January 8, 2013

City Cop Set for Federal Drug Trial

A federal jury is scheduled to start this week where the U.S. government will prosecute a city cop charged with a variety of offenses including planting cocaine on a suspect and stealing drugs and money from local drug dealers. Raul Iglesias will appear with his Miami criminal lawyer in court on Thursday for opening statements. While federal criminal cases usually lack transparency prior to the trail, this case is a little more secretive than most. The majority of witnesses include several former Miami undercover detectives that used to work in the same unit as the defendant. The government prosecutor filed a special motion with the court seeking the that the judge restrict the disclosure of the names of witnesses, testimony provided at the grand jury, FBI reports, statements and undercover recordings. The defense attorney representing Iglesias agreed to the terms set forth in the motion.

The defendant was indicted earlier on multiple counts including conspiracy to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, obstruction of justice, making false official statements and for the violating another's civil rights. Iglesias was relieved of duty without pay in 2010 and is facing 20 years in a federal prison if a jury convicts him after hearing the evidence. The motion to keep the discovery secretive was granted in large part to prevent witness tampering and intimidation. The defense attorney in the case was provided all of the discovery, but was not permitted to discuss its contents with anyone. As the jury trial progresses all the evidence kept secret up to this point will become public.

There are many difference between state and federal criminal cases. The discovery process is far more complete in the state system. Anyone charged with a felony offense in the State of Florida is permitted to have his attorney take the depositions of the majority of witnesses expected to testify at trial. Depositions are not permitted under federal criminal system. Under the state criminal justice system, prosecutors are required to turn over all documents, statements or papers that are relevant to the case. The feds are required to turn over some, but not all of an documents or other evidence that will be introduced at trial. For example, any statements made by the defendant or co-defendants must be turned over prior to trial. Additionally, exculpatory evidence, as well as any agreements entered into by cooperating witnesses or defendants must also be turned over to the defense.

Iglesias, a City of Miami detective, was with the department for 18 years and was the head of the crime suppression unit when he was relieved of duty. The crime suppression unit's duties including the arrest and prosecution of street level drug dealers and drug traffickers. One of the former detectives in his unit was arrested and agreed to cooperate against Iglesias. The former detective scheduled to testify was caught with ten bags of cocaine and two bags of marijuana that were taken from an Allapattah business. In exchange for his cooperation, he was permitted to plead guilty to possession of a controlled substance and was sentenced to a year of probation. The indictment against Iglesias charges him with stealing or planting drugs on at least four occasions.

Miami Police Sergeant Faces Drug Trafficking Trial in Secretive Federal Case, Miami Herald.com, January 3, 2013.

January 2, 2013

Disbarred Lawyer Faces Charges in Federal Court

Federal prosecutors out of New Jersey have charged a disbarred Pinecrest personal injury attorney and three others with conspiracy to transport stolen firearms and conspiracy to sell stolen property. According to prosecutors and court documents, the former attorney somehow obtained seven guns which had been taken out of Iraq without permission. The guns purportedly belonged to Saddam Hussein's family. The Miami criminal lawyer representing the defendant said that his client believed that he obtained the guns legally and had the right to sell the firearms. The firearms were transported by a licensed Miami firearms dealer to New Jersey to be sold to the highest bidder.

Federal investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms discovered that the defendant had contacted a man in Pittsburgh seeking an appraisal of the stolen firearms. The appraiser then contacted two men out f New Jersey in an attempt to sell the firearms. ATF agents became aware that the stolen items were on the market and attempted to have undercover informants purchase the weapons. The ex-lawyer shipped six of the seven guns to New Jersey to complete the sale. The informants were going to buy the guns for $160,000. The best defense strategy in a case like this is to argue that a defendant had no knowledge that the guns were stolen. The government will attempt prove knowledge of the stolen property through statements made by the defendant while the deal was being consummated. One of the informants is going to testify that the defendant told him that he was 100% certain that the guns were from Iraq.

Two of the firearms that were confiscated were two pistols that had bee stamped with the initials "Q.S.". Investigators believe that the initials belong to Qusay Saddam Hussein al-Tikriti, the deceased son of Saddam Hussein. Qusay was killed by American troops in Mosul back in 2003. Other weapons subject to forfeiture are a pistol from China with a Yemen flag depicted on the grip, two German pistols and two shotguns. Officials with ties to the Iraqi embassy in Washington, D.C. have acknowledged that the guns were misappropriated from Iraq and that they are fact the property of the Iraqi government. After his arrest, the defendant appeared before a federal magistrate at a bond hearing where he was released on $250,000 bail.

The strength of government's case will lie directly with the credibility of the government's witnesses. These witnesses must be able to convince a jury that the statements made by the defendant admitting to knowledge of the stolen property were in fact made. As long as the statements were not recorded, the credibility of the informants will be critical to the defense of the case. In general, an informant's testimony will almost always be tainted as informants are either working for pecuniary gain or to achieve a sentence reduction in their case.

