June 2010 Archives

June 30, 2010

Tampa Takes Over as Staged Accident Capital

The operations director for the National Insurance Crime Bureau says the epidemic of insurance fraud and staged accidents has taken the lead in Tampa, Florida. Staged accident cases arise when individuals become involved in intentional car crashes with the intent to file false claims with insurance companies. In a typical staged accident or insurance fraud case, an individual sets up a staged accident between willing participants who agree to become involved in car crash at pre-set time and location. The police arrive and fill out an accident report. The drivers and passengers of the vehicles typically go to a sham clinic that rarely if ever provide treatment for these individuals. The clinic bills the insurance companies under the policies who in turn provide monetary kickbacks to the participants in the staged accident. Clinic owners, chiropractors, physician's assistants, accident planners and organizers, drivers and passengers have all been charged criminally throughout the State Florida. Miami criminal defense attorneys have represented all of these types or participants in staged accident cases.

Miami used to hold the title of the staged accident capital, but has given way to Tampa. Miami-Dade County created a task force in an effort to quell the problem..In fact, the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office has a specialized division with prosecutors who do nothing else but charge and prosecute these types of insurance fraud cases. These efforts have apparently chased off the staged accident cases to more fertile ground. Tampa has seen a 209% increase in the number of stage accident cases. Nationwide, Tampa is now only second to New York City. As a result, Tampa has now created its own task force to fight the problem. The fraud is so out of control that the State of Florida is the home to $100 million dollars in false claims a year. The states with the highest levels of fraud are those that have no fault coverage like Florida's PIP (personal injury protection).

Staged accident and insurance fraud crimes are charged under Florida Statute 817.234. The statues were modified a couple of years back in order to send a message to all those involved in insurance fraud. As a result, organizers and participants in a staged accident case face a two year minimum mandatory prison sentence if the prosecution can prove that they knowingly planned, organized or participated in an intentional motor vehicle crash. Insurance fraud and staged accident cases are built by the prosecution from the bottom up. Investigators will seek to first interview the drivers and passengers to get them to provide information regarding the organizer and the sham clinics. Providing information to law enforcement investigators may or may not preclude cooperating participants from prosecution. If you are contacted by law enforcement regarding a staged accident, seek counsel from a criminal defense lawyer experienced in defending these types of cases.

If a participant desires to speak to a detective regarding a case, it is imperative to receive an immunity letter and a guarantee of non-prosecution. Otherwise, statements given can and will be used to prosecute a case with possibility of the cooperating witness receiving no benefit. If an individual decides that this is the proper course of action, they should retain a criminal lawyer to make sure their rights are protected prior to speaking with the authorities.

Tampa Speeds by Miami as Florida's New Capital for Staged Auto Accidents, St. Petersburg Times, June 29, 2010..

June 29, 2010

College Student Arrested on Robbery and Sex Offenses

A college student was arrested on charges related to the robbery and sexual assault of three young women in the West Kendall area. Benjamin Marcus Raucher was charged with armed robbery with deadly weapon, sexual battery, strong arm robbery, burglary of an occupied conveyance, burglary to a dwelling and several counts of simple battery. He is currently being held in the Miami-Dade County jail without a bond. He has not been formally charged at this point in the case, but is being held without bail after the bond hearing judge found probable cause on the armed robbery and the sexual battery charge. He is currently represented by a Miami criminal lawyer from the public defender's office.

One of the cases alleges that the defendant approached a 19 year old women as she was walking down the road on SW 56th Street and 118th Avenue. Raucher committed a strong arm robbery when he took the victim's purse by force. He also attempted to steal the women's necklace and ripped off her shirt in the process. The second case alleges that the defendant approached a women as she was puling into her driveway. As she exited her vehicle, he demanded her valuables. After turning over her property, the defendant fondled her and fled the scene. The third incident occurred in the area of SW 112th Avenue and SW 88th Street. The defendant approached another young female and held her at knife point. He again took the victim's property, fondled her and fled on foot.

Assuming the state attorney's office has sufficient evidence to proceed in the cases, the defendant is facing a significant prison sentence. Because he is 22 years-old, he can avail himself of the youthful offender statute prescribed by Florida law. The youthful offender statute provides that a defendant that is younger than 21 when sentence is imposed can take advantage of the statute. The court has the ability to deviate from the standard guidelines and can sentence a defendant to probation, community control or incarceration not to exceed 6 years. However, the court does not have the ability to sentence a defendant as a youthful offender if he or she is charged with a capital or life offense. For example, armed robbery is a 1st degree felony punishable up to life in prison while armed kidnapping is a life felony. A judge could sentence a defendant as a youthful offender to the former charge, but not the latter charge.

