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Government dismisses charges against miami criminal lawyer

Posted on November 25, 2009 3:00 AM EST

Federal prosecutors dropped all charges against a well-known Miami criminal lawyer on November 25, 2009. The lawyer was indicted for conspiracy to commit money laundering and other various charges. His case stemmed from the defense of the cocaine trafficking kingpin, Fabio Ochoa. Ben Kuehne was absolved of all charges last week. He is well know for his representation of former Vice-President Al Gore regarding the 2000 Florida vote recount. He was also a member of the Florida Bar board of governors.

The federal court case involving Kuehne became the topic of conversation in legal circles over the past couple of years. The case centered around an individual's 6th Amendment right to counsel and a federal statute which provided for an exemption to attorneys for money laundering. The government's case came to a grinding halt when the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Kuehne could not be prosecuted for money laundering in light of the exemption. With the main charge no longer in play, the Department of Justice decided to dismiss the wire fraud and obstruction of justice counts. Court records indicate that the government dropped the case in the interests of justice.

The indictment charged Kuehne with falsely verifying that the proceeds used by Ochoa to retain well-known Miami criminal attorney, Roy Black, were not obtained as a result of cocaine trafficking. Black received about $5.2 million from Ochoa to represent him in his cocaine trafficking case. Kuehne issued two opinion letters to Black in 2002 and 2003 claiming that the funds were not tainted. Kuehne received a $200,000 fee for his opinion.

Prosecutors tried to establish that Kuehne and others prepared documents to make it look like the funds were not linked to the massive Columbia drug cartels operation. Lawyers representing Kuehne have argued from the outset, that federal law precludes lawyers from being prosecuted for receiving tainted fees. According the law, any lawyer receiving tainted fees cannot be prosecuted, only the fees can subject to forfeiture.

Despite the exorbitant fees paid by Ochoa for his defense, he was convicted of the cocaine trafficking charges and is spending the next 30 years in federal prison. The resolution of the case comes with a sigh of relief for defendants and criminal lawyers alike. In a nutshell, defendants can use tainted fees to hire lawyers and the lawyers retained can sleep well at night knowing that they will not go to jail for receiving fees obtained from the operation of illegal enterprises.

US Drops Charges Against Florida Lawyer in Drug Case, The Miami Herald, November 25, 2009.
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