Articles Posted in Federal Crimes

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police-224426__180The U.S. Attorney recently announced that seven Baltimore City police officers have been indicted on numerous felony charges, and the fallout has already extended beyond the cops’ alleged criminal acts. A federal grand jury returned the indictment back in February, but it was sealed until agents had the opportunity to execute search and arrest warrants. All seven have been arrested and remain in custody after a judge denied bail pending trial. While bail is typically granted for a defendant with no prior criminal record that is not facing a capital offense or violent life felony, prosecutors made the argument that these defendants, who served on the gun trace task force together, were especially dangerous to the public and possessed unique training that would make them flight risks. Defense lawyers for the accused countered by arguing that the charges were blown out of proportion, but the federal magistrate judge was not convinced and stated that no conditions of bail or supervised release would be enough to protect the public.

The charges returned by the grand jury were numerous, and included offenses such as wire fraud, robbery, conspiracy and extortion by a state or government employee. These charges were bundled in one racketeering indictment, which alleged the defendants stole money and drugs from civilians they detained or arrested and submitted fraudulent overtime reports. One of the defendants also allegedly posed as federal prosecutor in order to get more information out of a victim, which the officers subsequently burglarized and stole $20,000 from. Six of the defendants were also charged in a separate seven-count indictment for drug charges including conspiracy to distribute heroin and cocaine, and officer is charged with distribution of heroin resulting in death.

All seven of the accused officers face up to 20 years in prison for the racketeering and conspiracy charges. The six defendants in the drug indictment face even more exposure as antiquated federal drug laws still provide harsher punishments for those that sell drugs than for those that rob, steal from or assault others. Three defendants face conspiracy to distribute more than a kilogram of heroin, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison with a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. The other three are charged with selling slightly less heroin, but still face up to 40 years with a 5-year mandatory minimum. One of the soon to be ex cops faces an additional 20 years in jail for distributing heroin that results in death.

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money-941228__340-300x225Over the last decade law enforcement agencies around the country have increased efforts to curb the illegal sale of prescription medications. There has been increased governmental oversight starting from the drug manufacturers and trickling all the way down to the patient who fills a single prescription. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are required by law to report large and unusual orders for narcotics to the DEA and pharmacies are required to keep strict inventory of these highly addictive drugs. Doctors who prescribe the drugs face tighter regulations from their state medical boards, and pain management clinics or “pill mills” that were once untouchable are being shut down and prosecuted at a higher rate. Local police have also targeted prescription fraud and doctor shopping cases, and the word is out that pharmacies won’t hesitate to call the cops at the sign of foul play. The law enforcement community has achieved some success in limiting the amount of dangerous prescription drugs such as oxycodone on the streets, but their success has come with a price.

Heroin is now as popular and as cheap as ever, and filled the void left by the shortage of street level prescription drugs without so much as a hiccup. And despite the short supply of prescription narcotics on the street, the demand is still there. Users and dealers have not simply forgotten about oxycontin, morphine and fentanyl. But the shortage of theses drugs has driven up the price and made them more attractive to the dealers who do manage to get their hands on the product. This has left pharmacies, especially the smaller independent type, extremely vulnerable to theft by way of burglary and robbery. Most pharmacy thefts occur at night when the businesses are closed.  The thieves are well versed with all drugs that can be sold on the street for a profit, and know that the narcotics are often locked away in another location. Though burglars will often break in to the pharmacies equipped with crowbars and lock cutters, these tools are ineffective if the high margin narcotics are locked up in a safe overnight. Unfortunately the only way to steal these drugs is to rob the pharmacies during business hours, which is a terrifying and dangerous alternative to nighttime burglary. It is also comes with a greater risk of serious prison time upon begin caught, as one man from Washington D.C. recently found out.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the D.C. man linked to a series of pharmacy robberies in Prince George’s County has been sentenced to 150 months in federal prison where he will join his two other co-conspirators. The conspiracy included as many as four separate armed robberies that netted in excess of $20,000 worth of oxycodone. The defendants wore ski masks and at least one brandished a handgun, while another used pepper spray on two customers at a Hyattsville pharmacy. In one of the robberies in Berwyn Heights, Maryland the defendants stole an employee’s cell phone and wallet that included credit cards and identification cards. The FBI and the Prince George’s County Police Department cleared the cases, which landed all three defendants lengthy prison terms.