Another interesting provision of the youthful offender statute involves community control and probation violations. As stated earlier, a judge can sentence a defendant to probation or community control under the statute. In a typical case, a judge can sentence a defendant to a guideline sentence in the even the court finds a defendant violated the terms of his supervision. This applies to both technical and substantive violations. A technical violation consists of failing to report, failing to do community service hours, or failing to pay restitution. A substantive violation occurs when a defendant picks up a new misdemeanor or felony cases. In youth offender cases, the judge can sentence a defendant within the guidelines for a substantive violation, but can only sentence a defendant up to six years on a technical violation.

Police Arrest Man Who robbed and Fondled Women in West Kendall, The Miami Herald.com, June 29, 2010.

June 28, 2010

Mortgage Fraud Task Force Continues Crackdown

As a result of the near depression in 2008, federal, state and local law enforcement have continued their effort to quell the fraudulent mortgage application and closing practices that have existed in South Florida and across the country for the past ten years. Everyone is aware that Miami-Dade County has the highest concentration of mortgage fraud in the entire country. As a result of the notoriety, Miami-Dade County's mayor, Carlos Alvarez created a local mortgage task force assigned to investigating and prosecuting mortgage fraud cases under Florida Statute § 817.545. The statute sets forth criminal liability for individuals who intentionally make material misstatements, misrepresentations that lenders and banking institutions use to determine whether or not to provide a loan. Miami criminal defense lawyers have seen an increase in the number of clients charged in Miami mortgage fraud cases.

There are two types of mortgage fraud that can be perpetrated. The first is committing fraud to obtain property which usually involves an individual providing misinformation to lending institution in an effort to obtain a single piece of property. The second type of mortgage fraud cases which is more closely scrutinized is fraudulently obtaining loans to make a profit. In fact, it is these types of cases that are specifically targeted by the task force. These cases involve straw buyers, unscrupulous appraisers, real estate agents and mortgage brokers that eventually end up with the lending institutions holding the bag with worthless mortgages and foreclosed properties.

There have been recent reports of innocent homeowners being unknowingly caught up in mortgage fraud schemes. Some homeowners have been wrongly arrested for mortgage fraud. These home owners were duped in signing blank or incomplete documents being told that this would speed up the lending and closing process. After the documents are signed, the true perpetrators either make false and fraudulent entries or make substantial changes without the knowledge or consent of the home buyer. Remember, if you are contacted by the mortgage fraud task force regarding the purchase of a piece of property, contact a Miami criminal defense law firm before speaking to the authorities. Any statements you give, may inadvertently build a stronger case for the prosecution.

The task force receives complaints and tips on a web site operated by the Miami-Dade County Mortgage Task Force. Once a tip is received, detectives review the hundreds of documents that go along with real estate loans and closings. The investigations may take months to years depending on the complexity of the case. The number of tips and complaints have nearly doubled since the inception of the task force. Bear in mind that the statute of limitations for mortgage fraud is 5 years. This gives law enforcement a significant amount of time to bring mortgage fraud cases to court for prosecution.

Task Force Crackdown on Miami Mortgage Fraud, 24-7 Press Release.com, June 26, 2010.

June 25, 2010

Law Enforcement Arrest Dozen in Marijuana Trafficking Sweep

Local law enforcement shut down almost 50 marijuana "grow houses" last week. The massive marijuana trafficking sweep was conducted by local, state and federal law enforcement authorities. Police officers seized more than 2,300 marijuana pants, along with oxycodone pills, cocaine, and several firearms. The also seized $9,500 in cash and an automobile. In total 42, people were arrested and will likely be represented by Miami criminal lawyers. The marijuana seized had an estimated street value of $9.4 million. The Miami-Dade led investigation also revealed information leading to a grow house bust in Vero Beach which netted 220 plants with an estimated street value of $2.4 million. The marijuana trafficking sweep was planned and leg by a federal initiative of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking program. The program provides local law enforcement with additional resources to fight illegal drugs in certain parts of the country.

Anyone arrested for marijuana trafficking or having assets seized by the police should seek the assistance of a Miami drug trafficking lawyer with experience appearing in civil court to seek the return of cash and other personal property. In drug trafficking cases, property can be seized by the police department if the cash can be linked to the drug trafficking operation. For example, of a large amount of cash is found inside a "grow house" law enforcement will seek to keep the money. If the marijuana is being transported inside a vehicle, either a car or boat, law enforcement can seek to keep that property as well.

Asset forfeiture cases occur in civil court. The police must first notify the person that they intend on keeping the seized property. The lawyer representing that person has two options. First, an agreement can sometimes be reached with law enforcement whereby they agree to return a portion of the seized property. Secondly, a person can request a probable cause hearing within 15 days of the seizure. You and you asset forfeiture lawyer would appear before a civil circuit court judge and argue that there is no probable linking the seized property to a drug trafficking operation. If the judge finds no probable cause, the person will get all of his or her property back.

