafficking ring out of Port St. Lucie and Hobe Sound, Florida. The Miami criminal defense lawyer representing one of the four co-defendants, Kobie O. Gary, was cross examining Special Agent Darren Singleton when the agent slumped over and fainted, causing the judge to clear the Miami courtroom.

The four co-defendants, including Gary have previously entered guilty pleas to the charges and are currently awaiting sentencing. Gary is facing between five and forty years in a federal prison for his alleged involvement in the conspiracy to traffic marijuana case. Along with Gary, Stephen Shepherd, Scott Gibson and David Grant are also facing charges. The indictment stems from the creation and operation of a marijuana grow house in Port St. Lucie and Hobe Sound. As a result of an executed search warrant, 237 fully grown pot plants were seized from the residence. Despite the fact that all of the co-defendants entered guilty pleas, they are each trying to limit the sentences that will be imposed against them.

Each of the co-defendants are trying to avail themselves of level reductions available under the United States Sentencing Guidelines. Gary's criminal lawyers are blaming Gibson for being the mastermind behind the grow house operation. They are doing this for good reason. If they can prove to the judge that Gary was only a minimal or minor participant, he would be eligible for a two to four level decrease under his applicable guidelines. However, if Gary is shown to be an organizer, leader, manager or supervisor in the marijuana trafficking operation, he would be eligible for a level increase rather than a reduction..

As Gary has entered a guilty plea, he is also trying to receive a reduction for his acceptance of responsibility. By pleading guilty and offering a written acknowledgment of his guilt to the government and the court, he will be eligible for a two or three level reduction depending on the weight of the marijuana. Another reduction that Gary is trying to obtain is called Limitation on Applicability of Statutory Minimum Sentences or more commonly called the "Safety Valve". If a defendant does not have a prior criminal history, did not use violence, threats of violence or a firearm, the offense did not result in death or serious bodily injury and the defendant was not an organizer, leader, supervisor or manager of the offense, a two level reduction is possible with a waiver of any minimum mandatory sentences that may apply.

The case is representative of how a qualified criminal attorney can limit a client's sentence by having an intimate knowledge of the federal sentencing guidelines. While it is always important to evaluate to the strengths and weaknesses of any case before going to trial or entering a plea, an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer is necessary to evaluate the sentencing guidelines in order to effectively represent a client and obtain the best possible sentence.

DEA Agent in Kobie O. Gary Case Faints on the Stand, The Miami Herald.com, April 9, 2010.

April 9, 2010

Glamorous Women Involved in Cocaine Trafficking Ring

Law enforcement authorities around the world are on the lookout for beautiful women who are being recruited to transport cocaine from South American to several European countries. In particular, Argentinian authorities are searching for a former Columbia beauty queen who is accused of heading up a cocaine trafficking ring that uses "pretty and discreet" young women who are willing to transport cocaine to Europe in exchange for $5,000.00. The Columbian woman who is the primary suspect issued a statement through her criminal defense attorney. The lawyer denied the allegations stating that his client is not involved in drug trafficking and she is afraid to surrender because of the conditions she would face in jail.

The investigation into this cocaine trafficking ring began in December 2009 when authorities seized fifty-five kilograms of cocaine from a young attractive woman traveling to Cancun, Mexico. In arresting the young lady, the authorities attempted to track Sanclemente, but failed in their efforts. The most wanted lists in the United States and in Latin America are now replete with woman wanted on drug trafficking charges. Many other women are awaiting trial for similar offenses. Some woman were forced into drug trafficking when their husbands or brothers were either arrested or killed as a result of their involvement in the drug trade. Others were recruited into drug organization because they demonstrated their ability to become involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.

Government prosecutors in Miami are seeking the extradition of a Latin American woman, as well as, members of her family for illegally importing and selling 9 tons of cocaine in the South Florida area. While female drug traffickers are in the limelight, the majority of women in Mexico and other Latin American countries are imprisoned for drug offenses like cocaine possession and marijuana possession. They are involved in the street level drug trade which is considered to be the most dangerous. This latest investigation makes one wonder if the "war on drugs" can be one as it is apparent that drug trafficking is now involving other genres and countries.

