Recently in Federal Crimes Category

March 25, 2013

Federal Public Defender's Offices Face Budget Cuts

As federal budget cuts occur across the nation, the criminal justice system will not be able to avoid the same fate as other areas of government. Federal public defenders' offices all over the country are going to feel the impact of the mandatory budget cuts. Criminal lawyers employed by federal public defenders' offices claim the budget courts will cause staff reductions either by lay-offs or mandatory furloughs. Representatives of these offices say that the cuts and furloughs will cause cases to be delayed and the level of criminal representation will fall below the current standard. Both attorneys and support staff are either being laid off or are being forced to take off six or more weeks off without over the next half a year. A judge currently sitting on the Supreme Court of the United has expressed concerns that the criminal justice system could feel pressure as a result of the cuts.

The mandatory budget cuts are expected to slash 10% of the budgets of federal public defenders' offices. The United States Department of Justice have notified the offices of the potential cuts which have yet to take affect. U.S. District Judge Catherine Baker said that "It's important that people who don't have any power and any voice have people to speak for them." The cuts contravene the basic tenets set forth in United States Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright. Fifty years ago the highest appellate court in the United States provided that criminal defendants be afforded a criminal defense lawyer in the event they could not afford one. Opponents of the cuts argue that the judicial system will get bogged down causing trials to be delayed and innocent people being convicted.

Some Miami criminal attorneys represent indigent defendants when the public defender's cannot due to conflicts of interest. As of yet, budget cuts have not impacted these lawyers that represent indigent clients. It is almost certain that the rates these lawyers bill will be cut as well. Potential budget cuts of this nature could cause these private attorneys to refuse to participate in the program. The same thing occurred a few years back in the state system when specially appointed public defenders had their rates cut to the point that the majority declined to continue representing indigent clients. Cuts of the nature could certainly bog down the criminal justice system in federal court.

Some federal courts have decided to reduce the number of days criminal cases are presented in court. These reductions come as a result of fewer public defenders and U.S. marshals being available for court. Representatives of the affected offices are also concerned that the budget cuts and furloughs will continue to get worse putting even more of a strain on the system. Staffing problems could become a concern as well, if support staff employees leave to find better paying jobs. While the level of the impact will be unknown for several months, the cuts are certainly going to have an adverse affect on the system.

Federal Defenders Face Deep Cuts, Delays in Cases,, Miami March 24, 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, December 31, 2012.

August 1, 2012

Family Members Arrested for Marijuana Trafficking

Numerous members of the same family have been arrested and charged in federal court for trafficking in marijuana. A father and four sons have been indicted for owning and operating 20 hydroponic grow houses in the Miami area since 2004. Although all of the defendants were indicted, one of the sons remains at large and is listed as a fugitive. All of the defendants who are in custody were ordered into pre-trial detention by the magistrate presiding over the case. The defendants are either being represented by a privately retained criminal lawyers in Miami, Florida or defense attorneys appointed by the court. According to court documents, the grow houses reaped in millions of dollars of profits during their operation.

According to the prosecutor handling the case, the defendants harvested the hydroponic marijuana, then transported it to New York where is was sold for approximately $9,000 a pound. The investigation was upgraded to more than a routine narcotics case when information came to light that a couple of homicides were linked to the marijuana trafficking case. The main homicide case was related to a drug rip-off that occurred in 2009. Several armed men arrived at one of the grow houses claiming to be police officers. During the armed home invasion robbery, the gunmen charged into the home and stole approximately 40 pounds of the marijuana. The home owners reviewed surveillance tapes from the home security system and were able to recognize one of the home invaders.

One of the four sons allegedly hatched a conspiracy to kidnap and kill the identified home invader. The identified man was driving his white van in the vicinity of Southwest 127th Avenue and 187th Street when he was carjacked. He was forced to the rear of the van shot several times and dumped on the side of the road. The van was then stripped and burned leaving no evidence behind to assist in solving the crime. Detectives are also investigating a murder in West Kendall that is linked to the marijuana trafficking operation. That victim is believed to been suspected of stealing pot plants from one of the grow houses. Another the reason the case became so high-profile is because a Miami-Dade police officer was accused of being involved in the drug trafficking ring. That officer has been suspended with pay since 2009 pending the completion of the investigation.

Narcotics detectives claim to have come very close in the past to catching the defendants red-handed , but came up empty. By not catching the defendants actually operating the marijuana grow houses, they are relying on informants and cooperating witnesses to prove the case. While the facts alleged by the prosecution seem to imply that they have a strong case, there is no direct physical evidence that will link the father and his sons to the trafficking case or the murder for that matter. The prosecution is rather relying on circumstantial evidence provided in the form of testimony from paid informants and defendants seeking sentencing reductions based on their cooperation in the case. The defense attorneys representing the family members will undoubtedly rely very heavily on cross-examination techniques to seek acquittals on behalf of their clients.

