February 2012 Archives

February 28, 2012

Bankers Meet to Discuss Money Laundering

Bankers, lawyers, regulators, government officials, and other financial professionals met to discuss what they perceive as an ongoing battle against money laundering. Criminal defense lawyers in Miami have battled money laundering cases over the years both in state and federal court. While money laundering is considered to be a worldwide problem, the meeting occurred locally at the Hotel Intercontinental Miami on February 23, 2012. About 1,200 people from about 40 countries participated in the event. The event was titled FIBA Anti-Money Laundering Compliance Conference. The purpose of the conference was to discuss the Bank Secrecy Act and exchange information on bank related crimes. All financial lending institutions are required to have programs in place to curtail money laundering.

As money laundering is becoming perceived as a greater problem, a department in the Treasury bureau, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, is requiring that banks collect additional information and report suspicious activity. The network is the part of the bureau that collects and analyzes suspicious financial transactions. Proponents of the changes say that the added regulations will assist law enforcement and regulators. Other than Miami, the Mexican drug trafficking cartels have become an area of key concern for banks and regulators, alike. Mexico has restricted vendors in that country from entering transactions involving U.S. dollars. Mexican cartels are accused of smuggling U.S. dollars from the United States to Mexico with the money eventually re-crossing the border and ending up in U.S. banks.

Money laundering charges usually accompany other charges both in state and federal court. Money laundering charges can be found in informations and indictments also charging drug trafficking, mortgage fraud, Medicare fraud, securities fraud, tax fraud, mail and wire fraud. The Florida Money Laundering Act is the controlling legislation in state court. An individual can be charged with money laundering if a person knows the property involved in a financial transaction represents proceeds from some form of illegal activity and that the person also conducted a financial transaction with the proceeds with the intent to promote the carrying on of the illegal activity, or with the intent to conceal or disguise the source of the money, or to avoid financial transaction reporting requirements. The severity of the punishment depends on the amount of the property involved in the alleged money laundering.

An illegal financial transaction involving property between $300 and $20,000 is a 3rd degree felony punishable up to five years in prison. A transaction between $20,000 and $100,000.00 is a felony in the second degree and is punishable up to 15 years in prison. A transaction in excess of $100,000.00 is a 1st degree felony punishable up to 30 years in prison, the bottom of the guidelines is four years in prison. Other potential punishments include exorbitant fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If the criminal punishments are not enough, the government agency involved in the investigation may seek an asset forfeiture of the tainted proceeds. A forfeiture action in state court is a separate case in civil court to be litigated apart from the criminal case.

Fighting Money Laundering a Constant Battle for Banks, Miami Herald.com, February 23, 2012.

February 21, 2012

Davie Man Arrested on 144 Counts of Child Pornography

A South Florida resident was picked up in Kissimmee, Florida pursuant to an arrest warrant issued out of Broward County. The defendant is accused of multiple counts of possession of child pornography. Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigators in conjunction with the Pembroke Pines and Davie Police Department discovered that Orville Bulitt had advertised child pornography on a file sharing website. Law enforcement was able to trace the images back to the defendant which led to his subsequent arrest. Broward County set the bond at $1.4 million. The defendant is unemployed, making it unlikely that the bond would be posted. Once the extradition process has been completed with the defendant being transferred to Broward County, a criminal attorney will mostly be appointed by the court to represent his interests.

Bulitt has faced serious charges involving sex crimes in Miami-Dade County. He was charged in 2003 with two counts of sexual battery on a minor. His Miami criminal attorney was successful in having the counts dismissed prior to trial. However, a records check revealed that the defendant has entered a guilty plea in 1985 to the crime of sexual molestation of victim under the age of 12. The defendant was sentenced to 10 years of reporting probation. He was not required to register as a sexual offender as he completed his sentence prior to 1997. In 1997, the Florida legislature passed a law requiring defendants convicted of certain sex crimes to register as sexual offenders and sexual predators with FDLE.

Once law enforcement became aware of Bulitt's involvement with child pornography, they served a warrant at his address and discovered the child pornography images on his laptop and other storage devices. The pictures that were discovered appear to be of children under the age of 10 depicted in various sexual positions. The images include both boys and girls, but it is yet to be determined whether the defendant created the images or merely downloaded them onto his computer. The investigation has been open for about a year. FDLE blamed the delay in the arrest and prosecution of the shorthandedness of the cyber crimes division and the number of charges filed against the defendant.

