Government prosecutors and the defense team for prominent Baltimore lawyer Kenneth W. Ravenell differ substantially when it comes to how much money Ravenell has been convicted of laundering through his former law firm — though Ravenell also contends that the money was a legal payment for criminal defense services.
Prosecutors claim that Ravenell, 62, helped launder $1.8 million for a major marijuana trafficking organization over a period of several years. Ravenell’s lawyers argue in new court filings that the amount is much smaller: just $55,000.
There is also disagreement over what sentence Ravenell should receive when he goes before a federal judge next week. The government is seeking eight years in federal prison for Ravenell, while his lawyers are asking for a term of probation.
A jury found Ravenell not guilty of most charges, including racketeering and narcotics conspiracy, at the conclusion of his three-week trial in December. He was convicted of a single count of money laundering, which related to allegations that Ravenell helped “wash” drug money through his former law firm on behalf of a client, Richard Byrd.
Byrd testified 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 through his law firm at the time, Murphy, Falcon & Murphy.
But Ravenell’s lawyers are now arguing that the split verdict means jurors discredited Byrd, who was serving 26 years in prison for his role in the drug trafficking organization and said he hoped to receive a sentence reduction in exchange for cooperating against Ravenell.
Byrd was released from federal prison in February, according to the Bureau of Prisons website.
“The jury’s wholesale rejection of Mr. Ravenell’s alleged participation in the Byrd narcotics conspiracy directly affects the conduct the Court should consider for sentencing,” Ravenell’s lawyers wrote in a sentencing memorandum filed Friday.
Instead, the lawyers claim, jurors found Ravenell guilty in a much smaller money laundering scheme in which he knowingly accepted drug proceeds from an associate of Byrd in exchange for criminal defense work.
That payment is also the subject of a motion for a new trial that Ravenell’s lawyers filed last month. Jurors, the defense argued, 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.
The judge handling the case, Senior U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, has not ruled on the motion for a new trial.
With Ravenell’s sentencing quickly approaching, his lawyers are also arguing that the smaller monetary amount should be used to calculate the appropriate sentence.
“A sentence of probation would sufficiently reflect the seriousness of Mr. Ravenell’s offense in accepting $55,000 in drug proceeds for legitimate legal services, demonstrate respect for the law, and adequately punish Mr. Ravenell,” wrote one of his lawyers, Peter White, in the sentencing memorandum.
The memorandum also points to Ravenell’s distinguished legal career and his upbringing as the child of impoverished sharecroppers in South Carolina.
“When the life of Mr. Ravenell … is balanced against the limited and narrow conduct that the jury found crossed a legal line, the natural conclusion is that the conduct underlying the conviction was an aberration,” White wrote.
The prosecution claims, however, that Ravenell’s position as a prominent lawyer means he should be punished more severely. First Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Selden wrote that a significant sentence would deter other lawyers from misusing their power to participate in crime.
“(Ravenell) has done irreparable harm to the reputation of the legal profession,” Selden wrote. “Instead of upholding the rule of law, he betrayed the criminal justice system and he continues to try to hide behind it, claiming he was acting as an ethical lawyer.”
Ravenell’s law license is also on the line. The Maryland Attorney Grievance Commission has petitioned for disciplinary action, which can take place once Ravenell is sentenced.