Debate Continues About Searching Lawyer’s Offices

A few days ago, I posted about an extremely troubling trend emerging whereby lawyer’s offices are being searched as part of a criminal investigation of their clients. Since then, Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice picked up the conversation with this post. He first noted mine and Bobby Frederick’s concerns, stating that:

My ilk will go on auto-pilot and pound the keyboard exclaiming how these searches, where the government comes in, seizes everything in sight and sorts it all out later when they can examine every file at its leisure. This blunderbuss approach has been condemned by South Caccalacca criminal defense lawyer Bobby Frederick and West Virginia criminal defense lawyer John Bryan, and their concerns are well-founded.

But he also argued that “when a lawyer gets too close to his clients, such that he becomes a party to their enterprise,” there is a legitimate reason to search for evidence. And in these situations, Greenfield argues that a mutually agreed upon “Special Master” should be appointed to conduct the first level of scrutiny. It seems to me that this is not a bad idea.

But it will never happen – not as long as you have prosecutors who are willing to go between judges to get their warrant, and not as long as you have gullible or malicious judges who grant the warrant without conferring with the first judge. And let’s not forget this is only legitimate in the scenarios Greenfield points out: where the lawyer has helped the client engage in wrongdoing. This absolutely should not apply in a Texas murder case where the prosecutor is merely fishing for evidence with no evidence of wrongdoing by the attorney.

Bobby Frederick, of the South Carolina Criminal Defense Blog, also noted that now “a federal judge in New Jersey is allowing prosecutors to review computer records seized from a criminal defense lawyer’s office, including the files of clients who were not targets of the search.”

Frederick also cited my game-leveling dream scenario where defense attorneys could do the same thing, and concluded that:

This practice, in any situation other than where there is probable cause that a defense attorney is himself engaging in criminal activity and the search is specific and focused so as not to violate attorney-client privilege, is an abuse of process.

And I think that is something we all agree on.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney

Search Warrants for Attorneys’ Offices is Troubling Trend

Recently there have been a number of cases of search warrants being executed on Attorneys’ offices for the purpose of gathering evidence against a client/target of investigation. One such case was detailed by Bobby Frederick at the SC Criminal Law Blog here on August 23, where attorney George Argie’s office was raided by the feds seeking information/evidence on one of his clients. Frederick correctly notes that the appropriate method of obtaining information from an attorney’s files is through subpoena, in which case the attorney gets a chance to raise the attorney-client privilege before a judge.

On July 31, Frederick posted about the search warrant that was issued in Frisco Texas on attorney Keith Gore’s office, where State officials were seeking items and letters written from his client to his client’s wife. Thankfully, criminal defense lawyers in Texas came out in numbers in opposition to this Gestapo-like tactic.

Frederick recently added an update to that case, citing Grits and Tex Parte Blog, noting that the judge who signed that search warrant has now been recused from hearing the capitol murder case.

It is sickening to see that there are prosecutors out there who would go between different judges to get an illegal search warrant of an attorney’s office. If that is legal, then I would like to see a mechanism put in place whereby the lawyers of criminal defendants can obtain their own search warrants to be executed on prosecutor’s office. Say, for instance, that you know a certain prosecutor has a video tape that would exculpate your client. He refuses to hand it over, or to even acknowledge it. You could get a search warrant and have your private investigator execute the warrant and look for the tape. Yeah right. That’ll be the day. The sad fact is, that prosecutors are perfectly willing and able to abuse their power and not only will many judges not stop them, some of them apparently will help. I’m just glad I don’t practice in Collin County Texas.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

West Virginia Doctors in Bed With Pharmaceutical Firms

There was an editorial featured back in the July 9, 2008 issue of the Charleston Gazette, entitled “Payola,” which reported the staggering fact that 111 pharmaceutical firms were forced to disclose that they “showered” 14,933 “gifts, grants or payments” on West Virginia physicians during the last half of 2007 – with some “payola” exceeding $50,000. In other words, many, many, doctors in West Virginia are being paid by the drug companies to prescribe high-priced brands of prescription drugs to their patients – without regard to the patients’ health and financial situation. The kicker is that the patient has no idea that their doctor is doing this – nobody except for the drug companies and the state board of medicine does.

This was the first disclosure of this type revealed under new West Virginia state reporting rules. However, the catch is that the state board of medicine has made the decision to hide the names of these doctors. The Gazette’s editorial board was arguing that these names should be made public. And I agree. However, “state medical groups” complained, leading to the state board’s refusal to release the names.

