Tuesday, January 17, 2017

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF A GRAND JURY IS LOOKING INTO MY CONDUCT OR THE CONDUCT OF MY BUSINESS?

It's not an unusual question for a federal criminal defense lawyer to receive from those under suspicion of doing a federal crime in the Middle District of Florida: What should I do if a grand jury is looking into my conduct, the conduct of my business enterprise or the conduct of others I've been close to or done business with? 

It may have started with a visit from federal agents such splendid agencies as the FBI or the DEA or the ATF. Or it could originate with what is known as a target letter that as the name implies strongly suggests that you retain immediate legal help because you're likely to soon face an indictment from a grand jury. If you're the target of a federal investigation you need to understand the best ways to avoid arrest and prosecution.

Here is a sample of a target letter given by the Justice Department for use by Assistant United States Attorneys in federal criminal prosecutions:

This letter is supplied to a witness scheduled to appear before the federal Grand Jury in order to provide helpful background information about the Grand Jury. The Grand Jury consists of from sixteen to twenty-three persons from the Middle District of Florida. It is their responsibility to inquire into federal crimes which may have been committed in this District.
As a Grand Jury witness you will be asked to testify and answer questions, and to produce records and documents. Only the members of the Grand Jury, attorneys for the United States and a stenographer are permitted in the Grand Jury room while you testify.
We advise you that the Grand Jury is conducting an investigation of possible violations of federal criminal laws involving, but not necessarily limited to conspiracy to traffic in cocaine and marijuana, as well as mail fraud, scheme to defraud and federal firearm violation. You are advised that the destruction or alteration of any document required to be produced before the grand jury constitutes serious violation of federal law, including but not limited to Obstruction of Justice.
You are advised that you are a target of the Grand Jury's investigation. You may refuse to answer any question if a truthful answer to the question would tend to incriminate you. Anything that you do or say may be used against you in a subsequent legal proceeding. If you have retained counsel, who represents you personally, the Grand Jury will permit you a reasonable opportunity to step outside the Grand Jury room and confer with counsel if you desire.
Cordially, 
Your favorite Prosecuting Attorney
The letter starts out cordially enough, I guess, but it's not exactly an invitation to a birthday party but more like a request to attend a wake as the last paragraph is heart stopping. In fact just reading it makes me want to go confess something to a grand jury right now in hopes of evading an indictment os something far worse. Oh hell, I'll finish this first then confess. The letter of course is not only a warning of that gift that never stops giving, a future indictment, but also in paragraph three clearly warns the receiver that destroying evidence is a federal crime. 

Ultimately if you have knowledge that a Florida grand jury in the Middle District of Florida is looking into your past you need to protect your future by contacting a federal criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to get the best possible results.

Monday, January 09, 2017

WHY PINELLAS COUNTY FLORIDA DRUG ARRESTS & INVESTIGATIONS WILL SOON SPIKE & HOW TO SURVIVE

For the past eight years the office of theAttorney General has sought to tamp down needless drug arrests and investigations especially in Federal marijuana trafficking cases and drug cases that did not involve violence or the use of firearms. Further, at least from the top, Federal prosecutors were directed toward the goal of fair federal drug sentencing with less reliance on statutory minimum mandatory sentencing and the typically harsh federal drug sentencing. 

It's likely that Attorney General nominee Senator Sessions or someone of his mindset will soon change the direction of the Attorney General's office. Senator Sessions has denounced all those who use marijuana as "stupid" even those who happen to live in one of the many states where marijuana use is now legal. Further, he proudly cites his time as a federal prosecutor in the eighties as being "a lieutenant in the war on drugs." It's disconcerting because most people directly involved in that American war on drugs including the judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers who waged it, are in agreement that people's lives were needlessly destroyed and ruined because of widespread federal prosecutions that brought long prison sentences. In fact the current Justice Department has done what it can to mitigate the damage done during the anti-drug crusade by reducing sentences where appropriate.

The new focus of the Justice Department will be to make more Florida arrests in places like Pinellas County and to severely punish not only violent drug traffickers but also small quantity drug users. The punitive use of the federal criminal court system will inevitably draw more federal prison time for people who are nonviolent drug users using resources that should be used to punish those who commit violent crimes. 

