Articles Posted in Uncategorized

Published on:

keyboard-453795_1280-300x200A Baltimore County man was recently sentenced to 4 years in federal prison followed by 3 years of probation for his role in an Internet dating scam that cost numerous victims millions. The defendant, who hails from Owings Mills, pled guilty back in February to conspiracy to commit money laundering after he was indicted back in the spring of 2015 on numerous charges including wire fraud. According to the terms of the plea and the indictment the co-conspirators scoured numerous online dating websites in search of vulnerable victims, many of whom were elderly singles. The co-conspirators would then form romantic relationships with these unsuspecting victims over email, online chatting, and eventually phone calls. When the relationship had built up the co-conspirators would use fake stories to induce the victims to send money. These stories were elaborate and included tales of medical hardships that were bolstered by fake medical bills, tales of businesses on the verge of going bankrupt and non-existent foreign tax liens that needed to be settled.

The co-conspirators would receive money in numerous ways including wire transfers or bank deposits ranging from $1,700 to $30,000. Money was sent to drop accounts, which are designed to make it difficult to trace to the account holder (but clearly not too difficult for the FBI in this case). The money would not sit long in the drop accounts, as it was withdrawn and dispersed to the co-conspirators in a variety of ways in order to attempt to conceal the source of the funds. This is where the money laundering charges came from, as the co-conspirators would transfer money from the drop accounts to their own personal accounts online or they would write each other multiple checks for small amounts. Court documents also state that the defendants would purchase cashiers checks in order to conceal the source of all the income. All told the ten co-conspirators, most of whom are from the Laurel area of Prince George’s County, initially got away with scamming both male and female victims out of millions. Ultimately it was the attempt to funnel this money into usable accounts that brought this particular 26-year old defendant down.

The facts of this case do not clearly support a strong case for proving the existence of a theft scheme or a fraud scheme, as the victims appeared to hand over the money willingly, and often out of sympathy with no expectation of getting something in return. Regardless, the government always had the trump card of a money laundering charge in its back pocket. Even if federal prosecutors couldn’t prove fraud there was no bulletproof defense to the act of attempting to conceal the illegitimate funds flowing in from the dating scam. As they do in many conspiracy cases prosecutors likely followed the money straight to a conviction, and now it is the defendant that are going to have to pay up. This young defendant from Baltimore County has a hefty restitution payment of $375,000 bearing down on him once he is released from prison. Paying this restitution is likely a condition of probation, and if it is not paid the defendant could be back in court on a violation of probation. Failure to pay restitution might be a technical violation, but it is not a violation that judges take lightly. The Blog will continue to follow this case and other federal conspiracy cases, and may post a follow up article in the future so stay tuned.

Published on:

graphics-882726_640-300x207A probation sentence can be a blessing in some cases and a curse in others. In many situations accepting a plea to probation will get a defendant out of jail or prevent him or her from ever setting foot in jail, but sometimes it is not all it’s cracked up to be. Whether you receive 6 months or 3 years of supervision, your chances of successfully completing your time can often be largely influence by the agent that is assigned to your case. Forming a good relationship with your agent is key, and doing exactly what they say, while annoying at times, can be your easiest path to successful completion. Sometimes though a defendant will be assigned to an agent that is completely unreasonable and this is typically how violations begin. Remember that if your probation is or is about to be violated it does not mean you will automatically go to jail. If you fail a drug test, miss an appointment or catch a new charge your probation officer can let it slide or choose to inform the judge by writing a violation report. The violation report usually states the things that you did wrong, and is similar to a statement of probable cause in that it establishes a basis to charge you.

Upon receiving the violation report the court will typically do one of three things. The judge could choose to take no action and in this instance you will continue on probation as if nothing happened. The judge could also issue a summons for you to appear in court and answer for the violation. This is usually called a show cause hearing where you will be summoned to court to state whether you admit or deny the allegations in the report. In some instances when a show cause summons is issued the judge may urge the state’s attorney to dismiss the violation after discussing the case with the agent, the defendant and his or her attorney, but this is somewhat rare. If you go to court to try to explain yourself to the judge it is best to do so with an attorney or at least after contacting one for some advice.

If the judge is not kind enough to issue a summons for you to appear then a VOP warrant will be issued for your arrest. The judge can preset a bail depending on the severity of the violation, and in this case you could be released shortly after seeing the commissioner or in some courts, such as Baltimore City, the bail can be paid directly to the bail department. If there is no preset bail you will likely be held until you see the judge at a bail review hearing. At a bail review the judge could release you pending the VOP hearing or hold you without bail. If you are held without bail it is advisable to contact an attorney to try to set a court date as quickly as possible. There is nothing worse than sitting in jail for days and even weeks waiting for your chance to go to court.

