U.S. court sustains conviction against criminal defence lawyer for conspiracy with clients

Law firm partner allegedly instructed his clients on how to launder proceeds

U.S. court sustains conviction against criminal defence lawyer for conspiracy with clients

A U.S. federal appellate court has upheld the conviction of Baltimore criminal defence lawyer Kenneth Ravenell, who was first convicted in 2019 for conspiring to launder drug money.

The prosecution presented evidence at trial attempting to show that Ravenell used his position as a partner at his law firm, Murphy, Falcon, Murphy, Ravenell & Koch (MFM), to launder money in cooperation with his clients, who were engaged in illegal drug activities. Federal prosecutors said Ravenall taught his clients how they could hide from law enforcement and launder drug proceeds through seemingly legitimate businesses and real estate investments.

The defence argued that Ravenell had no knowledge of his clients’ drug organizations. Instead, these clients had consistently presented their seemingly legitimate businesses and real estate investments to Ravenell and his firm, which did not know that these businesses were in fact a money-laundering front. The defence also attempted to show that the prosecution’s witnesses were not credible, since they all had something to gain, e.g. shorter sentences, from testifying against Ravenell.

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In his appeal, Ravenell pointed out that the government failed to prove that his alleged conspiracy with his clients continued past July 2, 2014 – when the five-year statute of limitations expired. Ravenell’s lawyers also argued that the judge who oversaw Ravenell’s trial should have told the jury about the statute of limitations, so that the defence could present evidence of any existing conspiracy ending by July 2, 2014.

Fourth Circuit judges Harvie Wilkinson III and Toby Heytens said that it was Ravenell’s burden to show that he ended the conspiracy before the statutory deadline, which he failed to discharge and instead attempted to “flip … back to the government to show continuation via overt acts”.

“This is not what the law requires,” Wilkinson wrote in the majority opinion.

The majority also ruled that the the limitations date – July 2, 2014 – did not require the district judge to expressly provide the jury with a statute of limitations instruction. Thus, declining to give one was not an abuse of the wide discretion allowed to a court in giving jury instructions.

Fourth Circuit Chief Judge Roger Gregory dissented on this point. "If the district court had properly instructed the jury, Ravenell could have highlighted this evidence of the conspiracy’s termination in his closing argument, which could have led to his acquittal," Gregory wrote.

The majority opinion also pointed out that the government had succeeded in presenting evidence that Ravenell committed acts to further the money-laundering conspiracy past the limitations date, even though this was not needed.

The case is USA v. Kenneth Wendell Ravenell, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, No. 22-4369. Ravenell was represented by David Zornow of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, and Peter White of Schulte Roth & Zabel.

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