Thursday, May 8, 2008
Government Returns Third Superseding Indictment in Prosecution of Defense Attorney Benedict P. Kuehne
Guest Blogger Jon May, Esq. writes:
When the indictment against Miami attorney Ben Kuehne was unsealed, lawyers across the country scratched their heads. The indictment alleged that Kuehne, hired to vet legal fees paid to famed defense counsel Roy Black for his defense of Fabio Ochoa, was guilty of money laundering. The indictment, however, was almost totally devoid of any facts that explained what Ben actually did that violated the law. The government has attempted to remedy that deficiency in the second and third superseding indictments, but lawyers are still scratching their heads. The government does not contend that the source of the Colombian pesos used to pay Black’s fees were proceeds of any unlawful activity. Rather the government argues that the United States dollars exchanged for the pesos in the United States (by United States agents) were derived from drug trafficking. But the "tainted dollars" exchanged for the clean pesos were not proceeds of any illegal activity involving Fabio Ochoa. These dollars came from various sting operations run by the DEA in New York.
It is the government’s theory that all money exchange businesses operating in the United States are so polluted with tainted dollars and that Attorney Kuehne knew that the money ultimately transferred to Attorney Black was illegal proceeds. Because Kuehne’s trust account was used to temporarily hold the transfer of these funds to Black and because Kuehne drafted opinion letters attesting to the legal source of the funds, the government contends that he committed money laundering.
The government has made this same argument in a number of cases against United States banking institutions who have dealt with money exchanges involving currency from various Latin American nations, most recently Wachovia Bank. But thus far each of these investigations has resulted in deferred prosecutions. Ben Kuehne’s prosecution may be the first case where this unprecedented and peculiar theory has been employed against an individual, in this case a prominent criminal defense lawyer.
A new twist is presented by the third superseding indictment. In addition to money laundering, Ben is charged with defrauding the Government of Colombia, on the theory that these money exchanges defeat Colombian currency control laws. What this means is that the United States is now fully engaged in enforcing other nations’ laws in the courts of the United States.
As this prosecution unfolds, it becomes clearer that the government is using this case to test new theories that have broad implications for every lawyer who provides legal advice that is later argued to have impeded law enforcement efforts, even those of foreign countries. It also threatens to subject civil and corporate counsel to potential prosecution for any legal advice given that somehow violates a foreign law.
Third Superseding Indictment -