Articles Posted in Federal Offenses

pinellas policeTwo former Tampa’s finest were arrested and charged with federal tax fraud last Wednesday and the husband and wife team are looking at serious time.

Shortly after claims that thousands of dollars in fraudulent tax refund money was used for bills, 54-year-old Eric Houston and 49-year-old LaJoyce Houston surrendered to United States Marshals.

The former Tampa police detectives were released on their own recognizance (ROR) and ordered to surrender their passports and sat in the state.

At press time they had hired federal criminal defense lawyers who had pled them not guilty.

The government claims in their indictment of the couple that there is overwhelming evidence of tax refund fraud.  They further state that this fraud is being committed by a small group of former and current Tampa Bay policemen and employees.  The indictment goes into details of police identities stolen by thieves including the identity of a policeman killed in the line of duty!

Federal officials state that evidence shows an extremely close relationship between the Houstons and Rita Girven a police informant whose name came up in the tax-fraud investigation.  The Houstons adopted Girven’s child, gave her money and spent social time with her.

Rita Girven had previously pled guilty in March to two federal charges of stolen identity tax refund fraud totaling over $33,000!  She is scheduled to be sentenced this month and may testify against her former friends.  The government is claiming that part of this money was used to pay for Gary and LaJoyce Houston’s pool service and credit card bills.

The affidavit continued by stating in an odd bit of coincidence that over 4,500 people that Eric Houston ran through police databases over three years had later filed fake federal tax returns in their names…with the money going to Eric!

Home town Tampa Bay is almost always in the national top 10 nationally in identity fraud which costs American tax payers billions per year. Continue reading

Florida federal crimes.bmp “Celebrity” lawyer Paul Bergin was sentenced to life in prison today, charged with a variety of federal crimes

The former federal prosecutor and army officer was living the high life. One of the most famous criminal defense lawyers in the state, Bergin had a long list of celebrity clients he represented including Lil’ Kim, Queen Latifa and 90’s sensation Naughty By Nature. It appears it wasn’t his taste for celebrities that got him, rather his shocking mob-like criminal nature.

In summer 2009, Bergin and multiple associates were accused with running his law office like a mob front. He was charged with multiple federal counts including drug trafficking, the murder of a key federal prosecution witness, money laundering and even promoting prostitution.

His first trial ended up in in a hung jury a few years ago. This past March his second trial did not go as well. Representing himself and bellowing that he was the victim of corrupt prosecutors got him nowhere this time. He was found guilty on 23 counts. On a few of the charges including aiding the murder of a witness and conspiracy, there is a mandatory life sentence. The federal judicial system does not allow parole or time off for good behavior.

The eight week trial resulted in a surprisingly fast jury verdict. They deliberated less then two days to find him guilty.

In the most serious counts, Bergin was convicted of masterminding the execution-style killing of a FBI informant who was set to testify against one of Paul bergin’s clients. The gunman was caught and testified at trial that the crooked lawyer met with him and his gang in an alley. Bergin lectured the gang, letting them know that their fellow gangmember would spend the rest of his life in prison if he was found guilty. Paul then looked the shooter in the eye and told him “No (witness), no case”!

THE CHARGES

• Racketeering
• Racketeering Conspiracy
• Violent Crime in Aid of Racketeering (2)

• Conspiracy to Distribute a Controlled Dangerous Substance
• Maintaining Drug-Involved Premises (3)

• Conspiracy to Murder a Witness
• Aiding and Abetting the Murder of a Federal Witness
• Conspiracy to Travel in Aid of Prostitution Business
• Travel in Aid of Prostitution Business (2)

• Conspiracy to Travel in Aid of Drug Trafficking Business and Bribery
• Travel in Aid of Drug Trafficking Business and Bribery (2)

• Conspiracy to Travel in Aid of Drug Trafficking Business
• Travel in Aid of Drug Trafficking Business (5)

• Failure to file an IRS Form Continue reading

According to a story in today’s St. Petersburg Times, dozens of suspects have been rounded up (and dozens more are still wanted) in a multi-county prescription drug operation known as “Operation No Appointment Necessary.”

