Articles Posted in Federal Criminal Defense

Slavery and trafficking are synonymous.  Human trafficking includes Philippine young women who are transported to Saudi Arabia and confined as domestic servants, as well as commercial sex operations.  Human trafficking is defined as the use of fraud, coercion or force to exercise physical and psychological control of an individual to purpose the victim into commercial sex acts, confined labor or both.  For more a world-wide perspective on human trafficking, go to: National Human Trafficking Resource Center and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. Defining criminality and prosecutions under federal laws is a three step analysis beginning with: 1) The act; 2) The means; and 3) The purpose.

Florida has a sex trafficking and human trafficking criminal statute which is quite comprehensive.  In Florida, local jurisdictions, such as Miami and Fort Lauderdale, prosecute sex trafficking and human trafficking cases under Florida criminal law.  Often, the scope of commercial sex trafficking operations crosses city and county jurisdictional lines.  A prosecutor in Fort Lauderdale cannot successfully prosecute a sex trafficking operation that is outside Broward County.  Because commercial sex operators are inter-jurisdictional operations, there is a federal task force in place.  The task force is active in Tampa, Orlando, Miami, West Palm Beach, and Fort Lauderdale.  Federal prosecutions are often undertaken when local state prosecutors decline to prosecute or refer a sex or human trafficking case to a federal task force.

Federal criminal codes 18 U.S.C §§ 1591 and 1594 are the most commonly used criminal cases filed in Federal Court.  The White-Slave Traffic Act of 1910, known as the Mann Act, outlawed prostitution and unlawful sexual activities which “cross state lines.”  Historically, the Mann Act was used to arrest and prosecute men, and women, who crossed from one state to another, and who were either unmarried or engaging in commercial sex.   The Mann Act has penalties of ten years.  The Human Trafficking Federal Statutes (18 U.S.C § 1591) prosecutions are more targeted to incarcerate operators of commercial sex enterprises in which prostitutes, both male and female, of age 14 or under are held as sex workers.  The age of the person providing commercial sex and the age of the “John” place different sentencing schemes to defendants.  The statute begins with a mandatory minimum of ten years to a 15 year minimum mandatory to life in prison.  If the age of the “John” is under 21 and the age of the sex partner is under 14, the 15 year minimums apply.   The Sentencing Guidelines provide for enhancements and a recommended sentencing range.  Please seek out more information on the guidelines for more insight into the sentencing exposure of defendants.

mateenNoor Zahi Salman, (the second and current wife of the Orlando shooter, Omar Mateen),  told the FBI she knew of Mateen’s plan for a mass murder shooting, accompanied him to scout out potential targets, went with him to the Pulse Club in Orlando, and accompanied him to buy a holster and ammunition.

Is that enough to charge Mateen’s wife as aiding and abetting the murders?  Can the law support a conviction?  Is arresting her a public relations issue or a law enforcement issue? These are all questions that investigators will be looking to answer in the next few days.

Decide for yourself. But first understand the law.  Aiding and abetting means “assisting in the commission of someone else’s crime.”  According to 18 U.S. Code § 2, Salman, if convicted of aiding and abetting, could be punished as a principal.

Most U.S. taxpayers do not run afoul of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division.   Known as the CID, it has special agents who work either with other criminal prosecution agencies, in or with inter-agency task forces, or are assigned on a case by case basis to a U.S. Attorney office.  Understand that the Internal Revenue Service does not commonly begin a taxpayer collection action with a Criminal Investigation Division special agent.  The most common I.R.S. taxpayer recovery begins with a telephone call to the target.  The caller is an I.R.S. collection agent, not a C.I.D. agent.

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Source: bragertaxlaw.com

If your first contact from the I.R.S. is a C.I.D. agent call you know that the ultimate outcome is most likely a criminal prosecution.  It is best to retain a criminal defense attorney if you are called by a C.I.D. special agent.  All customary investigations begin with a request for production.  The request is either by letter or by verbal communication from an I.R.S. agent.  Compliance is not voluntary but is mandatory so do not disregard an IRS request for production of records.  You can negotiate the time and delay factor but you cannot fail to comply.  Additionally, be very aware that your response must include all records requested.  Any selective response by you, or any omission of records is an open door to a criminal prosecution.  When we look over our law office records of criminal prosecutions for tax evasion it is common that the prosecutor includes several counts of obstruction of justice for failure to provide complete tax records.  If the first contact  you have with an IRS agent is a subpoena then you can conclude for certain that you are the subject of a criminal investigation.  Anyone whose first contact from the IRS is from a CID special agent would be well advised to retain a criminal defense lawyer at the outset.  The investigatory phase can last as long as six months.  As the subject of an IRS review you are entitled to be represented by an attorney, but it is not always needed.  Most if not all IRS inquiries resolve with an agreed resolution requiring payment of back taxes, fines and interest.  Very few IRS contacts resolve with a criminal prosecution.

This week the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) announced that E.S. Financial Services, a Miami based brokerage firm, settled what could have been a major criminal case with an agreed $ 1 million penalty payment to settle the charges and possibly avoid criminal prosecution.

The SEC issued a press release which suggested that the E.S. Financial, now known as Brickell Global Markets, Inc., committed acts that substantially violate anti-money laundering statutes and related rules.  The agreed allegations are that the brokerage firm allowed non-U.S. individuals to sell and buy securities without revealing the people who are the beneficial owners.