For years Miami has been believed to be the hub where the majority of Latin American and South American cocaine and marijuana are delivered. Recent reports indicate that Europe is being targeted as a major recipient of the drug trade. The major question is whether European law enforcement have the assets and the support to combat the narcotics trade in similar fashion to the United States. While the federal government and the State of Florida have created strict penalties for people charged and convicted for their participation in the narcotics trade, it is not clear whether or not the European countries created similar laws to curb the inflow of drugs.

Women Break Through Glass Ceiling of Drug Dealing Underworld, The Miami Herald, March 28, 2010.

April 8, 2010

Department of Justice Fights Tax Fraud

The United States Justice Department had a busy year battling tax fraud around the country and overseas. The Tax Division of the Department of Justice along with the Internal Revenue Service have spent 2009 tracking and prosecuting individuals alleged to have committed tax fraud. Specifically, they have targeted individuals using off-shore accounts to hide assets, using and maintaining abusive tax shelters and shutting down other various tax schemes to defraud. Criminal lawyers specializing in defending tax fraud cases have kept busy during the past year representing their clients in federal court. The acting assistant attorney for the tax division issued a statement promising to promote compliance with the federal tax law and threatened prosecution for all those engaged in tax fraud.

While the Tax Division prosecutors obtained 135 tax fraud convictions either by plea or jury trials in federal court during 2009, their responsibilities extend to other areas in an effort to combat fraud. The division obtained hundreds of injunctions in an effort to stop fraudulent tax schemes in theirr tracks. They also successfully defended hundreds of tax refund lawsuits saving the federal government in excess of $665 million. The division also collected in excess of $200 million in taxes owed the federal government. These are impressive numbers considering the fact that the operating budget for the Tax Division is a meager $102 million.

While the Tax Division over the past decade have gone after individuals who fail to pay taxes, understate income and capital gains, and file fraudulent tax documents, they have now taken their operations overseas in an effort to prosecute individuals who are allegedly hiding assets in overseas accounts. In 2009, the Justice Department prosecuted Switzerland's largest bank for impeding an investigation being conducted by the Internal Revenue Service. The government allowed the bank to enter into a deferred prosecution agreement which means if the bank complies with the demands set forth by the federal government, the charges will be dismissed at a later date. A deferred prosecution agreement is similar to the pre-trial diversion program available to first time offenders in Miami and throughout the State of Florida. To have the indictment dismissed, the bank is required to provide names and account number of certain customers accused of tax fraud.

The Tax Division has made strides in halting the promotion of tax schemes to defraud and fraudulent tax return preparation. The Justice Department has issued warnings to tax fraud promoters and has promised heavy fines and significant jail time to all violators. The scams lure unwitting taxpayers to use their services and in the end it costs the taxpayers back taxes, interest and other civil penalties. The division is proactive in protecting taxpayers by filing injunctions against these unscrupulous organizations. The injunctions prohibit the organizations from continuing their unlawful practices disseminated through the use of the internet or seminars. When the division deems it appropriate, they will file charges and criminally prosecute the scammers for solicitation to commit tax fraud.

Justice Department Highlights Tax Enforcement Results, PR Newswire.com, April 7, 2010.

April 7, 2010

Four South Florida Residents Indicted for Mortgage Fraud

Four individuals were indicted in federal court on mortgage fraud and identity theft charges for concocting a scheme to defraud JP Morgan Chase Bank out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. One of those charged is still at large. The other three defendants made their initial appearance in the Southern District of Florida. The defendants were represented by criminal attorneys from Miami. It is not clear whether the lawyers were privately retained or appointed by the court to represent the defendants. The indictments allege counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and aggravated identity theft. An indictment is merely an allegation by government prosecutors who still have a duty to prove the case beyond and to the exclusion of a reasonable doubt.

