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Ravenell asks for new trial following money laundering conviction

Kenneth W. Ravenell has asked Maryland’s Court of Appeals to let him continue practicing law while he challenges his conviction. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Baltimore defense lawyer Kenneth W. Ravenell is seeking a new trial after a federal jury found him guilty late last year of laundering money for a former legal client’s drug trafficking organization.

In a motion filed Friday, Ravenell claims that his conviction should be overturned because jurors were not instructed to consider a “safe harbor” exception that protects lawyers who are paid for criminal defense work with illicit funds.

Once a celebrated criminal defense attorney, Ravenell now finds his law license on the line because of his conviction on a single count of money laundering. The motion for a new trial is his first effort to challenge that conviction.

Jurors found Ravenell not guilty of most charges, including racketeering and narcotics conspiracy, at the conclusion of his three-week trial in December. The money laundering charge related to allegations that Ravenell helped “wash” drug money through his former law firm on behalf of a client, Richard Byrd.

Byrd was a key witness for the prosecution and told jurors that Ravenell served as a consigliere to Byrd’s marijuana trafficking organization, providing intel on how to evade law enforcement and laundering millions of dollars in drug proceeds.

Ravenell’s defense team argued that Byrd was lying to win a reduction in his 26-year prison sentence for marijuana trafficking — and that Ravenell believed the money he received from Byrd was legitimate profit from a promotional company that threw events and attracted big-name celebrities, including Sean “Diddy” Combs and Drake.

Byrd appears to have been released from federal prison in February, according to the Bureau of Prisons website. His lawyer, Gregory Dolin, declined to comment.

In the motion for a new trial, Ravenell’s lawyers argued that the money laundering conviction appeared to have been based on payments that Ravenell received in 2014 to represent one of Byrd’s associates. The jury did not seem to credit Byrd’s claims about Ravenell’s more significant contributions to the trafficking organization, the defense lawyers wrote.

The payments for criminal defense work were legal, the motion claims, even if Ravenell knew the money consisted of drug proceeds. Jurors should have received a “safe harbor” instruction that would have explained that payment for defense work is not considered a “monetary transaction” under the money laundering statute, Ravenell’s lawyers wrote.

The motion also argues jurors should have received an instruction about the statute of limitations on the money laundering charge. The last of the payments occurred in April 2014, several months before the five-year statute of limitations period began, according to the motion.

“The instructions upon which the jury issued its verdict contained certain prejudicial errors that mandate Mr. Ravenell’s conviction be vacated,” wrote defense lawyers Lucius Outlaw and Aislinn Affinito.

Also charged in the case were Joshua R. Treem, a defense lawyer who had represented Ravenell, and Sean F. Gordon, a private defense investigator. Both were accused of  interviewing Byrd with the goal of taking him “off the board,” or rendering him useless as a government cooperator by having him sign off on a series of exculpatory statements about Ravenell. Both men were acquitted of all charges at trial.

Ravenell is now seeking to keep his law license, which Maryland Bar Counsel sought to suspend after his conviction. Bar counsel can petition for disciplinary action when a lawyer is convicted of a “serious crime” and request a temporary suspension of the lawyer’s law license until sentencing takes place.

Ravenell has asked Maryland’s Court of Appeals to let him continue practicing law while he challenges his conviction. The court has not yet decided on the request.

Ravenell’s sentencing is scheduled for May. His lawyers have also filed a series of documents under seal, making them inaccessible to the public.