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elections-1527438_1280-300x300The 2017 Maryland legislative session began this week, and one former delegate probably wishes he took part in the opening day festivities. But instead of shaking hands and schmoozing in Annapolis, a former lawmaker from Prince George’s County spent the first part of his New Year inside a Greenbelt courtroom. This week federal prosecutors announced a recently unsealed guilty plea by a former state and local politician who served 10 years as a PG county councilman before being elected to his most recent position as a state delegate in 2014. His stint as a state lawmaker didn’t last long after he unexpectedly resigned just one year after taking office, and now there is a good explanation for the sudden resignation. It turns out that the feds had been investigating the 42-year old Hyattsville man for a few years, and their investigation culminated in the recent guilty plea to conspiracy and bribery. Federal prosecutors revealed that the man had accepted an estimated $40,000 in return for political favors, most of which had to do with his power over the allocation of public funds earmarked for his district. The illegal activity was not confined to one or even a couple transactions, but rather a course of conduct that was anything but isolated. The multi year public corruption probe that uncovered the former delegate’s misdoings also implicated two members of the county’s liquor board and two local businessmen. Undercover FBI agents made numerous deals with the politicians that included cash payments for the promise of favorable treatment.

Each of the dirty politicians and their private citizen cohorts are being prosecuted federally by the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland. While the Blog has recently published a few articles about this office pursuing relatively small time gun and drug cases, public corruption and other white collar crimes are the U.S. Attorney’s bread and butter. State law enforcement and prosecution offices simply do not have the resources and perhaps the patience to execute multiyear public corruption investigations. On top of that it may be near impossible for local law enforcement agencies to keep these kinds of complex investigations under wraps, especially when they involve politicians holding office in their own jurisdictions. After all, state’s attorneys and even police chiefs are politicians too. But these cases are right in the FBI’s wheelhouse, and the federal prosecutors who eventually take over their cases have a great deal of pride in exposing crooked state and local politicians. We only wish the two could collaborate with as much success against federal politicians, who are rarely exposed.

The Blog will continue to follow this public corruption case and other similar cases that develop in the future. It seems as if this particular defendant cooperated with federal authorities and as a result will likely receive a more lenient sentence. Authorities have not stated exactly how the defendant cooperated or whether his cooperation directly led to the charging of the liquor board members, but we will post if this information comes to light. The former delegate faces up to 15 years in prison when he goes before a federal judge at his April sentencing hearing, and he has already agreed to pay $340,000 in criminal restitution.

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hammer-719066_960_720-300x225While the U.S. Attorney’s Office is known for complex criminal prosecutions such as fraud, drug trafficking and gang activity, federal prosecutors also devote resources toward punishing corporations that stray from the law. Unlike a typical criminal prosecution where a defendant can end up in jail or on probation, when a corporation is being investigated for wrongdoing its employees and shareholders are not usually facing individual sentences. Rather, prosecutors use monetary punishments to reprimand companies and to send a message to other corporations contemplating similar wrongdoing. Any federal prosecutorial district could decide to go after a corporation conducting business in its district, and the District of Maryland recently closed up two massive investigations that resulted in fines as well as criminal sanctions for employees in one of the cases.

The first settlement was announced about a week ago at the Baltimore office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, where the government agreed to close its investigation into a large pharmaceutical company in exchange for a $44 million dollar payment to the DOJ. This investigation centered on the company violating the Controlled Substance Act by failing to notify the DEA of large shipments of oxycodone to pharmacies in Maryland, Florida and New York. Federal law requires that pharmaceutical suppliers report all large or suspicious orders for controlled substances such as oxycodone, morphine, Xanax and fentanyl to the DEA, which is tasked with monitoring or attempting to monitor the commerce of legal drugs. 44 million dollars may seem excessive considering the company did not appear to commit any type of fraud, or conceal their wrongdoing. On the other hand, the company did over $120 billion in sales this past year and also agreed to a similar settlement with the DEA in 2008 over failing to report large shipments of hydrocodone commonly sold as Vicodin. This settlement probably angered some shareholders and cost some people their jobs, but it was merely a ding in their bottom line for 2016.

