Recently in Federal Crimes Category

February 6, 2013

Tewksbury Motel Owner Successfully Challenges Fed's Attempt to Forfeiture his Property

A Tewksbury, MA motel owner has successfully challenged the federal government's attempt to forfeiture his motel due to drug activity on the motel's premises.

Russell Caswell is the trustee, and one of the beneficiaries, of the Tewksbury Realty Trust which owns the motel. Over a nine year period, the Tewksbury Police Department made eight arrests at the motel which resulted in federal drug convictions.

In November, 2007, the Tewksbury Police Department, sent a letter to area "Hotel/Motel Managers about the increase in motor vehicle thefts in the area and asked the managers to attend a community meeting. Neither the letter, nor during the meeting, was local drug activity discussed. Thereafter, the U.S. filed a Verified Complaint for Forfeiture in Rem seeking the forfeiture of all buildings, appurtenances and improvements on the motel because the motel was "used, or intended to be used, in any manner or part, to commit, or to facilitate the commission of, a violation of [the Controlled Substances Act] punishable by more than one year of imprisonment."

Under 21 U.S.C. ยง881, the government can seize property used to facilitate federal felonies if the owners either knew about the criminal activity or did not do enough to prevent it. While federal law requires property owners to then prove they did not know about the criminal activity or took reasonable steps to prevent it, under Massachusetts law the burden of proof is on the state to prove the property owner knew or should have known about crimes on the premises.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Judith Gail Dein ruled in favor of Mr. Caswell.

According to Judge Dein, "Given the limited number of qualifying drug-related crimes which occurred at the Motel over an extended period of time, the limited evidence of other drug-related crimes, the owner's lack of involvement in any drug-related incidents, the limited amount of drugs involved in each incident, and the fact that the crimes were committed by different transient guests at a property which, by definition, caters to transient guests, this Court concludes that finding a 'substantial connection' would be inconsistent with 'both letter and spirit of the law.' Further, because Mr. Caswell "did not have actual knowledge of the forfeitable drug crimes before or while they were occurring, and there is no evidence that he should have known that they were likely to occur," he met his burden of proving he was an 'innocent owner.'" U.S. v. 434 Main Street.

If you or a family member has been charged with criminal activity, please contact Parker | Scheer LLP for a free consultation with one of our experienced Criminal Defense Lawyers.

May 24, 2012

Dorchester Woman Charged in One of a Series of Bank Robberies

According to a statement by FBI officials, a 46 year old Dorchester woman has been charged in a bank robbery that is reportedly part of a series of heists that federal and state authorities had called on the public's help to solve.

The woman was arrested by members of the FBI's Violent Crimes Task Force during a car stop in Danvers, Massachusetts, thanks to the help of public tipsters. The woman is charged with the unarmed robbery of a Sovereign Bank on Boylston Street on April 13th.

Police and FBI have asked the public for help with this string of hold-ups, including "the April 21 robbery of a Dorchester Sovereign Bank and robberies on Friday at a Citizens Bank in Dorchester, a Jamaica Plain Mount Washington Bank and the Members Credit Union in Dorchester." The FBI put out a statement that said, "this investigation and many others demonstrate the public is always law enforcement's best ally to prevent, detect, and deter crime."

The full article can be seen here.

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April 12, 2012

5 Former New Orleans Police Department Officers Sentenced in Post-Katrina Shootings

Multiple news outlets reported that, on Wednesday April 4, 2012, varying prison sentences were ordered by Judge Kurt D. Englehardt of the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Louisianna. Judge Englehardt ordered federal prison sentences ranging from six years to sixty five years in response to the guilty findings of five ex-New Orleans Police Department Officers that shot six unarmed civilians two days after Hurricane Katrina. Two of the unarmed civilians were killed, and the ex-officers were apparently involved with wide ranging cover-ups to obstruct the investigations in relation thereto.

A number of ex-officers that were directly involved with the shootings and the subsequent cover-up previously entered pleas of guilty, and were ordered to serve significantly reduced prison sentences in return for their guilty pleas and testimony offered at the trials of the remaining co-defendants.

The evidence painted an alarming and tragic story of police misconduct in the immediate aftermath of one of the nations' most severe natural disasters. On September 4, 2005, as most of the city of New Orleans lay submerged in flood waters caused by Hurricane Katrina, members of the New Orleans Police Department responded to distress calls from the area of the Danziger Bridge in the eastern part of the city. Immediately upon arrival at the scene, officers began shooting, apparently indiscriminately, at numerous individuals that were desperately searching for food and shelter. A number of the victims were shot in the back as the attempted to flee the unprovoked assault.

Evidence further showed that the broad cover-up attempt included fabricated witnesses and a planted hand gun.

Before ordering the federal prison sentences, Judge Engelhardt condemned the mandatory minimum sentences that were linked to the charges involved because of the chilling effect these sentencing requirements have on the discretion of the Judge to analyze the totality of the circumstances, both aggravating and mitigating, in an attempt to reach the most equitable sentences. Judge Engelhardt further expressed displeasure by the significant range in sentences meted out, and the plea deals that were entered into by the federal prosecutors with cooperating witnesses.

Analysis by Parker | Scheer LLP Attorney Vincent A. Tofani:

Taking a moment to step back, away from one of the most troubling and tragic examples of police misconduct that I have ever heard of, I would like to address Judge Engelhardt's apparent displeasure with mandatory minimum sentences. As an experienced criminal defense attorney, specializing in drug trafficking offenses, I often grapple with the pitfalls associated with mandatory minimum sentences.

