COVID-19 Notice: We Are Here Fighting For You. Learn More.

Articles Posted in Federal Crimes

Published on:

technology-2500010__480-300x200The U.S. Attorney’s Office recently announced that a 29-year old Baltimore County man has pled guilty to two felony charges in federal court, which stemmed from his use of a fake Secret Service badge.  According to facts presented in the plea agreement the Middle River resident was pulled over in Baltimore City by an MTA Police Officer for driving on a suspended license.  Upon being approached by the uniformed officer the defendant removed a law enforcement badge from his pocket and placed it in his lap, and then told the officer that he was a United States Secret Service Agent.  Rather than give him a pass and send him on his way, the officer become more suspicious of the defendant’s behavior, likely in part because he detected an odor of alcohol coming from the vehicle.  The driver was arrested and taken to the police station where he continued to maintain that he was a Secret Service Agent.  Police contacted the Secret Service, who unsurprisingly had no record of the man being employed in their agency or any other federal law enforcement agency.  Actual Secret Service agents made the trip to the police station to interview the defendant, who apparently admitted that the badge was fake.

Maryland Transportation Police originally charged the defendant with DUI and driving on a suspended license as well as multiple criminal violations.  The criminal charges included obstructing and hindering, resisting arrest, false statement to a law enforcement officer and impersonating an officer under public safety code section 3-502.  All of these charges were ultimately dismissed in the Baltimore City District Court, as the feds decided to prosecute the man for more serious offenses.  Further investigation into the defendant revealed that in addition to using the fake law enforcement badge to attempt to avoid being arrested, he had also posed as a federal agent on several other occasions to defraud at least 8 civilians from early 2017 to early 2019.  The plea agreement described numerous incidents where the defendant would use his fake law enforcement status to get free food and parking.  He also used his fake credentials to gain entry into people’s homes where he would steal their bank checks and credit cards and then go on spending sprees.  The total losses to the victims was more than $20,000.

The Baltimore County man is currently scheduled for sentencing in November, where he faces us to 10 years in prison for access device fraud under 18 U.S. Code section 1029.  He also faces a 2-year mandatory prison sentence for aggravated identity fraud, which will run consecutively to any sentence he receives on the access device fraud charge.  It will not be the first lengthy jail sentence for the defendant, as he was sentenced to 6 months in the Baltimore County Detention Center for unlawful taking of a motor vehicle in April of 2019.  The Blog will continue to follow this case and may post a follow up article in November after the sentencing hearing.  It is rare for a person to be charged in federal court for impersonating an officer, but this case clearly had much more going on than just a futile attempt to avoid a traffic citation.

Published on:

Medical-Cannabis-300x200Earlier this year a former state lawmaker entered a guilty plea in the Baltimore federal courthouse for accepting bribes and committing wire fraud while in office, and the ex-delegate recently learned that her fate would include a prison sentence.  The defendant was a well-known lawmaker who had been in office since January of 2007, and served right up until the charges were unsealed and made available to the public roughly 7 months ago.  She had been instrumental in making medical marijuana a reality in Maryland, and actually sponsored the original bill.  In fact, the state’s medical marijuana program is named after the defendant’s mother, who never had access to medical marijuana to help ease the effects of her cancer.  According to evidence obtained by law enforcement, the former delegate accepted multiple bribes related to awarding lucrative licenses to grow and dispense medical marijuana.  In total the government presented evidence that the former lawmaker accepted 5 bribes in 2018 and 2019, which totaled approximately $34,000.  The first bribe was for $3,000 in exchange for a vote to increase the number of grower licenses from 15 to 22.  This bribe was reportedly paid by an agent of an out-of-state company that was seeking to angle its way into the Maryland medical marijuana market.  She also took money to help a Maryland company secure its growing license and another company to secure a license to dispense medical marijuana.  A Baltimore based business man has also pled guilty for offering a bribe to the former lawmaker, and he is awaiting sentencing in federal court.

