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Ravenell asks to put sentence on hold as he appeals money laundering conviction

Baltimore defense attorney Kenneth W. Ravenell wants a federal appeals court to put his nearly five-year prison sentence on hold while he challenges his money laundering conviction.

In a new filing before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Ravenell asked to remain out of prison and free on bail until a panel of judges decides whether to uphold the jury’s verdict.

The motion revisits several legal arguments that are likely to make up the bulk of Ravenell’s appeal — and that were rejected repeatedly by the trial judge who sentenced Ravenell last month.

Ravenell, 63, is scheduled to surrender to the Bureau of Prisons on Oct. 15 to begin his federal prison sentence of four years and nine months.

Federal prosecutors alleged that Ravenell helped launder nearly $2 million for a former criminal defense client, Richard Byrd, who was the head of a large-scale marijuana trafficking organization. The indictment also charged that Ravenell acted as a consigliere for the organization, offering tips on how to evade law enforcement and make drug proceeds appear legitimate.

Jurors found Ravenell guilty of a single count of money laundering but rejected other charges, including narcotics and racketeering conspiracy.

Ravenell’s defense team has argued that the split verdict means jurors didn’t believe Byrd, who was the government’s key witness and who testified in order to win a reduction in his 26-year federal prison sentence. Byrd was freed from prison in February, according to the Bureau of Prisons.

Instead, the defense claimed, jurors may have found Ravenell guilty of laundering a much smaller amount of drug money, just $55,000, as payment to defend an associate of Byrd’s in court.

The new motion argues that the verdict should be thrown out entirely because it could be based on the “legally infirm theory” that Ravenell committed a crime when he accepted the drug money in exchange for legal defense work.

The motion also argues that the trial judge, Senior U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady, should have instructed the jury on a “safe harbor” exception to the money laundering statute, which exempts money used to pay for criminal legal defense.

The defense did not request that jury instruction at Ravenell’s trial. The motion instead argues that O’Grady committed a plain error when he did not include the safe harbor instruction.

The defense also claims that O’Grady should have instructed the jury on the statute of limitations for the money laundering statute. Jurors might have concluded the money laundering took place outside the five-year statute of limitations if they had been instructed to consider that question, the motion argues.

Ravenell is also asking the 4th Circuit to delay a $1.8 million forfeiture order while his appeal is pending.

At Ravenell’s sentencing, O’Grady said the prison term would send a message to the 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 repeatedly denied requests from the defense for a new trial based on similar arguments to those made in this week’s motion. The government, which also opposed those requests, has until Aug. 4 to respond to the motion in the 4th Circuit.

Ravenell’s law license is set to be suspended starting Sept. 6.