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Miami criminal lawyer facing appellate court decision

Posted on September 23, 2009 3:00 AM EST

Oral arguments were heard in Miami, on Wednesday, September 23, 2009, before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal. Federal prosecutors argued that a money laundering conspiracy count charged by the prosecution be reinstated against Miami criminal attorney, Ben Kuehne. The federal court case involves Kuehne's acceptance of more than $5 million in legal fees from a Columbian man convicted of cocaine trafficking. Although Kuehne did not represent Fabio Ochoa in his cocaine trafficking case, he was hired to determine whether or not the fees that Ocho paid his Miami criminal defense lawyer were proceeds of the cocaine trade.

Ocho was once the famed ring leader of the Medellin cocaine trafficking cartel. The United States extradited Ochoa from Columbia in 2001 pursuant to the federal joint extradition agreement. Ochoa, convicted in federal court, is now serving a 30 year prison sentence.

An appellate lawyer from the Justice Department argued that United States District Judge erred by dismissing the money laundering and conspiracy count against Kuehne. United States District Judge Marcia Cooke dismissed the count based on a congressional mandate that prohibited criminal lawyers from accepting fees from illegally obtained money. According to Cooke, prohibiting lawyers from accepting fees is in direct contravention of the 6th Amendment to the Untied States Constitution which entitles every defendant the right to be represented by counsel.

Based on the oral arguments, it is highly unlikely that the 11 Circuit Court of Appeals is going to mandate that the money laundering and conspiracy charge be reinstated against Kuehne. Kuehne's federal court case has been placed on hold until the appellate court hands down a ruling. Kuehne faces up to 50 years in federal prison if he is convicted of the money laundering charges and obstruction of justice.

The Miami lawyer representing Kuehne argued to the appellate court, that federal law prohibits lawyers from being prosecuted for receiving tainted fees, however, tainted fees are subject to forfeiture. The current litigation certainly concerns many criminal lawyers who accept fees from clients who are charged with drug related offenses. Kuehne's attorney stated, "It's one thing to find a lawyer willing to risk his fee. It's another thing to find a lawyer willing to risk his liberty."

Fla. Court Hears Alleged Tainted Legal Fees Case, Associated Press, September 23, 2009.
Categories: Appeals