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Articles Posted in Federal Crimes

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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cityhall-300x214Rising crime rates, falling population and police and prison corruption have marred Baltimore City for the past few years, but now more than ever it is obvious that lawlessness starts from the top and trickles down. It has been several months since federal agents from the FBI and the IRS raided the former mayor’s home and office, so it came as no surprise that she was eventually charged. Still the news headlines were widespread when the government unsealed an 11 count criminal indictment last week, which was signed by the grand jury on November 14. The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced that the mayor was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States, seven counts of wire fraud, and two counts of tax evasion. One day after the indictment was unsealed the former mayor surrendered to federal law enforcement and then promptly pled guilty at her arraignment. There’s little doubt defense lawyers worked diligently to come to a swift plea agreement in order to avoid further embarrassment to the city in exchange for more favorable treatment when sentencing arrives.

The former mayor’s sentence won’t determined for at least a couple months, as a pre-sentence investigation must be completed first. She is currently being supervised by federal pre-trial services, which means she as avoided incarceration for now. It is hard to imagine that this will be the case after sentencing though, as the breach of trust was massive. According to the plea the former mayor engaged in a criminal course of conduct from at least 2011 until this past spring when law enforcement made their investigation public. The specific allegations are heavily related to the former mayor’s ownership of a publishing company she used to market and sell children’s books she authored. On numerous occasions the former mayor conspired with her former legislative aid to defraud purchasers of the children’s books, including The University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), which paid a total of $300,000 for 60,000 books. UMMS purchased the books on the condition they would be distributed to Baltimore City Public Schools as part of a community outreach program, but many never made it to public school students. Instead they were kept by the former mayor or double sold by charities that had no knowledge of the scam.

The plea also included admissions that the former mayor used payments from the children’s books to fund her own campaign under the guise of fictitious or straw donors. She used cash or untraceable money orders to conceal the origination of the funds, which totaled over $60,000. Finally, and not surprisingly the former mayor neglected to report any of the fraudulent earnings from the children’s book, and filed multiple false tax returns. In 2016 she reported around $31,000 of income and paid $4,000 in taxes when in reality her income was over $300,000 and her tax liability over $100,000. Of the 11 counts in the indictment, the former mayor ended up pleading guilty to 4, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to defraud the United States, and two counts of tax evasion. She faces up to 20 years in prison on the first count and 5 years each on the other 3 counts, and will likely learn her fate at a sentencing hearing in the late winter or spring of 2020.

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fire-2770120__480-300x209A federal jury recently convicted a Baltimore business owner of multiple felonies for setting fire to his commercial property with the intent to fraudulently reap insurance benefits. The trial took a whopping seven weeks to complete, and now the defendant faces a minimum sentence of 15 years in federal prison. According to evidence presented by the government at trial, back in July of 2015 the business owner began to devise a plan to illegally recoup millions of dollars his company had been losing in the previous few years. The government established a motive by presenting financial records that showed the business lost about $2 million in 2014 and was on pace to lose approximately $3 million in 2015. The government also presented evidence that the defendant defaulted on numerous loans and the company’s debt exceeded total assets by $900,000.

On July 28 of 2015 the government showed that the defendant himself used adhesive tape to defeat security measures at his commercial property so that co-conspirators could enter the building. Just after midnight another person entered the building and disarmed the alarm system by entering the four-digit code, and one hour later a bystander called 911 and reported smoke emanating form the building. The Baltimore City Fire Department responded to the scene but only after fire destroyed an office on the shop floor of the building and damaged the ceiling. On the same calendar day firefighters extinguished the blaze the business owner contacted a public adjusting company to notify them about the fire and request their help with filing an insurance claim. Days after that, the adjusters acting on behalf of the defendant’s company submitted claims for over $20 million and were awarded just over $15 million once all the dust settled.

Law enforcement including the ATF, Baltimore Police and the Maryland State Fire Marshal were never convinced the blaze was caused by an accident or equipment malfunction. They continued to investigate the fire as the insurance company was paying out millions to the business owner, and investigators never took their eyes off the money. It came out in trial that half of the $15 million was used for building restoration and new equipment purchases, but $600,000 was transferred to the defendant’s wife, $98,000 was used to purchase a new Mercedes, $52,000 was used to buy a BMW, $25,000 for a Harley and $35,000 was spent on new jewelry. Although the defendant’s questionable purchases were not direct evidence of his criminal involvement, the government undoubtedly used them to bolster the argument that the defendant’s intentions were never pure. These purchases combined with evidence of the defendant’s presence on the scene and his immediate consultation with insurance adjusters laid the foundation for a case that the defense was unable to crack. A jury at the Baltimore federal courthouse found the business owner guilty of malicious destruction of property by fire, the use of fire to commit a federal felony and two counts of wire fraud. The malicious destruction count carries a five-year mandatory sentence and the use of fire in a felony count carries a consecutive 10-year mandatory sentence. This means that the defendant will serve at least 15 years in prison when he is sentenced at a future hearing in January.

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packs-163497_1280-300x200Two weeks ago a lawmaker in the Maryland House of Delegates abruptly resigned from her position, and this past week it became apparent why. According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office the former Prince George’s County lawmaker, who served from 2001 until the present, pled guilty to one count of wire fraud for converting more than $22,000 of campaign money to her personal use. The guilty plea took place in the United States District Court in Greenbelt, and lasted just over 30 minutes. Some of the facts that came to light during the plea hearing included that the former lawmaker had used campaign funds to pay for dental appointments, fast food, hair styling and even a cover for the home’s pool. The charges covered illegal activity from 2015 to 2018, when the former delegate accepted campaign funds from donors who had expected these funds to be used for reelection and maintaining leadership positions with the General Assembly. The funds were accepted by the defendant via a campaign PayPal account and then directly transferred to her personal bank account or withdrawn as cash from ATMs. None of the withdrawals in question were reported to the Maryland State Board of Elections.

The former lawmaker faces up to 20 years in prison wire fraud, but she will likely face less than 3 years of active incarceration. The sentencing guidelines call for an active jail sentence of 8 to 33 months, and the defense could argue for home detention or even probation. Regardless of whether the defendant serves active jail time, she will almost certainly be on supervised probation and will be a convicted felon for the rest of her life. As part of the plea the former lawmaker will also have to pay back $22,565.03 in restitution to the citizens or organizations that contributed to her campaign. The defendant is currently out on pre-trial supervision after being released on her own recognizance, and will be able to spend the holidays with her family in advance of the January sentencing hearing.

The FBI was the main law enforcement agency responsible for the investigation that led to federal prosecution of the former Prince George’s County Delegate, though it was not made public how the lawmaker arrived on the agency’s radar. It did however come to light that the defendant was not a first offender when it came to campaign finance rules. Over the course of her career she was cited more than ten times for bookkeeping errors in campaign finance reports, and even fined $2,000. She was referred to the Office of the State Prosecutor in 2016, and this state agency could have easily passed her case off to the FBI.

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