Kenneth W. Ravenell’s storied career as a Baltimore defense lawyer is set to end with a federal prison sentence.
A federal judge on Wednesday sentenced Ravenell, 63, to four years and nine months in prison for his participation in a money laundering scheme.
Ravenell plans to appeal.
The prison sentence is a stunning fall for Ravenell, a celebrated criminal defense attorney who handled high-profile cases and was at one point a member of the prestigious American College of Trial Lawyers.
Ravenell’s outsized impact on the legal community was a theme throughout his sentencing hearing. His longtime friend, attorney Randall Craig, said that Ravenell’s nickname in law school was Ken “I love the law” Ravenell.
“He is one of the hardest-working lawyers that I know,” Craig said. “He wins because he out-hustles and out-works all the opponents.”
But Ravenell’s role as a lawyer also proved to be a disadvantage. Senior U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady said that Ravenell’s sentence must send a message to the larger legal community.
“There is a great need to deter Mr. Ravenell and other attorneys who would abuse their position of power,” the judge said.
“His conduct is a betrayal of his moral, ethical and legal obligations as a lawyer.”
O’Grady declined to issue the eight-year prison sentence that federal prosecutors requested, but he also rejected the defense’s request for a sentence of probation.
A federal jury found Ravenell guilty of one count of money laundering at his trial in December. Federal prosecutors claimed that Ravenell helped “wash” nearly $2 million for a former criminal defense client who was running a major marijuana trafficking organization.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Leo Wise said the sentence should be long enough to deter other criminal defense lawyers from laundering their clients’ money.
“Whether Mr. Ravenell is an outlier or the tip of the iceberg is unknown,” Wise said. “A deterrent message must be sent.”
Jurors also heard evidence that Ravenell acted as a consigliere for the organization, offering advice on how to evade law enforcement and make drug money appear legitimate. Ravenell was acquitted of most charges, including narcotics and racketeering conspiracy, at the conclusion of the three-week trial.
But the money laundering charge stuck, though the defense has disputed the amount of money Ravenell was convicted of handling.
Ravenell’s two co-defendants, defense attorney Joshua R. Treem and private defense investigator Sean F. Gordon, were both acquitted entirely at trial. Both men were accused of obstructing justice during their efforts to defend Ravenell while he was under investigation.
Despite the acquittals, O’Grady took the unusual step Wednesday of saying that Treem and Gordon were “very fortunate” to have avoided convictions.
Ravenell’s former client, Richard Byrd, was a key witness at the December trial. He testified that Ravenell knew about the marijuana trafficking business and was aware that he was accepting drug money in exchange for his services to the organization.
Prosecutors claimed that Ravenell funneled the drug money through accounts at his law firm at the time, Murphy, Falcon & Murphy, to make the funds appear legitimate.
Ravenell’s lawyers argued that the jury’s split verdict means jurors did not believe Byrd, who testified against Ravenell in hopes of receiving a reduction in his 26-year federal prison sentence. Byrd was freed from prison in February, federal records show.
The defense claimed that instead, the jury found Ravenell guilty of laundering a much smaller amount of money, about $55,000, by knowingly accepting drug proceeds from an associate of Byrd’s in exchange for criminal defense work.
Ravenell also sought a new trial based in part on claims that he should not have been convicted of money laundering under a “safe harbor” provision that protects lawyers who accept illicit funds for criminal defense work.
Ravenell’s lawyers pointed to his origin story — the son of South Carolina sharecroppers, he managed to rise above his impoverished beginnings and attend law school — in an effort to mitigate his conviction. His sister, Doris Ravenell-Brown, spoke on behalf of Ravenell’s 11 siblings at the sentencing hearing.
“Our hearts ache, your honor, when we think of what your possible ruling could be,” she said, addressing O’Grady. “We are asking for leniency for our brother Ken.”
Ravenell has been able to continue practicing law since his conviction. The Maryland Attorney Grievance Counsel sought a temporary suspension of Ravenell’s law license in January, but Ravenell asked to keep handling cases.
Maryland’s Court of Appeals took no action, effectively allowing Ravenell to keep his license while he awaited sentencing. That is likely to change now that he has been sentenced.
Ravenell’s required report date for his prison sentence has not been set, nor has the amount of money that he will be required to forfeit as a result of his conviction. O’Grady declined to set an appeal bond.