And the lawyers get a bad rap in West Virginia? This article was forwarded to me by my father, who is a physician, and who was formerly President of the Florida Medical Association – though I didn’t ask him his opinion about it. I can’t imagine a doctor taking cash and gifts from these pharmaceutical firms to the impediment of his or her patients, much less openly arguing to the state that names should not be released. It sounds to me like the state medical association needs some new leadership – not to mention some common sense. Whatever happened to the hippocratic oath?

This has happened in Florida as well. Awhile back, a doctor was arrested in a nightclub while wearing a superman costume and belligerently harassing women with a sub (sandwich) in the lower portion of his costume. As it turned out, this doctor, among others, were in the process of being wined-and-dined by pharmaceutical firms (in exchange for them prescribing their drugs to patients).

While all of this is going on, we, as consumers, are being perpetually blitzed by pharmaceutical commercials. People forget, or fail to realize, that even 5 years ago there practically was zero direct advertising to consumers by pharmaceutical firms. I think that any ethical doctor, who is taking their oath sincerely, will agree that this is not in the best interests of patient health.

The point is, that this is one of the reasons why people go outside the state of West Virginia for serious health care needs. It’s not the lawyers – it’s the doctors. I support doctors as much as anybody, but there are bad one’s and good one’s, and it seems that some bad one’s are currently in charge. That needs to change. There absolutely is no good reason for the state to withhold the names of doctors who accept bribes from pharmaceutical companies.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Greenbrier County “Cattlegate” Sentencing This Month

I have been asked many times recently what has happened with this case. Well, nothing has really happened since the sentencing has not yet taken place. The sentencing for these crooks will take place on June 30, 2008 before U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston. There are also several civil cases currently pending in this matter, which undoubtedly will be detailed in the future.

You can read my previous post here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Police Chief Has Wife Arrested By Buddy Law Enforcement Officer

This is a story that I will detail in a later post if need be, but it rises to the situation where the public should be informed of this massive abuse of authority.

A southern West Virginia Chief of Police, who is a big guy and also a military veteran, had his little wife arrested by a buddy law enforcement officer for “domestic assault,” taken into physical custody, after which she was able to bond out with a $5,000 cash bond. For those of you who don’t know, $5,000 is the average bond for felonies in southern West Virginia.

This police chief then filed for divorce and refused to drop the frivolous criminal charge against her unless she agreed to his terms for the divorce. This story is continuing and may be updated based on future actions taken by the law enforcement officer.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Was a Crime Committed in the WVU Bresch Scandal?

From West Virginia Metro News website:

Regarding the recent controversy regarding the governor’s daughter and WVU, was a crime committed when the Bresch transcript was altered? Attorney Tom Payton with the Payton Law Firm, analyzed that very question. His take on the facts are that:

1) In at least one course that she did not actually complete, she was given a grade that “was simply pulled from thin air.”

2) The grade modification forms bear only the signature of Dean Sears and “[a]ppropriate faculty and division chairs were neither consulted nor asked to sign these forms.”

3) “[O]ver Dean Sears’ signatures rather than the requisite course instructors’ and department chair’s signatures (as required by WVU standard operating procedures), grade modification forms were prepared and filed to add to her transcript credit for (redacted) hours of (redacted) that the principals all knew that she had not taken.”

4) The amended transcript now reflects her completion of some courses that she did not in fact complete, and reflects a number of grades that she did not in fact earn.

He points to the pertinent criminal statute which could apply as West Virginia Code § 61-5-22, which provides that:

If any clerk of a court, or other public officer, fraudulently make a false entry, or erase, alter or destroy any record in his keeping and belonging to his office, … he shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction, shall be confined in jail not more than one year and be fined not exceeding one thousand dollars; and, in addition thereto, he shall forfeit his office and be forever incapable of holding any office of honor, trust or profit in this State.

So as he sees it, given that Dean Sears signed the document, if he is a “public officer,” then the statute may apply to him. However, his analysis of the case law reveals that the statute probably would not apply to Dean Sears, and that the ultimate punishment for his in this matter is likely resignation. He does note though, that there is enough authority here to form an investigation, subpoenas, grand juries, etc.

Read the entire article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Braxton County Magistrate Convicted After Jury Trial

From the Charleston Gazette:

A jury found a Braxton County magistrate who is up for re-election next week guilty of attempted retaliation against a state witness Wednesday.

Prosecutors charged Carolyn Cruickshanks with conspiring to retaliate against Philip Dailey, who testified against her son, Jordan Grubb, in a drug case.

Cruickshanks reportedly delivered a copy of Philip Dailey’s plea agreement and a transcript of his plea hearing to the jail, where Grubb hoped other inmates would punish Dailey for being a snitch.

