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.

March 30, 2010

South Florida Woman Jailed for Medicare Fraud

A former South Florida resident who left for Detroit to commit Medicare fraud was sentenced to eight years in federal prison. Daisy Martinez was accused of stealing millions of dollars from the federal healthcare by using Detroit area medical clinics. Court documents indicated that Martinez, her daughter and her son-in-law lured desperate people to their clinics in exchange for food, money and pain killers. The defendant appeared with her criminal attorney in front of U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen, who handed down the sentence. Prosecutors from the Justice Department said the defendant billed for hundreds of medical treatments that were either unnecessary or not even provided.

Martinez moved from Miami to Detroit as authorities began to crack down on her South Florida operations. Between 2006 and 2007, she owned and operated two clinics in suburban Detroit and was a partial owner of a third clinic. In her acceptance of responsibility statement provided to the government and the court, Martinez admitted to hiring doctors to run her clinics and recruiters to solicit patients to the clinics. The crux of the Medicare fraud surrounded recruiters paying desperate elderly people to bring their Medicare cards to the clinic in exchange for $50.00. The clinics billed for injections of cosyntropin which is used to diagnose adrenal gland deficiencies. In all cases, the treatments were unnecessary, but in most cases, not even provided. In most cases the patients received vitamin shots instead of medications.

After authorities began to investigate her clinics, she and her co-defendant fled to the Dominican Republic in an effort to avoid prosecution. After a year on the run, they returned to the United States to face charges in federal court. Nine other co-defendants were indicted in federal court including a doctor. Uncommonly, four of the elderly patients who are normally used as witnesses against the perpetrators were also indicted. The daughter and son-law of the defendant also entered guilty pleas in federal court and will appear for sentencing in April.

Kimberly Grant, the director of the Medicare program, issued the following statement: "Medicare was set up as a trust based system, any-willing-provider-system. The goal was to allow the widest array of providers and suppliers into the program so senior citizens would have as wide a choice as possible...unfortunately, there are people who wilfully take advantage of the program." The new care legislation will help to overhaul the current system with more checks and balances to prevent the large amount of Medicare fraud currently bankrupting the system.

As the fraud task forces ramp up, federal investigators will continue to try and purge the system of all individuals willing to defraud the federal healthcare system. As such, anyone involved in defrauding Medicare should be wary of the severe punishment the federal courts are handing down to those who involved in these schemes to defraud. If someone is either being investigated or has already been indicted, it is imperative to seek out a criminal defense law firm with vast experience in defending Medicare fraud cases in South Florida.

Florida Woman Gets Prison for Michigan Medicare Fraud, The Associated Press.com, March 25, 2010.

March 29, 2010

Computer Hacker Sentenced to Twenty Years for Credit Card Fraud

The man behind the largest credit card fraud in the history of the United States received a twenty year prison sentence for two separate cases in federal court. Alberto Gonzalez appeared before a United States District Judge in Boston regarding cases out of Massachusetts and New York. He previously entered guilty pleas in the two cases to charges alleging that he stole credit card numbers by breaking into several retail stores' computer systems. The hacker allegedly was the catalyst to losses exceeding $200 million suffered by retailers, banks and insurance companies. Gonzalez appeared in court with his criminal attorney for his sentencing hearing.

At the sentencing hearing, he apologized to his parents, family and court blaming his crimes on his internet addiction. His apology did not persuade the judge to sentence him lightly for one of the greatest internet crimes in this country's history. Based on the federal investigation, it appears that his addiction to money was greater than his addiction to computers and the internet as he used his $2.8 million in illegal gains to purchase a condominium in Miami, Rolex watches, jewelry and a car.

Gonzalez and two other individuals perpetrated the fraud by traveling up and down US1 in Miami using a laptop computer to hack into various retailers' computers via wireless internet signals. Sniffer programs were used to steal credit card and debt card numbers from the servers. After the numbers were obtained, they were sold overseas. The twenty year sentence handed down by the federal judge is the most severe sentence handed for a computer crime in the history of the United States. The judge set another sentencing hearing to determine the amount of restitution Gonzalez will be ordered to repay. The plea agreements require restitution in the amount between $2.7 and $2.8 million, however is unlikely that the majority of that money will ever be repaid. He is also required to forfeit assets including the condominium, car and jewelry he obtained with the ill-gotten gains. Gonzalez is scheduled to appear in federal court to enter a plea to a similar type of case.