Disbarred Miami Lawyer Charged with Selling Guns Stolen from Iraq's Hussein Family, Miami Herald.com, December 31, 2012.

December 28, 2012

Program Benefits UM Students

An arrest for marijuana possession or other minor offenses could have potentially devastating effects on a college student. First and foremost, an arrest could lead to an expulsion from a college or university. Secondly, an arrest or conviction record could certainly be a severe impediment when embarking on a career. A pilot program created by the University of Miami and the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office gives college students a second chance. The program referred to as the University Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion Program (U-Lead) is intended to give first time offenders an opportunity to overcome a mistake.

One of the Miami criminal lawyers at DMT recently enrolled a client into the program. Last May, a college student from UM was caught smoking marijuana in his Coral Gables dormitory. Larry McMillan, Esq. who represents the student, was quoted as saying, "It was a wake-up call for him and it shook him to the core. He could have blown it with the puff of a pipe. He is now doing community service hours. He realizes that the opportunities to come to this country and study of very limited." Without the U-LEAD program, the student would have been arrested and faced charges in county court. He would have faced expulsion from school and potential immigration consequences had he entered a plea to the charge. However, if he successfully completes the requirements set forth, no arrest will be made and he can complete his college education.

The pilot program created by the university currently has 80 students enrolled in the program. To successfully complete the program, students are required to complete community hours, pay fines and cooperate with university police. Miami defense attorneys, prosecutors and the police all agree that the program is a "valuable chance at redemption" for first time offenders accused with possession of marijuana or drug paraphernalia.. Leon County and Tallahassee, Florida has a similar program which recently came online that allows for the issuance of a citation in lieu of an arrest for minor non-violent crimes. Some cities and other South Florida universities are considering similar programs.

Authorities are in favor of expanding the program to alleviate the stress placed on the county court. Last year, 51,400 misdemeanor arrests were made causing significant congestion to the system. To date the UM program has been successful. Only three or the 80 students enrolled have been bounced out of the program. To qualify for the program, a participant must have been caught with less than 20 grams of marijuana or drug paraphernalia. If a student qualifies, they are required to review a series of forms. Program representatives suggest that the students reveal the problem to their parents for the sole purpose of retaining a criminal law firm to guide the student and the parents through the system. If a student rejects the program or fails to complete the conditions set forth, an arrest and prosecution will be sought by UM and the state attorney's office.

Students are required to complete 25 community service hours, donate $200 to a victim relief fund, and pay a $200 administration fee used to fund the program. Students enrolled in the program are subject to random urine tests and must provide the source of the marijuana. Students are also required to take a drug awareness course and take a tour of the courthouse. The program is similar to the state's pre-trial diversion program with the only difference being that an arrest is never effectuated. The program is attempting to encompass other offense such as possession of a false identification and alcohol violations. All common offense committed on a college campus.

U of Miami Helps Students Facing Minor Pot Charges, Miami Herald.com, December 22, 2012.

December 17, 2012

Insurance Fraud Arrests Made in South Florida

Multiple suspects have been arrested in the latest case of insurance fraud. Two South Florida clinics were the target of the investigation and have been closed down. Insurance fraud involving staged accidents are one of the more common crimes defended by Miami criminal attorneys in South Florida over the past few years. Despite the large amount of money and man-hours spent investigating and prosecuting staged accident cases, significant numbers of arrests continue to be made every couple of months. Miami police working in conjunction with the Secret Service and other local and state agencies conducted the investigation and made the arrests. The arrests come at the conclusion of an operation dubbed "Operation Never Ends", which alludes to the fact that law enforcement, despite its efforts, cannot quell the problem.

Insurance fraud and staged accident cases are committed in the same fashion in Miami and throughout the South Florida area. Clinics pay individuals to become involved in planned automobile accidents. Once the accident has been occurred, accident reports are generated by the police officers or public service aides who arrive at the scene. The drivers and passengers involved in the accident take the accident reports to unscrupulous clinics who then sign these individuals up as patients. The would-be patients are treated on one or two occasions, x-rays or MRI's are sometimes taken, with the bills being submitted to insurance carriers under PIP (personal injury protection claims). The clinics bill the insurance carriers such as All State, Geico, and Progressive for upwards to thirty or forty treatments that were never necessary or even provided. The proceeds from the claims are used to pay kickbacks to individuals that set up the accidents ("runners"), who direct the participants involved in the accident to the clinics for treatment. The clinic owners pay the runners and the accident participants for their involvement in the fraud. It is important to note that any person found guilty of planning or being involved in a staged accident faces a two year minimum prison sentence.

When the police make arrests in insurance fraud and staged accident cases, they generally take down everyone involved in the clinic including owners, operators, office managers, secretaries, receptionists, doctors, therapists and x-ray technicians. The Miami-County State Attorney's Office has a specialized unit that prosecutes only insurance fraud and staged accident cases. The prosecutors usually offer pre-trial diversion (PTI) or probation to the participants in the stage accident, excluding the runners. Secretaries and receptionists usually suffer the same fate. Staying out of jail comes with a price. All of these individuals that receive non-jail sentences are required to testify against the owners and operators of these clinics. The owners and operators are usually offered jail or short prison sentences if they desire to enter into a plea.