It always amazes me that these small-town political conspiracies involving corrupt public officials actually take place in West Virginia. Then, the corrupt official still runs for office as they are on trial…. Unbelievable.

Read the full two-page article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

McDowell County Pharmacist Admits Crimes Tied To Gambling

From the Charleston Gazette today:

Yesterday Saad Kamil Deeb, a Welch Pharmacist, pled guilty to a 3 count information, charging him with enlisting others to help him conduct transactions at a McDowell County bank so that he could move large amounts of money without triggering a Currency Transaction Report. A financial institution is required to file such a report with the Internal Revenue Service for any transaction over $10,000.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hunter Smith said that between 2001 and 2005, Deeb became heavily involved in gambling on sports, betting large sums of money and even placing bets on behalf of his friends.
Whether he won or lost, his gambling proceeds or debts were paid in cash, Smith said. Usually, the amounts would approach $100,000 before Deeb or his bookies paid up, he said. “Mr. Deeb did not want the IRS to know that he was engaged in large cash transactions,” Smith said. So he and the others would keep their transactions under the $10,000 ceiling, Smith said, sometimes transferring just under that amount to various accounts several days in a row. According to the information, Deeb and his associates moved more than $871,000 that way over a four-year period. Deeb also admitted skimming cash from the pharmacy and filing false tax returns in 2003 and 2004, failing to report roughly $300,000 in income for each year, resulting in a tax loss of $175,000. Deeb has since filed amended reports and caught up on the taxes he owes, Smith said.

Who knew that a small town pharmacy could make that much so as to skim $300,000 per year for a gambling habit (addiction)? It makes you wonder who is at fault for the high prices of prescription drugs… My grandfather was a small town pharmacist, and for part of my life I grew up in his pharmacy. Things must have changed a lot since then… or maybe that is just par for the course in McDowell County….

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Another Lawsuit Filed in Cattle/Bank Scam Case

From the Register-Herald:

Another lawsuit filed against bank, officials in alleged cattle fraud case

By Christian Giggenbach
Register-Herald Reporter

LEWISBURG — Another lawsuit has been filed against First National Bank of Ronceverte and two former bank officials, this time by an Illinois man who alleges disgraced cattle broker Kevin Scott O’Brien defrauded him out of $104,000.

The lawsuit, filed by Robert Dwyer, named First National Bank, former bank president Charles A. Henthorn and former board director **** as defendants.

Henthorn and **** recently pleaded guilty in federal court, Henthorn for taking $10,000 in bribes from O’Brien, and **** for setting up bribes.

O’Brien pleaded guilty to a mail fraud charge involving the sale of cattle in fraudulent Ponzi schemes. A sentencing date has not been set for any of the defendants.

Dwyer claims he gave O’Brien $104,000 in February 2006 for “80 pairs of heifers and their calves,” which should have been shipped to Dwyer’s farm in Carthage, Ill.

“Instead of arranging for the cattle to be trucked to Dwyer … O’Brien sold the cattle to ****,” the lawsuit said. “O’Brien’s sale of the Dwyer cattle to **** was simply one of the last acts of fraud and deceit in O’Brien’s continuing scheme.”

Dwyer claims the bank knew about the **** deal, but looked the other way because O’Brien owed the bank money.

“The bank, through its senior management, including Henthorn and ****, devised a scheme with O’Brien pursuant to which O’Brien would sell **** cattle,” the lawsuit said. “The money that **** paid for the cattle was to be deposited into O’Brien’s checking account in satisfaction of debts that O’Brien owed the bank.”

Dwyer is seeking punitive damages on the basis of fraud, civil conspiracy, and aiding and abetting a wrongful act, among other charges.

Dwyer is being represented by Charleston lawyer James W. Lane.

Neither **** nor Henthorn could be reached for comment.

In February, another Illinois man, Frederic W. Nessler, filed a $340,000 lawsuit against the same three defendants alleging fraud.

O’Brien, who is currently mired in a multimillion-dollar bankruptcy, wasn’t named as a defendant in either suit.

— E-mail: cgiggenbach@register-herald.com

Update: O’Brien, Henthorn and **** Plead Guilty in Greenbrier County Cattle/Bank Scandal

From the Beckley Register-Herald:

Note: See my earlier post regarding this case here. Each defendant faces a maximum of 30 years in federal prison. Obviously each will receive less than that. Their sentencing, which will take place in June will follow the federal sentencing guidelines, which I will not attempt to decipher in this post. Almost positively however, they all will do time. You can also read today’s Charleston Gazette article about this case here, and the Charleston Daily Mail article here. – John H. Bryan, West Virginia Criminal Defense Attorney.