Gonzalez has a long history of internet fraud dating back to 1998 when he was arrested for using computers at South Miami High School to fraudulently obtain credit card numbers. As a result of the arrest, as part as his plea agreement, agreed to work as a confidential informant ("CI") and assist the federal government to capture individuals involved in a cybertheft ring. While assisting in that investigation, Gonzalez was hacking into retail stores such as TJ Max, Office Max, Dave and Buster's and Seven Eleven and committing internet credit card fraud. Although Gonzalez received two twenty year prison sentences for each case, the federal judge handed down concurrent sentences. That means that Gonzalez will only serve twenty years, as opposed to forty years if the judge had sentenced him concurrently. It remains to be seen whether Gonzalez receives a concurrent or consecutive sentence on his third case which is based on an internet credit card fraud case out of New Jersey

With the age of the internet and the increased usage of credit cards, the number of computer crimes involving credit card fraud has increased exponentially. The FBI and Secret Service spend large numbers of man hours and money in an effort to curb this somewhat modern crime. If you or someone you know has been arrested and indicted in federal court for credit card or internet fraud, contact an experienced criminal defense law firm to defend your case.

Miami Hacker Gets 20 Years for Massive Credit Card Theft, The Miami Herald, March 2010.

March 26, 2010

Boot Camp Closing Its Doors

The often publicized and highly successful boot camp program has lost its funding due to the budgetary problems in the county. With a lack of funding, the county manager has determined that the boot camp will close its doors on April 2, 2010. The boot camp program has a long standing tradition of helping rehabilitate youthful offenders. Judges and prosecutors alike would always desire to give troubled youths an opportunity to succeed in life rather than go to state prison where criminal tendencies are enhanced. Youthful offenders charged with serious offenses such as armed robbery, cocaine trafficking and home burglaries were many times offered boot camp as a means of rehabilitation. Miami criminal defense lawyers have often pursued boot camp as part of a plea agreement on behalf of their clients.

The Miami-Dade County Boot Camp began operation in 1995. Since its inception, 2,225 youthful offenders have been offered the opportunity to turn their lives around. With a recidivism rate of less than ten percent, the benefits of the program are obvious. The boot camp was an intensive 18 month program. Offenders spent the first 6 months residing in a military type environment. The second six month period allowed the offenders to leave the grounds during the day to work and return at night. The third six month period allowed the offenders to reside at home, but report to the program on a daily basis. Many of the offenders facing long prison sentences with mandatory/minimums for armed robbery and drug trafficking were able to not only significantly reduce the amount of incarceration, but also trained to get jobs and even attend college.

Defense lawyers reaped the benefits of the program by greatly reducing their clients' exposure under the regular State of Florida Sentencing Guidelines. Along with that benefit, attorneys were able to see their clients turn their lives around which is a nice bonus. Not only were defense lawyers fond of the program, the state attorney's office was a big proponent of boot camp. The office had big incentive to reduce the number of repeat offenders coming and going through the state criminal court system. In fact, the state attorney's office sent a representative to meet with the county manager in an effort to advocate for the program. Six judges also attended the meeting in an effort to save the program.

The program itself only cost the county $1.8 million per year. It seems a low price considering the savings over the long haul. Successful rehabilitation reduced court expenses, as well as, saving the tax payers for housing the offenders for longer periods of time in both the local jails and state prisons. If Miami-Dade County can ever straighten out their budgetary problems, youthful offenders, defense counsel and the community will once again be able to benefit from the highly successful program. Over time, the lack of this program will be reflected and the statistics and hopefully be reinstated some day.

Miami-Dade Boot Camp Gets the Boot, NBCMiami.com, March 26, 2010.


March 25, 2010

Jamaican Founder of Marijuana and Cocaine Trafficking Ring Dies

The former kingpin and founder of a Jamaican cocaine trafficking and marijuana trafficking ring died last week in Kingston, Jamaica. Vivian Blake was a top leader for the ultra-violent Jamaican Shower Posse. It is believed that the gang was responsible for at least 1,400 drug related killings in the 1980's. After serving a lengthy prison sentence in the United States, Blake returned to Jamaica 14 months ago. He expired at the University Hospital of the West Indies. Family members reported that Blake suffered from kidney failure and diabetes.