The other settlement announced by the U.S. Attorney involved a defense contracting company that was hired by the government to provide services at Joint Base Andrews in Prince George’s County. This well known facility is shared by the Marines and the Air Force, and is home to Air Force One. The company was accused of fraudulently submitting inflated invoices to the government for services that were not actually provided or completed in fewer hours than documented. A payment of $4.535 million to the United States ended the investigation into the company, but three former employees are now facing criminal prosecution for their role in the scam. Two of the former employees pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and are awaiting sentencing, while the third faces trial later this next month. The federal government awards hundreds of defense contracts to private companies each year and it is nearly impossible to audit every possible job. Uncle Sam is an easy target for these companies because government workers are rarely held accountable for not thoroughly checking their invoices. After all, it’s the taxpayer’s money and not theirs or their company’s money.

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handgun-231699_640-300x169Maryland has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, and concealed carry licenses nearly impossible to obtain. A law abiding citizen basically has to prove that he or she has a legitimate need to carry a gun to even be considered for a carry license, and a large percentage of applications are denied. Many people, especially out of state residents, carry or transport firearms within the state illegally without even knowing it, and others know full well they are breaking the law but do it anyway. Either way, the strict laws on who can carry or transport a firearm and how they must legally do it make simple gun possession an extremely common offense in our state. But the strict laws don’t always mean harsh sentences for defendants. While some jurisdictions place a particularly high level of scrutiny on gun cases, most treat these cases like any other. And there are plenty of pro gun judges that decline handing down sentences that fall in line with the state legislature’s overzealous intent. However, under the current administration the federal government has continued to place an emphasis on vigorously prosecuting gun cases, especially cases involving illegal possession by a convicted felon.

Most people would associate federal criminal prosecutions with charges such as drug trafficking, fraud, money laundering, racketeering, and perhaps white-collar offenses, complex theft schemes, and crimes committed in multiple states. But the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore City has shown a willingness to get down and dirty in prosecuting simple firearms cases that involve one defendant and one gun. The feds are not too busy to make sure convicted felons possessing guns in Baltimore see the inside of a jail cell, and they know the only way to accomplish this may be to to make sure it’s a federal jail.

Federal prosecutors in Baltimore have been inclined to take cases from city prosecutors, often sending letters offering their services. And when they take a case out of state court it usually means bad news for the defendant. State law provides a fifteen-year maximum penalty for a felon or other disqualified person in possession of a firearm, and if the disqualifying offense was within 5 years then a minimum mandatory prison sentence may apply. Defendants in state court rarely receive anywhere near the maximum jail sentence, and rightly so. In most of these cases the defendant is only disqualified from possessing a firearm due to street level drug offenses that have no business being classified as felonies. But in federal court a defendant in an unlawful gun possession case is far more likely to serve serious prison time, and two recent cases support that contention. The U.S. Attorney’s Office recently announced that a 28-year old Baltimore man was sentenced to 15 years in prison for possessing a loaded .45 caliber handgun. The man never brandished the handgun or used it in the commission of another offense, but rather threw it in an alley as he allegedly ran from city police officers. And just one day before that case another man pled guilty to possession of a stolen gun in the same federal court downtown. This man was also prohibited from possessing a firearm due to previous felony convictions, and is due to be sentenced in the coming months. He too could face a lengthy prison sentence, although it won’t be the 15 years his younger counterpart received. The Blog will continue to follow the federal government’s prosecution of gun possession cases, as we may see a shift when the new administration takes over in January.