The lawyers prosecuting the cases usually have a difficult time proving an owner or operator guilty at trial as long as they represented by qualified and experienced criminal defense trial lawyers. The majority of the evidence in these cases is presented by the individuals that have entered pleas and agreed to testify in exchange for receiving PTI or probation. On many occasions these witnesses provide conflicting statements at examinations under oath, statements provided to law enforcement and deposition testimony. With no physical evidence available to prosecute the owners and operators, the prosecution is left to proceed with flip witnesses whose credibility is at question. If anyone is arrested and charged with insurance fraud or planning a staged accident, they would be best served by hiring an experienced Miami criminal defense lawyer who has defended these types of cases and secured acquittals at the conclusion of several jury trials.

Several Arrest Made in South Florida Insurance Fraud Crackdown, NBC Miami.com, December 14, 2012..

December 13, 2012

FBI Investigating Police Officers Involved in Bookmaking

The FBI has targeted several police officers for their alleged involvement in illegal bookmaking activities. More specifically, several police officers from the City of Miami are accused of providing protection for an illegal bookmaking ring operating out of Liberty City. The illegal gambling operation was under investigation for the past year and has been shut down according to local and federal authorities. One police officer has been suspended from duty, but the feds anticipate approximately six arrests in the upcoming days or weeks. Once the officers are arrested, it would be in their best interests to retain Miami criminal attorneys that have experience in defending public corruption cases both in state and federal court.

The investigation allegedly revealed that the officers involved were working off-duty details at a commercial establishment at the heart of the bookmaking operation. The FBI is simultaneously investigating other Miami-Dade law enforcement officers who are alleged to be involved in complex schemes to defraud including identity theft and thefts tax refunds. The latest investigation of City of Miami police officers is the most recent in a long list. Over the years, many City of Miami police officers have been relieved of duty and also on some occasions charged both in criminal federal and state courts. While very few officers across the county are corrupt or involved in criminal enterprises, allegations of this nature certainly violate the public trust. As a Miami criminal lawyer, reports of this nature certainly support allegations made by clients who routinely complain of police misconduct.

While all police departments across the country have their issues, the City of Miami Police Department is always making headlines. Whether the allegations are fair or unfair, the public confidence is certainly impacted anytime misconduct is reported in the media. In the past, officers from the Miami Police Department have been accused of being involved in drug trafficking, drug-ripoffs, robberies and illegal shootings. While all of the allegations have not been substantiated, police officers have been convicted of these types crimes and have been sentenced to jail and prison sentences both in state and federal court. The United States Justice Department is also investigating the City of Miami Police Department for police shootings that took the lives of seven men in 2010 and 2011. It is apparent that the Miami Police is not the only department under scrutiny. Unrelated FBI investigations are targeting officers in other departments for identity theft and tax refund fraud. There are allegations that police officers are stealing social security numbers and dates of birth and filing fraudulent tax returns.

It is certainly a shame when allegations of this nature come to light. While most police officers follow the law and the policies set forth by their departments, others are just as guilty of committing crimes as some of the defendants they arrest. At a minimum, bad officers can taint the reputation of an entire police department. Sometimes these illegal actions work to the benefit of clients. Officers being investigated, relieved of duty or even arrested will irreparably damage a prosecutor's case to the point that cases are often dismissed both in county and circuit court for officer misconduct..

Investigating Cops in Bookmaking Case, Miami Herald.com, December 11, 2012.

December 10, 2012

Local Millionaire Arrested by Feds for Fraud

A colorful and popular socialite was arrested on Friday for fraud related charges. Claudio Osorio, along with his business partner, Craig Toll, were indicted on multiple fraud and money laundering charges. Osorio, a prominent Miami millionaire, is accused of defrauding numerous people into investing in his company Innovida. Osorio and Toll are being represented by Miami criminal attorneys. Some of Osorio's alleged victims include several current and former NBA player, such as Alonzo Mourning, Dwight Howard, Carlos Boozer and Howard Eisley. Osorio's. other victims allegedly caught up in the fraud include his neighbor, a Tanzanian businessman, and a group of investors from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to prosecutors, Osorio was able to lure unsuspecting investors as he and his wife threw expensive parties and gave the appearance that they were very wealthy.

In 2005, Osorio created the company Innovida which was supposed to create and market fiber-composite panels which could be interlocked to construct affordable housing and shelters for post-disaster victims, such as those from New Orleans and Haiti. He claimed that his business was forming joint ventures with Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia. According to court documents, Osorio was able to perpetrate the fraud by assembling high-profile individuals to sit on the board of directors to legitimize his company. He was able to secure $40 million from investors, as well as, a $10 million government loan. Osorio told investors that the company had $40 million in cash with another $500 million in cash on the way from Middle Eastern investors.