The SEC’s continued investigation led to their issuance of an order, which instituted a settled administrative proceeding, in lieu of a criminal indictment.  And while no fraud occurred in this case, the SEC investigation concluded that there were significant “holes” or shortcomings in the framework and implementation of the firm’s customer identification program (CIP), which required brokers to, “…at a minimum…, implement reasonable procedures to verify the identity of any person seeking to open an account.”

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Source: irs.gov

On January 27, 2016, the Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs issued a press release announcing its victory in a Virginia federal court where a gas station owner pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to defraud the United States in what appears to be a renewed effort to prosecute tax evasion cases by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

In this case, the defendant, Obayedul Hoque, owned a gas station and several Subway franchises in Alexandria and Arlington, Virginia, as well as in Washington, D.C. According to the criminal investigation division, the owner and co-conspirators, admitted to not depositing all of their gross receipts into the company accounts, and thus failed to report and pay taxes on a significant portion of their sales.

Presentence reports are prepared by the probation officer assigned to the federal judge’s courtroom.  The judge looks to the report in making sentencing decisions and defendants’ attorneys can object or supplement the presentence report.  Here are some considerations on how to help yourself if you are being sentenced in a federal criminal court.

300px-FBISealAfter verdict, the judge orders the in-court probation officer to prepare a pre-sentence report (PSR), then you and your attorney meet with the probation officer who will be preparing the PSR for your judge.  Look over the worksheet you are asked to complete and bring it with you to the meeting with the probation officer.

What I do, and suggest you insist be done for you, is have the defense attorney prepare an entire PSR, just like the probation officer’s finished product, and send it to the probation officer before he/she files their own PSR.  You know that you have fourteen days to object to the officer’s PSR, but objections have to go to an error in fact, not that the presentation of the facts, which can be very damning and negative.   Your lawyer’s “suggested” PSR is often used, or parts of it is used, by the probation officer in his/her final and completed PSR.

This past Saturday, January 9th, Sean Penn published an extensive article in Rolling Stone detailing his covert trip to Mexico to meet and interview the drug lord Joaquin Guzman Loera a/k/a El Chapo, along with Mexican actress Kate Del Castillo.  Sean Penn could now be the focus of a criminal investigation and may be charged with crimes in Mexico and possibly the United States because of these dealings.

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Source: Rollingstone.com

After reviewing Sean Penn’s article in detail, his actions could be characterized as aiding and assisting a fugitive or participating in a conspiracy to assist a fugitive. Sean Penn stated in his article all the steps he took to obscure the nature of his travel and its purpose. Under Anti-terrorist laws, a person who knowingly conceals the nature, or location of a terrorist, or who knowing or intending to conceal the whereabouts either assists in the concealment of an escape or conspires to do it can be prosecuted.

U.S. Dept. of JusticeAntitrust crime is a catch-all for unacceptable business practices and since antitrust violations are broadly defined and the decision to prosecute is more of a policy decision than anything else, the crimes are defined more in the selection of who is arrested than what the actual criminal act is.   For example, murder is the unlawful taking of a human life, which is a clearly defined act, whereas unfair trade practices are not as clearly defined or understood and are primarily guided by the U.S. Attorney’s policy statement.

A policy statement is a statement issued by the top level of an organization outlining the organization’s course of action on a matter.  Since antitrust violations are federal crimes, the U.S. Attorney’s office is the organization that decides whether or not to charge somebody with an antitrust crime and their Policy Statement on the matter can help shed some light on how they define antitrust violations and who they are after in terms of prosecution.

From their Policy Statement, you can tell that the U.S. Attorney’s primary focus is the enforcement of antitrust criminal statutes that directly affect consumers. The federal focus is not on business to business antitrust, but is focusing on protecting consumers. Their main priority in this regard is price fixing. In the words of the Attorney General in their Policy Statement, “…price-fixing violations in particular have a direct and immediate impact on the consumer in terms of the ultimate price that he/she must pay for goods and services. We must vigorously prosecute such collusive practices in our economy.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons has a compassionate release program that offers early release or a reduction of sentence to certain eligible federal inmates for “particularly extraordinary or compelling circumstances which could not reasonable have been foreseen by the court at the time of sentencing,” according to their Program Statement, published by the BOP. The Program Statement, which lists the procedures for implementation of the compassionate release program, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3582(c)(1)(A) and 4205(g), includes the following criteria for inmates to be eligible to apply:

  • Medical circumstances (Terminal or debilitated medical condition);
  • Non-medical circumstances for elderly inmates;

This past week, the Senate Bill S. 2123, titled, “The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015,” was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, in a vote of 15-5. The bill lowers minimum mandatory sentences of certain drug offenses and certain armed offenses, while establishing new minimum mandatory sentences for certain domestic violence offenses and could grant early release for thousands of Federal prisoners.

Source: politico.com

Source: politico.com

It has been a generation since the United States Congress has reviewed and revised Federal Sentencing.  Prior to 1984, Federal judges had unbridled and unfettered discretion in formulating appropriate sentences.  Under the broad outline of the Federal criminal code, each judge had the power and authority to make sentencing determinations.  It was, and has been since the earliest years of our nation a judicial determination, only subject to Due Process and Equal Protection constitutional review.  Judge’s judged and judges decided: They were given the authority and power to balance the serious nature or character of an offense with public safety and the individual convicted of a Federal crime.