Murder Undid Family's Hydroponic Marijuana Operation, Authorities Say, Channel 6 News, August 1, 2012.

December 7, 2010

Border Task Force Cracking Down at South Florida Ports

A federal task force set up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is responsible for the latest arrests and indictments relating to drug trafficking activity at the local ports. The Miami Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST) is assigned to protecting the borders of the United States, protecting national security and performing drug interdiction. The mission statement of BEST includes identifying, disrupting and dismantling criminal operations that seek to undermine the integrity of the borders. BEST works in collaboration with other agencies investigation crimes at the Miami Seaport, the Miami River, Port Everglades and all illegal smuggling activities within the United States.

BEST was responsible for the arrests of six individuals at the Port of Miami allegedly involved in cocaine trafficking, marijuana trafficking and heroine trafficking. All six of the defendants were longshoreman employed at the Port of Miami. One of the defendants had an open case for ecstasy trafficking and firearm offenses. The arrests are the result of a three and a half year investigation called "Operation Gangplank". The agencies assigned to the investigation were Homeland Security, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) and detectives from the Miami-Dade County Police Department. The indictments allege that they seized narcotics with a street value in excess of $6 million during the investigation. In total, the feds seized 72 kilos of cocaine, 2 ½ kilos of heroine and in excess of 1,500 pounds of marijuana.

All of the defendants will appear before a federal magistrate to determine if and how much of a bond will be set. Typically, the bond hearing judge will grant a bond as long as a defendant has sufficient contacts with the community and the offenses for which he or she is charged is not egregious. Other defendants from Costa Rica, Panama, and Jamaica were also named in the indictment. The case is interesting because the illegal drug trafficking scheme involved both the importation and exportation of illegal substances. Due to the extensive amount of narcotics being imported into the United States, the defendants are each facing life in prison. However, the defendants will avoid such a harsh sentence if they cooperate with law enforcement, especially if the cooperation leads to other arrests.

"Operation Gangplank" is not the first operation conducted by BEST. Other arrests and seizures have netted 140 defendants, 11,000 pounds of cocaine, 8,000 pounds of marijuana, 3,000 ecstasy pills, numerous weapons and ammunition. Federal narcotics importation charges are very serious. Anyone being investigated for their involvement in these types offense should contact a Miami criminal lawyer as soon as possible to defend the case.

Border Enforcement Security Task Force Cracks Down on Crime at Miami Seaport, MMD, December 1, 2010.

November 4, 2010

Defendant Sentenced to Maximum for Theft of Patient Records

A defendant appeared in federal court for his sentencing hearing having already pled guilty to an indictment alleging the theft of patient records from Jackson Memorial Hospital. The defendant, elderly and infirm, sat in a wheel chair with his Miami criminal attorney at his side when the sentence was imposed by a United States District Court judge. The judge sentenced Ruben Rodriguez to the maximum sentence of 11 years despite his age and medical conditions. His defense lawyer argued for a sentence of 6 years, while government prosecutors asked for a 12 year sentence. The judge, unmoved by the defense's arguments, sentenced the defendant to maximum penalties under the law.

The indictment alleged that the defendant stole records belonging to more than 3,000 patients and sold the records to third parties. According to the pre-sentence investigation, Rodriguez obtained the names, addresses, phone numbers and medical records of patients and allegedly sold them to personal injury lawyers. The defendant would a pay a hospital employee $1,000 a month in exchange for records belonging to slip and fall, car accident, and stabbing and shooting patients. The employee received a total of about $27,000 between 2008 and 2009. The employee received a 10 month prison sentence for her involvement in the theft. The FBI is continuing to focus on Miami-Dade lawyers who received the records.

Rodriguez and his wife, who was also involved to a lesser extent, were charged with aggravated identity theft and conspiracy. The defendant's wife was prepared to plead guilty earlier in the year to her involvement in the theft of the records, but the judge refused to accept the plea. As in all plea agreements in both state and federal court, a judge can refuse to accept a plea offer if he or she does not think the facts merit a particular sentence. The employee received a minimal sentence because she cooperated in the prosecution of the husband and wife. She undoubtedly received a 5K from the government which allowed the court to deviate from the sentencing guidelines.

Another fact was less than helpful for the defendant at his sentencing hearing. Rodriguez was originally granted bail at his initial appearance and bond hearing. At some point in the case, the defendant was allegedly involved in witness tampering and had his bond revoked for obstructing justice. The judge who handed down the sentence said that the defendant acted out of greed and obtained money at the expense of vulnerable victims. Included in the prison sentence was a $100,000 fine. The real target of the investigation are the lawyers that paid Rodriguez hundreds of thousands of dollars in kickbacks in exchange for the information.

Theft of Patients' Records Nets the Max in Prison, The Miami, October 26, 2010.