Published on:

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.

Published on:

swimmers-79592_960_720Whether you love or hate the Olympics, most people would agree they were beginning to run their course. The past three weeks were filled with inspirational stories and domination by a pair of Maryland athletes, but Rio also produced its share of bizarre incidents and conspiracies. The latter seemed to steal many of the headlines, which is not surprising considering our appetite for scandals. No single event, including record setting performances on the track or in the pool, generated more news headlines than the American swimmers’ run in with an armed gas station security guard. At first it was reported that the swimmers were targeted by police impersonators and robbed at gunpoint, which was odd considering the alleged victims still had possession of their cell phones and jewelry. Then it was reported that the entire story was made up, and the swimmers were never robbed. While we still don’t have every detail, there are enough facts out there to generate a legal discussion about what crimes where actually committed that night. To keep the discussion relevant we will act as if the incident happened in Maryland, as the Blog does not claim to be an expert in the criminal laws of other states, much less other countries.

It seems fairly clear that the swimmers engaged in some sort of criminal activity before they were confronted by employees of the gas station. Whether their actions would have actually resulted in arrest or prosecution is debatable, but based on the evidence the swimmers could have been guilty of at least three criminal violations. Urination in public is illegal in Maryland, but unlike other states that have UIP laws, there is not a specific state criminal statute that addresses this conduct. Some local governments such as Prince George’s County have ordinances that cover this act, and in PG County it happens to be a civil citation. In order for an officer to arrest a person under state law for relieving themselves in public, he or she would have to charge the suspect with indecent exposure under section 11-107. This is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum three-year sentence, and is obviously a criminal charge that would look horrible on anyone’s rap sheet. A police officer could also arrest someone for using a public transportation vehicle as his or her own personal bathroom, which is a misdemeanor that carries a 90-day jail sentence under section 7-705 of the transportation code. It is unclear whether the swimmers actually damaged any property, but if they did then destruction of property and or disorderly conduct charges could follow.

While we do not know exactly what happened in or around the bathroom, it is absolutely clear that the swimmers became robbery victims at some point in the night. Robbery is a simple crime to define; it’s an unlawful taking of someone’s property with force. Many people can think of it as a theft plus an assault. If you throw a weapon into the equation you are left with an armed robbery, and if that weapon happens to be a working operable firearm then there could be an additional charge for using a firearm during the commission of a crime of violence. The gentleman that pulled a gun on the swimmers and demanded money without a doubt committed an armed robbery. If there were others standing next to the gun toting security guard then they too committed an armed robbery. There are very few valid legal defenses to a crime such as this, and none would apply here. The “security guard” was not acting in self-defense or the defense of others, and he certainly was not under duress. If this incident had happened in Maryland the man with the gun and any accomplices would have been arrested and charged with upwards of three felonies. Our government would have issued an apology to the admittedly foolish swimmers rather than extort them out of $11,000.

Published on:

squad-car-1209719_960_720What began as a small-scale prostitution investigation confined to Prince George’s County soon escalated into one of the largest statewide human trafficking busts in years. The PG County Police assigned undercover officers to track and arrest those suspected of harboring young women and then later forcing them in engage in prostitution in the area. What these officers found turned out to be much more than a local conspiracy, and the job soon became too large for just one police department to handle. The Maryland State Police and the Attorney General’s Office eventually became involved after it was discovered that the criminal enterprise was expanding outside of Prince George’s County to Baltimore and even Virginia.

The investigation recently concluded with two men and one woman being indicted on multiple criminal counts including human trafficking and receiving earnings from prostitution. Human trafficking and prostitution are both misdemeanors, with the former carrying a 10-year maximum jail sentence, but the defendants have much more to worry about as all three have also been indicted on counts involving human trafficking of a minor. This charge is classified as a felony under Maryland law, and carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison. The female 35-year old defendant is currently in custody and being held on a $300,000 bond, while the 42-year old male defendant is in jail on a $500,000 bond. The 26-year old male defendant is still at large after a warrant was issued for his arrest. All three will face trial in the Circuit Court of Prince George’s County and could be prosecuted by the AG’s Office or the State’s Attorney.