Prosecuting child pornography cases has become a priority for local, state and federal authorities. All prosecutors' offices have specialized units whose sole function is to prosecute and punish defendants charged with computer related child pornography offenses. Anyone being investigated by law enforcement for possession of child pornography or any other sexual crimes involving children face serious prison sentences. As such, individuals involved in cases with these types of charges should hire a criminal lawyer as soon as practicable. Additionally, anyone being investigated for these types of offenses should refuse to speak to law enforcement as any statements made will in most circumstances be admissible and quite damning in court.

Davie Man Faces 144 Counts of Child Pornography, Miami Herald.com, February 17, 2012.

February 7, 2012

Series of Tax Fraud Cases to be Filed in Federal Court

A South Florida couple is being charged with tax fraud for their alleged role in stealing millions of dollars worth of income tax return checks that were stolen or fraudulently obtained by third parties. The defendants owned and operated American Quick Cash Depot in Oakland Park, Florida. The indictment alleges that the couple conspired by charging fees in exchange for cashing stolen or fraudulently obtained tax refund checks. The defendants appeared with their criminal defense lawyer at their arraignment in a Fort Lauderdale federal court. At the arraignment, federal investigators from the Secret Service and the Internal Revenue Service testified regarding two specific checks in the amounts of $5,415 and another for $9,391. Both checks were stolen and cashed using forged endorsements and signatures.

According to the investigators, the defendants were involved in the cashing of hundreds of checks amounting to $5.26 million. The defendants are not only charged with tax fraud, but also with aggravated identity theft. In federal court, aggravated identity theft carries a two year minimum mandatory sentence. The defendants are alleged to have conspired with third parties to steal social security numbers to take tax payers refunds prior to their filing. Federal authorities are focusing on crimes involving identity theft as the number of prosecutions have quadrupled since 2007. Tax return rackets will be specifically targeted because there are two victims involved in crime, private citizens and the federal government.

According to the special agent in charge of the IRS's criminal investigation division, the electronic filing system has a defect. The IRS fails to match tax returns to an individuals's W-2 forms until long after tax filing season is over. By that time, it is too late to catch the identity theft. Until the IRS corrects the problem, fairly sophisticated people are using computers and on-line tax software to steal from citizens and the government. The number of identity theft fraud cases involving stolen or fraudulent tax returns has skyrocketed to 248,000 in 2010. The number of criminal investigations involving fraud has increased in part due to the larger number of people filing electronic returns.

While the aggravated identity theft charge the defendants are facing is serious enough, the real problem lies with the amount of loss caused to private citizens and the federal government through their actions. Tax fraud in and of itself is fairly low scoring offense under the federal sentencing guidelines. The significant portion of incarceration occurs as a result in the increased levels, not only for millions allegedly stolen, but also for the level increases the couple is likely to receive as being the managers/operators of the criminal enterprise. If the federal government's evidence is as good as they would have you believe, the defendants may have no choice but to cooperate with the federal government which would certainly significantly reduce the prison sentences each is currently facing.

Broward Couple Charged in Tax-fraud Case that Will Be the First of Many to Come, Feds Say, Miami Herald.com, January 23, 2012.

February 6, 2012

Oxycodone Trafficking Crackdown Appears to be Working

Oxycodone trafficking became such a problem in South Florida that new legislature and law enforcement action became a primary mission. Recent statistics show that the number of oxycodone dispensed by doctors was drastically reduced in 2011. Multiple high-profile arrests and stricter state laws are supposedly responsible. Miami criminal attorneys have seen the number of arrests and prosecutions for trafficking oxycodone significantly increase over the past couple of years. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, oxycodone sales by doctors decreased by 97%. In 2010, doctors were responsible for the distribution of 46 million oxycodone pills, but only distributed 1.1 million pills in 2011.

Proponents of the new legislation passed last July would have you believe that the biggest reason for the drop in distribution are the new laws. The legislation prevents doctors from dispersing oxycodone pills directly from their offices. Several doctors were charged with accepting cash from out-of state patients. Federal authorities would have you believe that the recent arrests have reduced the distribution of illegal substances by putting pressure on pain clinics and clinic owners . Whatever the theory, something appears to be working. In 2010, 90 of the top prescribing doctors practiced medicine in Florida, while in 2011, the number dropped drastically to 13. Not surprisingly, sales from doctors in Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee have increased over the same period of time.