Not only is Osorio and his business partner being charged criminally in federal court, but the Securities and Exchange Commission has filed civil charges for defrauding investors by overstating the financial success of the company. The complaint alleges that Osorio stole nearly half of investors' money to pay for a lavish Star Island mansion, a Colorado retreat, a Maserati and to pay country club dues. To garner support from investors, he made large charitable contributions and hosted extravagant political fundraisers. Investors became suspicious when the numbers did not add up to make a profitable company. The Swiss government also sought $200 million in repayment in loans for a previously failed business. Osorio filed for bankruptcy last year and his multi-million dollar home was sold at auction.

Osorio and Toll will likely appear at a pre-trial detention hearing in the next 24 hours. Federal prosecutors can request from the magistrate presiding over the case to hold defendants without a bond. The magistrate will decide if pre-trial detention is appropriate by determining whether the defendants are a danger to the community and whether or not they are fligh risks. In determining whether defendants are flight risks, the magistrate will consider a defendant's ties to the community. Citizenship, properties overseas and family members residing in the jurisdiction will help the magistrate make that decision. If a magistrate finds that a defendant is not a flight risk and is not a danger to the community, he will set a bond commensurate with the charged and the amount of loss suffered by the alleged victims.

High-Flying Miami Millionaire was a Fraud, Feds Say, Miami Herald.com, December 8, 2012.

November 20, 2012

Federal Judge Sentences Patient Recruiters

A federal judge in the Southern District of Florida sentenced two defendants for their involvement in a medicare fraud case. Both defendants were patient recruiters that worked for mental health clinic called Biscayne Milieu Heath Care Inc. According to prosecutors, the defendants were involved in a healthcare scheme to defraud which billed Medicare in excess of $50 million. Both defendants appeared with their Miami criminal attorneys at the sentencing hearing. Anthony Roberts was sentenced by the federal judge to 87 months in prison and ordered to pay approximately $900,000 in restitution. Derek Alexander received a 42 month prison sentence and was ordered to pay a little over $300,000 in restitution. Both defendants took their cases to trial and were convicted by a jury for conspiracy to commit a healthcare fraud and for receiving kickbacks.

These two defendants were only small fraction of individuals prosecuted for their involvement in Medicare fraud committed at Biscayne Milieu. Owners, managers, doctors, therapists, patient brokers and other employees were among those charged in federal court for the white collar crime of Medicare fraud. The majority of the defendants were charged with healthcare fraud, money laundering and paying and receiving "kickbacks". All of the defendants were prosecuted in one of two indictments which were unsealed in September 2011 and June 2012. To date, 25 members of the scheme to defraud have either entered guilty pleas or have gone to trial. The majority owners and operators of the clinic, as well as a doctor went to trial and were convicted on a multitude of charges. They are scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on December 20, 2012.

To prove the crime of heathcare fraud, Prosecutors involved in the case submitted evidence at trial that the aforementioned perpetrators submitted false claims and bills to Medicare. Biscayne Milieu submitted in excess of $50 million dollars in claims to Medicare. The company operated fictitiously as a partial hospitalization program (PHP) treating individuals with severe mental health illnesses. The owners/operators of the clinic hired recruiters to bring ineligible Medicare beneficiaries for treatment that was never provided. The majority of the people recruited were ineligible for multiple reasons. Some of the recruits were drug users, while other suffered from severe cases of Alzheimers of dimentia. Patients with these issues could not benefit from the treatment they were purportedly receiving at the clinic.

The Medicare Fraud Strike Force continues to investigate and prosecute cases involving healthcare fraud. The strike force is now fully functional in nine cities in the United States. Since the strike force's inception, 1,480 defendants have been charged and prosecuted in federal court. Fraud is not a particularly high offense level under the federal sentencing guidelines. However, it is the amount of loss to the healthcare program that is causing defendants to serve multi-year prison sentences. Of course the sentences are higher if a defendants loses at trial rather than accepting a guilty plea in their case.

Two Patients Recruiters Sentenced in Miami for Roles in $50 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme, FBI.gov, November 16, 2012.

November 15, 2012

Husband Suspected of Murder, Questioned and Released

Detectives questioned a local man regarding the murders of his wife and two young daughters. The estranged husband was questioned in the Kendall district station by homicide detectives. After several hours of questioning, Alberto Sierra was released from the police station, but remains a person of interest for the murder of Gladys Machado and her daughters. Police investigators have vowed to continue the investigation until the guilty party is apprehended. While Sierra voluntarily spoke to the police about the pending investigation, experienced Miami criminal attorneys will always dissuade their clients from giving statements to law enforcement. Any statements provided to the police, while seemingly harmless in the event the suspect denies the allegations, can be used to implicate an unknowing suspect. For example, although a suspect denies committing the actual crime, his statement might place him at the scene the at the time the offense was committed. Bottom line, never provide statements to the police as a suspect may be inadvertently building a case against himself.