While heading the infamous Jamaican gang, "Shower Posse", Blake oversaw a marijuana trafficking and cocaine trafficking ring that operated in Miami, Los Angeles and New York. The drug trafficking network even extended to Anchorage, Alaska. Blake and other members of the gang were implicated in a Miami homicide case that left five people dead at an inner city crack house. He escaped prosecution by leaving the United States on a cruise ship bound for Jamaica.

After returning to Jamaica he started many business ventures including night clubs, a motorcycle rental company and a loan company. The federal government pursued an extradition which effectuated his return to the United States to face charges. Rather than face a jury, Blake entered a guilty plea after his return to Miami. With the assistance of his Miami criminal defense attorney, he entered guilty pleas to racketeering, drug possession, including cocaine and marijuana possession, and admitted to his leadership role in the gang.

Blake grew up in Jamaica and lived an impoverished lifestyle. He attended a private high school after receiving a full scholarship. His first trip to the United States was in 1973 as part of a Jamaican cricket team. Rather than returning home, he remained in New York and established the gang in Brooklyn. There are different accounts of how the Shower Posse got its name. There are two schools of thought. The first is that the gang was aligned with the Jamaica Labor Party who promised a shower of blessings in economic opportunity for the citizens of the island nation. Other believe that the shower related to the hail of gunfire that by the gang would spray at its victims. Federal investigators are seeking the extradition of the purported new leader of the gang who is wanted for firearms offenses and drug trafficking.

Miami has been a hotbed of violent crimes related relating gang activity and drug trafficking for the past three decades. From the Cocaine Cowboys, the Shower Posse and other violent proponents of drug trafficking, the streets of South Florida have often been some of the most dangerous in the United States. The large amount of drugs flowing into and around Miami and the South Florida area cause the legislature to created minimum mandatory prison sentences on drug and firearm offenses. The potential sentences are severe in an effort to chase drug traffickers out of Florida. While the potential penalties have increased for drug trafficking offenses, the latest data does not reflect a decrease in the amount of marijuana, cocaine and heroine on the streets.

Vivian Blake, Founder of Jamaica Drug Gang Dies,, NYTimes.com, March 25, 2010.


March 23, 2010

Noriega's Extradition Fight Ends Without Success

It appears as if Manuel Noriega's last ditch effort to avoid extradition to France may be over. His attorneys had previously filed two petitions to the U.S. Supreme Court in an attempt to avoid being sent back to France to stand trial. The high court rejected Noriega's second bid to appeal an earlier decision which will allow France to take Noriega and have him stand trial on money laundering charges. The former Panamanian president is accused of laundering $3.1 million in drug money by purchasing an apartment in Paris, France. The Miami federal criminal attorney representing Noriega acknowledged that the battle against extradition seemed to have run its course.

The French courts have already convicted Noriega of money laundering in absentia, but the French government has promised him a new criminal trial upon his return. Noriega was arrested during the U.S. invasion of Panama. In 1992, after a lengthy trial Noriega was convicted in a Miami, Florida federal court for cocaine trafficking, money laundering and racketeering. He completed his 10 year prison sentence in September 2007, but remains in federal custody. He has been held beyond his release date while the extradition matter with France was sorted out in the federal court system.

In 1992, soon after his arrest, a federal judge ruled that Noriega was a prisoner of war and given POW status. Later, the same judge ruled that his POW status did not preclude his extradition to a third party. Noriega's appellate attorneys tried to use his prisoner of war status to block his extradition. His attorneys argued that his prisoner of war status under the Geneva Convention gave him the right to be repatriated back to Panama. The lower federal courts have ruled otherwise and have deemed the extradition to France proper. As the legal experts opined, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Noriega's criminal defense attorney is expected to travel to France next week in an effort to resolve the money laundering case favorably for his client. The attorney was quoted as saying, "There are no options left in the United States, it's over." The federal marshals have not disclosed when Noriega will be transported to France. The marshal service usually does not disclose prisoner transfers for security reasons.

Supreme Court Refuses Noriega's Re-Hearing Request, The Washington Post, March 22, 2010.

March 22, 2010

Ponzi Schemes Targeted by Federal Government

It is no secret that ever since the economy's meltdown in 2007 that the federal government is cracking down on all individuals responsible for planning, organizing and operating the schemes to defraud. With the increased number of complex investment vehicles, creative, yet unscrupulous businessmen, have found fertile ground in the American investment community. Unsuspecting victims who are promised enormous returns with little risk get sucked into the fraud, sometimes losing their entire life savings. Those arrested and prosecuted by the federal authorities find themselves indicted on charges including mail fraud, wire fraud, money laundering and racketeering. Anyone being prosecuted in the Southern District or Middle District of Florida for their involvement in this type of fraud should consult with a South Florida or Miami criminal defense lawyer experienced in defending these types of cases in federal court.