Another theory is that the significant penalties that attach to oxycodone trafficking charges have become common knowledge. The possible sentences for all drug trafficking charges are severe, but none more severe that of oxycodone. Florida drug trafficking laws do not require the intent to traffic or import illegal substances. Mere possession of an illegal substance of a weight deemed to be a trafficking amount is enough to be charged with the offense. When it comes to trafficking in oxycodone, an amount of between 4 and 14 grams, will subject an individual to a three year minimum mandatory sentence in state court. Possession of 14 to 28 grams or in excess of 28 gram subjects a defendant to a 15 and 25 year minimum mandatory sentence, respectively. The penalties are far more severe than in cocaine and marijuana trafficking cases. In addition, marijuana and cocaine trafficking cases require much greater weights to be charged with a trafficking offense.

While all three points can be attributed to the recent declines in the sale of oxycodone, the result is likely a combination of the three. While the DEA and the legislature think they have solved the problem, it may only be a temporary fix. Several years of data will be required to determine if the problem is under control. For all those who distribute oxycodone, be aware that just because oxycodone is legal prescription drug, that does not give everyone the right to dispense it or merely possess it. Anyone carrying oxycodone is required to have a prescription. Any one arrested for possession of an illegal substance or trafficking in an illegal substance, whether it is oxycodone or other form of pain killer, should seek advice from a qualified defense lawyers with experience in defending these cases both in state and federal court. The consequences of a poor defense could be devastating.

Sales of Oxycodone by Doctors Fall in Florida, Miami Herald.com, January 31, 2012.

February 3, 2012

Pundits Discuss Criminal Link to Casinos

Proponents of casinos claim that the creation of additional casinos in South Florida will improve unemployment numbers. Anti-casino activists retort that resort casinos in Miami-Dade County would increase the crime rate leading to increased costs to the residents. In recent times, Miami criminal attorneys have defended large numbers of defendants charged with economic crimes such as mortgage fraud, Medicare fraud and insurance fraud. If large scale casinos are built, opponents say gambling crimes such as robbery theft, burglary, drug offenses, prostitution and embezzlement will increase. Others claim that the increased crime will lead to the increased costs of housing prisoners in the local state department of corrections system. In reality, no one is sure how additional casinos will ultimately impact crime. Spokespersons for local law enforcement have yet to render an opinion claiming that is near impossible to measure casino crime.

While the Florida legislature has yet to pass laws enabling large casinos to enter the county, discussions between lawmakers is currently underway in Tallahassee. Supporters of the proposed legislation claim that the casinos have the ability to create badly needed jobs, while opponents claim that these are false promises. Another report generated as a result of the controversy estimates that the inclusion of the proposed casinos will cost the State of Florida $3 billion for the cost of incarcerating additional prisoners and building new prisons. Many studies have been done regarding an increased crime rate that comes along with the implementation of casinos. The results have been skewed depending on who paid for or sponsored the study. However, a couple of independent studies have been compiled projecting whether or not casinos directly cause an increase in criminal offenses.

One study out of the University of Illinois revealed that crimes would increase about 8%, 3three or four years after the casinos begin to operate. The report went further to say that the creation of casinos does not shift crimes from other communities, but rather creates new crimes. The report failed to mention whether the crimes created would be drug offenses, crimes against personal property, such as robbery or burglary, or more white collar crimes, such as, forgery, fraud or embezzlement. Another national study created by Harvard and MIT reported that counties that built and operated casinos saw a jump in criminal activity. Opponents of these studies claim that they are flawed. Factors left out of the study included the increased tourism and crimes related to tourism.

At present, Miami and South Florida have 10 casinos that are currently operating. However, statistics relating to casino related crimes have never been compiled. Law enforcement departments claim that is difficult to determine exactly which crimes are linked to casinos. First, the majority of the casinos are located on Indian reservations. Law enforcement that operate on the reservations do not have the same reporting requirements as other departments. Secondly, those casinos are operated with a high degree of security, more so, than in other areas of the community. Third, when crimes are charged, the motive for the criminal offense is not reported in any current statistic. Fourth, the new mega-casinos will include table games such as roulette and craps which are not offered at the present time. While both sides will continue to argue to pros and cons of additional casinos, the community and defense attorneys will never truly know the impact unless the law is passed permitting additional gambling in the State of Florida.

Casino Opponents: Gambling Would Lead to More Crime, Miami Herald.com, February 1, 2012.