Besides speaking with suspects, investigators are anxiously awaiting the results of forensic testing conducted on physical evidence impounded at the murder scene. It sometimes takes several weeks for the forensic lab testing to be completed at the Miami-Dade Police Department crime lab. The crimes lab performs a variety of forensic testing including, DNA, ballistics, fingerprinting and gun shot residue (GSR). The medical examiner's office will also perform autopsies on the victims to ultimately determine the cause of death. Both the crime lab results and the medical examiner's findings will eventually be used to prosecute the person formally charged with the offenses.

Machado and her daughters were last seen alive leaving her grandmother's house located in Homestead, Florida. The bodies were later found in North Miami at a home where Macahdo used to live with Sierra. The home was vacant at the time and investigators have no idea how the bodies arrived at that location. The location of the bodies and Sierra's significant criminal history most likely lead him to be a person of interest. Sierra has a history of gun and drug charges, as well as, a history of domestic violence. While living with Machado at the house where the bodies were discovered, Sierra pled guilty to the offense of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and was sentenced to 364 days in the Miami-Dade County jail.

Prior to her marriage with Sierra, Machado had been previously married to Michael Padrino and resided in Miami Beach. After the marriage ended, she moved to Homestead to live with her grandmother who helped care for the children. Soon after the divorce, Machado married Sierra despite warnings from friends and family. Sierra was released certainly because the homicide investigators did not have probable cause to make an arrest. However, once the forensic experts and medical examiner complete their investigations, an arrest may be made if the results either link Sierra to the murder scene or the murder weapon.

Miami-Dade Police Question, Release Estranged Husband of Woman Slain with Daughters, Miami Herald.com, November 15, 2012.

November 8, 2012

Leon County First to Issue Civil Citations in Lieu of Criminal Arrests

The State of Florida's criminal justice system has become so overburdened that alternatives are being sought to relieve the pressure. The criminal justice system has seen success using alternatives to arresting juvenile offenders. The use of civil citations in juvenile cases has been successful in Miami, as well as in Leon County. Criminal lawyers in Miami, Florida have long been proponents of a change in the system that will allow for issuing citations instead of making arrests in minor criminal cases. Leon County was chosen to run the pilot program because it has great success over the past 17 years using a similar program for juvenile offenders. Miami has also had great success with the program for juveniles. Statistics show that of the 7,000 juvenile offenders receiving citations, only 7% re-offended.

If the program is successful in Leon County, it could be implemented statewide. Alternatives to incarceration could save tax payers millions of dollars and decrease the pressure on the department of corrections. The program would only apply to non-violent offenders. The program will allow police officers to use their discretion to determine whether an adult offender should be arrested or receive a civil citation. The program will only be offered for offenders with no prior criminal record. These first time offenders would be saved the embarrassment of an arrest. Additionally, first-time offenders will not have to come up with the necessary funds to post a bond.

The new program will mostly apply to adults arrested for minor misdemeanor offenses such as petit theft or possession of marijuana. Currently, Miami police officers will arrest offenders accused of those offenses, however, the officers usually issue these individuals a "promise to appear" rather than carting them off to jail. A "promise to appear" is technically an arrest with the only difference being that the violators are not taken to jail or required to post a bond. Issuing a promises to appear is left to the discretion of police officers. Cooperative defendants are usually issued this courtesy, while non-compliant or combative defendants are taken to jail.

The plan being implemented in Leon County will required offenders to take part in an assessment with 72 hours of the issuance of the citation, perform 25 hours of community service, undergo treatment for drugs or gambling that led to the commission of the offense, and be required to bear the costs of both the evaluation and treatment. Most are in favor of the plan as it will reduce the population in the county jail, along with a significant cost reduction by limiting mandatory medical screening for defendant booked into the jail. Those involved with the program are looking forward to a statewide implementation. However, there are certain areas of the state that are not as receptive as Leon County. If Leon County can show the cost savings at their county jail, other jurisdictions may follow suit.

Tallahassee Plans Citations as Arrest Alternative, NBC-2.com, October 31, 2012.

October 26, 2012

Supreme Court To Hear Drug-Sniffing Cases Next Week

The Supreme Court of the United States will hear two drug cases next week specifically related to drug-sniffing dogs. While this is not the first time the Supreme Court will hear a case relating to canine related searches, the justices will decide whether two drug trafficking arrests were legal based on canine searches. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the searches and subsequent arrests and seizures were unconstitutional. One of the cases being heard comes out of Miami, Florida, while the other case comes out of the panhandle of Florida. The Miami criminal attorney representing the defendant in the first case filed a motion to suppress the dog sniff. The Florida Supreme Court found that the alert was insufficient to establish probable cause to get a warrant. The case arose back in December 5, 2006, when Franky, a chocolate Labrador retriever, was brought to a Miami-Dade residence based on an anonymous tip. Franky sniffed at the front door and alerted to the residence. The police obtained a search warrant based on the alert. Upon executing the warrant, police found a fully functional marijuana grow house and the defendant, Joelis Jardines, was charged with trafficking in marijuana.

