Articles Posted in Federal Criminal Law

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Federal law enforcement agents from the DEA routinely seize quantities of cash that they suspect to be tied to or derived from narcotics trafficking. Frequently, these seizures happen in conjuncture with the arrests of those in possession of the cash, or pursuant to indictments. But most of the time, agents seize cash – even huge sums of it – without arresting anyone. In those cases, the owners or possessors of that seized cash have some difficult decisions to make.

In these cases, federal law generally requires the agents to send a notice to the person from whom the cash was seized. The person who receives the notice is typically given the opportunity to make a claim for the cash, which includes an explanation as to the source of the cash. This response must be made under penalty of perjury, and can include supplemental documentation from a related business (such as tax returns or bank statements), or sworn statements from other people, among other things. Every once in awhile, the agents return the cash to the claimant based upon the representations made by the claimant, or based upon the evidence demonstrated to the agency. Our attorneys have successfully assisted clients in getting cash returned by federal agents this way.

If, however, the agency refuses to return the money based upon these representations, then they must commence a civil forfeiture action in federal court. The precise procedures for doing so are outlined in 18 U.S.C. § 983. Ultimately, in a civil court proceeding, the federal agency (DEA) must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the seized cash represents proceeds of illegal activity. This is the civil standard for proof and it is much lower (easier) than the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard necessary to prove a person’s guilt of a crime.

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Proffers are a big and important part of federal criminal defense practice. Basically, it involves a defendant, a witness, a person of interest, or a person with information having a face-to-face meeting with a prosecutor and law enforcement agents while accompanied by an attorney. (Attorneys can also have “attorney proffers” whereby the attorney tells the prosecutor what his client would say if the client were to hypothetically have a proffer with them).

Proffers can be done for many reasons: to initiate cooperation agreements, to attempt to persuade a prosecutor of one’s innocence, to offer information for an investigation, or to seek leniency at sentencing. Regardless of the reason, however, they should never be undertaken lightly.

First and foremost, a person proffering to federal law enforcement cannot lie. Obviously, if law enforcement discovers that the person has lied during a proffer, then that person’s credibility will be destroyed. Thus, any hope for a cooperation agreement or mitigation at sentencing will be eliminated. There are two other equally important reasons, however. First, a lie during a proffer can be prosecuted potentially as a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001, which makes it a federal crime to lie to a law enforcement officer. This is typically why prosecutors bring law enforcement agents (FBI, Homeland Security, etc.) to the proffers. Similarly, a lie during a proffer session can result in an enhanced sentence for any related convictions, under the theory that the lie “obstructed justice.” Finally, a lie during a proffer session could invalidate the proffer agreement, which otherwise protects a person from having those statements during the proffer session used against them.

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A charge of 18 USC Section 924(c) for using or possessing a firearm in the course of drug trafficking or some other violent crime is a common criminal charge in federal court. The charge also carries very significant potential penalties that must run consecutive any other sentences imposed for other related crimes. Thus, if you or a loved one have been arrested or indicted for this crime, you should seriously consider retaining an aggressive and experienced federal criminal defense attorney like Matthew Galluzzo.

The statute reads as follows (18 U.S.C. § 924(c)(1)):

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Federal murder cases are some of the most obviously serious cases in American criminal law. Under some circumstances, federal murder charges can involve the death penalty (even in states where the death penalty is illegal at the state level).

The most common two murder charges at the federal level are contained in 18 U.S.C. § 1111 and § 1117. The former describes federal murder as being the unlawful and killing of another human being with “malice aforethought.” Spur-of-the-moment killings thus might be charged as manslaughter instead, though “malice aforethought” does not require more than a moment’s reflection on the part of the actor. The charge is broken down into two degrees: first and second degree murder.

First degree murder involves those intentional killings perpetrated by “poison, lying in wait, any other kind of willful, deliberate, malicious and premeditated killing; or committed in the perpetration of, or attempt to perpetrate, any arson, escape, murder, kidnapping, treason, espionage, sabotage, aggravated sexual abuse or sexual abuse, child abuse, burglary, or robbery; or perpetrated as part of a pattern or practice of assault or torture against a child or children; or perpetrated from a premeditated design unlawfully and maliciously to effect the death of any human being other than him who is killed…”  First degree murder is punishable by death or life in prison.

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The criminal defense attorneys at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP have successfully represented many people charged with wire fraud in federal court. This serious accusation can result in very significant penalties, including huge fines and lengthy prison sentences. However, these charges are also frequently quite defensible, too. As such, if you or a loved one have been accused by federal prosecutors of money laundering, you should strongly consider contacting Galluzzo & Arnone’s team of former prosecutors.

The crime of wire fraud occurs when someone voluntarily and intentionally uses an interstate communications device (such as a telephone) as a part of any scheme to defraud another of property, or anything else of value.

