March 5, 2010

South Florida Women Arrested for Visa Fraud

Two South Florida residents have been arrested and formally charged with operating a major student visa fraud ring. Government prosecutors have alleged that the two women defrauded the federal government into issuing more than 200 student visas to foreign nationals who are not and never were students in the United States. According to sources, the bust is largest ever visa scheme to defraud in Immigration Customs Enforcement's ("ICE's) history. The indictment alleges that all of the visas were connected to fraudulently enrolled students at Florida Language Institute located in Miami. The women are scheduled to appear in federal court this week. It is unclear at this point whether the women will be represented by criminal lawyers from the public defender's office or private Miami criminal defense lawyers.

The federal government has taken fraudulent student visas very seriously since the 9/11 attacks. Many of the terrorists involved in the attacks entered the United States using fraudulent visas. For example, the terrorist that piloted the plane into the Pentagon obtained a student visa to study English in this country. Upon his arrival, he told airport officials that he intended to take classes in California. Since the attacks, federal investigators have closely scrutinized schools that accept foreign students to ensure that the students actually show up for class and that the visas are not being used for terrorism or to hide illegal employment or immigration.

The grand jury indictment alleges that Lydia Menocal, the school's director, and Ofelia Macia, another school employee, falsely executed requests for student visas for foreign students. The documents allegedly executed were immigration forms called I-20's or certificates of eligibility that are used to apply to the federal government to obtain the student visas. The students for whom applications were sought never attended the college under scrutiny. Federal law enforcement has yet to determine where the purported students are and what they are presently doing. The federal government does not believe at this time that the two defendants were assisting terrorists. They believe they were selling the rights to visas for monetary gain.

The two defendants will appear before a United States magistrate at there initial appearance. At that time, the government may seek pre-trial detention. As long as the defendants have ties to the community, the court will have a difficult time holding them because they are a danger to the community, as there is no evidence suggested by the government that either defendant sought to assist terrorists. After their initial hearing, both defendants will appear at their arraignment. The arraignment is the point in the case where the formal charges are announced in open court. After the arraignment, the defense will have time to review the discovery and consult with their clients. Based on a thorough review of the evidence, both defendant will decide to either enter a guilty plea or take their case to trial. A lot will depend on what the defendants are facing according to the federal sentencing guidelines.

Two Miami Women Charged with Running Vast Student Visa Fraud Ring, The Miami Herald, March 4, 2010.

March 4, 2010

Local Politician Enters Not Guilty Plea to New Charge

An embattled local commissioner remains mired in the state criminal justice system and things seem to be getting worse. Michelle-Spence Jones appeared in circuit court facing a new charge of bribery. The defendant reported to the same courtroom where she faces another case charged with grand theft. She was taken into custody for the purpose of being booked on the new case. The judge presiding over the matter did not require her to post an additional bond to secure her release. However, she had to be taken into custody to activate her new case in the system. The politician did not address the court in the presence of her Miami criminal attorney. However, as she was being led away by corrections officers she yelled out, "God be the glory."

The newest case stems from allegations that the commissioner solicited a bribe from a local developer in the amount of $25,000.00. The developer allegedly paid that sum in order to get a favorable vote from the commission regarding a condominium and office complex development. The grand jury heard the case and indicted Spence-Jones on two counts of bribery. The grand jury heard evidence that the developer requested that the commission extend Brickell Avenue north across the Miami River in an effort to gain a prominent address for the new condo and office complex. The initial request was made to the commission on March 23, 2010, but the issue was not resolved. Prosecutors allege that Spence-Jones or her representative demanded $25,000 from the developer. The developer allegedly eventually contributed $12,500 to non-profit organization created by Spence-Jones. At the developer's request, the project's chief builder contributed another $12,500 to the organization.

The commission never voted on the name change because only the Florida Legislature had the authority to change the name of a state road. Spence-Jones is also involved in state civil court, as well as criminal state court. The civil circuit court judge is determining whether the governor of Florida acted within his rights in suspending the politician, not once, but twice. The governor initially suspended Spence-Jones, but she was re-elected to different seat. Upon her re-election, she was again suspended by the governor. This latest case comes as Miami-Dade County is attempting to clean up politics in the South Florida area. The last politician charged was a former judge accused of committing grand theft. He was found guilty and sentenced to 21 months in state prison.

Bribery and corruption cases are usually charged under Florida Statute 838.014. The charge is defined as corruptly giving or offering to give a public servant or soliciting or accepting any pecuniary or other benefit in violation of state law with the intent and purpose to influence the performance of an overt act in violation of a public duty. Bribery is second degree felony punishable up to 15 years in prison. Bribery is a level seven offense under the offense severity ranking chart established under the Florida Criminal Punishment Code. Assuming a person has no prior record, a conviction for bribery will sustain a prison sentence from 21 months to 15 years. The sentencing guidelines mandates that judges cannot deviate below the guidelines without a legal reason for departure. That being the case, Spence-Jones is facing prison time if she loses her case at trial.