Depending on the strength of the drug trafficking case, an asset forfeiture may be the least of a person's problems. Defendants caught with more than 25 pounds or marijuana can and will be charged with marijuana trafficking. The charge is a first degree felony carrying up to 30 years in prison. The charge also carries a 3 year minimum mandatory sentence which in nutshell means the court can offer nothing less than that in terms of a plea. Additionally, prosecutors in state court generally do not like to offer anything less than the 3 year prison term as well. Skilled criminal attorneys have the ability to obtain better plea offers or even dismissals if the police conducted an illegal search and seizure of the evidence or conducted an illegal stop of a vehicle. The 4th Amendment to the Constitutions provides many safeguards to defendants which must be taken advantage of to properly defend any drug trafficking case.

Police Raid Marijuana Grow Houses in Massive Sweep, The Miami Herald.com, June 18, 2010.

June 24, 2010

Mortgage Fraud Causes Legislature to Tighten Licensing Rules

The Florida legislature has increased the requirements for mortgage brokers who apply or seek to renew their licenses. The legislature enacted the law in an effort to curb the ongoing problem of mortgage fraud occurring in the Miami and South Florida area. No mortgage broker applications under the old standards will be accepted after July 8, 2010. On October 1, 2010, all mortgage brokers, loan originators, and mortgage business owners will be required to file under the new rules after Florida joins the Nationwide Mortgage Licensing System. Individuals that wait until after July 8th, will have to wait for several months under the new rules to receive their licenses. As a Miami criminal lawyer representing defendants charged in numerous mortgage fraud cases, it is understandable why the legislature acted.

The new rules will require that people applying and even renewing licenses will be require to undergo annual criminal history and credit report checks. The current licensing requirements were too relaxed according the legislature. Under the current rules, an applicant was required to undergo an initial background check and could renew their licenses every two years without a criminal background check. If mortgage brokers were arrested on criminal charges, it was their obligation to report themselves to licensing department.

According to the Mortgage Asset Research Institute, the licensing changes were necessary as Florida leads the nation in mortgage fraud. The changes in the licensing polices come at time when the media continues to report on the fraud that has caused serious economic difficulties in Florida and across the United States. In fact, it is believed that the legislature acted in response to a Miami Herald article. The article explained that mortgage licenses were issued to individuals with prior criminal histories such as convictions for armed robbery and cocaine trafficking. Once that information became public knowledge, the legislators acted.

The new licensing laws also set out the penalties if a broker is convicted of a certain criminal offense. Lifetime disqualification will occur for anyone convicted of the following offenses: fraud, robbery, identity theft, burglary or tax fraud. Convictions for other criminal offenses allow for five, seven and 15 years license suspensions. Anyone required to have a mortgage broker license must be keenly aware of the ramifications of being arrested for criminal charges. Any mortgage broker or lender that has pending criminal charges must seek legal representation from an experienced Miami criminal defense lawyer because the entry of any type of pleas, as harmless as it might seem, could cause someone to lose their livelihood.

Mortgage Broker Licensing Rules to Get Tougher, The Miami Herald.com, June 24, 2010.

June 22, 2010

Defendant Charged with Attempted Murder of LEO Held Without Bail

A defendant currently charged with attempted first degree murder of law enforcement officer appeared at a bond hearing before a circuit court judge in an effort to secure bail. Attempted first degree murder is a first degree felony punishable by life in prison. Under the law in the State of Florida, anyone charged with a first degree felony punishable by life in prison will initially be held without bail from the time of arrest. However, an experienced Miami criminal lawyer will set the case as soon as possible for an Arthur hearing. Depending on the strengths and weaknesses of the case, a prosecutor may agree or stipulate to the entry of a bond. If not, the prosecution must prove that defendant committed the crime before a judge with standard being proof evident, presumption great. If the burden is met, the judge will determine whether or not a defendant is a flight risk or a danger to the community in determining whether or not to set a bond.

Michael Robertson appeared for an Arthur hearing with his criminal defense lawyer before a circuit court judge. Evidence established that the defendant was initially pulled over by a Miami-Dade County RID (Robbery Intervention Detail) detective. Once the defendant stepped from his vehicle and while he was be patted down, he fled from the detective. The defendant allegedly entered an apartment building and dropped a 30 pound cinder block on the detective's head. The defendant then proceeded downstairs, kicked and beat the detective, eventually fleeing the scene in the detective's automobile. The detective suffered sever brain injuries, a fractured right arm, a collapsed lung and lacerated spleen.