If you've been investigated, arrested or under possible grand jury indictment or scrutiny for drugs in the Middle District of Florida in Pinellas or Hillsborough County you'll need an effective, reliable Clearwater defense attorney familiar with federal criminal law to help guide you toward the best possible outcome.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

YOU'VE BEEN ARRESTED - NOW WHAT? HERE ARE FIVE THINGS YOU MUST DO AFTER YOUR FLORIDA ARREST

Police in Florida who are convinced that a crime has been committed are recently being given more discretion to not always make an arrest by either issuing a notice to appear or by forwarding the case to the State Attorney's Office where prosecutors conduct further investigation before either declining to file the case or issuing an arrest warrant. A notice to appear could typically be given in a nonviolent misdemeanor case such as the minor drug offense of Possession of Marijuana or Possession of drug Paraphernalia as long as the marijuana amount was small. Forwarding the case to prosecutors often involves nonviolent felonies or cases where either the applicable law is in some doubt or the facts and circumstances of the case are not clear with further investigation needed. For example, in scheme to defraud, fraud, and many grand theft cases the sheer complexity of the facts in question may delay an arrest as an investigation by prosecutors and detectives moves forward.

But in most Florida criminal cases police take immediate action after an initial investigation by making an arrest. In these cases it's important for the person arrested or those who care about that person to take immediate action. Here are the five most important things to do:

1. Hire a defense lawyer. The lawyer will demand discovery such as police reports and state witness names and addresses and conduct a thorough investigation of the facts by interviewing possible defense witnesses, subpoenaing possible video or audio of the incident, researching applicable law, finding flaws in the police investigation, writing prosecutors to reduce or dismiss criminal charges and asking the judge to reduce any applicable bond with as few restriction while free as possible.

2. Bond out of jail. Our system of justice is not always fair because even innocent people who have been arrested but not convicted for felonies or misdemeanors may be forced to wait months in jail while their cases proceed thru the chaotic Florida criminal justice system. Loss of career and an inability to ably help with their defense is the result. Therefore, it's important to find the means to bond out of prison. Hire a bondsman if the direct bond amount can't be found. 

3. Stay out of trouble and out of harm's way. Don't do anything that will land you back in jail. Stay away from the victim or any state witnesses involved with your criminal case, that means no calls, no meetings, no instant messages. Stay away from wherever the offense occurred. Stay out of trouble and keep your nose clean.

4. Focus on your case. Give your attorney all the information that you have and try to get any information that you don't have. That means that if you believe there's a witness who could help your case that you do your best to find that person's name and contact information or give the lawyer enough information that he can do it as soon as possible. The faster your attorney has the information the sooner he can use it to help your case.

5. Be strong. A successful result is much more likely if you are upbeat and helpful. If you've got a mountain to climb, then start climbing. You've been arrested, maybe you're feeling disheartened, down and out and who wouldn't feel that way, but to fight these criminal charges you've got to be stronger than you've ever been not just for yourself but for your family and for those who love you. Get some exercise, eat well, control what you can control. If you've chosen a good defense lawyer then let this sit on his shoulders not on yours.

For over thirty years I've been exclusively practicing Federal and state criminal law in Florida, with the goal of leading clients who've been arrested to the best possible results so that you can go back to living a full life as you did before that arrest.


Tuesday, January 03, 2017

WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU'RE ISSUED A NOTICE TO APPEAR FOR A CRIMINAL CHARGE IN CLEARWATER, FLORIDA

In some nonviolent misdemeanor criminal cases Florida law enforcement officers may give what is known as a Notice to Appear to a defendant rather than making a formal arrest. Although there's no arrest in the case Florida's archaic and chaotic criminal justice system treats every criminal charge as significant. It's important to understand that even in a criminal case that did not initially result in an arrest may be punished with jail time, probation or hefty fines. For example, lately the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, the Largo Police Department and the Clearwater Police Department are apt to give a Notice to Appear rather than making an arrest in possession of small amounts marijuana cases yet it's still important to make a priority of avoiding harsh punishments in drug cases as they can result in jail, probation and fines not to mention the loss of employment opportunities. 

In Pinellas County your Notice to Appear will give a date and time to appear for a hearing on the matter at a Courtroom at the Criminal Court Complex located on 49th Street in Clearwater, Florida. Failing to appear at that place and time will not only result in an arrest warrant being issued for you but will result in a new charge being filed, known as Failure to Appear, thus complicating any future efforts to reduce, dismiss or negotiate the original criminal charge.

The first hearing date given in the Notice to Appear is called an arraignment. At the arraignment the judge will make sure that the defendant understands the nature of the charged offense, make a finding for the record of how the defendant intends to plead and will ascertain whether the defendant has hired a defense lawyer. If defense counsel is retained before the arraignment the lawyer can file a notice of appearance with the Court so that the defendant need not attend the arraignment.