The St. Pete Times reports the following:

The phony prescriptions were printed out on a home computer and passed out to “runners” who got them filled at local pharmacies.

I’m all for individuality and one’s right to tattoo (almost) anything they want on their body. However, there comes a time when you are just asking for trouble….

Yesterday, an man was arrested under the authority of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) warrant.

ICE.pngIsmael Hernandez-Ambrosio, of Clearwater, was booked into the Pinellas County Jail around 3:00 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. And I’m sure the arresting officer(s), detention deputies and jail staff enjoyed listing his “Scars, Marks & Tattoos” (as is routinely done when being booked into the Pinellas County Jail.

The widely-reported case against former Speaker of the House Ray Sansom came to an abrupt end on Friday when State prosecutors dropped all criminal charges.

In a dramatic end to a Jury Trial nearly two (2) years in the making, criminal charges against Sansom were dropped, in Court, Friday after prosecutors said a judge limited evidence of an alleged Conspiracy to get $6 million in state funding for an airport building a developer wanted to use.

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Flanked by friends and his lawyers, Sansom, 48, said it was vindication.

“First I want to thank God,” he said, then praised his attorneys. “When I first met with them, they said ‘Ray, the truth will set you free’ and we saw that today.”

Asked if he would have done anything differently, Sansom replied, “absolutely not.”

Leon County State Attorney Willie Meggs also dropped the case against Sansom’s co-defendant, developer Jay Odom. Both men had been charged with Grand Theft and Conspiracy to Commit Grand Theft. According to the prosecution, the $6 million was steered to Northwest Florida State College, where Sansom took a job (coincidentally) on the same day he was sworn in as speaker of the Florida House in 2008 .

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Sansom and Odom agreed to pay about $103,000 each to Northwest Florida State College — two-thirds of the amount the college spent on planning the airport building. The trustees scrapped the project after Grand Jury indictments were handed down in April 2009 and then-Governor Charlie Crist asked for the money back.

The State’s case unraveled on the fifth day of Sansom’s Jury Trial, just before a lunch break.

The jury was out and defense lawyers raised objections to testimony State Attorney Meggs planned to introduce to establish a Conspiracy. He was going to bring up a key witness, former college president Bob Richburg, who was also criminally charged but two (2) weeks ago agreed to testify (otherwise known as “snitch”) against Sansom and Odom.

Richburg, Meggs later said, would have described conversations with Sansom and Odom about the airport project prior to Sansom getting the money. Meggs also planned to introduce e-mails showing conversations about the building.

But the defense mounted a challenge, saying the state had to prove there was an illegal agreement.

“There’s no evidence of conspiracy because there’s no evidence of an illegal agreement,” attorney Larry Simpson said.

After a lengthy discussion, Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said, “I don’t think you have enough to show a conspiracy.” He said several college employees and an architect said they were aware of the private use.

Meggs had argued that college trustees did not (two testified during the trial) and neither did other legislators.

But if he could not lay the ground for the conspiracy — the planning for a hangar and attempts to conceal its nature that he said were clear before Sansom got the money — Meggs said his case was damaged.

What’s more, Meggs said he was limited because the proposed jury instructions would have said, “the passage of legislation, including an appropriations bill, by itself, cannot constitute theft by any of the defendants.”

So during lunch, Meggs offered “a plea deal” to both defendants. He would drop the charges if they agreed to wrongdoing, did community service and paid restitution (otherwise known as buying their way out of the criminal charges?).

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In the end, Sansom and Odom only agreed to pay the money, and Sansom’s attorney, Steve Dobson, said his client resisted that as well. Sansom blamed Meggs and the news media.

Dobson declared, “They were not guilty.”

Meggs maintained there was wrongdoing and attributed the defeat to “fundamental” differences in understanding of conspiracy law with Lewis.