The second case arose out of Bristol, Florida. A police officer pulled over a pick-up truck with an expired tag. The defendant, Clayton Harris, acted nervous when approached by the officer. The officer brought his canine, Aldo, a German Shepard, to the vehicle. Aldo alerted next to the driver's front door. Based on the alert, the deputy searched the vehicle and discovered 200 pseudoephedrine pills which is used to manufacture methamphetamines. The criminal lawyer representing Harris also filed a motion to suppress and the search was later ruled unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court. In the Jardine's case, the Florida Supreme Court found that, "given the special status accorded a citizen's home under the Fourth Amendment, we conclude that a 'sniff test' is a substantial intrusion into the sanctity of the home and constitutes a search and the search must be preceded by an evidentiary showing of wrongdoing."

The Florida Supreme Court held in the Harris case that, "the prosecution could not prove Aldo's reliability in tracking pseudoephedrine", and set forth rigorous standards to determine if a drug sniffing dog's credentials were sufficient to establish probable cause in drug cases. The United States Supreme court has previously ruled on a couple of unrelated dog sniffing cases, however, the facts are not similar to the cases being heard next week. For example, the Supreme Court ruled in one case that a dog sniff was permissible because the defendant did not have a legitimate privacy claim. The high court has also ruled that a dog sniff is permissible during a traffic stop because traffic stop does not trigger a search under the Fourth Amendment.

The best chance for criminal attorneys and their clients is a Supreme Court case which held that the police use of a thermal imager outside of a home was a search under the fourth amendment and ruled to be unconstitutional. Most predict, however, that the Supreme Court will fall on the side of law enforcement and liken a dog sniff to that of an officer who is able to smell the strong odor of marijuana emanating from an automobile or a residence.

Drug-Sniffing Cases Send Supreme Court to the Dogs, Kansas City Star.com, October 26, 2012.

October 23, 2012

Three Local Cops Fired, But Not Charged With Criminal Offenses

Three police officers from the City of Medley Police Department have been fired from their jobs for their involvement in an alleged cover-up of a traffic accident. Last year, a Miami man was driving to work when a traffic accident occurred involving his vehicle and a Medley police car. Soon after the accident, the man was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI) and cited for failing to yield the right of way. Hialeah police officers arrived to assist the Medley offers and quickly determined that the man arrested was not drunk. The man wrongfully accused of DUI was released and not charged with a criminal offense. Criminal attorneys in Miami that represent the three officers convinced the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office that there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges against the three officers.

Miami-Dade prosecutors investigated accusations of public corruption, but in the end did not find enough evidence to charge the cops with criminal charges. The president of the Miami-Dade Police Benevolent Association said that the firings were baseless, harsh and unfair. An attorney representing one of the officers claimed, "This is a biased witch-hunt and willful violation of every concept of fairness." It is not clear whether the officer will sue the department to get their jobs back or for economic losses as a result of the firing. The police officers involved in the arrest claimed that the man was never placed under arrest. The Medley police chief backed up the firings by claiming that the treatment of man clearly indicated that the man was placed under arrest when he was handcuffed, read Miranda rights and taken to the Hialeah police station.

The officer involved in the accident and the arrest had been involved in three other traffic crashes within the last 18 months. The officer contacted his supervisor and told him the driver's breath smelled of beer. The driver admitted to having two beers earlier in the day, but denied that he was driving under the influence. The officer performed roadside exercises and claimed that the man did not perform to standard and placed him under arrest. The driver was taken to the Hialeah police department and blew .000 twice. The legal limited in DUI cases in the State of Florida is .08. Once the breath results were obtained and the driver was released with only an infraction.

The officers credibility came into question as a result of the independent investigation conducted by a claims adjuster with United Automobile Insurance. The adjuster reported that the facts provided by the officer did not match the information provided in the police reports and the crime scene photographs. Surveillance videos allegedly contradicted one of the officers claims that the driver was traveling at 60 mph when the accident occurred. The officer's supervisor claimed that a civilian witness observed the crash, a fact that was proven not to be true. A police lieutenant, acting a police chief at the time of the arrest, was accused of approving a report that was replete with lies. All of the officers involved were investigated for committing the crimes of unlawful compensation, official misconduct, and insurance fraud. The criminal investigation was closed because the prosecutor reviewing the case found there was insufficient evidence to criminally charge the officers.

Three Florida Cops Ordered Fired for Traffic Accident Cover-Up, Bradenton Herald.com, October 22, 2012.

September 25, 2012

Sentences Handed Down in $45 Million Medicare Fraud Scheme

South Florida is once again in the headlines as major players in a Medicare fraud scheme received lengthy federal prison sentences. Luis Alejandro Sanz and his wife entered pleas for their involvement in what the government alleged was a $45 million Medicare fraud scheme. The indictment alleged that the defendants through Ideal Home Health, billed Medicare $45 million for nursing services provided to homebound diabetes patients. Of the $45 million billed, Medicare returned $30 million in taxpayer money. The Sanzes appeared with their Miami criminal attorneys at their sentencing hearing. Luis Sanz received a ten year prison sentence, while his wife Elizabeth received a nine year prison sentence.