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mobile-1726138_1280The recent arrest of two local police officers in separate felony offenses left a stain on Maryland law enforcement heading into the Thanksgiving weekend. These arrests have also served as a constant reminder that police are not above the law, at least when it comes to incidents that cannot be swept under the rug. While the cases are still in their infancy stage, both veteran officer’s careers are in jeopardy and one officer faces the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence. The arrests generated considerable news coverage despite the fact that the officers worked for departments outside of the Baltimore DC metropolitan area, and the coverage will likely continue until the cases are resolved. The crimes are serious but unfortunately not uncommon, so it’s the scandal factor with a police officer as a defendant that keeps the public’s interest.

Of the two arrests, without a doubt the most serious case involves a deputy from the Charles County Sheriff’s Office. This deputy was charged in federal court via criminal complaint with possession of child pornography, which carries a maximum punishment of 10 years in prison. The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the complaint along with agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). An investigator from the Charles County Sheriff was also credited with solving the case that began after a private cloud security company tipped off federal officials to the presence of child porn downloads on a cell phone tied to a Maryland phone number. The deputy, who has been suspended without pay, was released pending trial at his initial appearance at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt. He will not be allowed to use the internet or have unsupervised contact with minors during the course of his pre-trial release.

The second arrest involved a member of the Wicomico County Sheriff’s office, who has been charged with felony theft $10,000 to $100,000. The 53 year-old sergeant was suspended with pay as soon as his office found out about the theft, which was alleged to have occured at the local Fraternal Order of Police lodge from October of 2014 to this October. After the sergeant was arrested on November 18th he was immediately suspended without pay pending the outcome of the case. A prosecutor from the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office has been specially assigned to prosecute the case, which will take place in the circuit court in Salisbury. There are no dates currently set for the case but the Blog will follow along and may post an article in the future if necessary. Theft $10,000 to $100,000 carries a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison. The sergeant likely does not have any type of criminal record, which may be enough to keep him out of jail. But should he be found guilty the sentencing judge will not take lightly the fact that the officer was in a position of trust at the FOP and egregiously violated that trust. Another factor that may contribute to a harsher sentence is the allegation of a course of illegal conduct that spanned two years. In other words, this was not an impulsive act but a continuous decision to break the law. These facts are akin to an employee theft case, and are generally treated more harshly than other theft cases.

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network-197300_1280New details are slowly emerging in the theft prosecution of a former NSA contractor who is accused of stealing classified government information over a 20-year period. Federal law enforcement officers executed a search and seizure warrant of the man’s Glen Burnie house in August and found boxes of stolen papers and multiple computers containing as much as 50 terabytes of classified information. Although law enforcement appears to have a grasp on the quantity of information stolen, there are still many unanswered questions such as whether any of the information was disseminated to third parties. The one certainty though is that the former contractor with top-secret clearance will be held in jail until trial after a federal judge denied his request for bail.

On the issue of bail, defense attorneys argued that their client is not a flight risk because he does not own a passport and does not have the means or the desire to live in hiding. They added that 51-year old Ann Arundel County man has served in the U.S. Navy and is not a danger to the community or the country, citing the fact that there is no proof he intended to share any of the stolen government materials. The government countered with what turned out to be the more compelling argument to the judge; federal prosecutors argued that the stolen information could be highly sought after by foreign governments who hypothetically could be willing to offer asylum to the defendant. They stated that the defendant allegedly used sophisticated computer technology in order to defeat controls placed on classified information and he was able to use complex software that allows for anonymous and untraceable internet access. The government also argued that the defendant is a danger to the community after law enforcement found ten firearms during the search, including one in the floorboard of a retired police vehicle that he purchased over the summer.

