Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney

Posts Tagged ‘arrest’

Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez, Bail, and the Forfeiture Laws

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

Los Angeles is known for high-profile celebrities and high-profile criminal prosecutions.

Currently, Los Angeles County Assessor John Noguez is attracting more than his share of headlines and media attention.

Last week, he and a few others were arrested and charged with accepting more than one million dollars in bribes in exchange for agreeing to reduce tax property assessments for certain tax payers.

According to the prosecutors, Ramin Salari, a tax consultant, bribed Noguez on behalf of his wealthy clients. Prosecutors claim that this criminal conspiracy cost tax payers 1.16 million dollars.

As a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, I know that most people, including lawyers who are not familiar with the criminal justice system, don’t realize just how important the prosecution’s charges are in a case involving fraud or other financial crimes.

Most people believe that the presumption of innocence applies to this aspect of the charges. After all, the prosecutors haven’t proven that Noguez and Salari have done anything criminal, and they certainly haven’t proven the specific dollar amounts of the harm caused by this alleged crime.

In reality, however, the allegation that Noguez and Salari fraud caused $1.16 million in damages has two immediate practical consequences. First, the judge set bail for Noguez and Salari in the amount of $1.16 million. This is the amount they need to produce to get out of jail pending trial.  Second, and perhaps more importantly, California forfeiture laws provide that the accused must show that the money they use to pay for bail wasn’t tainted by the allegedly criminal conduct.  This leads to the following anomalous situation, as described by The Los Angeles Times:

Salari is a multimillionaire, court records show. But since he has to prove that the money he uses for his defense is not tainted by the alleged criminal conspiracy, his mother and sister are putting up their Encino homes as collateral for the bail, [according to Salari’s lawyer.]

Noguez isn’t as fortunate.  According to his lawyer, Noguez doesn’t have the money to pay for bail. That is why since his arrest he has spent almost a week in jail.

This in turn makes it harder for Noguez or any person in his situation to fully defend himself.  It may turn out that the prosecutors’ charges are exaggerated or totally erroneous.  But at this stage of the proceedings, a good criminal defense lawyer focuses on getting his client out of jail on bail. The forfeiture laws complicate this process, which is another reason why it’s critical to work with an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

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Lessons From Amanda Bynes’ Arrest: Don’t Talk, Squawk, or Tweet

Monday, June 11th, 2012

“Anything you say can or will be used against you.”

How many times have we all heard these words when someone is arrested on a TV show?  It’s almost become a cliché.

As a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, I know that many people who are arrested don’t fully appreciate that, in the context of talking after you have been arrested, anything really does mean anything.  Even the most innocuous-sounding language can come back and hurt a person who has been arrested.

A recent example involving a celebrity illustrates the point.

On April 6, Amanda Bynes, who starred in the Nickleodeon show, “All That,” and later appeared in the film version of the musical “Hairspray,” was arrested in West Hollywood for hitting the corner of a sheriff’s vehicle with her BMW.  Approximately seven weeks later, she was charged with driving under the influence and for refusing to take a Breathalyzer or blood-alcohol test.

After finding out that she is facing these charges, Byrne sent out the following message via Twitter to President Obama and her more than 250,000 followers:

“Hey @BarackObama… I don’t drink. Please fire the cop who arrested me. I also don’t hit and run. The end.”

Some of you might be thinking:  “What’s the big deal?”  It’s not as if she admitted to something or said something incriminating.  True.  The most important reason for not talking to the police or making a public statement relating to charges is that people can and often say something that directly implicates their guilt.  It’s shockingly common for people to admit to committing a crime (or what they think is a crime) or to provide information that either corroborates some other incriminating evidence, or provides the basis for cross-examination at trial.  Here, Ms. Bynes stated that she doesn’t drink, thereby indirectly affirming her innocence.  Her statement could have been worse.

But for several reasons she still would have been better off keeping quiet.  First, being charged with DUI hardly makes someone appear likeable.  Contacting the President and asking him to fire a local police officer isn’t a great popularity move either.  Should this case ever go to trial, prosecutors have an incentive to try to get the tweet admitted into evidence.

Second, the message on Twitter generated much more media attention than the original arrest or the decision to press DUI and related charges.  When news of the tweet spread, so did the picture of the mug shot.  This isn’t the kind of attention that most people, even celebrities, need.  It’s also possible that this kind of media attention may subtly bias the pool of potential jurors.