The defendant’s lawyer argued that the 69-year old Democrat from Baltimore did not deserve a prison sentence, and that a felony conviction combined with home detention and probation would be a sufficient sentence.  The defense argued that the defendant had otherwise lived a crime free and exemplary life, and fell on hard times after the death of her husband.  The government countered by urging the judge to impose a 3-year prison sentence, and cited similar cases of public corruption where 3 or more years was imposed.  After taking both sides into account the Baltimore federal judge ultimately settled on a two-year prison sentence followed by 3 years of supervised release.  The judge explained the sentence by citing the multiple separate criminal acts, and reiterated that this was not a one-time lapse in judgement but a well-though out course of criminal conduct.  In addition to the medical marijuana bribes, the former delegate also accepted $20,000 in exchange for drafting a bill to establish additional liquor licenses, and another $5,000 to file a bill that lowered the age required for a person to become medical director of a state opioid addiction clinic.  The judge is allowing the defendant to turn herself in at a later date in September, and may consider pushing the report date further out based on the current COVID-19 situation.

It is no surprise that the medical marijuana program produced this level of corruption from a veteran lawmaker, and there are almost certainly more instances of foul play going on throughout the state related to the lucrative medical marijuana business.  The setup of the program was a breeding ground for public corruption and payoffs due to the limited number of licenses being issued and the amount of money at stake for those who received them.  Anytime government officials have control over the ability for private citizens and business to make millions of dollars there is going to be corruption, and the state would have been much better served to allow all qualified applicants to obtain licenses.  There is no logical reason in preventing qualified applicants from engaging in the medical marijuana business, and it’s a real shame that arbitrary limits were created.  The Blog will continue to follow all future instances of public corruption, and we will pay special attention to any cases related to medical and recreational marijuana.  Benjamin Herbst is a Florida and Maryland criminal defense lawyer who handles cases in state and federal court.  Benjamin specializes in defending white collar crimes such as bribery, fraud, and misconduct in office, and is available anytime for a free consultation at 410-207-2598.  He handles cases in all Maryland jurisdictions including Montgomery County, Baltimore City and County, Prince George’s County, the Eastern Shore, Western Maryland and Anne Arundel County.  Benjamin is also license in Florida and accepts cases in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County.

Published on:

courtroom-898931_1280-300x226Federal law enforcement has made fentanyl a major priority, and last week a 26-year old Baltimore County man was sentenced to a decade in prison for possession with intent to distribute the deadly narcotic.  According to the statement of facts in the guilty plea, a Woodlawn man fled from Baltimore County Police after they tried to initiate a traffic stop.  During the pursuit officers allegedly observed the suspect throwing objects out of his car window as he fled.  Eventually police caught up with the suspect and search incident to arrest produced a digital scale and a baggie with 40 grams of fentanyl.  Had law enforcement stopped there the man would likely have been prosecuted in state court, but a search of his home pursuant to a warrant produced far more incriminating evidence.  Police ultimately discovered 3 kilograms of fentanyl and a loaded .380 caliber handgun.  The U.S. Attorney’s Office stated in its press release that this amount of fentanyl would be enough to kill 1.5 million people.  The suspect was also prohibited from possessing firearms based on a previous drug conviction in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County.  He also had an earlier drug possession conviction in Baltimore City and a probation before judgement for driving on a suspended license.

The facts of the case were not especially unique and from what we can see the defendant was not alleged to have been an interstate drug trafficker, but the federal government still elected to prosecute this case.  For the last several years the feds have picked up gun and drug cases arising from Baltimore City, but with the sheer amount of fentanyl plus a gun being involved it is no surprise this Baltimore County case went federal.  Most of the time a defendant would much rather be prosecuted in Maryland state court, as the sentencing guidelines are typically lower and there is parole.  However, under these circumstances the defendant likely would have received a similar sentence in state court, as he would have been subject to three Maryland mandatory sentence provisions.  Anyone who is found to be in possession of more than five grams of fentanyl faces a mandatory 5 years in prison.  Additionally, the possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime carries a 5-year minimum prison sentence under state law.  The Woodlawn man may have also been subject to charges for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon/ person with a drug conviction under 5-601.  This offense also carries a 5-year mandatory sentence that cannot be suspended unless the prior offense had been closed for more than 5 years.  Closed means probation and parole must have been completed.