Michelle Spence-Jones Pleads Not Guilty to New Bribery Charges, The Miami Herald, March 4, 2010.

March 2, 2010

Miami-Dade Man Appears in Federal Court Accused of Terrorist Ties

A man accused of selling video games to a South American business with alleged terrorist ties appeared in court for his initial bond hearing. Khaled Sadafi of Doral, Florida, appeared before a U.S. federal magistrate to face accusations by the federal government that he is supplying goods to a shopping mall operating as a front to a Middle East terrorist group. Sadafi was charged in a terrorist related indictment last month. After lengthy arguments by the government and his Miami criminal attorney, the magistrate granted a three pronged bond that will assure the defendant's presence in court. The bond was set at $1.55 million which requires him to pay $100,000 collateral to the clerk of court with the remainder of the bond being secured with his home and other personal assets.

At a typical federal pre-trial detention hearing, a magistrate will determine if pre-trial bond is appropriate for a particular case. Of course, every case is different and the court must consider two factors in determining whether a bond should be set. First, the court must consider whether the defendant is a danger to the community. Significant drug related cases like cocaine trafficking, heroine trafficking and drug importation charges are often considered to be dangerous to the community on the whole. However, qualified defense firms are often able to secure bonds on these types of cases. Charges involving firearms and terrorist linked charges are considered crimes dangerous to the community and are much more difficult charges for which to secure a bond.

The second factor the magistrate must consider is a defendant's ties the community or risk of flight. The court will consider a defendant's citizenship, property ownership and whether family members reside in the jurisdiction. If the court deems a defendant not to be a flight risk, the individual will be forced to surrender travel documents such as passports and visas. The defendant will also be required to remain the federal district where he or she is facing charges. A defendant will much more likely receive a bond if the defendant owns a property, such as a home, in the jurisdiction. Ownership of a business in good standing will also help secure a bond. A federal magistrate will look favorably on a defendant if they reside with a spouse and children from the marriage. A negative factor could be frequent travel in and out of the country or large bank accounts overseas. In a nutshell, the defense attorney must convince the magistrate that the client's ties to the community will assure his or her presence in court.

In Sadafi's case, his attorney argued to the court that he owned a home in Doral for the past ten years and resided with wife and four children. Despite the seriousness of the charges, the magistrate decided to issue a bond, albeit in a hefty amount. Sadafi along with two co-defendants were arrested on terrorist related smuggling charges for shipping Sony Play Stations and digital cameras to a Paraguayan mall allegedly linked to the terrorist group, Hezbollah. All three co-defendants along with their import-export businesses were named in the indictment. The indictment alleges that the three individuals violated a post-911 law which prohibits doing business with other businesses connected to U.S. designated terrorist groups.

Miami-Dade Businessmen Accused in Terror Case Get Bond, The Miami Herald, March 2, 2010.

March 1, 2010

Drug Trafficking in Prescription Medications a New South Florida Problem

South Florida is finally recognizing that the drug trafficking trade in prescription medications is a serious problem. State officials are trying to implement policy changes that will more effectively police prescription medications. Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County have become a haven for those seeking to purchase and or traffic prescription medications. Last year, the governor approved legislation that will require an electronic drug monitoring program that will put time constraints on people refilling prescriptions for multiple painkillers. Oxycodone, Vicodin and Xanax use by unauthorized individuals is becoming more commonplace. Most people think of cocaine, heroine and marijuana when drug trafficking is mentioned. However, criminal defense lawyers are defending more and more people charged with oxycodone trafficking and the like.

According to the legislators dealing with the issue, the problem lies in a lack of regulation dealing with prescription medication. Individuals attempting to procure the prescription medications merely have to go to various doctors and describe the correct symptoms to obtain prescriptions for the highly addictive drugs. Another problem lies in the lack of regulation of pain clinics who are presently able to get their hands on as many prescription drugs that they desire. In the 1990's, Kentucky had the same problem that South Florida is facing today. The state implemented a prescription monitoring plan that cut off the oversupply to doctors. Presently, 38 states have implemented similar monitoring programs. Florida is the largest state that currently does not have a program in place. That is the reason why people from out-of-state travel to Miami and South Florida to procure the product.

On its face, it would appear that possession of Xanax or Vicodin is not that big a deal. Anyone caught in possession of these drugs can and will be charged by law enforcement for possession of a controlled substance. Possession of a controlled substance is a third degree felony punishable up to five years in prison. Jail sentences for first time offenders are not likely, however, anyone pleading guilty to this will have a felony criminal record and may have his or driver's license suspended for a period of two years. Anyone caught selling just one pill will be charged with sale of controlled substance. The charge of sale of a controlled substance is a second degree felony punishable up to fifteen years in prison. A more likely sentence would involve probation and community service hours. While those potential sentences appear light, trafficking in prescription medications carry much stiffer sentences.