Third, and most importantly, the press attention may make it much harder for the prosecutors to accept a plea deal.  They may be more motivated than they otherwise would have been to try Ms. Bynes.  Although it’s premature to tell, it’s certainly plausible to believe that the ill-advised tweet could actually increase the punishment Ms. Bynes ultimately receives for allegedly hitting a sheriff’s patrol car back in April.

Admittedly, a certain amount of speculation is involved when determining how a certain public disclosure impacts how a particular case will be defended.  Nonetheless, if you are arrested, the safest course of action is to stay quiet and let an experienced criminal defense lawyer do the talking for you.

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Los Angeles Mortgage Fraud Arrests

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Mortgage fraud is one of those terms that people use without fully understanding what it is.  In the wake of the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008, the media started to focus on mortgages that ended up in foreclosure.  In particular, we became much more aware of banking practices that included giving mortgages to people who had no or little demonstrated income.

As a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles, I can tell you that mortgage fraud is something else entirely.  While it remains to be seen whether anyone associated with major banking institutions will be criminally charged for their role in processing dubious mortgage applications, charges of mortgage fraud generally involve the applicant rather than the bank.

In California mortgage fraud cases involve a variety of related charges; mortgage fraud is more than one thing, and it almost always involves allegations that several laws were broken.

Yesterday’s arrest of nine people is a good example of how mortgage fraud cases are charged. The nine are accused of  committing fraud in connection with the sale of six houses, and netting $2.4 million in the process. Here’s how their arrests were reported by the Los Angeles Times.

“The suspects are accused of obtaining titles to the residential properties, taking out loans in the names of straw buyers, and selling the homes at inflated prices, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said.

Two of the loans were in names of identity fraud victims, authorities said.

In allegedly carrying out the scheme, the suspects used false bank account and employment documents, according to authorities.”

The essence of mortgage fraud is an allegation that the accused lied on their mortgage application.  The lie or misrepresentation has to be material, and can include withholding information from the bank or other institution that is reviewing the application.  Because the lie is alleged to have been made for financial motives, and a way to obtain money, mortgage fraud cases almost always include grand theft charges (California Penal Code section 487a).  This is punishable by a three-year sentence per violation.

There are common fact patterns in mortgage fraud cases, and the charges described above include two of them. One is that a straw buyer was used.  When the bank is unlikely to accept the application of a buyer, oftentimes because of a bad or incomplete credit history, a different person (the straw man or woman) is named on the application.

This case also includes allegations that the purchase price of the house was inflated. This is where the straw (and potentially others) resell the property at successively higher prices.

In addition to grand theft, mortgage fraud cases can involve the following charges: identity theft, forgery, recording a false or fraudulent financial instrument, as well as notary fraud and escrow theft.

Given the number of people who were arrested, this case also involves conspiracy charges.  It won’t be surprising, therefore, if prosecutors consider using the testimony of ”smaller fish” in an effort to build a stronger case against the perceived leaders of the conspiracy.

This case is a good example of how mortgage fraud cases are much more complicated than they first appear.

 

 

 

 

 

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Arrests in Mexico-Los Angeles-Denver Cocaine Ring

Monday, February 13th, 2012

It does make for a nice headline: “Feds Make Largest Mass Drug Arrest in Colo. History.”

On February 9, 2012 federal and state authorities announced that they had arrested more than 80 people in connection with a long investigation of a drug ring that connected Mexico, Los Angeles, and Denver.  Arrests were also made in Mexico and Los Angeles, although most of the action took place in Colorado.  Several dozen kilos of cocaine were seized along with a much smaller quantity of meth and a dozen firearms.

This was a large-scale investigation that appears to have started in 2010, and that involved numerous local law enforcement agencies as well as the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE).

Not surprisingly, the people who ran this investigation and coordinated the arrests were proud of what they had done.  U.S Attorney John F. Walsh convened a press conference at which he tried to make the case that this was a  blow to drug dealers:

“This is a big deal for Colorado. It sends a clear message to people bringing drugs and selling, and that is, ‘Your day will come,’” Walsh said.

This is language that you often hear at press conferences. The headlines are impressive as are the images of police officers standing in front of seized firearms.  I can’t tell you how many of these “record-setting drug arrests” news conferences I have seen over the years.  The amount of drugs seized in Denver certainly wouldn’t be a record here in Los Angeles.

More importantly, too little attention is paid to the fact that these kinds of records are set fairly regularly, and that these press conferences are especially popular during election years.  To be sure, federal prosecutors like Mr. Walsh don’t have to worry about being elected; they are appointed by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate.  But the same cannot be said by local district attorneys; there is a tendency to hold these press conferences as part of an effort to show voters that something is being done about drugs.