The Blog will continue to follow cases traditionally prosecuted in state court that are picked up by federal law enforcement.  A general rule is that any convicted felon who is arrested with a gun in Baltimore City could face federal prosecution, but now it is clear the feds are branching out to the County and other Maryland jurisdictions.  Based on this press release it is also clear that federal law enforcement agencies are actively pursuing anyone involved in fentanyl distribution.  If you have been charged with a gun or drug crime anywhere in Maryland or Florida call criminal defense lawyer Benjamin Herbst anytime at 410-207-2598.  Benjamin specializes in charges for drug possessiondrug distribution, possession with intent to distribute and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon or disqualified person.  He offers free consultations and is available to defend clients from the Eastern Shore to Western Maryland.

Published on:

graphics-882726_640-300x207The notorious former mayor of Baltimore City learned her fate last week in federal court, and will now have to serve three years in prison followed by three years of supervised release.  The 69-year old must also pay over $400,000 in restitution to victims of her crimes, and forfeit almost $670,000 in assets including property that was purchased with illegally gained funds.  The sentence was announced by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, the FBI and the IRS.  The former mayor will likely surrender to the Federal Bureau of Prisons within the next couple of months, and be assigned to a minimum-security facility or prison camp.  Since there is no parole under federal law, the former mayor could serve a little more than 30 months in prison, with the potential for an earlier release to a halfway house.

The former mayor was sentenced on four separate criminal counts including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States and two counts of tax evasion.  All four offenses are classified as felonies under federal law, and the mayor will now live the rest of her life as a convicted felon.  According to the facts stipulated in the guilty plea that took place a few months ago, the former mayor conspired with her 38-year old legislative aide to carry out a complex web of frauds over the course a nearly decade long business relationship.  The major fraud scheme was related to the mayor’s three-part children’s book series, which was created in 2011.  The defendant and her aide contracted with the University of Maryland Medical System to deliver 20,000 books in each series for $5 per copy.  This $300,000 contract stipulated in part that the books would be delivered to Baltimore City schools, but the former mayor instead resold the books to other charities to generate more profits.

Defrauding the University of Maryland and other non-profits was only half of the scheme, as the former mayor did not report any of these illegal profits to the IRS.  Rather, the two co-conspirators funneled the money to straw donors, fictitious citizens who donated money to the mayor’s reelection campaigns.  The mayor also issued checks to her former legislative aide for services that were never rendered.  The money was either turned into untraceable cash or money orders, or used to pay credit card bills and legal fees.  The legislative aide faced charges for violating Maryland election laws in 2017, and it was likely that UM and other non-profits paid for his legal fees.  The aide was ultimately convicted for violating election laws and had his nomination to serve as a state delegate taken away by the governor.

Published on:

money-943782_960_720-300x225The second of two defendants who committed a 2018 armed robbery in Baltimore City was sentenced last week to 9 years in federal prison.  The 29-year old defendant was originally charged in state court with, but about 7 months after the robbery the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office entered the charges nolle prosequi, which meant they declined to prosecute the case.  While a nolle pros. is usually a cause for celebration, in this case it was the opposite, as the case was dismissed in state court after federal prosecutors decided to take over.

As detailed in guilty plea, in February of 2018 the defendant and another Baltimore City man walked into a restaurant brandishing a firearm and demanded money from the cash register.  In addition to taking cash from the register and the tip jar, the defendants also took personal belongings at gunpoint from patrons at the restaurant.  After the defendants left the restaurant a 911 call to the Baltimore Police was placed and officers arrived on scene shortly thereafter.  One officer was canvassing the area of the robbery, and located two suspects in an alley counting cash up against a brick wall.  The suspects matched the description in the 911 call, and the counting money in an alleyway was certainly another cause for concern.  Both suspects were detained and searched, and police found $272 in cash, a bag of change, two masks, two bandannas, two cell phones that belonged to victims and a receipt from the restaurant.  Police also found a loaded handgun in the vicinity that matched the description a victim gave of the gun used in the robbery.