A Ponzi scheme simply defined is a scheme to defraud by which the perpetrator solicits investors with the promise of hefty returns which are initially fulfilled by paying off older investors with proceeds from later entrants into the investment scheme. The lifeline of the fraud is the continuous inflow of new investors and their money. Once new investors stop pouring their money into the scheme, the money dries up and the older investors cease to reap the enormous gains. Typically, Ponzi schemes are uncovered during times of economic turmoil when investor fear causes people to hold onto their money. That is why the economic crisis in 2007 led to the uncovering of the large number of high profile Ponzi schemes reported in the media over the past couple of years.

Although the first Ponzi scheme was uncovered in the 19th century, the schemes to defraud did not become prevalent until the 1980's and 1990's. In 1985, a currency trader named David Dominelli defrauded over a thousand investors out of approximately $80 million. Dominelli entered a guilty plea in federal court to four related fraud counts and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Over the past decade federal authorities have ramped up their efforts to prosecute these schemes to defraud. As a result of their efforts, high-profile arrests have been made. Of course, the most well-know prosecution was that of Bernard L. Madoff. Madoff was able to run his Ponzi scheme for many years because of his reputation on Wall Street. As the former chairman of the Nasdaq Stock Exchange, he was able to lure investors into his firm. When the scheme collapsed, investors lost approximately $50 billion. Madoff entered guilty a plea in federal court to charges including securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. He received the maximum sentence of 150 years in prison.

Due to the complexity of the Ponzi schemes, the cases are prosecuted in federal rather than state court. The Department of Justice usually heads up the investigations which are then turned over to the United States Attorney's Office for prosecution. After a conviction after trial or a guilty plea, a federal judge will hand down a sentence based on the federal sentencing guidelines. Although the guidelines are no longer mandatory, a federal judge will usually apply them unless there is a basis for deviation. As in all economic fraud cases, the amount of the loss will usually determine the amount of prison time that will be handed down by the judge.

Ponzi Schemes: A Primer on the Recent Surge in Fraudulent Schemes, Lexology.com, March 19, 2010.

March 19, 2010

State Attorney's Office Drop Gun Charge Against Cop

Prosecutors from the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office officially dropped charges against a female police officer charged with aggravated assault with a firearm. The arrest affidavit alleged that reserve Homestead Police Officer Jenna Maldonado pointed her firearm and verbally threatened her boyfriend at a Super Bowl party. As a result of the incident, Maldonado was terminated from the police department. The Miami criminal lawyer representing the defendant was able to secure a no action for his client. The outcome did not save her job, but prevented her from becoming a felon and possibly spending time behind bars.

The defendant's boyfriend filed a complaint with the Homestead Police Department. The department conducted an investigation and arrested the defendant on February 23, 2010. The arrest affidavit alleged one count of aggravated assault with a firearm. The charge is a third degree felony; however, the charge also carries a three year mandatory prison sentence. Typically, after an arrest is made, a copy of the arrest affidavit is sent to the state attorney's office to undergo the pre-filing process. In ordinary cases, the arrest affidavit is sent to the felony screening division and assigned to one of the prosecutors in the division. On the reverse side of the affidavit is a list of witnesses and addresses. The felony screening attorney uses this information to subpoena the witnesses to the office in order to take their sworn testimony. Once the screening attorney has reviewed the evidence, talked to the police officers and civilians involved, they have four options. First, the prosecutor can file the charges that were listed on the arrest affidavit. Secondly, the prosecutor can increase the charges. Third, the prosecutor can bind down the charges to a misdemeanor in which event the case will be heard in county court. Fourth, the prosecutor can find insufficient evidence and decide to no action or not file the charges.

Not all cases go to the felony screening unit. More severe charges are sent directly to the circuit court division prosecutor who will be handling the case in circuit court. Some cases go to specialized units depending on the charges or the person who was arrested. Serious drug trafficking cases, such as, large scale cocaine trafficking, marijuana trafficking or oxycodone trafficking cases will be sent to the narcotics division for screening. Cases involving public officials, such as police officers, will be screened by the Public Corruption Division. Sometimes defendants are bettered served if their cases go directly to the division or to specialized units. The prosecutors tend to be more experienced and use a discerning eye when evaluating cases.