But even some of the officials who were involved in this operation tacitly acknowledged that these arrests aren’t going to make a lasting impact on the availability of drugs.  One local prosecutor was unusually candid:

“Adams County District Attorney Don Quick said the bust means that the supply side of the drug chain has been hit but the problem will never truly be resolved until agencies focus on the demand side.”We need to get our kids early so this demand doesn’t exist. If there’s always going to be a demand, there’s always going to be a supply,” Quick said. He said 80 percent of people sitting in jail currently are connected to drug use in some way.”

There is also another interesting and often overlooked aspect of these “record-setting” drug busts.  During the course of the arrests a dozen children were taken out of their parents homes and most likely handed over  to the foster care system. These children are also harmed by how our society has decided to address the real problems caused by cocaine and other drugs.

It is only a matter of time before some other federal prosecutor convenes a press conference to showcase a record drug-related arrest.  For the foreseeable future, that means that I will be plenty busy trying to defend those who have been arrested and who face lengthy prison sentences in federal jails.

 

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Cocaine Related Arrests at LAX

Monday, February 13th, 2012

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) was on February 2 the scene of  high-profile drug smuggling arrests. Two Spanish nationals, mother and daughter, were stopped allegedly carrying up to ten pounds of cocaine.  According to the local NBC affiliate, the pair were here just for a stop over, and were scheduled to fly to Australia.

One of the most troubling aspect of the press coverage of this story is that, following their arrests, the mother and daughter provided authorities with incriminating information, including that they had previously received money in exchange for transporting packages.

It is perhaps too much to ask two people who are unfamiliar with American law and culture, and who undoubtedly must have been feeling an enormous amount of fear and anxiety, to know that they shouldn’t speak to authorities without first speaking to a lawyer.  It appears that federal agents paid attention to the two because they had an unusual travel pattern, including short recent trips to Panama and Columbia.

Because of the quantity of cocaine that was seized, and because they were arrested at LAX by federal officials, they are facing federal charges. And that means they are facing much higher potential sentences than they would in the California state system.  Here, each may be facing up to a 40-year sentence. And in federal prison, a forty-year jail sentence means that you almost certainly going to be in prison for more than 30 years.

There is no other way to put it–the federal system is different. Most crimes are state crimes; as a result relatively few lawyers are experienced in defending cases in federal court, which has different prosecutors, judges, juries, and rules than California state courts.

It is impossible to tell from the press coverage just how damaging the statements made to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents will prove to be, but I am certain that people who are arrested for drug crimes, especially ones facing federal charges, are better off talking to a lawyer before they make any statements to the authorities. And that’s true whether you are arrested or just being asked to appear for an interview with the FBI, Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), The Secret Service, IRS, or any other federal agency.

 

 

 

 

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Yes, Lawyers Are Allowed To Send You Mail After Your Arrest

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

If you have recently been arrested, you’ve undoubtedly been flooded with mail from attorneys seeking your business.  You may find this irritating and embarrassing, and you may also feel like it is an invasion of privacy (especially if you are trying to keep your arrest secret from friends or family).  Frankly, we find this sort of direct mail marketing distasteful.  We have never sent jail mail and don’t plan to.

Clients frequently ask us if there is any way to stop the deluge of this “jail mail” from attorneys whom they have never heard of and have no intention of hiring.    The simple answer to the question is “No”, you can’t stop a criminal defense lawyer from sending unsolicited mail.  Why is this?

To start with, this sort of advertising is protected commercial speech under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.  As for the invasion of privacy issue, your arrest record is public record.  Some lawyers spend hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars a month to direct mail companies who subscribe to the daily Los Angeles County arrest reports and then send these advertisements to the people named in those reports (yes, the home addresses are in the arrest reports too).

However, there are some things you should know.  Under the California Rules of Professional Conduct for Attorneys, the lawyer advertising mail you receive must be clearly labeled as an “advertisement” or “newsletter” or some similar language.  Also, the advertisement cannot make any guarantees about the outcome (e.g. “We’ll promise to get your case dismissed!”), especially because there are no guarantees in a criminal case, period.  Finally, if you do decide to hire a lawyer who sends you ads in the mail, and there is an advertised fee in the ad,they cannot charge you more than the advertised fee.  So, if you decide to hire someone because they said they’d handle your DUI for  $799 then you find out that they really need $2500, they may be behaving unethically and illegally.

Of course, you should also be asking yourself what exactly it is you expect from a lawyer who charges you $799 for a DUI…but that’s another post for another time.  In the meantime, we’re sorry you have to endure yet another indignity in the wake of your arrest.

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