A passerby allegedly identified the defendant as the man who committed the offense. Video surveillance also placed the defendant in the area where the crime was committed. While witnesses often make misidentifications and surveillance video can often be fuzzy, the lead detective testified that the Defendant's DNA was found on the driver's side visor. While DNA evidence is very compelling to judges and juries alike, the weight of that type of evidence will depend an the specific results of the testing. A 1 in 20 match is certainly less compelling when the results come back in the millions. According to the lawyer representing the defendant, a formal report has not been released from the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office regarding the DNA results.

Another piece of evidence brought out in the testimony was the fact that the defendant's fingerprint was found on the inside of the driver's side door. Fingerprints, like DNA evidence, are physical evidence that strongly bolster a prosecutor's case. Apparently, the evidence was substantial enough to allow the judge to find proof evident, presumption great and find that the defendant is a danger to the community, and thereby holding him without a bond. Once the reports are provided to his counsel, an explanation will have to be provided for the location of the DNA and the fingerprint to secure an acquittal in front of a jury. Experienced criminal lawyers will also seek to have their own experts evaluate the DNA and fingerprint evidence, because as well all know the crime lab specialist are employed by the police department. Being the prosecution will likely seek to put Robertson behind bar for many years, the evidence must be closely scrutinized before the case is presented to a jury.

No Bail in Cinder-Block Attack on Miami-Dade Detective, The Miami Hearld.com June 15, 2010.

June 21, 2010

Broward County Burglary Suspect Charged with Racketeering and Money Laundering

A Broward County man accused of being involved in the burglary of homes and the theft of more than $2.7 million in high end jewelry in West Palm Beach and throughout the South Florida area was formally charged with two counts of racketeering and one count of money laundering. Kane Steven Lopez of Hallandale is accused of being the leader of the burglary ring. He is scheduled to appear in circuit court with his criminal defense lawyer on Friday. The arrest came as part of a joint investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office, the Miami-Dade Police Department and law enforcement departments form Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter, North Miami Beach and Boca Raton.

Because the crimes were committed across several South Florida counties, the Statewide Prosecutor's Office will be pursuing the charges against Lopez and his co-defendants. In many cases where crimes were committed in several counties, the Statewide Office will handle the prosecution, especially in high-profile cases, such as this one. Along with Lopez, several other individuals were arrested for their involvement in the burglary ring. Three of the defendants are Miami residents, while one of defendants is a Georgia resident. All of the defendants except one is in custody.

The allegations against the defendants mirror the crimes committed by the "Dinner Set Gang" that stole millions of dollars in worth of jewelry and personal items back in the 1960's. Since the 60's there have many imitators of the dinner set operation. In 2007, teenagers committed numerous burglaries in the Boynton and Delray Beach area.

The arrest affidavit charging Lopez and his relatives alleges that Jose Lorenzo, Silvia Ordonez, Emery Lorenzo, and Michael Chala burglarized the homes, stole expensive jewelry and sold the goods to Lopez who owned the North Miami Beach Apawen shop, "Gold for Less". Other jewelry was sold to Swiss jewelers, as well as to other jewelers located in the South Florida area. Lopez sold other items to Lazaro Teneiro who would allegedly take the jewelry back to his home in Georgia and sell it on Ebay.

Court documents allege that the defendants would go out on weekends and commit the burglaries. They had a fairly sophisticated operation. Surveillance footage revealed the burglars using masks and two-way radios. The victims suffered losses ranging from almost a million dollars to $100,000. The burglaries are reported to have occurred between June 13, 2009 and February 5, 2010. The majority of the defendants provided statements to law enforcement. As is the case in most burglary rings, law enforcement make one case against the defendants and upon their arrests, they admit to several others.

Police Arrest Six People in Burglary Ring, The Miami Herald.com, June 21, 2010.

June 18, 2010

Feds Conduct Another Mortgage Fraud Crackdown

The federal government is once again attacking the mortgage fraud problem that brought this nation's economy to its knees. A large-scale multi-agency investigation into mortgage fraud netted 86 people in South Florida as part of a nationwide crackdown. The United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida announced that "Operation Stolen Dreams" was a huge success. The defendants arrested are charged with filing for and receiving fraudulent loans in the amount of $76 million. Mortgage and real estate brokers, straw buyers, loan and title processors, as well as, lawyers were arrested. As the federal government continues to investigate and prosecute defendants for mortgage fraud, Miami criminal defense lawyers have their hands full defending clients charged with these types of offenses.

Many of the defendants charged as a result of this operation have entered guilty pleas while others await trial in federal court. United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida announced the results of the mortgage fraud crackdown and said, "The unscrupulous actions of individuals ands companies who abuse the financial system and the trust of others for their own financial gain are immoral and illegal." Despite the fact that mortgage fraud is on the decline due to additional safeguards implemented by financial lending institutions, the system of checks and balances still miss a variety of fraudulent schemes used to obtain mortgages illegally.

