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Taking the stand in obstruction trial, Treem defends his actions

Attorney Joshua R. Treem took the stand Monday and said his actions on behalf of client Kenneth W. Ravenell were what a defense attorney is supposed to do. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Several inaccuracies appeared in a pair of documents that Baltimore defense lawyer Joshua R. Treem prepared after meeting with a convicted drug trafficker at an Arizona jail in 2017.

Treem said in court Monday that the inaccuracies were unintentional and made in good faith as he sought to defend Kenneth W. Ravenell, his client at the time, during a federal investigation.

Federal prosecutors, however, charge that the inaccuracies were intentionally misleading.

Treem took the stand in his own defense at a trial that has largely focused on Ravenell, who faces charges of racketeering, drug and money laundering conspiracy. The government alleges that Ravenell was a longtime adviser to a major marijuana trafficking ring run by Richard Byrd, who is serving 26 years in federal prison for his role in the scheme.

Treem and a private investigator, Sean F. Gordon, are accused of interviewing Byrd in an effort to “take him off the board,” or ruin his credibility so that his testimony could be impeached if the government called him as a witness in the case against Ravenell.

Byrd has indeed become the most critical government witness against Ravenell at his trial this month in federal court.

Treem cast his actions as legitimate legal work during his testimony, which lasted nearly the entire day. He said he decided to meet with Byrd, who was incarcerated in Arizona in 2017, because Byrd had expressed that he had exculpatory information that would help Ravenell.

“He has represented that my client has not done anything that the government is investigating him for having done,” Treem said. “I can’t let that go. … This is what’s required of a criminal defense attorney.”

In fact, Byrd was already cooperating with federal investigators and recorded his meeting with Treem and Gordon on a pair of specially equipped eyeglasses. Byrd testified earlier this month that he saw the meeting as a coordinated effort to render him useless to prosecutors.

During his two-day meeting with Treem and Gordon, Byrd at first largely agreed with a list of exculpatory statements about Ravenell that Treem had prepared. But by the next day, Byrd changed his story and said that Ravenell was in on the drug trafficking operation.

Treem said he noted Byrd’s changing story as he prepared to defend Ravenell if necessary.

“He’s proven he can’t be trusted to say the same thing twice,” Treem said. “That he will say whatever he wants to get whatever he wants. This is fodder for cross-examination.”

Byrd also claimed during the 2017 meeting that he was owed money from an alleged investment in the MGM National Harbor Casino. Byrd claimed repeatedly during the trial that he invested drug proceeds in the casino and expected to see millions of dollars in returns, though the defense has noted there is no documentation of such an investment.

Byrd demanded that his money be returned during his meeting with Treem and Gordon and again in a voicemail he left with Gordon a few months later.

Treem testified Monday that he became concerned that Byrd was attempting to extort Ravenell by threatening to cooperate with prosecutors if his money was not returned. But he was also concerned, he said, that reporting the issue to the government would give prosecutors leverage to convince Byrd to cooperate against Ravenell.

Treem created an affidavit memorializing the 2017 interview with Byrd and, later, wrote a letter to U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett outlining his concerns about a “shakedown.”

Both documents contained inaccuracies about the meeting, including the timing of when Byrd signed off on the list of exculpatory statements and the number of statements Byrd agreed to. Neither document included the fact that Byrd said Ravenell knew about the marijuana trafficking organization.

During contentious cross-examination, Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise attempted to portray Treem’s efforts as part of the trafficking organization’s longtime pattern of taking people “off the board,” or getting them to sign affidavits disavowing any knowledge of the organization’s inner workings.

Treem acknowledged the errors but said they were not intended to mislead. He said his intention was to document the parts of the interview that were most helpful to his client.