Experienced Miami criminal defense lawyers sometimes have the ability to secure no actions for their clients depending on the facts and circumstances of each case. Many times there are defenses to charges that the prosecution may not be aware exist. The defenses can arise from video surveillance tapes or independent witnesses that can recount the events. If an effective attorney can convince the prosecutor that a client acted in self-defense or was not present at the time of the offense, a no action can be secured. The benefit of a no action is that the criminal process which is sometimes protracted will come to end generally between thirty and forty days. Another benefit is that the no action will allow the client to go through the expungement process and have the case removed from public record.

Gun Charge Dropped Against Fired Homestead Police Officer, South Florida Times.com, March 19, 2010.

March 17, 2010

Numerous Fraud Arrests Made Statewide

A statewide investigation culminated in nineteen arrests for insurance fraud relating to staged automobile accidents. Arrests were made in Fort Myers, Orlando, Pensacola, Tampa and Miami, Florida. The defendants were all involved in staged accidents and filed false claims with insurance companies for fraudulent medical treatment and lost wages. Although the media has been focusing on Medicare fraud and mortgage fraud in the South Florida area, the most common type of fraud being committed in Miami and throughout the state is personal injury fraud. Staged accident cases are typically filed in state circuit courts. Until about five years ago, the losses being suffered by insurance companies as a result of staged accidents was fairly limited. As the losses have significantly mounted, law enforcement, including the state attorney's office, has created specialized units to deal specifically with these types of cases. If you or someone you know has been arrested for insurance fraud, contact a Miami criminal lawyer who has experience in defending these types of cases in state court.

Prosecutors typically charge defendants involved in staged accidents with grand theft and false and fraudulent insurance claims. Grand theft can be charged in the 1st, 2nd of 3rd degree depending on the amount of loss to the insurance company. If the loss is under $20,000, the charge will be grand theft in the third degree. If the loss is between $20,000 and $100,000, the charge will be grand theft in the second degree. If the loss exceeds $100,000, which is very rare, the charge will be grand theft in the first degree. The charge of filing a false and/or fraudulent insurance claim is a felony in the third degree. In order to be convicted of the offense the prosecutor must prove that a defendant presented a false statement to an insurance company with the knowledge that the information being provided was false for monetary gain.

The Florida legislature recently upped the ante, recognizing that people involved in staged accidents are first time offenders that would probably receive probation or perhaps a pre-trial diversion program. Anyone involved in organizing, planning or knowingly participating in an intentional automobile accident with the intent of filing a fraudulent insurance claim is facing a second degree felony with a two year minimum mandatory prison sentence. That means that anyone, even a mere passenger, who is knowingly involved in a staged accident and files an insurance claim is facing a prison sentence. Even lawyers are affected by the new legislation as they to face a two year prison sentence if they knowingly solicit clients that they know were involved in staged accidents to file insurance claims.

A typical case begins with the insurance company's investigation. If they find any abnormalities in the claim based in their investigation, they will contact the Department of Insurance to conduct a criminal investigation. If evidence substantiates a staged accident, the planners, drivers and passengers will be charged. The detectives will also seek to implicate the clinics that treated the patients. Receptionist, clerks, doctors and clinic owners will all be investigated. To charge individuals involved with the clinic, the prosecutors generally rely on the accident participants to testify against them. Typically, the prosecutors will offer lenient pleas to the minor players in order to catch the big fish. However, a skilled Miami criminal law firm will decimate the credibility of these witnesses at deposition. The only evidence the prosecution usually has is that of witnesses trying to save their own skin. Without corroboration, the cases against the doctors, clinic owners and doctors are very weak. It is imperative that these types of defendants seek the assistance of legal counsel as soon as they are contacted by law enforcement. If you are a clinic owner, doctor or lawyer never give a statement to detectives. A statement provided by a defendant will be just the corroboration the prosecution needs to send a person to prison.