In one the cases, a Haitian-American defendant put herself out as a person who could assist individuals in obtain loans. As part of her scheme, she obtained the personal information of individuals and used the information to fraudulently purchase various real estate. The defendant would used the personal information to obtain loans and purchase the property. She would then transfer the property to her name using quitclaim deeds. She has been charged for numerous counts of aggravated identity theft. She is scheduled to make her first appearance in court which will be followed by a pre-trial detention hearing. A federal magistrate will review the evidence to determine if and how much of bond will be set in the case.

In another federal case, eleven defendant were arrested for a scheme that defrauded nine financial lending institutions out of approximately $11 million to purchase 15 pieces of property. The defendants in the case included a mortgage broker, real estate broker, straw buyers and a loan processor. Another case netted thirteen defendants including loan officers, straw buyers and a title agent. They are accused of working in concert causing a loss of $9.7. While the facts of each case are different, the schemes being uncovered all follow a similar pattern.

Federal investigators have promised that these are not the last arrests to made. If you ro someone you know is being investigated for or has been arrested in a Miami mortgage fraud scheme, contact a Miami criminal lawyer experienced in defending these types of cases in federal court. To date, "Operation Stolen Dreams" have led to over 1,200 arrests involving more than $2.3 billion in losses.

Steal a Dream? Feds Watching, The Miami Herald, June 18, 2010.

June 17, 2010

Local Community Seeks to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession

A South Florida Community recently launched a campaign to decriminalize marijuana possession cases. A local group from Miami Beach held a new conference in front of the town hall to start a petition drive. The local group responsible for the gathering calls itself "The Committee for Sensible Marijuana Policy". They are seeking to have an amendment added to the ballot in the November election. The proposal they are suggesting would make a simple marijuana possession case a civil infraction rather than a crime. Miami criminal lawyers represent clients on in daily basis in the Miami-Dade courthouse that are charged with simple possession of marijuana.

The current state of the law in Florida considers marijuana possession to be a first degree misdemeanor. Although that does not sound bad, the crime is punishable up to 364 days in the county jail. Someone convicted of simple possession can also be hit with a $1,000 fine. The proposed amendment would not charge marijuana possession as a crime, but rather as a civil infraction which is very much like a speeding or parking ticket. While it is a longshot that this law will be passed, it will certainly not apply to felony amounts of marijuana, The distinction between a misdemeanor and a felony amount is set forth in the statutes. Possession of less than 20 grams of marijuana is a misdemeanor, while possession of more than 20 grams of marijuana is a 3rd degree felony.

The amendment would likewise not apply to marijuana sale and marijuana trafficking cases. Sale of marijuana is a third degree felony. First time offenders charged with this crime can receive pre-trial diversion, credit time served, and in egregious cases, probation. While sale of marijuana is not necessarily a serious offense, the Florida legislature has made marijuana trafficking a serious crime by attaching the possible penalty of a three year minimum mandatory state prison sentence. If an individual is charged with marijuana trafficking, they should seek the assistance of a Miami criminal defense attorney experienced in defending drug trafficking cases. Experienced lawyers are able to fully evaluate trafficking cases, take the appropriate depositions and file motions to suppress which if granted can get a defendant completely off the hook.

The Committee is lobbying for support based on the theory that criminalizing marijuana has led people to drink excess which causes a rise in DUI, DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide cases. It should be noted that individuals can be charged with DUI for being under the influence of marijuana rather than alcohol. The committee also advocates that marijuana is less addictive, less toxic and less likely to lead to violence than alcohol. In order to get this amendment on the November ballot, the Committee must secure 4,240 signatures by the end of August. We will see in November whether the law will change.

Campaign to Decriminalize Pot Comes to Miami Beach, CBS4.com, June 17, 2010.

June 15, 2010

Columbian Cocaine Trafficking Kingpin Sentenced to Prison

A Columbian cocaine trafficking kingpin appeared in a Tampa federal court for his sentencing hearing along with his criminal defense lawyer. Fabio Enrique-Ochoa is alleged to have imported cocaine into the United States through Miami for three decades. According to court documents, Ochoa was responsible for importing approximately 5 tons of cocaine into the country between 1978 and 2009. Ochoa was sentenced to 17 ½ years in prison in exchange for pleading guilty in three cases, two of the cases arising out of Miami and one case arising out of Tampa.

The United States District Court Judge presiding over the sentencing hearing added 2 years to his sentence for a probation violation for a Miami marijuana trafficking case. While the judge could have handed down concurrent sentences, meaning that the cocaine trafficking cases and the probation violation could have run at the same time. The judge elected to sentence him consecutively, meaning he has to finish his 17 ½ year sentence then complete his two year sentence. As part of the plea, Ochoa agreed to asset forfeitures in the amount of $15 million dollars in property as part of the plea agreement.