It's always important to hire your criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible even when there has not been an arrest. That way your lawyer will have time to investigate the facts of your case and find the best possible outcomes leveraging your judge's discretion to resolve your case so that it won't unduly affect your job status, your family life or your future.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

DEA AGENT SENT TO PRISON AFTER DEMANDING $700,000 FROM THE FAMILY OF A DRUG TRAFFICKER

America's harsh federal drugs laws continue to destroy not only the lives, families and loved ones of those convicted and sentenced to long prison terms, but also those who carry out the drug war on behalf of the federal government. In fact it's never been truer than now that corrupt sentencing corrupts prosecutors as well as law enforcement officers. In the Middle District of Florida a federal judge recently sentenced a former federal DEA agent to a year of imprisonment because he'd demanded $700,000 from the family of an imprisoned man whom he'd helped convict many years before. 

As the convicted drug defendant wasted ten years of his life languishing in jail the DEA agent lived a full & happy life until eventually retiring Then the DEA agent agreed to help the defense for ready cash despite federal rules that prohibit this. The agent made it clear in an email to the family that "...if we can't come to some understanding then you guys get to keep your money and he stays in jail because good luck getting him out without my testimony."

This quote in essence damns the entire federal criminal justice system as it relates to drug investigations for trafficking amounts of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana. Clearly this statement establishes a motive for DEA and FBI agents to pump up charges and to convict defendants so that they can later come back and reap the full rewards of their investigations. The problem is that investigators even on a local level are not shielded from corruption as a recent internal affairs investigation of the Pinellas Sheriff's office led to resignations of drug Detectives without jail time. 

Because of this inherent bias of federal and state prosecutions based on testimony from law enforcement officers, DEA agents and FBI agents, federal judges especially in the Middle District of Florida and in state courts in Clearwater, Florida should allow all drug testimony from these agents to be cross-examined with what knowledge the agents have of the $700,000 demand made by the retired DEA agent. It clearly goes to their potential bias in favor of harsh prosecutions resulting in the most possible time in prison for defendants in high profile drug cases so that they can later benefit financially once they leave law enforcement.

Monday, December 05, 2016

WHAT TO DO IF YOU'RE BEING INVESTIGATED OR PROSECUTED FOR FEDERAL CRIMINAL SECURITY FRAUD

Security Fraud as defined by Federal Statutes at 15 U.S.C., Section 78J(B) can surprisingly encompass a wide range of activities that one might not readily believe are criminal. In fact the statute is purposefully vague so as to be a catch-all clause that prevents fraudulent practices in general. Despite this under the harsh Federal Sentencing Guidelines a conviction for Security Fraud often results in many years of federal prison even when someone can prove that he did not know that his actions were unlawful as all that is required under the federal criminal code is that it be shown he acted willfully. 


Securities Fraud does not require
Knowledge it's Unlawful
The statute delineates that it's unlawful to "directly or indirectly ... use or employ in connection with the purchase or sale of any security ... any manipulative or deceptive device or contrivance of such rules and regulations as the SEC may prescribe." 

So we go to the SEC to find Rule 10b-5 that forbids the following:
1. Using any scheme or artifice to defraud.
2. Making any untrue statement of material fact or omitting a necessary statement of material fact that would make the statement not misleading.
3. Engaging in any act practice or course of business that operates as a fraud or deceit to a person.

As you can see this is a poor way to circumscribe what the bad behavior actually is using such a broad stroke so Federal Courts have come into play to fill the gaps. Anyone with a fiduciary duty who fails to disclose germane information before a trade is made is likely liable as would someone who self deals. 

Courts have found that the statute encompasses the following activities: churning stock accounts, directed orders, wash sales, matched orders, rigged pricing, artificial markets, market manipulation, wooden tickets, parking and boxing in the stock. All of these practices are unlawful and therefore indictable offenses even if there's no actual monetary loss for the victim. Brokers are often at risk of being falsely accused of securities fraud (or of grand theft and scheme to defraud with huge loss amounts in the state courts of Florida) just because the alleged victim lost money on a known transaction that happened to go wrong. 

However, where there is a monetary loss that loss amount will be used in federal guideline calculations at sentencing and presented to the Court by the federal probation officer who writes the Presentencing Report. The relevant Sentencing Guidelines for Security Fraud are found at Section 2B1.1 (fraud) and 2B1.4 (insider trading). These provisions provide that the dollar amount of the alleged fraud will be the chief driver for sentencing. To find the best possible results in these complicated fraud cases it's important to contact as early as possible a Federal criminal defense lawyer who is well versed in the federal courtrooms of the Middle District of Florida.