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Ravenell loses bid for new trial as feds seek $1.8M forfeiture judgment

Baltimore defense lawyer Kenneth W. Ravenell will not get a new trial after his conviction on a count of money laundering, a federal judge has ruled.

Prosecutors are also seeking a $1.8 million forfeiture judgment against Ravenell, who was found guilty in December of helping to “wash” drug money for a criminal defense client.

The forfeiture request includes the total amount of money that the government said Ravenell laundered through his law firm at the time, Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, in order to make drug proceeds look legitimate.

RELATED: $1.8M or $55,000? Ravenell disputes money laundering total in sentencing memo

Ravenell’s attorneys are claiming that the once-celebrated defense attorney is in debt and cannot afford to pay any fine. They have not yet addressed the forfeiture request.

Ravenell’s “assets are outstripped by his liabilities, leaving no ability to pay a fine without accumulating additional debt,” attorney Peter White wrote in a letter to the court last week.

The government claims that Ravenell should have to forfeit all of the money that was laundered through his law firm on behalf of his client, Richard Byrd — even legitimate business proceeds that were mixed with profits from Byrd’s marijuana trafficking organization.

At trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Ravenell knew he was receiving drug money from Byrd and funneled it through law firm accounts so that the money could be spent without attracting suspicion. The government alleged that Ravenell served as a consigliere for Byrd’s drug organization, offering advice on how to legitimize drug money and avoid law enforcement.

“To the extent the transactions catalogued in the (law firm) ledgers included untainted funds, the untainted funds are subject to forfeiture because any co-mingling of untainted funds with drug proceeds occurred in order to facilitate the money laundering,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Philip Selden wrote in the forfeiture request.

Jurors rejected most of the charges against Ravenell at the conclusion of his three-week trial in December.

The defense is now arguing that the conviction on a single count of money laundering means the jury did not believe Byrd, who was serving a 26-year prison sentence for his role in the drug trafficking organization and said he hoped to win a sentence reduction in exchange for cooperating against Ravenell.

Instead, Ravenell’s attorneys claim, jurors found him guilty of 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 was a focus of Ravenell’s motion for a new trial, in which the defense attorneys claimed jurors should have received a “safe harbor” instruction explaining that payment for defense work is not considered a “monetary transaction” under the money laundering statute.

The motion also argued that jurors should have been instructed about the statute of limitations on the money laundering charge.

Senior U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady rejected those claims in his order denying Ravenell a new trial. All of the payments alleged at Ravenell’s trial were part of the same money laundering conspiracy, and Ravenell’s acceptance of drug money from a third party does not fall under the “safe harbor” rule that protects lawyers who are paid with illicit funds to defend clients, O’Grady found.

The government is seeking eight years in federal prison for Ravenell, while his lawyers are asking for a term of probation at his sentencing on May 27.