Trafficking in oxycodone or Vicodin is treated the same under the Florida Sentencing Guidelines as heroine trafficking. Trafficking in these substances are first degree felonies punishable up to thirty years in prison. There are three levels of trafficking which carry 7, 15 and 25 year minimum mandatory sentences depending on the weight. Between 4 and 14 grams carries the 7 year sentence, between 14 and 28 grams carries a 15 year sentence, and over 28 grams carries a 25 year sentence. Bear in mind that mere possession of the drugs will amount to trafficking if the weight standards are met. It is irrelevant that a person gets caught buyer of selling the prescription medications. If you or a loved is arrested for any of these offenses contact a Miami drug trafficking defense lawyer to defend your case and protect your rights.

Prescription Drug Trade Flourishes; Drug Monitoring Program Stalled, The Ledger.com, March 1, 2010.

February 26, 2010

Justice Department Implements New Tools to Fight White-Collar Crime

The head of the United States Department of Justice criminal division held a conference for criminal defense lawyers at which he explained the new tools the federal government was using to fight white-collar crimes such as fraud. Larry Breuer used the example of the recent investigation and prosecution regarding the Galleon hedge fund insider trading case and another case where 22 people were charged under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act ("FCPA"). While white collar crimes are usually prosecuted under federal statutes such a racketeering, wire fraud, and mail fraud, the new case being prosecuted under FCPA is uncommon. According to Breuer, Federal investigators made the cases through the use of wire taps and undercover agents.

Breuer told the lawyers at the conference that, "Taken together, these cases reflect a new chapter in white-collar criminal enforcement...out are the days of resting easy in the belief that only self-reporting or tipsters will bring criminality to light." He promised a more innovative and proactive approach to investigating and prosecuting white-collar crimes. The recent FCPA case brought by the federal government is the largest case ever prosecuted under that particular statute. The statute criminalizes conduct where individuals pay bribes to solicit business from overseas. Not only did Breuer promise a proactive approach, but also encouraged businesses to police themselves by reporting criminal violations they discover on their own.

Other examples cited at the conference regarding the Justice Department's new policy included the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, as well as, the Mortgage Fraud Task Force. Breuer boasted that since the inception of the healthcare fraud investigative tool, 300 hundred people have been arrested for their involvement in approximately 200 cases. The value of the losses suffered by the federal healthcare system added up to approximately $860 million. The Medicare Strike Force now operates in the following cities; Miami, Tampa, New York, Detroit, Houston and Baton Rouge. The Mortgage Fraud Task Force is also implementing new and innovative techniques to combat real estate/mortgage fraud.

Breuer also told the attorneys in attendance that the Justice Department was reorganizing all of its fraud divisions in an effort to achieve "firm and fair" justice. The department is also lobbying for changes in the sentencing guidelines involving fraud to help eliminate the great sentencing disparities that exist for white-collar crimes. Whether the new pro-active approach taken by the Justice Department leads to more prosecutable fraud cases will be determined over time. If you or a loved on is being investigated by federal investigators or have been charged in federal court regarding a fraud case, seek the services of an experienced criminal law firm to defend and protect your rights. Never speak with anyone regarding a fraud crime unless you are represented by counsel.

U.S. Top Cop Say Justice Department Using New Tools, Reuters, February 26, 2010.

February 25, 2010

Like Santa, Mortgage Fraud Task Force Comes to Town

Miami, the epicenter for mortgage fraud in the United States is playing host to mortgage-fraud summit meetings being provided by the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force. President Barrack Obama established the task force last November in an effort to stamp out mortgage fraud, and other fraudulent real estate crimes. The task force is made up of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. Miami criminal defense attorneys have been defending mortgage/real estate fraud cases in federal courts extensively over the past 24 months. There are currently 23 distinct task forces presently working throughout the country. Miami has become a primary focus of fraud since the housing bubble burst over two years ago. Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida commented, "Nowhere is the problem more serious than here in Florida."

South Florida, including Miami, is listed as number one in the nation for suspicious activity reports ("SARs"). SARs are financial reports issued by lending institutions when suspicious real estate activities occur. In another report generated by lender, Fannie Mae, Florida ranked the highest in loan fraud in 2008 and 2009. Every part of the loan industry has been clouded by fraud over the past several years. Numerous Miami-Dade residents have been indicted in federal court for defrauding banks and other lending institutions out of millions and millions of dollars. Buyers, sellers, real estate agents, mortgage brokers, lawyers and secretaries have all been the subject of dozens and dozens of federal investigations and prosecutions.