July 19, 2010

South Florida Man Charged in "Ponzi" Scheme

A federal grand jury finally handed down an indictment charging a South Florida man with running an $880 million Ponzi scheme. Nevin Shapiro, a resident of Miami Beach, was initially surrendered to federal law enforcement agents back on April 21, 2010. He was initially charged in federal court by complaint which is not uncommon as the government prosecutors decide how to proceed with the case. The criminal defense lawyer representing Nevin has most likely been in negotiations with the prosecutor, hence the delay in the indictment being handed down. The defendant has been in custody without bond since his initial appearance before a federal magistrate judge.

Shapiro is accused of operating his Miami Beach business, Capitol Investments USA with the intent to defraud investors. The indictment alleges that Shapiro solicited investor money for his wholesale grocery distribution business. Capitol did actively conduct business and the money taken in was used to pay older investors and to fund the defendant's lavish lifestyle. The indictment charges the defendant with securities fraud, wire fraud and money laundering. The indictment is also seeking an asset forfeiture of any money or property derived from the criminal course of conduct.

Capitol rolled along until January 2009 when investor money dried up. As with all Ponzi schemes, tough economic times make it difficult to impossible to find new investors. Once the money dries up, the house of card usually tumbles because there is no money to pay the older investors. While the scheme to defraud was operating smoothly, over 60 investors sent in excess of $880 million to be invested in Capitol. According to the indictment, the defendant misappropriated in excess of $35 million. The majority of the money was used to pay for an expensive Miami Beach home, yachts, cars, sporting events and gambling debts.

Shapiro was a long-time donor to the University of Miami athletic program. In fact, a student athlete lounge carried his name until it was removed for lack of payment in 2008. Shapiro is facing a maximum prison sentence of 55 years for his involvement in running the organized scheme to defraud. Based on th charges, Shapiro is actually facing more prison time than infamous South Florida Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein. Ponzi schemes are notorious for coming to light at the end of economic cycle. While the number of Pozni schemes being uncovered is diminishing, the justice system is still replete with cases on the docket.

Grand Jury Indicts Nevin Shapiro, South Florida Business Journal, July 15, 2010.

March 11, 2010

Feds Arrest Alleged Mafia Member on Miami Beach

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

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

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

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

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

March 10, 2010

Accountant to Enter Guilty Plea to Fraud Charges

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

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

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

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

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

March 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.

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 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 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.

January 28, 2010

Ft. Lauderdale Lawyer Pleads Guilty in Federal Court

The day that South Florida has been waiting for finally came. Infamous Broward County lawyer Scott Rothstein entered a guilty plea in federal court for operating a massive 'Ponzi" scheme. Rothstein appeared before a United States District Judge and pled guilty to conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud and wire fraud. As part of his plea agreement, he agreed to an asset forfeiture of $1.2 billion, 24 pieces of real estate, expensive car, boats, jewelry and bank accounts. Rothstein appeared unshaken as he entered the guilty plea with the assistance of his Miami criminal attorney.

Rothstein was accused of operated a large scheme to defraud investors. In some instances, he received money from investors promising that the money would be lent to clients in the form of bridge loans that would yield a hefty return. Other investors gave money to Rothstein thinking they were buying civil case settlements. The investors were told that they would purchase the settlements at a discount to be repaid over time as at full face value. In both cases, the investments never existed and money invested from new investors was paid to older investors. The four year fraud used numerous bank accounts to facilitate the complex money laundering scheme.

Rothstein is scheduled to appear back in federal court on May 6th for his sentencing hearing. Based on the charges he pled guilty to, he is facing up to 100 years in prison. Most experts believe his sentence will range from 20 to 30 years. According to the special agent in charge of the investigation, "Scott Rothstein used a classic approach to mislead investors - an ostentatious lifestyle, personality and guarantees of sky-high returns-all red flags in the world of Ponzi schemes." Investors became suspicious late last year when they stopped receiving scheduled returns on their investments. Panic followed, which led to the inevitable dissolution of his 70 person law firm in Ft. Lauderdale.

Now that Rothstein has entered a guilty plea, there is no doubt that federal law enforcement agencies and prosecutors will target others purportedly involved in the scheme. Court documents revealed that other members of the now disbanded law firm have criminal culpability for their involvement with Rothstein. Many of those suspected of being involved have retained Broward and Miami criminal attorneys should the hammer fall. Among those being looked at by investigators include Stuart Rosenfeldt and Russell Adler, Rothstein's former law partners and David Boden, Rothstein's former chief counsel. Anyone indicted in the case will face the similar charges of money laundering, wire fraud and mail fraud. If sentences are imposed against any of these individuals, they are not likely to exceed that Rothstein receives in May in light of the fact that he appears to be the mastermind behind the scheme.

Fort Lauderdale Attorney Pleads Guilty in Billion Dollar Ponzi Scheme, PR Newswire, January 27, 2010.