Articles Posted in Federal Crimes

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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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hammer-802296__480-300x225The U.S. Attorney’s Office recently announced that a Howard County physician was sentenced to 15 months of federal prison followed by 3 years of probation for passport fraud. The 50-year old doctor had been held without bail in a federal detention facility since his arrest back in May, meaning he will have to serve about one year of additional incarceration. He also may face deportation, as Homeland Security has initiated removal proceedings. According to his prior guilty plea, the doctor entered the United States from Ghana back in 1995 and applied for certification of his medical license in 1996. In 1998 the doctor married a U.S. citizen in Virginia, but his petition for citizenship was denied after immigration officials concluded the marriage was a sham and only for the purpose of gaining citizenship. Regardless, the doctor was granted a license to practice medicine in Maryland in 2001 and opened an office in Laurel. In 2007 and again in 2009 the doctor applied for United States passports for his minor children. On the applications for his minor children the doctor fraudulently stated that he was in fact a U.S. citizen who was born in North Carolina. In between applying for passports for his children, he applied for his own passport in 2008, again stating on the application and in subsequent interviews that he was born in North Carolina. The doctor even included a false affidavit from a family friend who claimed to have witnessed the doctor’s birth in America. Based on the information provided, the doctor was issued a U.S. passport in 2008.

For over 10 years the doctor used his fraudulent U.S. passport numerous times for international travel, and when it came time to renew the passport in 2018 he again told federal officials that he was born in North Carolina. The U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service was the main law enforcement agency responsible for investigating this case, and executed a search warrant of the doctor’s home in Fulton. Investigators found several incriminating documents, which supported their suspicions including his Ghanaian passport, additional false affidavits and draft petitions for the Howard County Circuit Court that attempted to further perpetuate the scam.

There are a number of different passport crimes, and the feds treat all of them seriously. Forgery, false use of a passport and misuse of a passport are all classified as felonies, with maximum prison sentences ranging between 10 and 25 years. The 25-year penalty is reserved for the misuse of a passport to facilitate international terrorism. This means that any person who provided a fake passport to a terrorist or in some way assisted a terrorist in obtaining a passport could be on the hook for a 25-year sentence. A similar provision applies to drug trafficking crimes, but the maximum penalty is slightly less at 20 years. Any other type of passport misuse including making false statements on a passport application, altering or counterfeiting a passport, using a fake or altered passport or even using a passport that belongs to another person could trigger felony charges with a 10-year penalty.

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fire-1030751_1280-300x199In the summer of 2017 a dangerous multi-alarm fire broke out a popular local bar in Pasadena an hour after closing time. More than 75 firefighters responded to the scene and one suffered injuries trying to battle the blaze, which spread from the side of the building and into the attic. After an hour and a half of intense work Anne Arundel County firefighters were able to extinguish the fire, but not after it caused over $200,000 worth of damage and shuttered the bar indefinitely. The fire began around 3 a.m. on a Friday morning, and by Saturday law enforcement already had determined that the fire was likely set intentionally. The ATF immediately began an arson investigation, but charging a suspect for setting the fire probably took a little longer than they had expected.

Just over two years after the fire, federal law enforcement has announced the indictment of a 34-year old Pasadena man who was a regular patron at the bar. The defendant and his attorney have not made a statement, and law enforcement has not yet released details on a possible motive. The bar owner was interviewed by local news outlets and stated he was not surprised to learn the identity of the arsonist, but did no go into further detail just why he felt the way he did. Unlike the large majority of cases that are investigated by the state fire marshal and prosecuted in state court, this particular arson case will be prosecuted in federal court under a statute that carries a 5-year minimum mandatory prison sentence upon conviction. 18 U.S. Code 844 states that anyone who damages or destroys a building or other real property that is either owned by the United States, receives federal financial assistance or is a part of interstate commerce faces up to 20 years in prison with the aforementioned 5-year minimum. The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not specify how the building was tied to the federal government in any way, so the defendant must have been charged under the interstate commerce section of the statute. Interstate commerce has long since been a way for the federal government to intervene in matters traditionally reserved for state and local governments, but we’ll say no more there at the risk of this post turning into an Interstate Commerce Clause discussion.