19 Arrested in Florida Sweep of Staged Accidents, The Miami Herald, March 17, 2010.

March 16, 2010

Court System Burdening Local Jails As Well As Tax Payers

The overcrowding at the Miami-Dade County jails are causing docketing backlogs and hefty tax burdens on the citizens of the county. Extended stays by certain inmates are causing the overcrowding. Ultimately, the current situation is costing taxpayers in excess of $20 million dollars a year. According to a report generated by the jail, five inmates have been housed in the local jail in excess of twelve years. The report also set out that more than 1,200 hundred inmates have remained in the Dade County jail for more than a year. Typically, the local jail holds defendants awaiting trial or sentencing hearings, state prisoner who are returning to court for post-conviction relief and individuals being held for extradition to other jurisdictions. While the judges, prosecutors and the entire court system is overburdened, the situation enures to the benefit of Miami criminal lawyers.

Crowded courthouses and court dockets burden the state criminal justice system on the whole, but as a criminal lawyers, we are seeking the best outcome for our clients. If the system is failing to provide the justice it was created to provide, that is a problem for the citizens, the politicians and the government. While the current situation is displeasing as a fellow citizen, the situation provides some relief to individuals charged with crimes. An overcrowded system benefits clients in different ways. The Florida Legislature created sentencing guidelines which takes into account the severity of the primary offense and an individual's prior criminal history. The overcrowded dockets cause prosecutors and judges to offer below guideline plea offers to defendants who would be facing state prison time in other jurisdictions in an effort to alleviate the pressure on the system.

Another example of how the system benefits Miami-Dade defendants can be seen with narcotics cases. Cocaine trafficking, marijuana trafficking, oxycodone trafficking and ecstasy trafficking cases all carry mandatory prison sentences depending the illegal substance and the amount of the substance involved. Very often, at the slightest hint of an issue in the case, state prosecutors will offer waivers of the prison sentences in an effort to reduce their caseload. First time offenders generally are better prospects for having sentences waived. Some lawyers use delay tactics in order to provide the best defense for their clients. While some attorneys oppose this strategy, clients with difficult cases certainly approve of this method. The longer a case stays open, there is a better chance that witnesses disappear or their memory fades. Employing this strategy can result in prison plea offers being reduced to probation offers or cases being dropped in their entirety.

While an overcrowded system benefits a defendant, the tax payer is footing the bill. In 2009, it cost the local jail $134.27 per day to house one inmate. If you multiply that number times the number of inmates awaiting the disposition of their case for over a year, the bill amounts to approximately $60.5 million a year. In addition, Jackson Memorial Hospital laid out $74 million to treat the inmates medical needs. The longer an inmate stays in jail, the more yearly tests that are required to be performed on those individuals from annual physicals, mammograms, pap smears and prostate exams. As a tax payer and defense lawyer, the choice that benefit our clients the most is an over taxed system. As such, we hope things remain as they are for the benefit of the people charged with criminal offenses.

Jail Break, Poder360.com, March 16, 2010.


March 15, 2010

Judge Hears Motion to Suppress in Marijuana Trafficking Case

A circuit court judge for the 11th Judicial Circuit heard a lengthy motion to suppress in a Miami marijuana trafficking case. The defendant is charged with operating a marijuana grow house in an efficiency apartment. The apartment is attached a family-sized residence. The only entrance is a side door. There is no entrance to the efficiency from inside the residence. A Miami criminal attorney filed a motion to suppress the contents of the efficiency including 18 marijuana plot, two bags of cultivated marijuana, checks and other financial statements belonging to the defendant. If the court grants the motion to suppress, all of evidence in the case becomes inadmissible and the state will have no choice, but to nolle prosse or dismiss the charges.

Defense counsel argued that the warrant obtained by the narcotics detectives violated the defendant's Fourth Amendments rights. Detectives from the Miami-Dade Police Department received an anonymous tip that the efficiency owner was selling drugs from the property. The detectives drove to the residence and parked their vehicles on the street. The residence was surrounded on all four sides. The front of the residence was guarded by a chain link fence that had three gates. Two of the gates allowed access to the driveways. The third gate allowed access to the front door. The police officers gained access through a two foot opening in one of the gates for the driveway. After the detectives entered the property, they noticed an odor of marijuana coming from the residence as they approached the front door. The detectives attempted to make contact with the homeowner, to no avail, noone was home.

