Thursday, February 22, 2007
West Palm Beach (Fla.) attorney John Garcia learned the hard way that lawyers have to keep their distance from clients, especially when a client is involved in a significant drug dealing operation. Garcia received an 18--month sentence after pleading guilty to three counts of failing to file CTRs for cash transactions over $10,000 and one count of making a false statement to a DEA agent. The case arose out of an investigation of Garcia's client, Joel McDermott, who was convicted on drug distribution charges. In looking at McDermott's assets after his conviction, the DEA noticed that payments were being made on a house being built in Wellington, Fla., in his name. Needless to say, McDermott was more than willing to roll over on his attorney, and it came to light that he gave Garcia cash to purchase cashier's checks to make the payments. As described in a press release (here) issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida:
Garcia admitted structuring cash transactions in his bank account to avoid the filing of currency transaction reports that would have disclosed the source of the monies and their amounts; he also admitted that he lied to Special Agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration when he said that: (1) he had no financial or equitable interest in the construction of a residence in the name of Joel McDermott located in a real estate development known as “Olympia;” and (2) he did not purchase cashier’s checks from Bank of America for the residence of Joel McDermott located in a real estate development known as “Olympia.” In fact, however, Garcia had a financial and equitable interest in the residence in “Olympia” and had purchased several cashier’s checks at Bank of America with cash given to him by Joel McDermott. Thereafter, Garcia caused those cashier’s checks to be tendered to Minto Homes for the benefit of Joel McDermott and a home McDermott was building in “Olympia.”
A Palm Beach Post story (here) discusses the sentencing hearing for Garcia, attended by a number of defense attorneys and a retired circuit court judge, who attested to Garcia's integrity. Indeed, the Assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuting the case said that Garcia is "an honorable man of his word." While U.S. District Judge Daniel Hurley expressed some sympathy, noting the number of supporting letters he received, he also pointed out that Garcia's conduct was "180 degrees at odds with the person we thought we knew." While the judge mused about possibly giving a higher sentence than called for by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, he ended up giving Garcia a term at the bottom of the sentencing range.
The old adage is that the client goes to jail and the lawyer goes to lunch (or dinner, or back to the office). When the attorney crosses the line and starts helping a client launder money, then the last person on earth that client will protect is the lawyer, who will join the client in jail. (ph)