October 2012 Archives

October 31, 2012

Former D.C. City Employee Faces Prison for $300K Fraud

A tax fraud scheme reportedly netted $300,000 to a private tax preparation company, after an employee allegedly inflated tax refund amounts. coins2.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers know this case has garnered a fair amount of attention, due to the fact that it involves taxpayer money. But the fact is, the government can bring criminal fraud charges against individuals for a wide range of offenses.

In legal terms, fraud is the false representation of a matter of fact, that deceives or intends to deceive an individual or other entity in such a way that the individual will act upon it to his or her legal injury.

That's extremely broad, and it can cover anything from contracting to sales. In order for it to be proven, prosecutors have to prove that:

  1. There was a false statement of material fact;

  2. That the defendant knew the information to be untrue;

  3. That the defendant intended to deceive the other person or entity;

  4. That the alleged victim justifiably relied on that statement;

  5. That there was injury to the alleged victim as a result.

This seems fairly straightforward, but proving it can be challenging for prosecutors. You first must consider that not all false claims are fraudulent. Prosecutors have to prove that not only was it false, but it was material to the issue at hand and therefore caused the victim to enter into some agreement that was to his or her legal detriment.

In this case, the employee worked for the city at the Office of Tax and Revenue. According to court papers filed in U.S. District Court, the defendant was working at the office from early 2009 through the spring of 2010. During this time, she also worked for a private tax preparation firm, answering phones and doing data entry.

This dual employment in and of itself violated city policy, though it wasn't illegal.

Part of what she did at the city's tax office was to oversee homestead tax deductions. Prosecutors say she and her co-conspirator, who also worked at the private firm, provided the private company's clients with phony charity receipts in case they were audited. In the meantime, she allegedly claimed deductions to which those individuals were not entitled. This allowed those clients to obtain larger tax refunds, and in turn, the company made a larger profit, according to prosecutors.

In all, prosecutors say there were nearly 975 fraudulent federal returns filed, which amounted to nearly $4 million, and another 280 phony city tax returns, that amounted to more than $300,000.

Clients were tipped off to the benefits of the private tax preparer by word-of-mouth referrals.

The employee is currently facing charges of aiding and abetting a conspiracy against the government, as well as first-degree theft.

The case has sparked calls for tighter controls with regard to hiring in the city tax offices, as a similar issue back in the 1980s resulted in the alleged theft of $50 million by a former employee.

Such cases are complex, and require the skill of an experienced criminal defense attorney.

Continue reading "Former D.C. City Employee Faces Prison for $300K Fraud" »

October 23, 2012

Man Gets 23 Years for D.C. Assaults on Elderly

A 48-year-old man was sentenced to 23 years in prison for burglarizing and then assaulting two seniors earlier this summer. warveteran.jpg

D.C. criminal defense attorneys know that while both first-degree burglary and assault are serious crimes, penalties can be enhanced when the alleged victim is elderly. In this case, the two individuals were both in their 90s.

Enhancements for crimes against elderly are defined in D.C. Code 22-3601. It essentially multiplies the maximum possible sentence by 1.5 times. So if the maximum penalty for the assault is 5 years in prison, the maximum penalty for an assault committed on an elderly person is 7.5 years.

First-degree burglary in D.C. is defined in D.C. Statute 22-801. In essence, it means entering someone's residence with the intent to steal or commit some other criminal offense. A conviction for a single charge of first-degree burglary carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

The penalties are harsh, but burglary is often a difficult crime for prosecutors to prove, as it often occurs when no one is home and there may be few witnesses or available evidence. However, in this case, the alleged victims were home, they were reportedly assaulted and there was also video surveillance film of the suspect.

The defendant initially faced 75 years in prison if the case went to trial and he was convicted on all counts. With a plea deal, he received a term of 23 years.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia, the defendant acted as if he was a maintenance man in order to gain access to the apartments.

In the first incident, the individual gained access to an apartment by claiming to be checking for leaks in the bathroom. The 91-year-old female resident allowed him inside. He then reportedly went into the bathroom and then punched the resident several times in the mouth. He then allegedly knocked her to the floor and tied her up with restraints. When she began yelling, he threatened greater harm against her, stole about $20 and then fled.