Generally, individuals charged in federal court are facing charges such as racketeering, mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit those crimes. Typically, defendants charged with these crimes are facing between two to thirty years. The sentences are determined using the federal sentencing guidelines. The guidelines move higher, the greater the loss suffered by the financial institutions. While mortgage fraud is a difficult crime to detect, enormous losses suffered by banks, putting the likes of Washington Mutual and Wachovia out of business, have caused lending institutions to ramp up security. Banks are shoring up their defenses by verifying employment, income, assets, and other financial information prior to loaning money. Federal regulators are also pushing banks and lending institutions to file SARs if they have the slightest hint fraud may be involved.

Banks have taken the advice to heart and have become investigators themselves. A recent report indicated the 60% of the mortgage fraud investigations begin with the initiation of a SAR. The mortgage-fraud summit meetings are slated to provide seminar type training to lending institutions in an effort to help them identify mortgage/real estate fraud. The summits are also designed to analyze fraudulent trends and create solutions to fight the problems. Summits are also scheduled to be held in Phoenix and Detroit. If you or someone you know is be investigated or prosecuted for mortgage fraud, contact a criminal defense firm experienced in defending these types of cases.

Mortgage Fraud Task Force Comes to Miami, The Miami Herald, February 25, 2010.

February 24, 2010

Forensic Accountant Enters Not Guilty Plea in Federal Court

An attorney/forensic accountant who formerly ran a well-known accounting firm entered a not guilty plea in federal court. Lewis Freeman attended his bond hearing, where U.S. Federal Court Magistrate Judge Robert Dube set a $1 million bond. Freeman is charged with fraud in an information that alleges that he embezzled more than $2.6 million from clients' trust accounts. Since the alleged scheme to defraud broke last fall, Freeman has been cooperating with federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors. Freeman appeared in court with his criminal defense team and entered not guilt pleas to charges of conspiracy and male fraud. His Miami criminal defense lawyers told reporters that, "Freeman is prepared to stand before the court and to accept the consequences for his actions."

Freeman, charged with conspiracy to commit mail fraud and mail fraud has appeared to have accepted responsibility for his actions and is attempting to cooperate with government authorities. Because of his cooperation, it is greatly expected that he will enter a guilty plea in federal court in the not to distant future. Freeman's criminal defense team is hoping that the cooperation will lead to a significant sentence reduction supported by the government and issued by the presiding judge. While the federal sentencing guidelines dictate a prison sentence of 10 to 20 years, significant cooperation with the federal government can lead to significantly less incarceration.

The information charges Freeman with stealing money from at least 250 clients while he was acting as their court appointed receiver. He acted as the receiver in many South Florida fraud and bankruptcy cases. On top of the theft allegations, he is accused of filing false financial statements to cover up the 10 year embezzlement scheme to defraud. People familiar with the case believe that two other individuals will be charged in the near future as co-conspirators. One of those involved is probably the chief financial officer of Freeman's company. The information specifically alleges that Freeman issued himself approximately 162 checks with a value of $6 million from the accounts of former businesses for which he was acting as a receiver. On a positive note, Freeman returned about half of the money he purportedly took. The interesting part of the case is how the federal judge will view the man who stole from victims that the courts appointed him to protect.

Federal prosecutors and agents bashed the former Miami forensic accountant by stating, "This is a classic case of how greed can slowly corrupt a person who started out with good intentions, it turns out that the wolf was protecting the hen house for the last ten years." The acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida is claiming that Freeman stole to support his lavish lifestyle. His defense team said that he was just trying to correct business mistakes. Both parties will be able to make those arguments to the federal judge when the sentencing hearing takes place.

Miami's "Go-To" Forensic Accountant Pleads Not Guilty to Fraud, The Miami Herald, February 24, 2010.

February 23, 2010

South Florida Gangs Committing Identity Theft

Scam artists and fraudsters used to be the prime suspects in one of today's most popular crimes. With the coming age of the credit card, identity theft cases are boasting heavy numbers. Identity theft occurs when an individual or a group of individuals illegally obtain another individual's personal information with the intent to steal goods or services. The problem of identity theft has even caused the federal legislature to enact new laws in an effort to combat the problem. A new law called aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two year prison sentence in the federal criminal system. If you or someone you know is being investigated for or has been arrested for identity theft or aggravated identity theft, immediately contact a Miami criminal attorney with experience in defending these types of cases both in federal and state court.

A recent investigation revealed that South Florida gangs are becoming a part of the growing wave of identity theft cases. A Fort Lauderdale investigation called "Operation Smoking Gun" targeted violent street gangs with the intent to get guns and drugs off of the streets. While marijuana trafficking, cocaine trafficking and ecstasy trafficking, as well as, a plethora of gun related charges were the target of the investigation, searches conducted by authorities revealed $5,000.00 in counterfeit cash and more than 300 names related to identity theft. The operation netted more than 300 firearms, four kilograms of cocaine, 5 kilograms of marijuana, more than 7,500 ecstasy pills and more than 6,000 prescription pills, but to the surprise of investigators, violent gang are now becoming involved in identity theft.

