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Ravenell found guilty of money laundering but not other charges; Treem acquitted

A jury on Tuesday convicted Baltimore defense lawyer Kenneth W. Ravenell of laundering money for a marijuana trafficking organization but acquitted him of all other charges, including racketeering and narcotics conspiracy.

Jurors acquitted entirely defense lawyer Joshua R. Treem and private defense investigator Sean F. Gordon, both of whom were accused of obstruction of justice during their efforts to defend Ravenell during the federal investigation.

Ravenell, 61, faced charges including racketeering, drug and money laundering conspiracy. Prosecutors alleged that he was a longtime consigliere to a major marijuana trafficking operation run by a former criminal defense client, Richard Byrd.

The jury declined to convict Ravenell of narcotics conspiracy and violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), but found him guilty of money laundering conspiracy.

That charge related to allegations that Ravenell helped “wash” drug money through his law firm at the time, Murphy, Falcon & Murphy. The government accused Ravenell of using law firm bank accounts to launder more than a million dollars in drug proceeds, making the money appear legitimate so that it could be used to make investments and other payments on Byrd’s behalf.

The verdict came in shortly after 10 a.m., after jurors deliberated for about 12 hours over three days.

Ravenell declined to comment as he left the courtroom.

His sentencing on the money laundering charge, which carries up to a maximum of 20 years in federal prison, is set for May 14. The conviction is also likely to have significant consequences for Ravenell’s law license — a stunning fall for a celebrated criminal defense attorney who is a member of the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers.

Maryland Bar Counsel can petition for disciplinary action when a lawyer is convicted of a “serious crime” and request a temporary suspension of the lawyer’s law license until sentencing takes place.  The Court of Appeals will decide on a temporary suspension and any future discipline.

The case against Ravenell took up much of the three-week trial as Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leo Wise and Derek Hines worked to prove that Ravenell received millions of dollars in drug proceeds from Byrd in exchange for laundering money and dispensing advice about how to run the trafficking operation.

First Assistant U.S. Attorney Phil Selden, who announced the conviction in a news release later on Tuesday, thanked the prosecutors for their handling of the case. The U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, Erek Barron, recused himself because he had previously represented a witness in the case.

The trial pitted federal prosecutors against the two prominent defense lawyers and a longtime defense investigator, raising concerns among some in the legal community that the indictment criminalized legitimate defense work.

As they pursued the case, investigators dug into areas of the legal practice that are often shielded, taking the rare step of raiding multiple law offices and wiring Byrd during an interview that Treem and Gordon believed would be private under attorney work product privilege.

The not-guilty verdict brought pointed criticisms of the decision to prosecute Treem.

“This was a disgusting and shameless prosecution,” said Andrew Levy, a partner at Treem’s firm, Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP. “It should never in a million years have been authorized. Everyone who had a hand in going after Josh Treem should be ashamed of themselves, but I doubt they will be.”

Treem, 73, and Gordon, 45, both faced obstruction of justice charges that were added more than a year after Ravenell was first charged. Prosecutors alleged that the two men interviewed Byrd with the goal of taking him “off the board,” or rendering him useless as a government cooperator by having him sign off on a series of exculpatory statements about Ravenell.

Treem was also accused of misrepresenting some details of the 2017 meeting in an affidavit and a letter to a judge that Treem said he wrote after he became concerned that Byrd was attempting to extort Ravenell in exchange for favorable testimony.

Prosecutors said that Treem went beyond typical legal representation by intentionally lying in the documents in an effort to protect Ravenell, but Treem said he was documenting favorable information about his client as any defense lawyer would. He acknowledged errors in the documents, but said they were unintentional.

Treem’s attorney, Robert Trout, said the prosecution never should have happened.

“Joshua Treem did nothing, repeat, nothing, that any lawyer zealously representing his client would not have done,” Trout said after the verdict.

Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, the managing partner at Treem’s firm, said the verdict showed Treem acted as a “superb defense attorney.”

“From our perspective, it’s outrageous that the government used its tremendous resources to prosecute Josh for doing his job,” she said. “He was investigating leads and advocating for his client, and our firm believes that the U.S. Attorney’s Office owes our partner an apology.” 

Gordon’s attorneys took a similar approach to Treem’s, arguing at trial that Gordon was acting appropriately as a private defense investigator by interviewing Byrd and seeking out exculpatory information.

“We are incredibly happy that the justice system worked for Mr. Gordon and Mr. Treem,” said Geremy Kamens, one of Gordon’s attorneys. “This case went off the rails a long time ago. These people were defending a client. They were not committing a crime.”