The government alleged that Luis after being released from prison on cocaine trafficking charges, began his new criminal enterprise of Medicare fraud. Luis put the business in his wife's name to conceal the fact that he had a prior felony record and state prison sentence. The business operated between 2006 and 2009. Once uncovered, the federal government's investigation revealed one of the largest cases of Medicare fraud in the country's history. The investigation has led to 25 fraud convictions with more indictments expected. The judge when handing down the sentence, said the couple made a mockery of the federal healthcare system.

The government alleged at the sentencing hearing that the defendants purchased a $1.3 million home with the ill-gotten gains and that kickbacks were paid to both patients and recruiters to facilitate the fraud. The government also mentioned that Medicare should not be blamed for the oversight as the defendants made the illegal business appear to be legitimate. As soon as Luis finished his five year prison sentence for cocaine trafficking and money laundering, he contrived the fraud and put his wife in charge of the company to avoid detection of his criminal record. The indictment alleged that Elizabeth ran the business and accused her of forging doctor's signatures, altering medical records and filing false claims.

According to the prosecutor handling the case, many drug traffickers engaged in Medicare fraud once they had completed their prison sentences. A defendant previously convicted of drug trafficking opened mental health clinics in Cutler Bay and in the Kendall area. Upon discovering that the feds were investigating him, he moved his operation to North Carolina. He has since been arrested with eight co-conspirators for billing $63 million dollars in fraudulent claims to the federal government. Another alleged drug dealer opened 11 medical equipment companies using Cuban migrants as straw owners, eventually billing Medicare $48 million. He is currently serving a 20 year sentence.

To prevent ongoing fraud, Medicare has implemented a more proactive approach with the assistance of $350 million dollar grant to develop a more strict screening process along with software used to detect fraudulent Medicare claims. Medicare is also demanding that providers who have a historic risk of fraud, like medical equipment suppliers and home healthcare suppliers, undergo extensive screening, including FBI background checks and fingerprinting. The changes in better being able to detect fraud come as a result of the massive fraud that has occurred in Miami and Florida as a whole.

Medicare Fraudsters Sentenced to Prison after $45 Million Scheme, CBSLocal.com, September 15, 2012.

September 18, 2012

ICE Arrests 36 Aliens in Gulf Coast Operation

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted another sweep in the State of Florida netting 36 aliens with criminal convictions or egregious immigration law violations. The operation lasted five days and occurred in and around the Gulf Coast area. The last operation that netted dozens of immigrants occurred in Miami and the South Florida region. All those arrested were deemed by ICE to be immigration fugitives or immigration violators. The sweeps conducted by ICE are becoming more frequent and are focusing on different areas of Florida and around the United States. Once a person has been arrested by ICE, few options remain for those in custody. Anyone having a friend or family member in immigration custody should contact both an immigration and criminal lawyer to determine if the person being held in custody can take legal action to avoid deportation.

In the latest operation, immigrants were taken into custody for criminal convictions for multiple offenses including: aggravated assault, burglary, battery on a law enforcement officer, identity theft, cocaine possession, simple battery, fraud, forgery, driving under the influence (DUI), and domestic violence related charges. Five of the 36 taken into custody had been previously ordered to leave the country, but failed to leave as directed by ICE authorities. Six of those taken into custody had already been deported and illegally re-entered the country. Of the 36 individuals arrested, three were women. Those taken into to custody came from countries such as Cuba, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, Vietnam, Thailand, Iran, and the Czech Republic.

Anyone taken into to custody for a prior criminal record, should immediately consult with both an immigration and criminal attorney. Immigration lawyers are useful in presenting a case in front of an immigration judge in federal court. However, the a person's release from custody cannot be generally secured until a criminal defense lawyer successfully files and wins and motion to vacate a criminal record and then secures a dismissal of the charges. Motions to vacate have been increasingly difficult to win as the appellate courts have seriously eroded the laws allowing for the filing of a successful motion for post-conviction relief.

However, experienced criminal lawyers are often able to successfully file and win these motions with supporting mitigation packets. The mitigation packets submitted to prosecutors must contain tax returns, marriage and birth certificates of the spouse and children born of the marriage, and supporting letters from employers, friends and family. Despite the disintegration of the laws allowing for post-conviction relief, equity can play a large part in successfully obtaining the release of a friend or loved one from immigration custody.

ICE has given no indication that they intend to let up on the immigrations sweeps they conduct at random times and locations. An official from ICE was quoted as saying, "These arrests of convicted criminal and repeat immigration offenders demonstrate ICE's ongoing commitment to public safety." Anyone who is an immigrant and has a prior criminal record should consult with an attorney because inevitably, the federal authorities will come knocking. Repairing a criminal record is much easier when a person is out of custody with no pending immigration charges, as favorably resolving these cases sometimes takes months, sometimes even exceeding a year.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement Arrests 36 Fugitives, Criminal Aliens in Gulf Coast Operation, WCTC.TV.com, September 18, 2012.

