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Drug trafficker’s alleged casino investment key in Ravenell’s racketeering trial

A high-level marijuana trafficker and longtime client of Kenneth W. Ravenell has claimed repeatedly in court this week that he invested drug proceeds in the MGM National Harbor Casino and expected to see millions of dollars in returns.

But the defense at Ravenell’s racketeering trial is raising questions about whether the investment ever actually existed.

The trafficker, Richard Byrd, took the stand for the third day Friday to face cross-examination. Peter White, one of Ravenell’s attorneys, pressed Byrd on whether he has ever seen written evidence of the casino investment.

“Has the government shown you a single document that shows you actually invested in the MGM Casino?” White asked.

“No,” Byrd replied.

The alleged investment — and Byrd’s belief that he is owed returns — appears to have been an important factor as Byrd assessed how to position himself while the government pursued charges against Ravenell.

Federal prosecutors allege that Ravenell supported Byrd’s drug trafficking operation, which shipped and sold tens of thousands of pounds of marijuana across the country before Byrd’s indictment in 2014. Ravenell faces charges of racketeering, money laundering and drug conspiracy based in part on Byrd’s claims that he paid Ravenell for intel about how to avoid law enforcement and for laundering drug money.

Byrd has claimed that he participated, through multiple intermediaries, in an investment in the MGM Casino that was being assembled by partners at Ravenell’s law firm at the time, Murphy, Falcon & Murphy. Byrd has also claimed that Ravenell helped him funnel drug money through the firm to make it appear legitimate.

Messages left at the firm have not been returned this week.

White on Friday showed a list of casino investors that did not include Byrd’s name.

“There is absolutely no document that indicates you have an interest in that investment, is there?” White asked.

Byrd said his investment was not memorialized because it involved drug money. He claimed that Ravenell said no ledger was created to document Byrd’s investment because there was a “lot of heat right now.”

“We never created one, sir,” Byrd said. “There is no document.”

Byrd’s testimony also highlights an inherent challenge to the government’s case against Ravenell: in many respects, the evidence rests on Byrd’s word.

Byrd has acknowledged that he is cooperating with prosecutors because he hopes to receive a reduction in his 26-year federal prison sentence for drug trafficking.

Byrd also contradicted his testimony about Ravenell in a glowing letter he wrote while incarcerated in April 2015. At that time, Ravenell was under federal investigation.

“Ravenell did nothing illegal, period, point-blank,” Byrd wrote in the letter. “The man is of the highest integrity and has the utmost regard for the law.”

In court on Friday, Byrd claimed that he wrote the letter in accordance with a “code” used among major players in the drug-trafficking operation, which he said Ravenell had devised.

Byrd testified that he made millions of dollars through the trafficking business, but also said that Ravenell and another leader in the organization probably made the most money from the operation, which Byrd calls “the company.”

Ravenell’s defense team has pointed to these alleged payments as a key flaw in the prosecution’s case: if Ravenell received millions of dollars in cash from a drug-trafficking operation, the defense asked jurors this week, why didn’t investigators turn up any of that money?

Testimony will resume Monday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.