The lead detective filled out a search warrant which was executed by the duty judge. The judge signed the warrant which was then executed by the narcotics detectives. After knocking down the door of the efficiency, the detectives located processed marijuana and a fully functional grow house. At the motion to suppress, counsel argued that the detectives violated the efficiency owner's constitutional rights. The laws of the United States and the State of Florida require that a warrant is required to search a residence. To obtain a warrant, the police have to establish that probable cause that a crime was committed in order to secure a warrant. Of course, there are exceptions to the warrant requirement such as consent, exigent circumstances and automobile. As none of the exceptions existed, the detectives were required to get a warrant. The smell of marijuana gave the detectives the requisite probable case to get a warrant. However, the main question is whether the police officers were legally on the property when they gathered the probable case.

The 4th Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. A person is entitled to those protections when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. The law in the State of Florida holds that a home owner has a reasonable expectation of privacy when the house is surrounded by a fence or some other structure. If a residence is not surrounded by a fence or other object, the police are entitled to approach the front door and even stand on the porch. In the case being argued, the house was surrounded by a fence, but one of the gates was left opened approximately two feet. The Miami defense lawyer argued that the homeowner had a reasonable expectation of privacy even if the gate was left open. The prosecution argued to the contrary. Florida law does not distinguish between opened a closed gates, but merely that the fence surround the house. With that being the case, the judge should grant the motion to suppress the evidence. The current state of the law can be used to protect those arrested for narcotics cases such as cocain trafficking and marijuana trafficking.

March 11, 2010

Feds Arrest Alleged Mafia Member on Miami Beach

The FBI with assistance of Italian law enforcement authorities arrested key figures allegedly connected with the Mafia. The arrests come as a result of the international crackdown on worldwide organized crime syndicates. Federal agents arrested Roberto Settineri at his Miami Beach home and charged with money laundering and a slew of other federal offenses. The arrest comes after a three year investigation into Settineri's connection with the Cosa Nostra family in Italy and the Gambino crime family out of New York. The defendant will make his initial appearance in federal court with his Miami criminal lawyer. The government will most likely seek pre-trial detention because of the allegations and his connections outside the United States.

Despite facing charges in Miami, the Italian government also charged Senttineri with drug trafficking, attempted murder, extortion and other offenses. Italian authorities were pleased with the arrest claiming that the Sicilian Mafia suffered a huge blow as a result of this arrest and others. They went further in saying that the joint effort has effectively broken up the Palermo crime syndicate and its links to the United States. Two other individuals were arrested in Miami along with Settineri and charged with money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. All of the arrests were facilitated by an undercover sting operation.

While the arrests were being made in Miami, FBI agents arrested three alleged members of the Gambino crime family in New York. The three defendants were charged with extortion and obstruction of justice. The United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida applauded the Italian authorities' efforts in assisting the U.S. in protecting its system of justice. He also told reporters that the defendant would face charges in Miami prior to his extradition to Italy. If the federal magistrate find that Settineri is a danger to the community of flight risk, he will be held without a bond and reside in the federal detention center pending the resolution of his case. The defense attorney will argue that his client owns property in the United States and is not a flight risk. If the magistrate grants a bond, it will be extraordinarily high and the defendant will be required to turn over all travel documents including passports and visas.

The arrests of Mafia members come when the FBI and other law enforcement agencies are running on fumes prosecuting mortgage fraud, Medicare fraud, "Ponzi" schemes, and drug trafficking cases. It just goes to show that the federal government has unlimited resources and manpower to make as many arrests as they desire. The U.S. Attorney's office is probably contemplating hiring more lawyers to prosecute all of the cases floating around in the criminal justice system. While the federal government is taxed with all of the cases, the Miami criminal attorneys have more than enough work to keep them busy these days.

FBI Claims Key Mafia Takedown in Miami Beach, The Miami Herald, March 11, 2010.

March 10, 2010

Accountant to Enter Guilty Plea to Fraud Charges

Reports indicate that a former high-profile account will enter a guilty plea in federal court to fraud charges which allege that he embezzled in excess of $2.6 million. Lewis Freeman is accused to stealing money from clients' trust accounts. Freeman was formerly indicted on counts of mail fraud and conspiracy. The document purports that the defendant stole from as many as 250 clients. The victims were entitled to assets held in receivership by Freeman as a result of bankruptcy and fraud cases. The indictment also alleges that Freeman filed falsified court documents in an effort to cover up the decade long scheme to defraud. He will appear at his hearing represented by a Miami criminal defense lawyer.