Under Maryland law there is no minimum mandatory prison sentence for arson. The maximum penalty for arson in the first degree is 30 years, while the max penalty for arson in the second degree is 20 years. Second-degree arson is defined as intentionally and maliciously setting fire to a structure. First-degree arson requires the state to prove the defendant set fire to a dwelling (home) or an occupied structure. Both are serious felony crimes, but only first-degree arson is considered a violent crime. Arson is not as common as its misdemeanor counterpart, malicious burning. In Maryland malicious burning is defined as intentionally setting fire to another person’s property. The two degrees depend on the value of the property, with first-degree being over $1,000 and second-degree being under $1,000. First-degree malicious burning is a felony and carries a 5-year maximum penalty, while second degree carries an 18-month maximum jail sentence. Other common fire related crimes in Maryland include burning with the intent to defraud, which is a five-year misdemeanor and threat of arson, which is a ten-year misdemeanor.

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1398073_security_fence_4-300x200Last week two Maryland defendants were sentenced to more than a decade in federal prison for drug distribution charges that were far from run of the mill. The first case originated in Annapolis where the defendant, a 25-year old Howard County man, met up with a female buyer and sold her heroin. The next day the female buyer was found unresponsive in her Bowie apartment, and was pronounced dead on the scene after Prince George’s County paramedics were unable to revive her. Law enforcement arrived and recovered a dose of heroin, and in an effort to locate the suspected dealer took possession of the female’s cell phone. Sure enough the defendant sent a text just a short time later offering to sell her more heroin. Police officers responded to the text posing as the female victim, and made arrangements for another drug deal. Police conducted a traffic stop of the defendant’s vehicle near the pre-arranged meeting place for the drug transaction, and observed white powder on his pants as he stepped out of the car. Police also observed white powder and a small folded piece of paper on the floor by the passenger seat where the defendant had been sitting. There were three other individuals in the car including two minor children. Search in incident to arrest yielded the cell phone that had been used to set up the drug deals.

Rather that challenge the legality of the search and seizure, the defendant elected to admit to the allegations and plead guilty. There could have been a variety of legal arguments aimed at suppressing the physical evidence recovered from the defendant and the vehicle, but it is unlikely the defendant would have prevailed. The defendant did not have standing to challenge the seizure of the victim’s cell phone, and it is not illegal for the police to pose as a drug buyer and set up a totally fictitious deal. It is not clear exactly how the traffic stop transpired, but police likely had probable cause to arrest the defendant after observing the white powder on his pants, and/ or confirming that he was indeed the person who agreed to sell heroin to the victim. Once police recovered the defendant’s cell phone getting a signed warrant to search the phone would have been a foregone conclusion. In addition to pleading guilty to distribution of heroin, the plea also required the defendant to admit that a person died as a result of his role in selling the heroin. While the defendant did not plea to an enhanced crime for the sale of narcotics resulting in an overdose, it was made part of the permanent court record and undoubtedly factored in to sentencing considerations. The presiding judge at the Greenbelt federal courthouse would have also considered the defendant was not a first offender, as he has a robbery conviction from Baltimore County, as well as several other contacts with law enforcement.

Just one day after the defendant in the heroin case was learned his fate, another convicted drug dealer was sentenced 11 years in federal prison for possession with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana and conspiracy to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine. This case also spanned multiple jurisdictions, as police officers were called to investigate an armed robbery in Baltimore County. Upon identifying a suspect for the robbery, police executed a search warrant in Glen Burnie, and recovered large amounts of cocaine, cash, marijuana and two guns. This case did not end with a plea bargain, but rather went all the way to trial, where a federal jury convicted the defendant after 5 days of testimony. The original robbery and subsequent search occurred in 2016, but the defendant fled prior to his first trial date in November of 2018. He was a fugitive for more than a year before being captured and brought to trial this past spring.