There was little question that police had detained and arrested the right suspects, and a show-up identification by the victims confirmed what police already knew.  The only questions remaining were who would prosecute the case, and how much time the defendants would receive.  Initially the case began as a Baltimore City District Court case, and a month after the incident the State filed a 25-count indictment in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, which included charges for first and second degree assault, armed robbery, robbery, use of a firearm in a crime of violence and firearm possession by a convicted felon.  The charges regarding firearm use in a violent crime and possession by a convicted felon both carry 5-year mandatory minimum sentences upon conviction.  Either way the defendants were likely going to serve at least 5 years, but ultimately the feds decided they would prosecute the case.

Published on:

police-224426__180Last week a former Baltimore police detective was sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by 2 years of supervised release for making false statements to a federal grand jury.  The statements were regarding an incident that happened in the spring of 2014, when another BPD officer ran over an arrestee in Baltimore City.  That officer, who was not named in the U.S. Attorney’s press release, apparently called the former detective’s sergeant to inform him of the car accident involving a suspect.  The sergeant then asked the former detective if he had a BB gun that they could use to plant at the scene, in an ill-conceived effort to provide justification for suspect being hit with a vehicle.  The former detective told his sergeant that he did not own a BB gun, but then called his partner, who did own a BB gun.  The sergeant and former detective then drove to the partner’s home to retrieve the BB gun and then went back to the scene of the auto accident, where the sergeant planted the gun.  The former detective apparently stayed by the car and did not assist in planting the BB gun at the scene.

The suspect who was run over by the officer’s car was arrested that night and charged with numerous drug crimes in addition to discharging a BB gun, which we now know was completely fabricated.  The suspect was held in custody for several days, and prosecutors eventually dismissed all charges about 10 months later.  The officer who ran the suspect over was indicted with several other Baltimore Police officers who were members of the notorious Gun Trace Task Force or GTTF.  The incident regarding the planted BB gun came up in one of the federal GTTF investigations, and the former detective was subpoenaed to provide his testimony on what happened.  The former detective told the grand jury that his sergeant requested that he call his partner to inquire about the BB gun, but the partner said he did not have one.  The detective then insinuated that while at the scene of the accident the sergeant went to the trunk of his vehicle to retrieve an unknown object.

Many of the former GTTF officers provided substantial assistance to the government in consideration for lighter sentences, and information on what actually transpired the night of the accident appears to have come from one of those proffer sessions.  Federal law enforcement learned that the detective and his sergeant arranged a secret meeting by communicating on their wives’ cell phones.  They actually met in a swimming pool to assure that neither was wearing a wire, a scene right out of the movie Traffic.  At the secret meeting both officers discussed their concerns over the GTTF indictments, and then the sergeant apparently told the former detective to lie about why they went back to the scene of the accident.  The sergeant told the detective to tell federal authorities that the sergeant retrieved the BB gun himself and that the former detective had played no part in obtaining it.  Unfortunately for the detective, federal authorities were able to prove that these statements were made with the intent to deceive the grand jury, and a stiff sentence followed from this poor decision.

Published on:

concertina-wire-1031773_960_720-200x300A father and daughter recently pled guilty to federal racketeering charges stemming from an ongoing prison corruption scheme that took place back in the summer of 2017.  According to federal prosecutors a 28-year old woman and her 55-year old father were recruited by a family member who was serving a Maryland state prison sentence to smuggle contraband into an Anne Arundel County correctional facility.  The medium security prison going by the name of MCIJ is located in the Jessup area on the border of Anne Arundel and Howard Counties, and houses about 1,100 male inmates.  One inmate happened to be a 29-year old who used his father and sister to obtain and package contraband, bribe correctional officers and manage the proceeds of the illegal contraband trade within the prison.  The 29-year old inmate also pled guilty for his involvement in the conspiracy and previously admitted that he was the leader.