The allegations stem from the posting of online ads on websites such as backpages.com, which attempted to lure women who were down on their luck and desperate for money. The ads allegedly promised the repayment of all debts, and even a shot at modeling. Once the female targets would respond to the adds, the three defendants would allegedly take them in and offer them money and protection.  But the seemingly generous treatment by the defendants would come at a high price, as the three allegedly used threats to keep the women financial hostage by keeping their money and credit cards. The women were allegedly coerced or intimidated to engage in prostitution in order to keep a large flow of money to the defendants. In once instance, prosecutors accused the defendants of paying for a women to take a bus trip up to Maryland from North Carolina, and then refusing to let her leave because she was in their debt.

Published on:

annapolis-237078_960_720This past week the Governor’s Office in Annapolis announced that $3 million in state funds would be dedicated toward fighting the heroin epidemic in Maryland. Nearly a third of that money will provide funding for newly assigned heroin coordinators in law enforcement agencies across all regions of the state. The other $2 million plus will continue to fund the Safe Streets Initiative, a criminal offender based information sharing system that debuted in Anne Arundel County in 2008, and later expanded to Salisbury in 2010. There are now nine jurisdictions taking part in the initiative, which will receive tax dollars specifically dedicated toward the treatment and recovery of drug offenders. Five of the safe streets jurisdictions will acquire funds to hire peer recovery specialists.

The increased funding and the hiring of treatment specialists fall in line with the recommendations of the Heroin & Opioid Emergency Task Force, an initiative championed by Governor Larry Hogan. The governor has taken a hardline stance on the heroin epidemic in Maryland since being elected, and one of his first moves was to sign an executive order establishing the task force back in January of 2015. The eleven-member task force released 33 recommendations this past December, and now state officials are mobilizing to make these recommendations reality. In addition to expanding treatment and recovery options, the funds will also support the designation of the Baltimore-Washington High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area as the epicenter of the war on heroin. All drug related intelligence gathered by law enforcement around the state will flow through the metro area headquarters where it will be indexed and analyzed. In theory this will facilitate the tracking and eventual arrest of suspected drug traffickers and street level dealers. It remains to be seen whether the money would be better spend by simply hiring more qualified police officers, and encouraging them to communicate with other departments.

The governor’s war on heroin certainly creates buzz and headlines, and gives the impression that the state is at least trying to curb the heroin epidemic. But there are still far more headlines about drug overdoses and drug busts. Just days ago a man died from an apparent drug overdose at a Worcester County hospital after being taken into custody by Ocean City police. He was arrested on CDS possession with intent to distribute charges after police located 1,500 packets of heroin in his vehicle. Headlines like these have become so commonplace that it seems like the state’s war on heroin is going in the wrong direction. And as the federal government can attest to, the war on drugs is simply a never ending battle, and adding more cops and making more arrests is arguably not the correct path to victory. It could be even be argued that arresting drug dealers just keeps the price of heroin high, thus making it more attractive for others to start dealing.

Published on:

building-986994_960_720Two Maryland State’s Attorneys recently made headlines for the wrong reasons, and now both may be in jeopardy of losing their title as top prosecutor. Last week a law professor a George Washington University filed a complaint with the Attorney Grievance Commission against the Baltimore City State’s Attorney. The compliant requests that the city’s top criminal prosecutor be disbarred over her handling of the cases against five officers charged after the death of Freddie Gray. Criticisms of her actions over the last 16 months include rushing to charge the officers with insufficient evidence, and holding a highly opinionated and fiery press conference soon after that decision. The complaint also cites her decision to continue to prosecute the remaining three officers after two were found not guilty. The office has not yet commented on the complaint, citing a gag order issued by a circuit court judge last year.

Further north of Baltimore another elected State’s Attorney also finds himself in bit of hot water, and this situation could have criminal as well as professional consequences. Cecil County’s top prosecutor was recently arrested in Ocean City on charges of indecent exposure after he was allegedly seen naked on the balcony of his hotel room. Police later released the lawyer without charges after consulting the Worcester County State’s Attorney Office. While it originally appeared like a case where one colleague helped out another it certainly didn’t end that way; after a quick investigation Worcester County filed charges in the Snow Hill Circuit Court for disorderly conduct and indecent exposure. While disorderly conduct carries a lower maxim penalty than indecent exposure (60 days vs. 3 years) it is likely easier to prove, as it only requires proof that the actions of the lawyer caused a disturbance to the public. Public could mean as little as one witness, but in this case there are two civilian witnesses as evidenced by the filing of two counts of each offense.