The United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida was quoted as saying, "Operation Smoking Gun didn't start out looking for identity theft; it initially focused on rounding up gang members involved in guns and drugs. I think ii speaks to the evolution of crime in society today." Federal investigators believe that gang members are able to become involved in identity theft in large part to how people use their credit cards today. Fast food restaurants have become a large part of the problem because of the large volume of credit card transactions that occur in those locations. Card are secretly swiped and recorded by employees and the stolen data is typically sold of $5 to $10 per identity.

If you or anyone you know is contacted by the police regarding identity theft, contact a criminal defense firm and get legal advice and representation from a person experienced in these matters. Law enforcement will want you to give a statement regarding your alleged involvement in identity theft. Remember, anything you tell law enforcement can and will be used against you in court. Do not consent to the search of your home car or person. Make the police do their job and obtain a search warrant. Possession or the use of stolen credit cards or possession or use of fraudulent credit cards will be construed as identity theft. If investigators and prosecutors are motivated to send someone to prison, the charges of, racketeering and wire fraud may be found on an information or indictment as well.

Broward Sting Shows Gangs are Moving to Identity Theft, NBC Miami.com, February 22, 2010.

February 22, 2010

Noriega Seeks to Block Extradition to France

Manuel Noriega continues to fight his extradition to France. His attorneys have filed a petition with the United States Supreme Court in a last ditch effort to avoid being sent back to France to stand trial. He has already been convicted in absentia, but France has promised him a new criminal trial upon his return. Noriega was convicted in 1992 in a Miami, Florida federal court for cocaine trafficking, money laundering and racketeering. He completed his prison sentence more than two and a half years ago, but remains confined awaiting the final decision on his extradition. France is waiting to charge Noriega for allegedly laundering money through French banks. Noriega's criminal defense lawyers hope that the highest court in the land will hear the appeal based on a Supreme Court justice's dissenting opinion on another case.

Noriega's appellate attorney believes that a finding in favor of Noriega could force the federal court system to handle differently the cases of the Guantanamo Bay detainees that are being held as prisoners of war. Noriega is trying to use his prisoner of war status to block his extradition. His attorneys believe that his prisoner of war status under the Geneva Convention gives him the right to be repatriated back to Panama. The federal courts have ruled otherwise and have deemed the extradition to France proper. Legal experts highly doubt that the Supreme Court will even hear the case. They believe that the Supreme Court would rather address the Guantanamo detainees because there are over two hundred cases dealing with that matter.

If the Supreme Court were to hear the case, even a Miami military lawyer knows the Military Commissions Act of 2006 prohibits the use of the Geneva Convention in federal court to secure one's release or prevent one's extradition. Noriega and the Guantanamo Bay detainees are trying to use the Geneva Convention to convince the federal government that all prisoners of war have right under the act to be sent home or repatriated at the cessation of hostilities. Justice Thomas wrote in his dissent on another matter somewhat related to the aforementioned matters, "Whatever conclusion we reach, our opinion will help the political branches and the courts discharge their responsibilities over detainee cases, and will spare some detainees and the government years of unnecessary litigation."

Noriega's appellate attorney states, "He's entitled to protection under the Geneva Convention. It requires that prisoners of war be repatriated after the cessation of hostilities." Not only does France want a piece of Noriega, but so does his home country of Panama. He is accused of murdering a political rival prior to his capture by United States armed forces. The United States has decided to honor France's extradition request over Panama's, probably for political reasons. The United States Attorney's Office has filed a petition in federal court to extradite Noriega to France immediately. The federal judge presiding over the case has yet to make a ruling on the petition. If his final effort with the Supreme Court fails, he can still appeal to the Secretary of State whose signature in necessary to complete the extradition procedure.

Noreiga Appeals to the U.S. High Court to Avert Extradition to France, CNN.com, February 18, 2010.

February 19, 2010

War Against Mortgage Fraud May Be Failing

The federal agency called the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network released a report showing that suspicious activity related to mortgage fraud climbed 7.5% in the third quarter of 2009. The report covers July 1, 2009 to September 30, 2009. Again, California and Florida led the pack in terms of states being linked to mortgage fraud. The cities with the highest rates of suspicious activity continue to be Miami, Los Angeles and New York. Financial institutions and banks are required to file suspicious activity reports (SARs) when they suspect or actually catch a mortgage scheme to defraud. The reporting requirement comes from the Bank Secrecy Act. The report may be skewed as some of the SARs covered cases that were more than a year old and just reported during the aforementioned dates. Some of the suspicious activities were in fact more than two years old and just reported late.