Most common, pursuant to the Massachusetts General Laws, a "School Zone" count carries a mandatory minimum sentence of two years, to be served consecutively to any sentence(s) ordered for the underlying offense. As a criminal defense attorney practicing in the densely populated cities comprising the greater Boston area, in my experience a "School Zone" count (essentially when a drug offense other than simple possession occurs within 1,000 feet of a school or 100 feet of a park) is applicable more often than not. This provides the prosecutor with substantial leverage when negotiating with a criminal defense lawyer, to determine whether the respective parties can favorably resolve a criminal matter prior to trial because of the severe implications that a school zone count carries.

I share Judge Engelhardt's concerns regarding sentencing guidelines that remove the discretion of the judge because I have never encountered two clients or two cases that are exactly the same. In most cases, an experienced criminal defense lawyer will identify mitigating circumstances involved in the criminal charges that their client faces. But, when a charge carries a mandatory minimum sentence, the judge has absolutely no discretion to take into account the unique circumstances that exist in every case, whether aggravating or mitigating.

I can appreciate the argument that harsh mandatory sentences act as an effective deterrent against the prohibited conduct. Notwithstanding, I believe that it is more important to afford judges in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with discretion to order equitable sentences after taking into account the totality of the circumstances. Every individual is exactly that: an individual, with a unique background and circumstances. Mandatory minimum sentences ignore this fundamental concept that is inherently intertwined in every criminal case. Accordingly, a judge's ability to exercise his or her discretion when determining a sentence is an essential element in reaching an equitable result.

For a more comprehensive discussion regarding "school zone" counts pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, please click here.

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March 12, 2012

Suspicious Package Sent to Brockton Home

A suspicious package filled with white powder was sent to a Brockton teenager's home. The teenager reported that her mother found the package, which led to a massive response by Brockton police, fire and state marshals, hazardous materials team, and the FBI.

The package contained the white powder, and a picture of her 19 year old girlfriend from Brockton, with her mother and her uncle. On the picture, the faces were crossed off with a circle and an X, and on the back there was handwriting that said "watch out for me."

The teen told reporters that she believes that the package was dropped off and not mailed because there was no stamp on it. The state fire marshal reported that preliminary testing showed no harmful material in the package but that it had been sent to the state lab for further testing. An FBI spokesman said the final test results will arrive shortly.

The full article can be seen here.

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February 22, 2012

Five Men Arrested for Attempted Entry at Natick Army Lab

According to police, five men from New York have been arrested for attempting to get into the U.S. Army Natick Soldiers System Center in Natick with a car full of fake credit cards and stolen electronics. The men attempted to bluff their way into the secure lab with fake ID's.

At the front gate, Army police immediately identified their fake IDs and apprehended the men. After a search of the 2012 Chevy Suburban, Army police located around 40 counterfeit credit cards, and a significant amount of stolen electronics.

The Natick lab is responsible for researching, developing, fielding and managing many different types of soldier support items. Leonard Marcus, a terrorism expert from Harvard, said that "it could very well have been an innocent attempt at robbery or it could have been some much larger effort on their part." The five suspects were arraigned in Framingham District Court on Tuesday.

The full article can be seen here.

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January 18, 2012

Massachusetts State Trooper Arrested for Extortion

Authorities recently reported that a Massachusetts State Trooper was charged with extortion after allegedly getting into the gambling business and subsequently threatening to kill a bookmaker. The trooper has been suspended without pay after he reportedly beat and repeatedly threatened to kill the man.

The bookmaker, who later went to the FBI, became a confidential witness and wore a wire for the FBI to expose the trooper in mid-December.

The bookie told the FBI that the trooper was initially one of the bettors but agreed to loan the bookmaker $24,000 when he learned of his debts to loan sharks. In return, the trooper demanded a share in the gambling profits. After a meeting on December 23rd, the trooper became angry at the amount of money owed to him, and threatened him. In a later meeting the trooper allegedly head-butted and slapped the bookmaker. The trooper was arrested in Belmont MA and is being held in federal custody.

The ful article can be seen here.

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May 9, 2011

Feds Charge Revere Police Officer in Corruption Sting

A Revere police officer has been arrested and charged with corruption by lying to the FBI and accepting a $200 bribe. According to the Department of Justice, Todd Randall, 40, of Revere, met with an FBI witness and accepted the bribe in exchange for providing interference with a criminal case. Agents reported that Randall was on duty, in his police uniform, and driving a marked Revere Police cruiser when he traveled to the witness's home and accepted the bribe.

FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers said, "Mr. Randall's alleged criminal actions and subsequent false statements regarding his role in an ongoing public corruption investigation are an injustice to the thousands of honest and trustworthy federal, state and local law enforcement officers who work in Massachusetts." The interaction between Randall and the FBI witness was caught on camera during the bribery sting.

Randall has been on unpaid administrative leave from the Revere Police Department and is facing up to five years in prison if convicted. He was released on a $10,000 unsecured bond after his arrest; however, he is reportedly working on a plea deal with federal prosecutors to resolve the situation, reports U.S. Attorney Robert A. Fisher.

The full article is featured here.

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October 21, 2010

Key Witness to Testify in Corruption Case

Ronald Wilburn, the key government witness in the corruption trial of Boston City Councilor Chuck Turner, told reporters today that he would testify. Wilburn allegedly gave Turner a $1,000 bribe while working as an FBI informant.

Turner is charged with attempted extortion and three counts of making false statements to federal agents. Under federal law, attempted extortion is punishable by up to 20 years in jail and a $250,000 fine, and each false statement charge is punishable by up to 5 years. Wilburn had previously threatened not to testify, condemning the way he was treated during the investigation. Thus far, the prosecution's case has included a video tape that Wilburn secretly recorded, allegedly showing the bribe being made.

The Boston Globe: Star witness says he'll testify in Chuck Turner corruption case

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