The terms of the plea agreement have not yet been made a matter of public record. Freeman is facing significant prison time due to the amount of the loss suffered as a result of the fraud and the breach of his fiduciary duty. As in all federal cases, the United States Sentencing Commission Guidelines Manual allow for a great amount of flexibility when certain factors are taken into consideration. One factor that can lead to a significant sentence reduction is called "acceptance of responsibility". When a defendant formerly accepts responsibility for a crime by truthfully admitting his or her involvement in the alleged offense, he or she will be entitled to a two point reduction. If they are charged with a level 16 offense or greater, they will be entitled to another additional point reduction, making a total of a three point reduction. The defendant is only required to accept responsibility for the crimes for which he or she is charged.

Another point reduction under the federal sentencing guidelines is termed "safety valve". If the defendant has no criminal history, the "safety valve" will allow for the waiver of any minimum mandatory sentences that apply in such cases as cocaine trafficking and marijuana trafficking. The use of this provision under the guidelines provides for a two point reduction so long as the defendant did not use violence or threats in committing the crime, death or serious bodily injury did not result as part of the crime, and the defendant was not the leader or organizer of the crime. Another way to reduce the sentence is to argue a mitigating role in the offense. If the defendant was a minimal or minor participant in the offense, a two through four point reduction is available. The rule applies to those who play a limited role in the criminal activity for which they are charged.

The best way to reduce a federal prison sentence is to provide substantial assistance to the federal authorities. After the defendant is debriefed by federal investigators and prosecutors regarding the charged crime or other crimes, the government, if satisfied with the information, will provide the court with the information provided by the defendant. The court will evaluate the significance and usefulness of the information with the government's input and can a reduce a sentence commensurate the information provided. The court can reduce the sentence on a case by case basis and can reduce the number of levels as it deems fair. The reduction will be taken into consideration independent of any acceptance of responsibility. Of course, all of these reductions must accompany a guilty plea. Based on the facts of Freeman's case, some of the aforementioned reductions may apply depending on his level of cooperation with the government.

High-Profile Miami Accountant Lewis Freeman to Plea Guilty to Fraud, The Miami Herald, March 10, 2010.

March 8, 2010

Coral Gables Patient Brokers Indicted a Second Time

A South Florida couple was indicted again in federal court for allegedly stealing medical records and selling them to local personal injury attorneys. In the first indictment, Reuben Rodriguez and Maria Victoria Suarez were accused of paying a Jackson Memorial Hospital Employee for records of patients recently involved in automobile and slip and fall accidents. Once they obtained the records, they purportedly sold them to local personal injury law firms who would turn file civil claims on behalf of the patients. The records included names, addresses, telephone numbers and medical reports. The attorneys allegedly paid them hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks once the civil cases were resolved. Before the second indictment was handed down, both defendants were charged with identity theft and fraud in federal court. It is unclear whether the Miami criminal lawyers on the first case will represent their clients on the second case.

As a result of the investigation, several personal injury lawyers have been under the microscope. To date, none of the lawyers have been formally charges, but the Florida is looking into potential ethical violations. The Florida Bar permits several forms of advertising such as the internet, television, newspapers and the Yellow Pages, however, the rules prohibit the direct soliciting of clients by phone or mail. Furthermore, lawyers are prohibited from sharing fees with non-lawyers. If the Florida Bar can substantiate such a claim, counsel could be suspended or even disbarred from the practice of law.

Rodriquez originally received a bond a his initial pre-trial detention hearing, but has since had his bond revoked for allegedly tampering with witnesses. He was scheduled to enter a guilty plea in federal court in January on a conspiracy charge, but backed out of the deal at the last minute. He is scheduled to appear in court this week on the new indictment charging him with identity theft, computer fraud and conspiracy. Suarez has remained out on bond since the pendency of her old case, but it is not clear whether the prosecution will seek to have her detained pursuant to the new charges. The JMH technician that sold the records for $1,000.00 a month has since entered a guilty plea and is currently serving 10 months in prison.

The new indictment accuses the defendants of paying an employee of American Medical Response, an ambulance company, for records of patients being treated and transported by the company. AMR is based out of Colorado and has allegedly terminated the employee involved in the case. The investigation allegedly revealed that the defendants made at least four payments to the AMR employee in increments of $1,000.00 to $2,000.00. Again, they allegedly sold the records to attorneys in order to pursue personal injury claims. Prior to the second indictment, both defendants were facing prison sentences. The second indictment certainly subjects them to significantly more prison time.

Coral Gables Couple Again Accused of Selling Patient Records, The Miami Herald, March 8, 2010.