An interesting part of the report set forth the prospect that new types of mortgage fraud are being committed. Hundreds of reports are coming in that loan modification fraud and foreclosure rescue scams may just be the beginning of a new type of real estate fraud the feds will start investigating. While mortgage fraud cases may be drying up for Miami criminal defense attorneys, these new types of fraudulent activities will provide new types of cases for criminal law firms. The two most common schemes according to the report are as follows. The first being cases where distressed homeowners were tricked into signing quitclaim deeds to straw buyers and the homeowners received eviction notices anyway. The second scheme involved individuals taking money from homeowners with the promise to seek loan modifications, when in fact all they did was take the money and run.

The recently created mortgage task forces are completely overwhelmed investigating typical mortgage fraud cases. The cases are very complex and take months if not years to thoroughly investigate. The lengthy criminal investigations result from the large number of individuals and different levels of fraud that need to be looked at when conducting a thorough investigation. Another reason why the investigations take so long is that the feds have to subpoena and review thousand of documents before questioning individuals suspected for the involvement in the case. Once the documents are reviewed federal investigators attempt to speak with or arrest anyone whose names can be found on the documents. If you are contacted by federal investigators who want to discuss real estate transactions, it is imperative to contact a criminal law firm that has experience in defending real estate fraud cases in federal court.

Anyone arrested for their involvement in real estate fraud will be charged with wire fraud, mail fraud and racketeering. The penalties one faces under the federal sentencing guidelines depends mostly on the loss suffered by the financial institutions who lent money to fraudulent buyers and sellers. Penalties can range from supervised release to long prison sentences depending on the loss. Even one fraudulent transaction where an individual signs a HUD1 seeking credit from a bank can go to prison if the loss amount is enough.

Mortgage Fraud Reports Up 7.5 Percent, US Agency Says, Reuters, February 18, 2010.

February 18, 2010

Museum to Recognize South Florida's Criminal History

Many cities across the United States boast about their history in one form or another. Miami, mostly known for its sandy beaches, fishing and tourism, has decided to honor the cities checkered, but spectacular criminal history. The Historical Museum of Southern Florida located downtown will be the home to the six month historical exhibit that depicts the well-known crimes that have been committed in the city over the past 100 years. Judge Scott Silverman, a Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge and one of the founders of the 11th Judicial Circuit Historical Society told reporters, "What the exhibit will try to do is capture Miami's criminal history during the last century and see how it has impacted the lives of the people in the community.

Miami's rich criminal history includes famous kidnaping, murders, attempted presidential assassinationattempts and cocaine trafficking rings. Famous mobster Al Capone resided on Miami Beach in the 1920's. He was involved in several criminal enterprises from racketeering to bootlegging. In 1933, an attempt was made on the life of Franklin D. Roosevelt at Bayfront. Of course, recent history recalls the craziness that ran rampant in the streets during the 1980's with the cocaine cowboys. Miami criminal defense lawyers have garnered a lot of notoriety over the years for their involvement in defending cases during these eras.

Famous cases, both solved and unsolved will also have exhibits posted at the museum. The exhibits will include photographs, court documents, historical law enforcement tool and even authentic fingerprint cards belonging to the most infamous of the city's high profile criminals and criminal enterprises. Exhibits include the 1933 kidnaping of James "Skeegie Cash and the 1932 kidnaping of Charles Lindbergh's child. A man named Franklin McCall was arrested for the Cash kidnaping and actually confessed to killing the small child by placing his hand over the child's mouth, accidently suffocating him. A Miami sex crimes of notable importance was the abduction of a six-year old girl named Judith Ann Roberts. The child was taken from her Coconut Grove home and found on a desolate road and determined to be the victim of sexual battery and murder.

In recent memory, Miami was a wild and dangerous place in the 1980's with the cocaine cowboys running extensive cocaine trafficking and money laundering rings. Because of the large quantities of cocaine entering the United States by boat and plane and the violence that stemmed from the territorial disputes ongoing during the cocaine wars, the Florida legislature mandated draconian minimum mandatory prison sentences for cocaine trafficking offenses. While the legislature was at it, they also created minimum mandatory sentences for marijuana trafficking, heroine trafficking, oxycodone trafficking, etc. The courts were also given leverage on drug cases by imposing Nebbia requirements. Nebbia requires that a person posting a bond demonstrate to the prosecutor and the court that proceeds for the bond whether it be the premium or the collateral came from legitimate resources.

Miami's Rich History of Crime to be on Display, The Miami Herald, February 17, 2010.

February 17, 2010

Prison Guards Busted in Cocaine Trafficking Ring

An FBI investigation led to the arrest of at least fifteen prison guards involved in marijuana trafficking and cocaine trafficking. The guards were involved in moving cocaine and marijuana from Miami-Dade to Palm Beach County. "Operation Blind Justice" focused in on two South Florida correctional facilities. Eleven corrections officers from Glades Correctional Institute and four corrections officers from South Bay Correctional Institute were arrested by federal authorities. Undoubtedly, the arrested correctional officers will seek to retain Palm Beach, Broward, and Miami criminal defense lawyers to defend the serious charges. The investigation began when a former warden provided information in 2007 to the Florida Department of Correctional Inspector General's Office. After a 26 month investigations, the feds moved in and made the arrests.

