Ordinarily calm and mild blogger David Markus editorializes in Southern District of Florida Blog: Sad day
Typically I try to blog objectively and just report what is occurring in our District.
Today I can't do that because what happened this morning in magistrate court should not have happened.
Ben Kuehne, one of the pillars of this community, was indicted on money laundering charges. (read indictment here)
The government's theory of prosceution is outrageous. According to Jay Weaver's article:
Justice Department officials allege that Kuehne broke the law in 2002-03 when he vouched for millions paid by one-time Medellín drug lord Fabio Ochoa Vasquez to his high-profile trial attorney, Roy Black.
Kuehne's research gave Black the confidence — in the form of legal opinion letters — to accept payments totaling $3.7 million in fees and $1.3 million in expenses from Ochoa, according to several sources. Kuehne earned a portion of the expense payments — $220,000 to $260,000 — from Black for vetting Ochoa's payments.
Federal prosecutors face a formidable challenge in proving the case against Kuehne. They will have to prove that Kuehne knew Ochoa's money came from the sale of family assets to drug-trafficking associates…
This means that Ben had to have knowingly and willfully lied to Roy when telling him that the fee was okay. But what motive would Ben have for doing this? The money certainly wasn't enough to risk all of this. And Ben Kuehne of all people wouldn't have done these things for a million dollars. He's as ethical a person and lawyer as I know. I'll comment a lot more on the charges once I've had a chance to digest the indictment which was unsealed this morning in mag court.
We all know the real reason for this prosecution — to discourage lawyers from taking these kinds of cases.
I went to court to support Ben. Half of the legal community was there to show their support. (He was released on a $250,000 personal surety bond.) Watching this unfold really stuck in my gut. I am still in disbelief. I actually had a case in the past with the lead prosecutor from DOJ. I went up to him to say hello and he exclaimed without prompting: “This is a wonderful day for the government.” The comment was unnecessary and it sickened me.
I walked away from him thinking just the opposite. This is a terrible day for our country. Ben will be acquitted. But at what cost to him? And our justice system? Now, more than ever, it's critical to fight for our Constitution and our justice system.
In court, Ben commented to Magistrate Judge Brown: “since I am completely innocent of these charges, I am entering a plea of not guilty.'' He is represented by John Nields and Jane Moscowitz.
The indictment alleges that Kuehne, along with a Columbian lawyer and a Columbian accountant, falsified various documents to hide the tainted origins of the money. In their spinning to the press, however, nameless government prosecutors say rather that he should have known — which is not what the statute charging him requires.
In the Ochoa case, sources familiar with the probe said both federal and Colombian investigators have traced the source of his family's sales, determined the proceeds came from dirty money and that Kuehne should have uncovered it before he moved the money through trust accounts to Black. Under one money laundering statute, a lawyer cannot approve or accept legal fees from a client if the attorney knows the payments are from criminal proceeds such as drug trafficking. Congress, however, made an exemption for lawyers when there is uncertainty about the source of the proceeds — an exemption the Justice Department has never acknowledged.
You'd think if they had a better case, they'd say so. David Markus suggests that this prosecution — of a man known as a local ethics guru — is a shot across the bow of the criminal defense bar, a tactic designed to make everyone in town afraid to take big drug cases.
Assuming Kuehne is in fact innocent of knowingly aiding and abetting in the falsification of documents — and I agree with Markus that the wages of alleged sin seem low here — I can't help but wonder if it's not a twofer for the Bush Justice Department: a chance to do what Markus said, plus a way to ruin the career and reputation of a leading local Democrat. Kuehne, after all, was part of Vice President Al Gore's legal team. Perhaps the partisan prosecution of Democratic office-holders is moving on to new pastures?
How long before the radicalization of David Markus? Or the rest of us?