Ochoa, a native of Columbia was raised in Miami, Florida. He fled the United States before he could be indicted on the three cocaine trafficking cases. His Miami criminal lawyer began negotiating his surrender as far back as 1999. Several surrender attempts failed as Ochoa feared a long prison sentence and being separated from his family for a long period of time. Ochoa was facing significantly more prison time, but in an effort to avoid a potential life sentence he agreed to cooperate with government investigators and prosecutors. Despite the fact that Ochoa is considered to be among the largest cocaine traffickers in the world. his assistance garnered favor with government prosecutors who in turn asked the judge for a sentence reduction.

At one point, Ochoa was the head of one of the largest cocaine trafficking cartels in the world, a Medellin based organization. The cartel was responsible for the importation of between 6 and 8 tons of cocaine. The group used freighters, speed boats and airplanes to deliver the illegal substance through countries such as Jamaica, Honduras, Belize and Mexico. Other cocaine trafficking cartels have used the same methods to deliver cocaine into the United States. Despite the war on drug, drug cartels have continued their drug trafficking operations from the 1980's until the present time.

Ochoa requested that he serve his prison time in a federal correctional institution in Florida in order to be close to his family. While the federal judge granted his request, the federal department of corrections ultimately decides where Ochoa will serve his prison sentence. In both state and federal court, sentenced defendants can request where to serve their prison sentences. However, judges can not dictate to the department of corrections the location where a defendant will serve out his sentence.

Columbian Drug Trafficker Gets Prison Time in Tampa Case, TBO.com, June 2, 2010.

June 14, 2010

Florida Lawyer Finally Sentenced on Fraud Charges

A former lawyer appeared in federal court last week for his sentencing hearing. All of South Florida has been following this case since the investigation began regarding Scott Rothstein's multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme. Rothstein previously entered guilty pleas to the following charges: bank fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. The charges stem from a $1.2 million Ponzi scheme which purportedly defrauded investors. The victims invested money in lawsuit settlements. At the forefront of the organized scheme to defraud was his South Florida law firm, Rothstein, Rosenfeldt and Adler. Government prosecutors requested that the federal judge sentence Rothstein to 40 years in prison while his criminal lawyer requested that the court sentence him to 30 years. The pre-sentence investigation report submitted by the federal probation office suggested life in prison. After hearing arguments from all of the parties, the federal judge sentenced him to 50 years.

While 50 years is a long time to spend in prison, Rothstein's cooperation significantly reduced his exposure which was up to 100 years of incarceration. Federal prosecutors went to bat for Rothstein claiming that his cooperation regarding the fraud surrounding his case and his work as a confidential informant was extraordinary. His actions as a confidential informant led to the arrest of a purported Mafia boss engaged in organized crime, money laundering and drug trafficking. As a result of his cooperation with federal law enforcement and prosecutors, a 5K was filed on his behalf. The prosecution can file a 5K when a defendant significantly assists them in the case for which the defendant was charged and when the defendant assists in other law enforcement investigations. Normally a 5K will significantly reduce a defendant's sentence in federal court, however, Rothstein's alleged crimes were so reprehensible due to the nature of the fraud and the amount of loss the 5K could not allow for a sentence in the single digits.

The amount of loss in the case was so significant that it raised Rothstein's possible sentence by 30 levels under the federal sentencing guidelines. As such, the 5K could only reduce his sentence to a certain extent. The good news for Rothstein is that if he continues to cooperate, the federal prosecutors can ask for a further sentence reduction at a later date. Even with a motion to reduce the sentence, the federal judge hearing the matter is unlikely to reduce the sentence much more. The sentence reduction hearing will not occur for sometime as he will be required to testify in criminal as well as civil cases for the foreseeable future.

The massive fraud involved targeting friends and clients alike; to invest in fraudulent civil court settlements. Although the head the of the law firm, Rothstein claims that he acted with plenty of co-conspirators and that without their help could not have operated such a large scheme to defraud. In fact, he provided information that led to the arrest and indictment of Debra Villegas, the firm's chief operating officer. Villegas entered a guilty plea Friday as a result of Rothstein's cooperation. The sentencing hearing, like so many involving Ponzi schemes at least provide closure for the defendant and his victims.

Florida Lawyer Given 50 Years in Prison for Ponzi Scheme, Bloomberg Businessweek.com, June 9, 2010.