“I agree the State was not able to carry its burden of establishing a conspiracy with the court,” Meggs said. “And so if I can’t establish a conspiracy with the court before the appropriation, I can’t get in statements of co-conspirators after the appropriation. And that’s what all our evidence is about, is what they did after the appropriation was put into place.”

The trial started Monday and more than a dozen witnesses had testified for the State of Florida, leading up to its primary witness, Richburg, who agreed March 11 to testify for the prosecution (“turn State’s evidence”).

Meggs had argued that the three (3) men worked together to accomplish Odom’s goal of getting an airplane hangar then worked to conceal it as an educational facility, contending that college officials scrambled to find a use for the building and even then planned to use half of the space. Meggs presented documents and testimony showing the bulk was for a hangar.

Noting that Meggs first charged the men with Official Misconduct then changed it to Grand Theft after the charges were mostly gutted in court, Dobson said, “I would say the state attorney lost big time.”

As if this wasted prosecution hasn’t cost the citizens of the State of Florida enough already, Florida law allows a public official who is charged with a crime to seek payment of legal fees if he’s not convicted when the charges arose from his public duties. Dobson said he plans to seek payment from the Legislature.

Dobson said he did not know yet what the total fees would be but “because of Mr. Meggs’ dogged pursuit, it’s going to be big.”

Federal investigators have been looking at some aspect of Sansom and Odom’s dealings (an FBI agent sat in on some of the depositions of witnesses in the state case). Asked about that, Dobson said “if they are charged in Federal Court, we’ll fight that, too. If I am retained.”

I particularly love how that last quote was quickly modified…
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According to a recent online story in the Bizarre Florida section of the St. Pete Times, a California adult entertainment company is about to make some south Florida husbands pretty upset with Federal lawsuits seeking up to $150,000 in damages (each) for copyright infringement.

As initially reported in the south Florida Sun Sentinel, married men who illegally downloaded the movies “Bootylicious Girls” and “Brazilian Babes” may have a really awkward conversation coming with their wife and/or girlfriend.

Adult entertainment company Elegant Angel filed a series of Federal lawsuits last week against 58 “John Does” in South Florida who allegedly pirated its movies. Elegant Angel, based in Canoga Park, California, has the Internet addresses of the computers used to illegally download the movies and wants Judges to allow it to subpoena the computer owners’ names through their Internet service providers (ISP’s).

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“I firmly believe that everyone has the right to protect their intellectual property,” said M. Keith Lipscomb, one of the Miami attorneys for Elegant Angel. “Right now, the adult entertainment industry is being tremendously damaged by the infringement of its copyrights over the Internet.”

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The adult entertainment industry has become more aggressive within the last year in pursuing copyright cases. In many instances, film companies have filed lawsuits against dozens–even hundreds–of “John Does” at a time, accusing them of downloading videos using BitTorrent, a file-sharing
program.

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According to an online story on The Street.com, Facebook investment scams are proliferating on the Web and investors should be on the lookout, the securities industry’s main self-policing organization warned on Tuesday.

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Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) warned in a a statement that con-artists have been pitching fake investments in Facebook and other “well-known social media companies.” The scams usually take the form of “pre-IPOs”, or the sale of unregistered shares in a private company to an investor prior to the initial public offering.

The release notes the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) recently settled a civil action against one trader “who allegedly bilked more than 50 U.S. and foreign investors out of more than $9.6 million in a series of pre-IPO scams involving purported shares of Facebook, Google and other well-known companies.”

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Among the tips FINRA is disseminating to the public, the release urges investors to ask themselves “why would a total stranger tell me about a really great investment opportunity?'”

The warning comes as Wall Street firms like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have climbed aboard a mini-Gold Rush in hot, privately-traded social media companies.

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From time to time, the Tampa Bay Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog publishes submissions from other practicing attorneys throughout the county. The following article was submitted by Thomas Greenberg of the Law Offices of Thomas Greenberg in Redwood City, California (San Mateo County). Enjoy.