The NSA is one of the largest employers in Maryland, and hundreds of people that work at the Fort Meade headquarters are not actually NSA agents. Outside contractors are essential for to the day-to-day operations of the agency, and most are privy to classified information provided they have a security clearance. This particular contractor happened to have the highest clearance, and allegedly the skill and desire to pull of one of the largest data heists in government history. All told the amount of material is estimated to be as much as 500 million pages, and allegedly includes the identities of American intelligence officers and a specific operational plan against a known enemy of the U.S. The defendant now faces misdemeanor charges for unauthorized removal and retention of classified material and felony theft of government property. The felony counts carry up to ten years in prison, and the government could add more serious counts if the ongoing investigation reveals any intent to pass along the classified materials to a third party or leak the information to the public. The Glen Burnie man is already a suspect in a late summer data leak, where details about secret NSA hacking tools showed up on the internet. The Blog will continue to follow the progress of this theft prosecution and may post a follow up article if necessary.

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usa-1663297_1280Just three years ago United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland made national headlines after announcing dozens of indictments for corruption and drug trafficking at the Baltimore City Jail. These indictments were the first major accomplishment of the Maryland Prison Task Force, a collaboration of law enforcement created in 2011 that includes the FBI, DPSCS, U.S. Marshal ‘s Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The Task Force has remained active throughout Maryland’s jails, and recently made headlines for completing another massive corruption investigation, this time at the biggest prison facility in the state. The Eastern Correctional Institute or ECI is located in Somerset County on the Eastern shore, and houses over 3,000 inmates that have already been sentenced in court. It consists of two identical compounds with multiple housing units supervised by hundreds of correctional officers, and serviced by dozens of civilian contractors. With all the people moving in and around the facility it comes as no surprise that there would be contraband changing hands as well. It’s the scale of the conspiracy to move illegal goods such as drugs and cellphones within the facility that was far greater than expected.

The Department of Justice announced that a federal grand jury came back with indictments on 80 different individuals for their role in a massive conspiracy to move contraband throughout ECI for profit. The indictments charged 18 correctional officers, 35 inmates and 27 so called outside facilitators for their part in the conspiracy, which focused around bribing the prison officers to bring drugs, tobacco and phones to inmates. The officers allegedly would bring in packages containing contraband through prison security, and then deliver the cocaine, MDMA, marijuana, suboxone or other items to inmates who would pay using PayPal. Officers were paid as much as $500 each time they brought a package inside, and completed delivery in locations such as dining rooms, inmate’s cells or offices within the housing units.

Each defendant faces up to 20 years in federal prison for racketeering, a common charge used by the feds to severely punish those who take part in a large scale criminal conspiracy. The defendants also face felony drug distribution and possession with intent to distribute charges, which carries a 20-year sentence aw well. As of now, two of the corrections officers face additional time for the crime of depravation of rights under color of law for their role in facilitating the stabbing of two individuals who disrupted the flow of contraband. This charge exemplifies the type of public corruption that the DOJ and the FBI continue to focus on, and it gives their headlines a lot more teeth than just announcing a drug conspiracy. But really what this case boils down to is a massive law enforcement effort carried out by multiple agencies to stop inmates from getting high. This bust exposed nowhere near the level of criminal conduct of the bust at the Baltimore County Jail, as few jail conspiracies could ever rival that amount of corruption. Since the state created, and is paying for, a prison task force they will have to justify their existence and we should continue to see glorified jailhouse drug busts filed under the public corruption headline.

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drugs-908533_960_720The United States Attorney for Baltimore recently announced the indictments of four alleged drug traffickers that were arrested a week ago in Anne Arundel County by the DEA. This bust is one of the largest in the area over the past year, and it netted the government over $2.4 million cash and 30 plus kilograms of cocaine. The investigation began back in August when law enforcement officers received a tip about a possible drug operation using a Baltimore County trucking business as a cover up. Agents responded to the location of the suspected shell business in Essex to find that the trucking company had been evicted. Law enforcement later learned that the business had moved to Linthicum Heights, which is where officers began to conduct surveillance. After observing the four suspects numerous times the DEA decided to make their move, and stopped one of the men as he drove off the property in a pickup truck. Agents had observed that same truck enter and then exit the warehouse in a matter of minutes, thus peaking suspicion of surreptitious and possibly illegal activity. The DEA had a drug-sniffing dog on hand to check the truck as soon as the stop began, and the dog probably had little trouble identifying the alleged presence of 31 kilograms of cocaine. Cash and packing materials for the drugs were later found at the home of one of the suspects after law enforcement executed search warrants.