The indictment alleges that the Miami mortgage fraud scheme was carried out by the defendants targeting certain pieces of property. Once they located a property of interest, they would contacte the sellers and offer to purchase the residence at a significant premium to the asking price. Another individual would falsely inflate the estimate and provide false documentation supporting the increased estimated value. Other co-conspirators would prepare falsified real estate documents, many times using the names and social security numbers of unsuspecting bystanders. Another defendant would fill out false financial affidavits verifying the purported buyers employment with his company. The real estate documents, fake appraisals and falsified income verifications would be submitted to the lending institutions to effectuate receiving the inflated loan.

After JP Morgan processed the loan, the defendants received the difference between the actual price and the inflated price and split the cash among themselves. After the receiving the money, the homes soon fell into foreclosure. The investigation revealing the fraud was conducted by both the state and federal authorities. The Secret Service, the FBI and the Miami-Dade Police Department all played major roles in uncovering the crime. All of the agencies worked in conjunction under the umbrella of the Mortgage Fraud Strike Force. The case goes to show that mortgage fraud can be committed by everyone in the chain necessary to obtain a mortgage including real estate agents, mortgage brokers, processors, borrowers, appraisers and lawyers.

While the media is replete with mortgage fraud cases, the number of cases should be on the decline because the banks have placed safeguards on their lending practices meant to limit the amount of fraudulent real estate transaction that can be committed. With the number of backlogged fraud investigations, the prosecutions involving real estate fraud could be on the courts dockets for a couple more years to come. Remember, if you or anyone you know is contacted by law enforcement officer regarding a real estate transaction, contact a Miami criminal defense law firm experienced in these types of investigations to get the best representation possible.

Identity Theft, Mortgage Fraud Scammers Arrested, Examiner.com, March 24, 2010

April 6, 2010

Drug Dealers Arrested in Broward County

During a county wide sting, the Broward Sheriff's Office in conjunction with other local law enforcement officers arrested dozens of suspected drug dealers and other offenders. Law enforcement authorities made 170 arrests for cocaine possession, cocaine possession with intent to sell, marijuana possession, marijuana possession with intent to sell, oxycodone possession, prostitution and a variety of firearm charges. The arrests came as result of what the authorities dubbed "Operation April Fool's". The police confiscated dozens of firearms, hundreds of pounds of marijuana, hundreds of grams of cocaine and pills including oxycodone and Vicodin. The majority of those arrested will be represented by criminal defense lawyers from the Broward County Public Defender's Office.

Those arrested face a wide variety of sentences if they enter pleas or are convicted after a jury trial. The Broward State Attorney's Office will inevitably extend plea offers to all of the defendants. The plea offer will be determined based on a number of factors including the charge, a person's prior criminal history, the location of the drug transaction and whether or not a defendant qualifies for an enhanced sentence. The State of Florida has promulgated sentencing guidelines based on a point system. The more severe the charge, the more points will be assigned to the offense. For example, felony marijuana possession is a level 1 offense, while cocaine possession with intent to sell within a 1,000 feet of school is a level 7 offense that carries with it a mandatory state prison sentence. Additionally, cocaine sale or cocaine possession with intent also carries a three year mandatory minimum sentence if the offense occurred within a 1,000 feet of a school.

Not only do the points for the current offense get scored under the Florida guidelines, but additional points are added for prior offenses even if an adjudication was withheld. Simply put a person with a cocaine possession charge with nor prior record will receive a much better plea offer than a person arrested for the same charge, but has prior felony convictions. The points assigned to the prior offenses are also based on the severity of the charge. The prosecutors use form score sheets to compile a defendant's guidelines. Always remember that first time offenders will always receive better plea offers than others with an extensive criminal history.

While a past arrest record can lead to an accumulation of points, a past criminal record may cause the prosecution to seek enhanced penalties under the career criminal laws. There are several categories of career criminal statutes which can double a persons sentence and add hefty minimum mandatory sentences. Examples of the various career criminal statutes are habitual offenders, habitual violent offender, violent career criminals (GORTs) and prison releasee re-offenders. Minimum mandatory sentences apply to the last two categories. Individuals can qualify as a career criminal based on two criteria, a person's past criminal history and the dates on which the previous offenses were committed. Always remember, that just because the prosecution claims a defendant to be a career criminal, they must prove it to a judge using the individuals prior certified judgements and sentences.