The evidence mentioned in plea hearing consisted of recorded jailhouse phone calls between the inmate and his family members discussing meetings with corrupt prison employees.  The calls also contained conversations with other co-conspirators where money was exchanged in order to smuggle various controlled substances into the facility.  The controlled substances included Percocet and Ecstasy, which can either come in pill or powder form and easily be concealed inside clothing or on the person.  Suboxone was also mentioned as one of the controlled substances, which typically is manufactured on small sheets of paper that can be easily concealed.  Recent Maryland laws have restricted the types of books that are allowed to pass through prison security due to the ease that these substances can be transported on paper.  Tobacco and synthetic marijuana were other forms of contraband that were smuggled into the jail by the co-conspirators.  These items have little value on the street, but inside a secure prison facility can be worth 5 to 10 times their street value.

Both defendants are scheduled for sentencing hearings in March, while 29-year old ring leader has yet to be given a sentencing date.  Whether the sister or the father will be sentenced to prison time themselves depends on a variety of factors including their specific involvement in the scheme, how cooperative they were with law enforcement and whether either has a prior criminal record.  The judge may examine how much each of the individual defendants actually profited off the scheme, as defense lawyers will likely argue the defendants never would have committed the criminal acts absent immense pressure from the incarcerated family member.  Other factors that may be relevant include the length of the conspiracy and how many times, if ever, either defendants tried to end involvement with the scheme.

Published on:

cellular-tower-28883_640-255x300The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland recently announced indictments in two cases against men who ran lucrative businesses in and around Maryland.  Both men now face federal charges for wire fraud, which has become one of the main catch-all tools for federal prosecutors in cases involving fraudulent activity.  The first indictment was announced on December 19, and involved a 45-year old Carroll County man who now faces up to 20 years in federal prison for multiple felony charges.  This defendant is accused of defrauding the government out of up to $2 million through his Frederick County based construction business.  The company was tasked with providing repair and maintenance services to several Maryland USPS facilities including local Post Offices.  The indictment alleges that the defendant’s company under the direction of the defendant systematically overbilled the federal government for these services, and concealed its use of subcontractors to carry out the scheme.  In total the businessman is facing 30 counts of wire fraud, and will face the charges in the Baltimore Federal Courthouse downtown. The indictment was announced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General.  An initial appearance has been not yet been scheduled, and the case will likely take several months to play out.

In a separate case the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that a Virginia businessman has been indicted for wire fraud related to a scheme to defraud the U.S. Navy and the State Department by unlawfully selling body armor and other protective gear manufactured in China.  The indictment alleges that the businessman accepted contracts to deliver tactical helmets to the Navy and while working with a Navy contract specialist to fulfil the contract fraudulently stated the helmets were being manufactured in Southern Virginia.  The government is alleging the helmets were actually manufactured in China, which is not an approved country under the TAA or Trade Agreements Act.  Any defense equipment manufactured in China must be separately identified and approved before it can be involved in a business transaction with the government.  The government allegedly located a payment made to a Chinese company that manufactures the same exact helmets the business had agreed to sell to the Navy.  A United States Magistrate Judge agreed to release man, who is still listed as the founder and CEO of the company, on home detention and a $75,000 bail.  This case will proceed at the Greenbelt Federal Courthouse, which handles all cases arising out of the Southern Maryland.

Wire fraud under 18 U.S. Code 1343 is one of the most powerful charging tools utilized by federal prosecutors in part because of its broad definition.  The government need only prove that the defendant used an interstate telephone call or electronic communication to further an unlawful scheme.  Almost all business these days is conducted using some sort of electronic communication, and it’s hard to find a business that operates exclusively in one state.  This makes establishing federal jurisdiction a foregone conclusion if investigators catch wind of any business operating on the wrong side of the law.   The wire fraud statute also carries a harsh 20-year maximum penalty, that carries heavy weight as a bargaining chip in order to induce cooperation or a plea.

Published on:

car-1531277__480-300x200A 24-year old Washington D.C. man was recently sentenced to over 4 years in federal prison followed by 3 years of probation for striking an SUV and killing the driver on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway.  According to the plea agreement the man was involved in a collision with a D.C. Metro police vehicle but rather than stop he fled the scene into Maryland via the parkway.  Despite being pursued by a Metro police vehicle the young man kept fleeing at a high rate of speed even after one of his tires blew out.  He then began to pass slower moving vehicles on the right shoulder and veered over several lanes of traffic at a ramp to Interstate 495.  It was at this point that the D.C. man struck a Honda CR-V that was stopped in a painted safety zone between lanes of travel causing it to spin around and eventually roll over on its side.