The main criminal statutes that apply to wire fraud are 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343 and 1349. Those statues refer to fraud by wire, radio, or television.

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A federal law enforcement investigation codenamed “Operation Varsity Blues” recently resulted in the arrests of dozens of people for allegedly conspiring to fraudulently obtain admissions into selective universities. Fifty people have been accused of working together to bribe university athletic coaches, submit fraudulent college applications, cheat on college entrance exams, and otherwise bribe college officials into admitting otherwise undeserving applicants. The accused individuals include two former Hollywood actresses – Felicity Huffman and Lori McLaughlin (who famously portrayed “Aunt Becky” on the TV show “Full House”) – as well as wealthy hedge fund managers and the chair of international law firm Wilkie Farr & Gallagher, among others. Wealthy parents paid as much as $6.5 million in bribes and fraudulent payments to get their children into the universities of their choice, including Stanford, Yale, USC and others. The case has seized the national attention as an example of the privileged elite abusing their power and influence, and the Department of Justice states that this is the largest college admissions scandal that it has ever prosecuted.

The case began as many federal investigations do – with an undercover cooperator. Somehow, law enforcement investigators with the FBI identified William Rick Singer, the founder and chief executive officer of a nonprofit “college placement organization” called the Key, as a person engaged in unlawful activity.  Though the precise details have not yet been shared, it is clear that they ultimately confronted him with the evidence of his illegal activity and made a deal with him: cooperate against the people who had enlisted his help in order to minimize his eventual punishment.

Mr. Singer then started recording his telephone calls and conversations with his criminal clients. Those calls apparently revealed a wide-ranging series of scams designed to get students into the schools of their choice. For example, Singer arranged for students who had struggled on the college entrance exams to get favorable disability diagnosis from an enlisted medical professional so as to get more time to take their tests. Then, he also arranged for the prospective students to take their college placement tests under the supervision of a paid-for proctor who either corrected their answers or permitted someone else to take their tests for them. Singer made arrangements to have students appear to be successful athletes when they were not, or flat-out bribed college athletic coaches into agreeing to tell the admissions office that they needed the students for their college sports teams. Some of the college coaches were allegedly paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to fraudulently accept students onto their teams (and therefore, into the school) without the relevant athletic credentials.

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The criminal defense attorneys at Galluzzo & Arnone LLP have successfully represented many people charged with money laundering in federal court. This serious accusation can result in very significant penalties, including huge fines and lengthy prison sentences. However, these charges are also frequently quite defensible, too. As such, if you or a loved one have been accused by federal prosecutors of money laundering, you should strongly consider contacting Galluzzo & Arnone’s team of former prosecutors.

Money laundering charges typically go hand-in-hand with other related criminal charges brought by law enforcement. Individuals involved in narcotics trafficking, loansharking, racketeering, or Medicare fraud, for example, usually conduct their business in cash for understandable reasons. The problem that these people oftentimes face, however, is that they cannot use their criminal proceeds to purchase things that they want to buy, like real estate for example. This is when money laundering becomes relevant.

Typically, money laundering charges arise when a person with a quantity of illegally-derived cash wants to put the money into a bank account or buy assets with it. A criminal might seek to launder his or her own illegal money by depositing it into a bank account or wiring it to another account. He or she might also enlist the assistance of a professional launderer who takes a percentage of the laundered funds in exchange for depositing them into an account or investing them in some business or asset. The criminal with cash may also manipulate an unwitting novice into laundering it for them, so as to escape responsibility in the event the laundering is discovered.

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Between 2007 and 2016, over 58,000 unruly passenger incidents were reported on International aircraft in-flight by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). In 2016, the rate was one incident for every 1.424 flights. The majority of reports were Level 1 incidents which are verbal in nature and can usually be dealt with to a successful conclusion by crew using de-escalation training. 12% of reports relate to Level 2 incidents which involve physical aggression to others or damage to the aircraft. Intoxication from alcohol or drugs was identified as a factor in 33% of reported cases. Unruly passenger incidents include violence against crew and other passengers, harassment, verbal abuse, smoking, failure to follow safety instructions and other forms of riotous behavior. Recently, a woman was removed from a Frontier Airlines flight when she attempted to fly with her “emotional support” squirrel and then refused to get off the plane when she was told rodents, including squirrels, are not allowed on Frontier flights. Frontier, like many airlines, has a policy on emotional support and trained service animals allowing cats, dogs and miniature horses. Federal regulations do permit them on airplanes but give the airlines permission to turn away unusual animals, like squirrels. The passenger was advised of the policy and asked to deplane, but when she declined, other passengers were forced to deplane so that authorities could remove the woman from the aircraft.

Although such acts are committed by a tiny minority of passengers, they have a disproportionate impact, create inconvenience, threaten the safety and security of other passengers and crew, and lead to significant operational disruption and costs for airlines. The aircraft cabin is a unique space and it is necessary to recognize the limitations that exist when you are flying in the air in a metal tub. As a result, these sorts of in-flight disturbances frequently result in law enforcement officers becoming involved.