Suspected Drug Pushers Arrested Throughout Broward, CBS4.com, April 2, 2010.

April 5, 2010

Medicare Fraud Under Attack to Pay for Reforms

Medicare fraud appears to be under attack again in an effort to pay for the recently passed healthcare reform legislation. The task forces created to battle the massive fraud that has encompassed the entire country will increase their efforts to investigate and prosecute all violators. The Democratic Congress that recently passed the new legislation has promised to pay for the $940 billion reform by eliminating the fraud, waste and abuse that will amount to $500 billion over the next ten years. Miami will undoubtedly be the first target as reports have consistently targeted South Florida as the main culprit. Criminal defense law firms with experience in handling these matters in federal court will see an upswing in the number of prosecutions sought by the federal government.

Politicians, as well as law enforcement, know that the majority of Medicare fraud comes from Miami and South Florida. Clinic owners, medical supply companies, doctors and patients better be on the lookout as the federal government considers this region ground zero in terms of healthcare fraud. Of all of the home healthcare bills in the country, South Florida is responsible for more than 50% submitted for payment. Some reports indicate that bills were even submitted on behalf of the homeless who provided their names and information for minimal compensation. Another investigation revealed that the federal healthcare system paid for medical equipment and supplies such as hospital beds, wheel chairs and walkers. Many times the equipment was never ordered, necessary, or provided to patients. In fact, some of the companies that submitted bills never existed. In another case, a clinic billed for insulin shots provided to blind diabetic patients, however, the shots were never provided and the patients were neither blind, nor diabetic.

In 2008, prosecutions in the Southern District of Florida skyrocketed. Dozens of individuals were indited for Medicare fraud that amounted to losses exceeding $792 million increasing to $952 million in 2009. While Miami is the largest perpetrator, health care fraud has found its way to Broward County as well. According to law enforcement authorities, Palm Beach County has been spared in large part due to the ongoing commitment to quashing the problem regarding their neighbors to the South. Proponents of the new legislation believe the crackdown will free up money to compensate for the reform. Significantly reducing the fraud will save hundreds of millions of dollars. The reduction in fraud through enforcement and new legislation will help offset the costs of the new reform bill according to some.

The number of recent prosecutions show that the federal government is serious in their efforts to minimize healthcare fraud. Earlier this year, six local residents were sentenced in federal court to between 17 months and 25 years in prison for their involvement in a large scale scheme to defraud the federal Medicare system. The men were involved in a scheme to bilk the government out of $50 million. They were paid approximately $19 million for expensive HIV treatments that were never provided to patients. Anyone being investigated for healthcare fraud should immediately seek the assistance of a law firm familiar with these types of cases because the consequences will be serious if the federal government files an indictment.

To Help Pay for Reforms, Medicare Fraud Ripe for Plucking, The Palm Beach Post.com, March 31, 2010.

April 2, 2010

Numerous People Arrested for Money Laundering

Sixteen people were arrested in a multi-jurisdictional sting. Federal law enforcement officers made arrests in Florida, New York and Puerto Rico. The individuals arrested were indicted on money laundering charges. The indictment alleges that the defendants moved in excess of $7 million in drug trafficking proceeds on commercial flights mainly from Puerto Rico to Miami. The defendants will face charges in the Southern District of Florida. It is unclear whether privately retained Miami criminal attorneys or criminal lawyers from the Federal Public Defender's Office will represent the interests of the defendants in this case. Court documents revealed that bundles of cash were placed in luggage and transported via commercial liners.

For years Miami has been the hub that cocaine trafficking rings have used to funnel their drugs into the county and funnel the proceeds out of the country. As a result, the federal government through Drug Enforcement Agency and Immigration and Customs Enforcement have spent tons of money and man hours to curb the South Florida problem. In many cases the drug profits made up of U.S. dollars are shipped south to Latin American countries and exchanged on the black market for foreign currencies. Two of the defendants in this most recent case were residents of Miami and would allegedly routinely smuggle about $100,000 out of the United States at a time. The lead defendants was arrested at his home earlier this month and during the execution of the search warrant suitcases containing $447,000 were discovered by law enforcement.

