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Ravenell racketeering case heads to jury after 2 weeks of testimony

In their final comments to jurors Thursday, the lawyers for Kenneth W. Ravenell and Joshua R. Treem painted the federal indictments against the men as a concerted effort to punish successful criminal defense attorneys who fought back when their clients faced serious allegations.

Ravenell is accused of serving as a longtime advisor to a major marijuana trafficking organization. But his attorneys have argued that he was providing legitimate legal advice and didn’t know he was being paid for that advice in drug money, as the government alleges.

“They don’t want people like Ken Ravenell in drug cases,” said Peter White, who represents Ravenell. “They don’t want people who are going to vehemently defend their clients. They don’t want that, they want the roll over, plead and cooperate type.”

Lawyers observing the case have said they’re concerned that federal prosecutors went too far in pursuing charges against Ravenell and, later, Treem, who initially represented Ravenell during the investigation.

Treem and a private detective he worked with, Sean F. Gordon, are both accused of obstruction of justice. Prosecutors alleged that they interviewed a key government cooperator, Richard Byrd, and had him sign a series of exculpatory statements about Ravenell so that he would be useless if called as a witness.

This process, known as taking someone “off the board,” was part of a well-established pattern used in the drug trafficking organization that Byrd ran, prosecutors said. Byrd recorded a 2017 meeting with Treem and Gordon at the request of federal investigators.

But White told jurors that the criminal case against Ravenell and Treem was the real effort to take people “off the board” — that federal prosecutors wanted to render Ravenell and Treem unable to rigorously defend clients by winning a conviction against them.

“The fact is, our country needs people who are willing to defend criminal cases like Mr. Ravenell did and Mr. Treem did,” White said. “They want you to take Ken Ravenell, Josh Treem and Sean Gordon off the board.”

Treem is also accused of misrepresenting facts 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 threatening to testify against Ravenell if he did not receive money.

Treem, who testified Monday, acknowledged that there were inaccuracies in the documents, but said they were unintentional and made because he was working without the benefit of the video that government prosecutors had from Byrd.

Robert Trout, Treem’s attorney, said the indictment against Treem was an effort to scare lawyers out of doing their jobs. Treem, he said, met with Byrd as part of an effort to zealously represent Ravenell, and documented the favorable parts of the meeting as any defense lawyer should.

“There are plenty out there who are watching this trial wondering, if the government can do this to Josh Treem, with his exalted reputation, how safe am I if all I’m trying to do is my job?” Trout told the jury.

“A verdict of not guilty will not only be a verdict for Josh Treem,” he said. “It will be a verdict for all those with the courage to defend those whose liberty the government seeks to take.”

Gordon’s defense team used a similar approach. Geremy Kamens, one of Gordon’s attorneys, said his client’s participation in the 2017 meeting with Byrd was a perfectly legal part of a defense investigator’s job.

“He was just doing ordinary, run-of-the-mill defense work, accompanying a lawyer interviewing a witness who had said he had exculpatory evidence,” Kamens said.

Prosecutors said Wednesday that Treem went beyond typical legal representation by intentionally lying in documents in an effort to protect Ravenell. And Ravenell is accused of charges including racketeering, money laundering and drug conspiracy related to allegations that he helped “wash” money for Byrd’s drug organization and accepted millions of dollars in drug proceeds over several years.

In a rebuttal offered Thursday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise said the defense lawyers’ concerns about the case’s broader implications were “a sideshow.”

The job of defense lawyers is not at issue in this case,” Wise said. “You’re not here because you have any responsibility to the defense bar or prosecutors. It’s not fair for them to try to put that weight on your shoulders.”

Jurors were set to begin deliberating Thursday afternoon. Later updates on the trial will be published on The Daily Record’s website.