June 4, 2010

Dolphin Player Arrested on Domestic Violence Charges

Dolphins defensive end Phillip Merling was arrested in Broward County for a domestic violence incident. He is the fourth Dolphins player since February to face criminal charges. Running back Ronnie Brown and corner back Will Allen were arrested for DUI, while defensive tackle Tony McDaniel was arrested for misdemeanor battery stemming from a domestic violence incident. Allen's DUI occurred on Miami Beach, while Brown was arrested in Georgia. The court records do not indicate whether Merling will hire a Broward County or Miami criminal attorney to defend the charges.

Merling posted a bond in the amount of $15,000.00 after appearing before a judge. Unlike most cases where a defendant can post a bond immediately, assuming a case is not non-bondable, anyone arrested for domestic violence must appear before a bond hearing judge before his or her release can be secured. There are two rationales for this procedure. One it allows for a bit of a cooling off period, secondly judges will impose a stay away order from the victim. A stay away order is a court order issued by a judge directing the defendant not to have contact with the alleged victim. The judge will a direct a defendant not to have any physical contact, third party contact, or contact via e-mail, text messages or phone calls. If a defendant violates the no contact order, a judge will most likely revoke the bond and could sentence the defendant up to six months for contempt of court. Of course, a hearing will be held prior to the contempt order being issued.

The majority of domestic violence cases involve misdemeanor charges such as simple assault or simple battery. However, there are aggravating factors that can elevate these offenses to felonies. As in Merling's case, he was charged with aggravated battery against his girlfriend. The police reports indicate that he struck his girlfriend about her head and face causing swelling and redness. The alleged victim also sustained a cut lip as a result of the battery. While the facts and injuries usually result in the charge of simple battery, the charge in Merling's cases was elevated to a second degree felony simply because his girlfriend was pregnant.

Simple battery is defined under the Florida Statutes as an intentionally striking or touching of a victim without a persons consent. If prosecutors can prove that the defendant knew or should have known the victim was pregnant, the crime will be far more serious. A simple batter charge carries a maximum sentence of 364 days in the county jail, while an aggravated battery on a pregnant victim is a second degree felony punishable up to 15 years in prison. The biggest problem with an aggravated battery charge is that under state sentencing guidelines, the minimum sentence a judge can offer is 21 months which is the bottom of the guideline range.

If you have been arrested or domestic violence and charged with aggravated battery seek out a qualified Miami criminal defense law firm to defend the charges. Skilled attorneys with backgrounds in defending domestic violence cases know the tricks of the trade. Very often, experienced can get the charges dropped or obtain a pre-trial diversion program for their clients charges with this or similar offenses.

Miami Dolphin's Phillip Merling Arrested, Accused of Domestic Battery, The Miami Herald, May 27, 2010.

June 3, 2010

Former GOP Head Indicted on Felony Charges

The individual previously picked to run the Republican Party in the State of Florida was formally charged yesterday with fraud. The former chairman of the party was arrested in his Central Florida home on several felony counts. The statewide prosecutor's office is prosecuting Jim Greer on four counts of grand theft, one count of operating an organized to defraud, and one count of money laundering. The allegations stem from a shell company Greer created to funnel political contributions for his own use. When the allegations came to light, Greer agreed to resign as the Republican's top man back in January. He is now facing up to 80 years in prison.

Greer's previous lawyer came forward defending his client's arrest. He was quoted as saying that the arrest was absolutely outrageous as 12 armed law enforcement agents stormed his residence, kept his family at bay, seized his computer and dragged him out of the house. It is not clear which criminal lawyer will defend the case in state criminal court. The indictment alleges that Greer set up a shell company called Victory Strategies. The Republican Party then hired Victory Strategies and agreed that Victory would keep 10% of the political donations that went to the Republican Party. The indictment further alleges that Greer's company siphoned off approximately $199,254.50 in 2009. Greer kept 60% of the proceeds while a silent minority owner kept the rest of the proceeds. The silent partner has not been indicted and may be cooperating with the authorities.

Greer is accused of spending the money to sustain his personal lifestyle. Two Republicans running for U.S. Congress are trying to cut ties with Greer. Charlie Crist and Marco Rubio have been damaged to the point that their campaigns are in jeopardy as a result of their connection with Greer. In fact, Democrat Kendrick Meek issued a press statement regarding "Republican excess" right after the prosecution announced the criminal indictment of Greer. Greer denies all wrongdoing, and in fact, sued the Republican Party claiming they owed him for severance in the amount of $124,000.

The investigation into Greer's practices were initiated by Attorney General Bill McCollum, who is currently seeking the Republican nomination for governor. At some point, McCollum reviewed the party audit and requested that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to conduct a fraud investigation. Whether the charges alleged against Greer are substantiated or not, the case has a lot of political underpinnings. Public corruption prosecutions have been popular over the past year in Miami and throughout the State fo Florida. While most of the prosecutions seem to be legitimate, other are contrived for other reasons. Be that as it may, anyone being investigated or having been arrested for public corruption needs to contact a criminal defense law firm experienced in defending these types of matters.

