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‘Overreaching’? Case against Ravenell, Treem alarms lawyers as trial concludes

Assistant U.S Attorneys Derek Hines and Leo Wise, from left, are prosecuting the cases against attorneys Kenneth W. Ravenell and Joshua R. Treem. (AP Photo/David McFadden)

An overflow courtroom next to Kenneth W. Ravenell’s federal racketeering trial quietly filled with lawyers Wednesday as the case neared closing arguments.

Though few observers agreed to speak to The Daily Record before jurors reach a verdict, it was clear that the case — which ensnared Ravenell and Joshua R. Treem, both celebrated defense lawyers, and private defense investigator Sean F. Gordon — has captured the attention of the legal community.

The spectators included several partners from Treem’s law firm, Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP, and members of other high-end Baltimore firms.

The trial proceedings were livestreamed on screens in the overflow room. At times, the prosecution’s closing argument brought outraged whispers among the lawyers watching.

Ravenell’s has been an unusual case from the beginning, digging into areas of legal practice that are often shielded from view.

“It seems to be overreaching,” said Kevin J. McCants, a D.C. criminal defense lawyer who said he has tried cases with Ravenell.

“It seems to be a direct attempt to shut down the aggressive defense of criminal defendants by going after one of the best defense attorneys in Maryland,” he said. “… I think it’s a shameful attack on democracy.”

Federal investigators took the rare step of raiding multiple law firms as they pursued an indictment against Ravenell, who is accused of acting as an adviser to a marijuana trafficking operation run by a longtime client, Richard Byrd.

The federal investigation went even further when Byrd agreed to cooperate with prosecutors and wear specially equipped eyeglasses and record a meeting with Treem, who had agreed to represent Ravenell while he was under scrutiny. Gordon, who had worked with Ravenell previously, also attended the 2017 meeting.

That meeting led to obstruction of justice of charges against Treem and Gordon. Federal prosecutors allege that Treem and Gordon met with Byrd with the goal of taking him “off the board,” or getting him to sign a false statement so that he would be useless if called as a witness against Ravenell.

During that meeting, Byrd at first largely agreed with a list of exculpatory statements about Ravenell that Treem had prepared, but later changed his story and said that Ravenell was in on the drug trafficking operation.

The indictment also accused Treem and Gordon of writing an affidavit and, later, a letter to a judge, that contained false details of the 2017 meeting and failed to disclose that Byrd said Ravenell had knowledge of the marijuana trafficking operation.

The charges against Treem have been particularly troubling to some observers concerned that the case represents the criminalization of legitimate defense work.

“This is one of the most important criminal trials ever held in Maryland, from the perspective of defense lawyers,” said Doug Colbert, a professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law who has been attending the trial.

“The outcome will be crucial and affect the work they’re called upon to do,” Colbert said.

Treem’s lawyers argued that he did what a good defense attorney should — interviewing potential witnesses and documenting whatever information is favorable to a client.

Treem took the stand Monday and said that any inaccuracies in the documents were accidental and made in good faith. He said it was important to meet with Byrd because the drug trafficker indicated he had exculpatory information about Ravenell.

“(Byrd) 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.”

Byrd was a central witness for the prosecution and told jurors that Ravenell provided intel that helped the drug trafficking organization evade law enforcement and helped launder drug money through his law firm at the time, Murphy, Falcon & Murphy.

Byrd also testified that Ravenell advised him to launder money through Byrd’s events company, Loc Marketing.

During closings, Ravenell lawyer Peter White argued that jurors should believe almost none of Byrd’s testimony.

Byrd is “probably the least credible witness in the history of our federal courts to be put on the stand by the United States,” White told jurors.

He argued that Byrd convinced other members of the organization to turn against Ravenell so that they all could receive sentence reductions for cooperating with the government. Byrd is serving 26 years in federal prison for his role in the trafficking organization.

White said that Ravenell believed the money Byrd paid him was legitimate profit from Loc Marketing, which attracted big names including Sean “Diddy” Combs, Drake and LeBron James.

The government failed to prove that Ravenell knew the money was illegal drug proceeds, White said, or turn up any sign of the millions of dollars Byrd claimed to have paid Ravenell over several years.

“They didn’t find any unexplained wealth from Mr. Ravenell at all,” White said.

But prosecutors said they showed that Ravenell received large cash payments from a drug dealer who worked for Byrd and used the Murphy firm to “wash” drug money from Loc Marketing.

“Having a law license is not a license to break the law,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Hines told the jury. “It’s not a license to launder money. It’s not a license to obstruct justice.”