Federal prosecutors spent much of Tuesday trying to draw a direct line between Baltimore defense lawyer Kenneth W. Ravenell and illegal drug proceeds, a connection that is crucial to the government’s racketeering and conspiracy case.
At trial in federal court, prosecutors called two former drug dealers in an effort to show that Ravenell knew the true source of thousands of dollars he received over several years from the leaders of a Baltimore-based marijuana trafficking organization.
One witness told jurors that he and Ravenell had a conversation about keeping the trafficking business afloat after the organization’s leader, Richard Byrd, had been arrested in 2014.
The witness, Darnell Miller, at first told prosecutors he would exercise his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, but ultimately testified Tuesday after Senior U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady held two sealed hearings on the issue.
Miller said repeatedly that he did not remember details of his conversation with Ravenell, but was able to testify by referring to his previous grand jury testimony on the topic.
Miller claimed that he and Ravenell spoke about logistics, including how they would continue to sell marijuana with Byrd behind bars, how to get $60,000 in drug money that Byrd’s cousin owed Miller, and how to re-start large-scale marijuana shipments from Arizona.
Miller said that he teamed up with Byrd to distribute marijuana in 2013 when several members of Byrd’s organization were arrested. Miller and Byrd were working on a plan to use freight shipping to transport large quantities of marijuana when Byrd was also arrested.
Miller said he and Ravenell discussed the freight shipping plan when they spoke after Byrd’s arrest.
Ravenell said he wanted to receive between $25,000 and $50,000 per crate of marijuana that was shipped from Arizona after Byrd’s arrest, Miller testified. Ravenell also offered to help Miller by “washing” illegal drug proceeds to make them appear legitimate, Miller said, in the same way that federal prosecutors allege Ravenell did for Byrd.
Ravenell said “that he could help us out, he could help us wash the money in different forms,” Miller said.
Ravenell said he would charge between $200,000 and $300,000 for his services, which could include alerting the group “whenever authorities were coming,” Miller said.
Miller is serving a 10-year prison sentence for distributing marijuana. Prosecutors agreed to ask for a sentence reduction in exchange for Miller’s testimony, though a judge will ultimately decide whether to shorten his prison term.
Ravenell’s lawyer, Lucius Outlaw, worked to raise serious questions about Miller’s credibility during cross-examination, noting that Miller was allegedly also involved in large-scale cocaine trafficking.
Outlaw told jurors during his opening statement that the government would provide no “objective evidence” that Ravenell knew he was receiving drug proceeds from Byrd and depositing drug money into accounts at his law firm at the time, Murphy, Falcon & Murphy.
“The government has to prove that Mr. Ravenell received and distributed money from Byrd and his associated knowing the money was proceeds of illegal drugs,” Outlaw said last week.
The prosecution’s effort to show Ravenell did know the money’s source also included testimony from Byrd’s half-brother, Harold Byrd. Harold Byrd has so far been the only former drug dealer to say that he did not expect a sentence reduction for his testimony.
Harold Byrd was sentenced to 10 years in prison for his role in the drug-trafficking organization and was freed from prison in June, he said in court. He remains on supervised release.
Byrd testified that in 2012, he collected $50,000 in marijuana proceeds from the street, placed the money in a Louis Vuitton bag, and later watched an associate hand the bag to Ravenell outside a restaurant on Reisterstown Road.
Ravenell faces charges including racketeering, drug and money laundering conspiracy. Also on trial are Joshua Treem, another prominent Baltimore defense attorney who originally represented Ravenell, and Sean Gordon, a private investigator who had worked with Ravenell.
The government alleges that Treem and Gordon interviewed Byrd while he was incarcerated in Arizona in 2017 with the goal of taking Byrd “off the board,” or hurting his credibility as a witness so that he could not testify against Ravenell.