Forrner Florida Republic Chief Charged with Fraud, Reuters.com, June 3, 2010.

June 2, 2010

State Attorney's Office Creates Mortgage Fraud Unit

Law enforcement and prosecutors continue to ramp up efforts to investigate and bring charges against those involved in mortgage fraud. As discussed in recent blogs, the federal government has created mortgage fraud task forces for regions hit hard by those committing mortgage fraud. The Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office has just followed suit by starting its own mortgage fraud unit. The unit will be staffed by five experienced prosecutors. Prior to the creation of this unit, the state attorney's office had only three specialized units dealing with fraud which were insurance fraud (staged accidents), worker's compensation fraud, and the economic crimes unit. Prior to the formation of the mortgage fraud division, the state wide prosecutor's office was solely responsible for these types of cases. The creation of this specialized division will create further work for Miami criminal defense lawyers practicing in state court.

Along with the five prosecutors, the new division will be staffed with paralegals, support personal and a forensic accountant. The current Miami-Dade State Attorney saw the need for the creation of the mortgage fraud division, but realized that the cases were far to complex for inexperienced prosecutors to handle effectively. Miami and South Florida have garnered a lot of media attention for the large amount of mortgage fraud committed in the area. Dozens of arrests and prosecutions for mortgage fraud make the newspaper every month. With all this mind, individuals involved in mortgage fraud face criminal charges that can now be brought by three prosecutorial agencies.

The most recently mentioned cases of mortgage fraud involved South Florida companies called TopDot Mortgage and Infinity Mortgage Solutions. TopDot Mortgage was a Boca Raton based operation that saw the arrests of two branch managers, a lawyer, a bank executive and a straw buyer. All of the defendant face long periods of incarceration as several lending institutions lost millions of dollars as a result of the scheme to defraud. The case involving Infinity Mortgage Solutions involved six Miami-Dade residents that were involved in a $5 million scheme to defraud.

Investigations into mortgage fraud involve hundreds of pages of documents and numerous suspects and witnesses. The voluminous amounts of evidence leads to investigations that can take years to complete. If anyone becomes aware that they are the subject of a criminal investigation involving mortgage fraud, it is imperative to seek out Miami criminal attorneys that have experience in defending these types of matters both in state and federal court. It is important to retain counsel as soon as possible so that you will know and protect your rights from the inception of the investigation. Always remember, never speak with law enforcement officers outside the presence of a criminal defense lawyer because any statements made, as innocuous as they may seem, may give the prosecution just enough evidence to file criminal charges.

Dade State Attorney Creates Mortgage Fraud Unit, South Florida Business Journal, May 27, 2010.

June 1, 2010

Police Arrest Former Model Wanted for Cocaine Trafficking

As a follow up to an earlier blog, Argentine airport security officers finally nabbed the Columbian model wanted for drug trafficking. Angela Sancelemente was discovered living in a Buenos Aires hostel living among foreign university students. Sanclemente had changed her hair color and was going by the name of Annie when she was picked up by law enforcement. Sanclemente was afforded an opportunity to speak with her criminal defense lawyer who will appear with his client in an Argentine federal court.

In March 2009, Interpol issued an arrest warrant for Sanclemente for her alleged involvement in an international cocaine trafficking ring. Law enforcement believes Sanclemente, along with her boyfriend are the ringleaders of the smuggling operation. The organization is believed to use female models to move the drugs through the Buenas Aires airport to several foreign destinations. The investigation has led to the arrests of several members of the drug trafficking ring, including Sanclemente's boyfriend, a male model.

As soon as Sanclemente became aware that she was a fugitive, she posted several messages on face book denying her involvement in the drug trafficking ring. She was quoted as saying that, "I'm very sad and hurt by the bad information. I don't know how the press can destroy can destroy and innocent person, I don't want to go to jail, I don't deserve it, I am innocent." Even Sanclemente's mother professed her daughter's innocence. She even agreed to be interviewed, but would charge the media for any appearance.

Sanclemente's name first appeared when she won a Columbian beauty pageant in 2000 at the age of 20. Days after winning the prize, she was stripped of the title for being married in contravention of the rules of the contest. She briefly attended college, but dropped out after three semesters, and sought a career in modeling. The allegations do not suggest when she became involved in the purported drug trade.

Court documents have not been made available setting forth the allegations surrounding her involvement in the cocaine trafficking ring. After Sanclemente appears in federal court, more documents reflecting the details of the case should be released to the public. It is not clear at this point of the prosecution whether or not other sovereign nations will seek extradition for her to face similar drug trafficking charges.

Former Model Arrested in Argentina on Drug Charges, CNN.com, May 26, 2010.