Traffic stops are a common way to initiate contact with a suspected drug trafficker because the law affords police a great deal of latitude in how these stops are conducted. This is true even if cops could care less about the actual traffic infraction in what is called a pretextual stop (unfortunately they also often make up an infraction), and it’s true even when cops have a K9 unit on hand as soon as the so-called traffic stop begins. Traffic stops are safer for the police because they can usually see everything going on in the car as opposed to conducting a raid on someone’s house, and these stops also allow police to maintain the element of surprise. Most defendants believe they are simply going to receive a traffic citation right up until the second the cuffs come out. Additionally the automobile exception line of appellate cases gives police freedoms that they do not enjoy when searching a house, place of work, or a person.

The four men now face felony charges for possession and distribution of cocaine as well as counts of criminal conspiracy in the federal court in downtown Baltimore. While the Maryland legislature has just passed a bill effectively doing away with mandatory minimum penalties for drug distribution, the Department of Justice has not shown a willingness to do the same in federal cases. The federal drug trafficking penalties currently include a five-year minimum sentence for trafficking between 500 grams and 5 kilograms of cocaine and between 100 grams and 1 kilogram of heroin.  Anything over these amounts triggers a ten year mandatory prison sentence, which is what these defendants face based on the 31 kilograms seized.

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hammer-719066_960_720The Special Court of Appeals has agreed to hear arguments on a major 5th Amendment issue stemming from the Baltimore City trial of the main defendant in the Freddie Gray case. In doing so, Maryland’s second highest court also ordered that the circuit court postpone the trial just hours before jury selection was set to commence. Oral arguments are set for the first week in March, allowing the Attorney General and the defense attorneys time to respond to each other’s legal briefs. The issue up for debate is whether the first defendant, whose case is still pending after a mistrial was declared, will be compelled to testify against one or more of the co-defendants. Under normal circumstances a defendant with pending charges would never be required to testify in any matter related to those pending charges. But the government is attempting to argue that their case is far from ordinary, and that the first defendant should be forced to take the stand against his former fellow officer.

The right to be protected from self-incrimination is one of the foundations of our criminal justice system, and “pleading the 5th” is one of the few legal concepts that comes to life as often in real cases as it does in Hollywood courtroom dramas. But in the case of the first officer, whose case resulted in a mistrial, the government is arguing there would be no self-incrimination implications should he be forced to testify against the other defendants. The government offered use immunity to the first officer, which means that they promised in writing to refrain from using any of the testimony against him at later time. Therefore the Attorney General will argue that there is no possibility that the officer’s testimony could get him into more trouble. This argument was compelling enough at least for the Baltimore City Circuit Court judge to buy, but don’t expect the appeals courts to be convinced as easily.

The defense introduced two main rebuttals to the government’s immunity argument. The attorneys argued that if the officer’s testimony is even slightly different the second and third time around he could face perjury charges, and they called attention to the numerous times that prosecutors called the first officer a liar during the December trial in support of this argument. The defense lawyers also suggested that even if the officer is eventually acquitted in the city circuit court he could still face federal charges. Per Department of Justice orders, federal prosecutors have been monitoring this case and were seen in court throughout the trial. The feds have made no such offer of immunity, and theoretically could use every bit of compelled state court testimony in a federal prosecution. While this seems like the stronger argument of the two, the shear historical strength of the 5th Amendment is perhaps the government’s greatest challenge to compelling the officer’s testimony. Ordering a defendant with a pending criminal case to testify against a co-defendant would be a direct shot at the 5th Amendment, and the implications would run contrary to decades of case law upholding the right to remain silent. The circuit court judge has a valid desire to move theses cases along, but the appeals courts will look at the bigger picture, and a ruling that undermines the constitutional protections afforded by the 5th Amendment is unlikely.