A spokesman from FBI reported that the group of correctional officers created their own marijuana and cocaine trafficking ring. The guards believed they were working for major drug traffickers, but in reality they were moving marijuana and cocaine provided to them by FBI agents. The correctional officers agreed to use their badges to protect the shipments that were being transported. They allegedly guarded nine shipments and received payments in excess of $150,000.00. The guards were also selling a steady supply of marijuana and cocaine to inmates. Some of the prison guards worked for the Florida Department of Corrections up to twelve years.

The defendants will be indicted in federal court for cocaine trafficking, marijuana trafficking, bribery and unlawful compensation charges. It is unclear whether the defendants will face charges in Palm Beach, Broward or Miami-Dade County. For years, correctional officers have been arrested and charged both in state and federal court. However, the other criminal investigations involving correctional officers are dwarfed by the size of this criminal organization. The sad part is that the correctional officers sell the drug to the inmates who then get caught and get charged with additional charges such as marijuana possession and illegal importation of drugs into a correctional facility. Offenses such as these can cause inmates to lose their gain time.

The reports regarding the drug trafficking organization do not set forth the amount of narcotics being moved from West Palm Beach to Miami. The amount of drugs being trafficked is essential in determining the amount of time the corrections officers are facing in federal prison. The federal sentencing guidelines consider the type and weight of the drug to determine the guideline range which the court will use to sentence the defendants. If you or anyone you know is arrested for drug trafficking charges it is essential to retain an experienced criminal lawyer to defend the case.

FBI Busts prison Guard Drug Ring, NBC Miami.com, February 11, 2010.

February 16, 2010

Federal Judge Dismisses Charges Against Stanford Shredders

A Miami federal district court judge dismissed cases pending against two defendants standing trial for allegedly shredding documents related to the Allen Stanford case. In a well-publicized case, Stanford's former head of security and another security specialist were indicted federally for their involvement in shredding documents ordered not be destroyed that were being looked at by the SEC. Rafanello and Perraud were facing charges including obstruction of justice for their involvement. Allen Stanford is facing numerous charges including securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, racketeering and money laundering for his part in the alleged running of a $7 billion "Ponzi Scheme". After federal authorities disbanded Stanford's financial operation, Rafanello and Perraud allegedly destroyed thousand of documents to allegedly thwart the SEC investigation. After the jury heard closing arguments presented by federal prosecutors and the two Miami criminal attorneys representing the defendants, the federal judge decided to dismiss all of the charges during the deliberation process.

The lawyers representing Rafanello and Perraud previously argued to motions to dismiss at the close of the government's case and at the close of the defendants' case. It is quire unusual for a judge to take a case away from a jury after the jury has been read their instructions and the evidence has been delivered to the deliberation room. Judge Goldberg said, "I'm not taking this lightly, as to the necessary element of intent which is necessary in every charge brought by the prosecution, the evidence is substantially lacking." The judge dismissed the case during the second day of jury deliberations. Intent had been the sole focus of the defense throughout the case and Judge Goldberg had mentioned several times that the evidence of intent was always thin to non-existent.

Throughout the trial, the lawyer representing Stanford was present to hear the testimony and see for himself the outcome of the case. Stanford's lawyer was exited about the result and called the prosecutor's case extremely weak. Although the case went well for these two defendants, it is highly unlikely the outcome will be the same for Stanford. With the number of "Ponzi scheme" cases now appearing on federal court dockets, the media attention will likely dictate a different result. Hundreds of people across the country have lost fortunes and in some cases, their entire lifesaving as a result of the organized schemes to defraud. Although the only major fraud case resolved to date is the unprecedented Madoff case, the other federal prosecutions should resolve by the end of the year. Federal dockets are much smaller and cases are fast-tracked to keep them that way.

What was the motive of the federal prosecutors to proceed with a case that they knew was weak. One can expect that the government hoped that the defendants would buckle under the pressure and provide testimony against Stanford. There is no evidence that plea agreements were ever discussed, but the government would haven taken all the help they could get to prosecute Stanford in his fraud case. The case is the perfect example of not succumbing to pressure even if it means taking a case to trial. If state or federal prosecutors cannot prove case, why not make them prove it in court. Of course, there is always a risk to going to trial, yet a dismissal or a not guilty verdict sometimes outweighs the risks.


Stanford Document Shredders Acquitted by Judge as Jury Debated, The Miami Herald, February 13, 2010.