The charge of money laundering is a serious offense and involves transactions with criminally derived funds. There are two federal money laundering statutes. Both statutes criminalize money laundering, but the first statute requires that the government prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant acted with specific intent while the second statute merely requires that the defendant had knowledge of the crime. The first statute is more serious and carries a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison, while the second statute carries a maximum of 10 years in prison. While a typical case involves a scenario where individuals derive a scheme to make illegally obtained and tainted money appear legitimate, there are less obvious activities that could constitute money laundering under the statutes. Due to potential of a long prison sentence, anyone facing federal money laundering charges should retain a criminal law firm experienced in defending these types of cases.

The federal sentencing statutes will provide the court with a recommended sentencing guideline. Of course the guidelines will be determined by the amount the government can prove was involved in the money laundering scheme. Money laundering carries a base level of 8 under the guidelines. Levels will be added depending on the amount laundered. If an individual launders in excess of $7 million, but less than $20 million, they are subject to a 20 level increase. Under the guidelines, assuming a person has no prior criminal record, a defendant under this scenario is facing between 78 and 97 months in prison. There are no minimum mandatory sentences that apply either in the federal or state court system.

16 Face Charges in Money Laundering Scheme, The Miami Herald, April 1, 2010.

April 1, 2010

Bank Pays Hefty Fines to Avoid Prosecution

One of the largest banks in the United States agreed to settle with the federal government by paying $160 million. The payment will resolve a criminal investigation being conducted by federal authorities into Wachovia Bank's failure to set up a an anti-money laundering program required under the Bank Secrecy Act. Allegedly between 2003 and 2008, the bank failed to prevent two cocaine trafficking cartels from laundering money through Mexican exchange houses. Miami criminal defense law firms have seen the number of money laundering prosecutions on the rise as the federal government continues to battle the drug trafficking cartels.

Wells Fargo/Wachovia in exchange for avoiding prosecution paid the hefty settlement and admitted that it failed to monitor $420 billion in money transfers to Latin American exchange houses. The bank acknowledged that its failure to abide by the Bank Secrecy Act allowed the drug cartels to conduct a money laundering scheme that exceeded $110 million. The money allowed the cartels to purchase airplanes to traffic cocaine and marijuana into the United States. Four of planes laden with 20,000 kilograms of cocaine were seized by federal law enforcement authorities. The trafficking problem of course leads to the large number of arrests for cocaine possession in South Florida.

The United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida agreed to defer prosecution against the bank until the large financial institution comes into compliance with the Bank Secrecy Act. Part of the reason the government is deferring prosecution is due to the fact that Wells Fargo took over Wachovia and there is no evidence that they themselves have failed to comply with federal law. Wachovia got themselves into trouble by allow the exchange houses unfettered discretion in transferring large sums of money that were the proceeds of drug trafficking operations into accounts in the United States. The transfers were made by wire and by armored cars delivering large amounts of cash to the bank.

The deferred prosecution agreement is similar to the pre-trial intervention program offered in state court for first time offenders. In state court, depending on the charges, many defendants are offered the program in exchange for a dismissal of the charges down the road. Typically, the program last approximately six months and if the defendant completes all of the conditions set forth by the prosecutor, the charges will be dropped. The benefit of the program is that defendants never enter a plea to the charges which prevents them from having a criminal record. The program is effective for defendants who are not citizens of the United States. Since entering and successfully completing the program results in an dismissal, immigration consequences such as deportation or denials of residency or citizenship can be avoided.

Experienced and effective Miami criminal defense lawyers are aware that under the current state of the law, any plea taken by anyone other than a U.S. citizen can have devastating effects on individuals and families. Unsuspecting defendants who accept pleas to seemingly harmless charges with little or no consequences can later find themselves in immigration custody. However, if an unsuspecting defendant accepted a plea, a skilled post-conviction relief attorney can many times have the plea vacated and the charges dismissed. The success of this procedure depends on the jurisdiction where the plea was entered.

Wachovia to Pay $160 Million to End Money Laundering Probe, Business Week.com, March 18, 2010.