Three plead guilty in cattle, bank scandal

Christian Giggenbach
Register-Herald Reporter

A businessman and two former bank officials pleaded guilty Monday in Beckley’s federal court to charges stemming from a Greenbrier County $4.2 million cattle and banking scandal.

A federal postal inspector testified that an investigation by State Police involving dirty dealings by cattle broker Kevin Scott O’Brien, of Ronceverte, also led to separate criminal charges being filed against former First National Bank of Ronceverte president and CEO Charles A. Henthorn and former First National Bank board director ****.

Last month, O’Brien, 28, was charged in an information with one count of mail fraud, but the complaint also listed several instances of fraudulent business practices including “phantom herding” — selling the same cattle to multiple buyers — check kiting, bribing a bank official, and running pyramid or “Ponzi” schemes.

Prosecutor’s say O’Brien used sophisticated schemes to defrauded investors and businesses out of $4.2 million beginning in early 2005 while brokering cattle deals in West Virginia, Illinois, Texas, Virginia and Nebraska.

Monday’s testimony revealed O’Brien signed a plea agreement with prosecutors in May 2006 and then helped police gather evidence against Henthorn, 48, by wearing an undercover wire which secretly taped the bank president incriminating himself about taking bribes.

Prosecutors then used that evidence and more in persuading Henthorn to wear an undercover wire which recorded incriminating statements made by ****.

There was no evidence that **** wore an undercover wire during the federal investigation which also included FBI and FDIC officials. State Troopers Sgt. V.S. Deeds and W.A. Pendleton, who brought their investigation to federal prosecutors, were present for Monday’s hearing.

Last month, Henthorn was charged with accepting nearly $10,000 in bribes from O’Brien, and **** was charged with aiding and abetting those bribes. Henthorn originally brokered his deal with prosecutors nine months ago and **** signed a plea agreement last August, Forbes said.

When asked why nearly two years had elapsed since O’Brien’s first contact with prosecutors, Forbes said O’Brien’s and Henthorn’s cooperation “took many months to develop.”

“There is no evidence that any criminal activity goes beyond these three defendants,” U.S. Attorney L. Anna Forbes said after the hearing.

O’Brien softly said “yes, your honor” when U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston asked him point blankly: “Did you do it?”

Although O’Brien’s felony charge was specifically based on a $362,000 check he received in the mail after defrauding a Virginia cattle owner, much of Monday’s testimony concentrated on the four bribes O’Brien gave to Henthorn.

Postal Inspector Burl Fluharty testified **** introduced O’Brien to the bank president and told the cattle broker that Henthorn had “the keys to the bank.”

“**** advised O’Brien that payments to Charles Henthorn would help him procure loans,” Fluharty said. “**** facilitated these bribes to the bank president.”

Forbes said O’Brien gave Henthorn four separate bribes in late December 2005, with two cash payments totaling $2,200 and two checks written from his Shamrock Farms business account of $2,500 and $5,000. Forbes entered both checks into the court record as evidence against O’Brien and Henthorn. Henthorn was represented by Charleston lawyer James Cagle.

“It was expected that Charlie Henthorn would extend favorable treatment to Kevin O’Brien and be generally influenced in banking matters,” Fluharty told the court. No specific loan was tied to the bribes.

All three defendants posted a $10,000 unsecured bond and were immediately released after Monday’s hearing. None were available for comment. Each faces a maximum prison sentence of up to 30 years; however, it is unlikely that any of the sentences will be that stiff. Johnston set all three sentencing hearings for 10 a.m. June 30. The trio also face a bevy of fines.

O’Brien, a 1999 graduate of Greenbrier East High School, told the court he previously had worked for his father’s asphalt and excavating business and a NAPA store prior to brokering cattle deals. His federal bankruptcy case is still pending and one court official said O’Brien’s liabilities now total almost $8 million.

Forbes said “close to a dozen victims” were cheated out of money by O’Brien.

O’Brien’s defense attorney, Rodney Smith of Charleston, suggested that the $4.2 million number that prosecutors say his client defrauded investors will be challenged. Karin Nelson, who claims O’Brien cheated her out of $200,000, attended the hearing but declined comment.

Henthorn told the court he had been in the banking industry for 25 years. A former bank examiner, Henthorn resigned from First National last summer after working there for over 10 years.

****, who was represented by Charleston lawyer Michael Cary, said he began working in the real estate business with his father in 1974. He now owns two Virginia car dealerships and is a Realtor and auctioneer. **** had been on the bank’s board for eight years until his resignation last July.

— E-mail:

cgiggenbach@register-herald.com