February 15, 2010

Lawyer Wears Wire Attempting to Catch Other Lawyer

In an unusual case, prosecutors requested that a criminal attorney as part of a investigation wear a wire in an attempt to catch another lawyer allegedly involved in fraud. The defense lawyer represents a Homestead man currently charged with DUI manslaughter that resulted in the deaths of three children. Gabriel Delrisco is currently facing charges in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court. Apparently, victims' family members requested that Delrisco provide untrue testimony regarding where he was drinking prior to the accident in an effort to beef up the civil lawsuit. The family encouraged Delrisco to say that he was drinking at a Homestead bar and strip mall in an effort to sue a defendant with deep pockets. In exchange, the family would request a lighter prison sentence at the conclusion of the case. Very often, the next of kin in cases where family members are killed have a significant impact on the length of sentence sought by state prosecutors.

The Miami criminal defense lawyer representing Delrisco relayed the information to the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office. As a result, an investigation was opened and the defense attorney was requested to wear a wire in an effort to implicate the attorney who filed the civil suit. Apparently, the wire did not aid the investigation and the case has been closed. As the investigation became public, animosity between the Miami criminal defense attorneys are brewing. The defense attorney representing the civil lawyer suspected of fraud commented that the cooperation with prosecutors was unprecedented and that he was stunned regarding the unattractive prospect of a criminal defense attorney posing as an undercover informer for the police.

Delrisco is facing 50 years in state prison for the death of ten year-old boy, a seven year-old and four year-old girl. Court records indicate that the defendant's blood alcohol limit was more than three times the legal limit. He is charged with three counts of DUI manslaughter with each count carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years. He is also charged with battery on a firefighter for fighting with a person attempting to remove him from the twisted wreck that used to be his SUV. Delrisco is facing a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison for this offense. It is unclear what sentence prosecutors are seeking in the case, but Delrisco is believed to have a past DUI record and an abominable traffic record.

Obviously, the most serious DUI charge is that which results in the death of another. However, other misdemeanor DUI charges can land a person behind bars. The Florida legislature has passed laws in an effort to curb DUI recidivism. If anyone is found guilty or enters into a plea on second DUI within five years of a first DUI conviction, that person faces a 10 day minimum jail sentence. Anyone found guilty or entering into a plea on a third DUI with ten years of two previous DUI convictions, they are facing a 30 day minimum jail. Bear in mind that these are minimum penalties and prosecutors routinely ask for significantly more time on these types of cases.

Crash Suspect's Lawyer Wears Wire for Sting Operation, The Miami Herald, February 15, 2010.

February 12, 2010

Miami-Dade Police Officers Face Federal Indictment

Three Miami-Dade police officers expect to be indicted in federal court on perjury and obstruction of justice charges. The three men previously testified as witnesses in a federal court trial. They are being charged with making false statements during the prosecution of Pedro L. Marte. The officers stopped Marte based on an anonymous tip that he had a firearm under the hood of his 1992 Mercury Marquis. The officers testified that the defendant ran a stop sign which gave them the authority to conduct the traffic stop. During a search of the car, a revolver was found under the hood. The government charged Marte with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. One of the defense attorneys involved in the case was quoted as saying, Bottom line: I think they're dead wrong in indicting them under these circumstances," referring to the officers.

It appears Marte may have been targeted by these officers. He had two prior cocaine trafficking convictions in the State of Florida. At trial, Marte's defense filed and argued a motion to suppress. The crux of the argument was based on the fact that officers conducted a "warrantless search" and never read Marte his Miranda rights. After listening to the testimony of the officers, the U.S. district judge granted the motions and dismissed the indictment. The judge then sent the matter to federal prosecutors to investigate the testimony of the officers involved in the arrest. The United States Constitution provides that all searches must be conducted pursuant to a warrant. However, over time exceptions to the warrant requirement have been created pursuant mostly to case law. Exceptions to the warrant requirement include: consent to search, search incident to arrest, the automobile exception and the exigent circumstances to name a few.

Although the indictment remains sealed and not available to the general public, it is believed that the focus of the indictment is based on the testimony provided by the officers at the hearing. The charges will most likely stem from the fact that the officers failed to testify regarding the information obtained by the confidential informant. Despite the fact that the federal court judge dismissed the charges against Marte, he was arrested one week again for federal gun charges. One of the other defense lawyers involved in the case claimed that the case is an outrage because Marte had the gun and also admitted to having the gun and feds let him go anyway.

Possession of a firearm by a convicted felon is a serious charge both in state and federal court. In state court, that charge carries a mandatory prison term of three years. In federal court, the same charge also carries mandatory prison time. Although usually charged in state court, federal prosecutors filed these charges because the cases are fairly easy to prove and they can boost their conviction numbers. If you or anyone you know is charged with a state or federal weapons charge it is essential to retain counsel with experience in the defending these types of cases. It is important to seek a trial active attorney as the majority of these cases go to trial because of the mandatory sentences.

Three Miami-Dade Cops Face Perjury Indictments, The Miami Herald, February 12, 2010.