The Cecil County prosecutor is almost definitely a first time offender, and is not likely to see the inside of the county jail. But he could face a possible criminal conviction, which would all but end his legal career. Worcester County is notorious for being tough on first offenders that tarnish the tourist town image of Ocean City. This arrest already has ended the charged lawyer’s hopes of being appointed judge, as the governor recently stated that he would no longer be considered. The prosecutor later formally withdrew his name from consideration in order to fully focus on his defense.

Published on:

police-780322_640During the off-season Ocean City is a quiet beach town with a population of around ten thousand residents, and relatively low police activity. In the summer months though the town transforms into a bustling city of over 300,000. Most of the summer visitors come with family to enjoy Maryland’s famous 10-mile stretch of beach, but there’s also the crowd that comes with a different purpose. The nightlife along coastal highway is enough motivation for many to brave the Route 50 speed traps, or the stop and go traffic coming from Pennsylvania down through Delaware. As is usually the case, packed bars and party hungry tourists attract the attention of police officers. Some officers are simply out there to keep the peace, but others are hungry for some police action. The 100 plus “seasonal” officers that the town of Ocean City employs each summer to supplement the regular force would probably fall into the latter category. Thousands of partygoers plus an increased law enforcement presence makes it hardly a surprise that the OC Police recently conducted a major undercover drug operation.

The undercover drug operation lasted throughout June and yielded 37 arrests. There were 23 controlled drug transactions between cops and unsuspecting dealers, which were used as evidence for distribution charges and other CDS offenses. Police also seized physical evidence including marijuana, cocaine, firearms and cash. Almost all of the defendants are from Maryland, though a few are Pennsylvania residents, and 6 of the 37 were arrested and charged as juveniles. The adult defendants range in age from 18 all the way to 46, but most are 23 or younger. All but three of the adults are facing felony charges that will likely be set for preliminary hearings in the Ocean City District Court sometime in August. Most of these cases will then be indicted or filed in the Worcester County Circuit Court over the next few weeks. Two of the cases are misdemeanor weapons charges and one is a disorderly conduct, which could be handled in the district court right in town.

This is definitely not the first, and will not be the last time Ocean City Police put together an organized undercover drug operation. Each summer there are dozens of drug arrests that involve an undercover cop posing as a party going tourist looking to get high. Most of these controlled deals involve a team of around four officers. One or two are usually dressed in street clothes, while another couple are watching or recording from a police car. The cops posing as potential buyers will typically meet their suspects in crowded areas such as the boardwalk, and then lure them onto the side streets to complete the deal. After the transaction is finished the uniformed officers will then jump out to make the arrest. In some instances police will not make an arrest right away, but will wait until the entire operation is over so as not to jeopardize the identity of the undercovers. But these situations are usually reserved for known dealers, and require a more patient approach that might not be practical to law enforcement in a tourist town. The Blog will follow these cases as they progress through the county courts, and may post a follow up article if necessary.

Published on:

fingerprint-150159_640.pngThe Maryland criminal justice system is relatively friendly to first time offenders compared to other states. This may be a hard concept to swallow, especially for someone who has spent months fighting in the district and circuit courts to clear their name. But our state provides number of ways for a person charged with a crime to eventually be able to move forward with their life. The expungement system is easy to understand, cheap, and quick in comparison to other similar systems. Typically within three months of filing a qualified expungement application, the charge at issue will be taken off the public case search, and court and police records will be destroyed. There is also no limit on how many qualified cases a person can expunge, which is hardly the case in other states, and there are numerous outcomes that allow a defendant to expunge his or her case. Some common outcomes are a not guilty verdict, nolle pros., STET, or a probation before judgment. Probation before judgment, which allows a defendant to plead guilty without receiving a permanent conviction, is often afforded to first time offenders. A PBJ is eligible for expungement three years from the date it was accepted. A case that is marked as STET also may be expunged after waiting three years, but not guilty verdicts and cases where the state announces a nolle pros. are immediately eligible.
Continue reading →

Published on:

baltimorepolice.jpgBaltimore still has a long way to go, but it appears the city is heading in the right direction when it comes to fighting crime. City officials including the mayor and police commissioner recently kicked off 2015 with a press conference announcing a decline in Baltimore’s overall crime rate. The decline from 2013 to 2014 includes both violent offenses and property crimes such as murder, robbery, and burglary. The number of murders and non-fatal shootings both decreased roughly ten percent. There were 235 murders and 402 shootings in 2013, while there were 211 and 371 respectively this past year. The murder total is the second lowest in decades, with only 2011 seeing a lower number in recent history with 196. The 80’s and 90’s consistently saw homicide numbers in the 300’s, while the beginning of this century mostly saw numbers in the high 200’s.
Continue reading →