In 1996, California became the first state in the nation to legalize Marijuana use for medical purposes. The medical marijuana industry germinated during the Clinton Administration and grew during President George Bush’s tenure, despite the Bush Administration’s opposition. When Obama took office, he voiced public support for medical marijuana and assured that the Department of Justice would not prosecute patients or dispensaries in states where medical marijuana was legal. Economies are responsive to political and legal change, and the relaxation in the threat of prosecution led the medical marijuana industry to flower.

Medical Marijuana.jpgIn July 2010, Oakland City Council passed a measure to grant licenses to four (4) industrial-scale pot growers with the provision of hefty ($200,000+) licensing fees and a sales tax beginning at 1.8% and increasing to as much as 12%. The measure passed with the allure of a potential to raise $38 million for the city, annually. The Council also saw regulated, industrial-scale growing as a way of reducing small-scale production and the Robberies and personal safety issues it sometimes attracts.

Now that New Year’s Eve is only a couple of days away, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) expects this to be one of the deadliest weeks of the year on the roads.

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To combat this, law enforcement is considering a new weapon in their fight against drunk driving.

And it’s a change that could substantially increase the State’s likelihood to obtain a DUI conviction.

“I think it’s a great deterrent for people,” said Linda Unfried, from Mother’s Against Drunk Driving (MADD) in Hillsborough County.

Florida is among several states now holding what are called “No Refusal” DUI Checkpoints.

So, what does this mean for you as you head out to enjoy your Holiday Season?

It means if you refuse to submit to a breath test during a traffic stop, an on-site Judge can issue a search warrant allowing the police to take an involuntary blood sample (by using actual force, if necessary).

According to WTSP.com 10 News, It’s already being done in several counties, and now Unfried is working to bring it to the Tampa Bay area.

“I think you’ll see the difference because people will not drink and drive. I truly believe that,” she said.

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However, not everyone agrees with Unfried about “No Refusal” DUI Checkpoints.

“It’s a slippery slope and it’s got to stop somewhere,” says local DUI defense attorney Kevin Hayslett. He asks “what other misdemeanor offense do we have in the United States where the government can forcefully put a needle into your arm?”

The Federal government says Florida has among the highest rates of breathalyzer refusal.

“Now you’ve got attorneys telling their clients, don’t blow, don’t blow! Because we know from the results from these machines that they’re not operating as the State or the government says they’re supposed to operate,” said Stephen Daniels, a local DUI consultant and DUI expert witness.

“We don’t want to violate people’s civil rights. That’s the last thing we want to do, but we’re here to save lives,” Unfried said.

She adds that this type of checkpoint would be heavily advertised, with the goal of deterring any drunk driving.

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has recently said he wants to see more states hold similar programs.
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As we enter another Holiday Season, the Blake & Dorsten, P.A. would like to wish you and yours a Happy and Safe Holiday weekend.

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With the support of all of our friends, family and clients, 2010 was another excellent year for the Blake & Dorsten, P.A.. And for that, we have much to be thankful for this Holiday Season.

To our family and friends, thank you for your patience and understanding when it was necessary to work late nights and/or weekends.

To our business colleagues and our outstanding network of fellow attorneys, thank you for not only your referrals but for the trust that you have placed in the Blake & Dorsten, P.A. to provide an experienced and aggressive representation to those that you’ve sent our way.

And to both our former and present clients, thank you for the trust that you have placed in the Blake & Dorsten, P.A. to protect your rights and to handle your important criminal and/or traffic-related matters.

As many of you know, 2010 presented some different challenges for the Blake & Dorsten, P.A.. Without your support, we would not have been able to achieve the many successes that came our way.

On behalf of the entire Blake & Dorsten, P.A. team (Pam, Eryn, Oatie and myself), have a Happy, Healthy and Safe Holiday Season.

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As always, attorney Nicholas J. Dorsten will be available throughout the Holiday Weekend. In fact, we were very grateful to sign up a new Client today and make a Christmas Eve trip to the Pinellas County Jail.
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