The plea to one count of involuntary manslaughter took place back in September at the Greenbelt federal courthouse in front of a United States District Judge.  It seems from the press release that the man was sentenced under a 18 U.S. Code section 1112, which makes it illegal under federal law to commit manslaughter in the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.  Involuntary manslaughter is a felony under federal law, which carries a maximum penalty of 8 years in prison.  Manslaughter is defined as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.  This basically means that the defendant did not possess the intent to kill, but by his or her unlawful actions caused the death of another person.  Voluntary manslaughter, a 15-year felony, occurs when the defendant kills another person after a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion. Voluntary manslaughter cases are frequently charged along with murder, as there can be a fine line between the two.  Involuntary manslaughter on the other hand occurs when the defendant kills another during the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony, or when the defendant kills another doing committing act without due caution.  In this case fleeing the police and leaving the scene of an accident were the acts that caused the accident, which ultimately caused the death of the victim.

The federal government is responsible for maintaining and policing the B-W Parkway, and therefore territorial jurisdiction is satisfied.  Typically, the Maryland-National Capital Park Police is the arresting agency that handles cases on the B-W Parkway and other parkways such as the Clara Barton.  In criminal cases occurring on the parkways in Maryland law enforcement can choose to charge a defendant under federal law or under any applicable Maryland law.  The defendant could have been charged under Title 2 of the Maryland Criminal Code for manslaughter by vehicle or vessel (boats).  State law breaks up manslaughter by vehicle or vessel in two categories, with the most serious being with gross negligence.  This charge is a felony that carries a 15-year maximum penalty, while the lesser form, criminal negligence, is a misdemeanor with a 3-year maximum penalty.

Published on:

money-941228__340-300x225Over the summer a federal jury convicted two Washington D.C. men of multiple felonies after they were charged with committing two separate armed robberies in Prince George’s County. This week at the United States District Court in Greenbelt one of the men was sentenced to 33 years in prison followed by 5 years of probation on charges including conspiracy to commit commercial robbery, discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, being a felon in possession of a firearm and interstate transport of a stole vehicle. At least two of these counts carry mandatory minimum sentences of up to 10 years in prison. Since parole has been abolished in the federal justice system the 46-year old defendant will likely be behind bars for close to 30 years. He may be eligible for time off his sentence for good behavior, but it is safe to say that he will not be released until his seventies.

The facts that came to light during the week long trial were about as bad as an armed robbery could get without someone actually being murdered. Assistant U.S. Attorneys proved the man and his co-conspirators entered an auto repair shop brandishing handguns and then bound and gagged one employee and shot the other when he resisted. The employee who was shot suffered life-threatening injuries, and is now paralyzed. Just four days later the men robbed a barbershop in Prince George’s County in the same manner, but this time they were caught after a brief chase that ended in Washington D.C. To make matters worse, the defendant was also recorded on jailhouse phone calls attempting to persuade several different acquaintances to go to the barbershop and pressure witnesses not to testify at trial or before the grand jury. These phone calls were played in court, and resulted in a witness tampering conviction that was almost certainly factored into sentencing.

As we discussed in our previous post about this incident the driver of the stolen getaway vehicle used in the barbershop robbery was not a co-defendant in the trial, which could indicate that he was a cooperating witness. The names of cooperating witnesses will eventually be revealed if they are called to testify at trial, though it is typical for the prosecutors to leave this information out of official press releases. Cooperating witnesses are an essential law enforcement tool, and though they can’t be hidden forever, police and prosecutors will still try to protect them to some degree. The exact terms of cooperation agreements are never announced in open court, though the agreements may be used by defense lawyers during cross examination. Cooperation agreements with the federal government typically contain some sort of sealed supplement that is part of the plea agreement, and when the sealed supplement is read in court only the judge, court staff, law enforcement officers and lawyers are permitted in the courtroom.

Contact Information