September 12, 2012

Beach Cop Arrested on Racketeering Charges

A veteran police officer was arrested and appeared at his bond hearing last week. George Navarro, Jr. surrendered last week and is facing charges of racketeering, fraud and official misconduct. His initial bond was set at $150,000. The Miami criminal lawyer representing Navarro filed a motion for bond reduction which was granted in part by the judge. After hearing argument from the prosecutor and defense attorney, the judge presiding over the bond hearing reduced the amount to $88,000. Navarro's lawyer argued that he had been an exemplary and extraordinary police officer and that his professional record merited the reduction. Before posting the bond, Navarro was required to surrender his passport and any other travel documents that he had in his possession.

Each county in the State of Florida has standard bonds for certain offense. Bonds in Miami-Dade County range from $500 to $500,000 depending on the charges making up the arrest. The largest bond requirements are generally found in drug trafficking and large-scale fraud cases. Not only are bonds extraordinarily high in those cases, but almost always are accompanied by what is known as a "Nebbia" requirement. Simply put, a defendant with assistance of his defense lawyer, must prove to the prosecutor and the judge that the money for the bond, both the premium and the collateral, do not come from illegal proceeds. Once the bond has been posted and the "Nebbia" requirement has been satisfied, a defendant will be released from custody pending the conclusion of the case.

The arrest warrant alleges that Navarro was involved with several other individuals in a fraud scheme involving the buying and leasing of automobiles. He is specifically accused of providing false information on his credit application to buy a car at Lexis of North Miami. He is accused of defaulting on the loan and falsely reporting that he was a victim of grand theft of a motor vehicle. He is also accused of being a member of a ring of individuals that purchase or lease cars, report them stolen, and then sell the cars in whole or in parts. Pending the investigation, Navarro remained on duty, but at the time of the arrest he was relieved of duty, but still receiving pay.

The defendant is the son of former Miami Beach Police Chief George Navarro, Sr. Sr. was the lead homicide detective in the infamous Gianni Versace murder case. He also investigated the suicide of the alleged murderer, Andrew Cunanan. He is currently employed by Miami Beach as the city's emergency manager. The current Miami Beach police chief said that it is the job of his department to weed out corruption. While the police chief's words are an encouraging sign, the department has a long way to go before correcting its problems.

Miami Beach Officer Arrested on Racketeering Charges Bonds Out of Jail, CBSlocal.com, September 6, 2012.

September 4, 2012

Former NFL and College Players Enter Pleas in Federal Court

Several former NFL and college football players have been charged in federal court with crimes such as tax fraud and aggravated identity theft. Former University of Miami, New York Giant's and Oakland Raider's defensive tackle, William Joseph, pled guilty last Friday to tax related fraud and identity theft charges. Another former NFL player, Michael Bennett, and Louis Gachelin, former Miami Jackson High School and Syracuse University player, were also charged along with Joseph. All three defendants were accused of cashing a large number of fraudulently obtained tax refund checks. One of the defendants is also accused of trying to obtain a loan with falsified collateral. All three defendants entered guilty pleas with the assistance of their Miami criminal lawyers.

Joseph entered a guilty plea to theft of government money and aggravated identity theft. Joseph's sentencing hearing is scheduled for November 9, 2012. Joseph is facing a minimum two year prison sentence for the charge of aggravated identity theft. The judge imposing the penalties may sentence Joseph to consecutive time. The charge of theft will carry a sentence largely dependent on the amount of loss suffered by the federal government. Pursuant to federal statutes, the 2 year sentence can be stacked or run consecutively to the sentence imposed for the theft. Bennett, a former first round draft pick, entered a guilty plea to the charge of wire fraud. Gachelin plead guilty to the same offenses as Joseph and is looking at roughly the same sentence.

Back in May, the former football players were charged along with five other individuals with cashing $500,000 in stolen tax return checks. The defendants, either in whole or in part, forged the signatures of the individuals who actually had the right to the checks. Bennett tried to obtain a $200,000 loan using a fake bank statement showing that he had $9 million in collateral. The FBI got wind of the scheme to defraud and set up a check cashing store in an effort to catch these individuals. The sting operation led to the arrest of everyone involved. In a side note, the FBI was charging 35-40% for each check that was cashed.

Federal authorities claim that the number of identity theft related crimes are escalating in Florida and across the United States. The United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida claims that identity theft is "America's fastest growing crime." Thousands of victims have been reported in the Miami and Tampa areas. According to the feds, the problem is being created as a result of electronic filing. The Internal Revenue Service is sending out checks prior to checking the W-2 income forms which do not arrive in their offices until after the tax filing season ends. By the time the IRS discovers the fraud, the checks have already been sent out and deposited or cashed. The number of identity theft and fraud related incidents amounted to 248,000 in 2010. According to the Department of the Treasury, 940,000 fraudulent tax returns amounting to $6.5 million have been filed.

NFL Veteran Who Played at UM Pleads Guilty to Tax-Related Fraud Charges in Miami, Palm Beach Post.com, August 31, 2012.