One of the likely reasons for the increasing reports of disruptive passengers is the existence of a gap in international law and the fact that many countries don’t apply their laws to foreign aircraft arriving on their soil. Passenger behavior is subject to the law of the country the plane is registered in. The passengers responsible often walk away and victims of violence can’t always take practical legal actions. Yet, American Federal law bans passengers from interfering with flight crew. Also, certain acts which would be punishable if they occurred in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States, defined in 18 U.S.C. § 7, are made criminal under 49 U.S.C. § 46506(1) (formerly 49 U.S.C. App. § 1472(k)(1)) if they occur within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States.

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A huge percentage of the criminal cases in federal court involve charges relating to the trafficking of drugs, narcotics, and controlled substances. Convictions for these crimes carry serious penalties and sometimes involve mandatory minimum prison sentences. Usually, a person accused in federal court of possessing or trafficking controlled substances is charged with violating 21 USC 841, which makes it a crime to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, or possess with intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense, a controlled substance. Section 841(b) sets forth the potential penalties for this offense, and it depends primarily upon the quantity of controlled substance possessed/distributed in the aggregate. What matters for sentencing purposes is not the number of transactions or the frequency of the activity, but the total volume of drugs possessed or distributed over time. If the quantities involved surpass a certain threshold (depending on the drug), as set forth in Section 841(b), then there can be serious mandatory minimum prison sentences for the offenders. Those mandatory minimum sentences notwithstanding, the potential penalties for these offenses are governed by the complex system set forth in the federal sentencing guidelines. For more on the federal sentencing guidelines, click here.

Federal cases involving narcotics charges typically are the result of long-term investigations by the FBI, the DEA, Homeland Security, or a joint task force involving local police like the NYPD. As such, there are oftentimes wiretaps, surveillance tapes, confidential informants, and search warrants. An effective defense requires an attorney who can review the evidence and the law enforcement processes to determine whether any constitutional rights were violated.

Many unfortunate individuals never actually possessed or distributed narcotics but nonetheless find themselves charged in federal court on account of the conspiracy laws encapsulated in 21 USC 846. That statute explains: “Any person who attempts or conspires to commit any offense defined in this subchapter shall be subject to the same penalties as those prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the attempt or conspiracy.” Basically, this means that a person who plays any knowing role whatsoever in another person’s illegal business is criminally liable for the entirety of that conduct. For example, a person who introduces two people for the purpose of a drug transaction can be expected to be charged as an equal to whatever drug transaction ultimately occurred. A person who acts as a lookout during a drug transaction could be treated as equally culpable to the seller of the narcotics. A person who simply rents an apartment to someone whom he knows is dealing drugs from the apartment could be guilty of “conspiring” to assist the dealer. These are just a few examples of people who could be charged in ways that seem unfair in light of their relatively modest role in the crime. We have however defended many girlfriends of drug dealers and casual acquaintances of true criminals who have found themselves knee-deep in serious federal cases after having had only fleeting or tangential involvement in the cases. But this is the reality of federal conspiracy law.

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From at least in or about January 2016, up to and including July 2018, in New York and New Jersey, Mikuki Suen, 43, Jian Min Huang, 42, Songhua Qu, 54, Kin Lui Chen, 53, and Fangrang Qu, 31 and others known and unknown allegedly smuggled hundreds of thousands of pairs of fake Nike Air Jordan sneakers. The five accused fake-shoes traffickers were arrested for having counterfeited over $70 million in Fake Nike shoes and sold them to buyers on the U.S. market. The NYPD and the Department of Homeland Security received the help of a confidential source who helped make numerous purchases during the investigation. This confidential source has been a law enforcement source for approximately two years.

Nike’s Air Jordan line of sneakers are some of the most popular and expensive athletic shoes in circulation. Nike has released a different Air Jordan model almost every year since the shoe line was first introduced in 1984. Many of these models are known by their model number, like the Air Jordan XIII, the 13th model, and some models are known by the year of introduction, like the Air Jordan 2009. Air Jordan sneakers can cost from approximately 100$ to the thousands of dollars, depending on color and design.

More than 42 containers carrying nearly 400 000 pairs of the trendy fake sneakers traveled from factories in China to Port Newark.  These sneakers were produced to resemble Air Jordan sneakers in design and color but are “generic” (the “Generic Air Jordan”). They were imported into the U.S. without the inclusion of logos that are trademarks registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”). Once the Generic Air Jordan arrived in the U.S., they were altered within the New York area to add trademarked logos to the shoes in warehouses in Queens and Brooklyn. Once this alteration took place, the shoes were considered “counterfeit”. Finally, the Counterfeit Sneaker Ring processed with the distribution of the fake shoes within the U.S. at a significant profit.