The victim in that case was not seriously harmed, though she was later treated at a local hospital.

In the second incident, just two weeks later, the defendant reportedly used the same guise, purporting to be a maintenance man needing to check for leaks. The 94-year-old male resident allowed him inside. After entering the bathroom, the defendant allegedly grabbed the resident and tossed him onto a bed. He then allegedly stole roughly $130 in cash, tied the victim up and then fled. A neighbor later heard the resident yelling for help and came to untie him. The man did not suffer severe injuries either, though he was later treated at the hospital for bruising and swelling.

Police caught a break in the case when surveillance footage from the apartment complex was aired by local television stations, asking for tips. The defendant's mistake had been telling another person that he would kill someone else if they informed police of his alleged role in the crime.

That individual subsequently called police, who arrested the defendant just a few days later.

If you are charged with a serious crime in D.C., it is never in your best interest to talk to police without an attorney present.

Continue reading "Man Gets 23 Years for D.C. Assaults on Elderly" »

October 22, 2012

Former Aide, Cheerleader, Pleads Guilty to D.C. Sex Crime Involving Minor

A former teacher's aide and cheerleading coach has pleaded guilty to charges that she gave birth to the child of a 17-year-old student. lap.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers
understand that while there may have been no actual force involved in the encounters, the teen's age, coupled with the fact that the woman was a person in a position of authority, makes the sexual contact a crime. Specifically, she has pleaded guilty to attempted second-degree sexual abuse of a secondary education student.

For this, she faces up to 1 year in jail and a requirement to register as a sex offender for at least 10 years.

Not every instance of consensual sexual contact between an adult over the age of 18 is considered a crime. Generally, if the adult is at least four years older than the minor or if he or she is in a position of authority over the minor, sexual contact can be considered criminal.

However, if the minor is under the age of 16 and particularly if he or she is under the age of 12, it is held that he or she is not able to consent to sexual contact with an adult under any circumstance.

These are cases for which you must have an experienced criminal defense lawyer advocating for you. Although in this case, the defendant faces up to a year in jail, sometimes the penalties can be much harsher, depending on the circumstances.

According to the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office, the 30-year-old worked as a teacher's aide and youth program supervisor. This was reportedly how she met the minor, who was 17-years-old at the time and was a student at a different school.

Their relationship reportedly began back in the late summer of 2010, shortly after the student's participation in the program the defendant was supervising had ended. The relationship reportedly continued through the spring of last year.

The defendant reportedly attended the teen's basketball games, picked him up from school, took him out to dinner and showered him with gifts such as clothing and shoes.

The prosecutors contended that the defendant urged the teen not to tell anyone about their relationship until after he turned 18. The encounters occurred, she told investigators, almost every day, mostly at her residence but in some cases at his home.

Throughout the course of their relationship, the woman reportedly became pregnant on two occasions. It's not clear what happened with the pregnancy during the first instance, but in the second instance, she carried the child to term and gave birth. In both instances, she informed the teen that he was the father. The teen reportedly tried to end the relationship before she became pregnant a second time, though he continued to engage in a sexual relationship with her.

After the child was born, a biological test confirmed the child was fathered by the teen.

She was subsequently arrested last month.

The plea deal comes relatively quickly after the arrest. Many sexual assault or sexual abuse cases can take months, if not longer, to resolve. If this case had gone to trial, it almost certainly would have taken at least that long.

However, the defense was likely eager to negotiate a plea deal, as a conviction was probable, given the DNA proof from the child that the two had engaged in a sexual relationship. Had the case gone to trial, she might have faced up to 10 years behind bars.

Judges and prosecutors tend to be more lenient in cases where the alleged victim was older and the encounters were consensual, but the penalties can still be severe, and the requirement to register as a sex offender can haunt you well into the future.

Don't leave your case to chance.

Continue reading "Former Aide, Cheerleader, Pleads Guilty to D.C. Sex Crime Involving Minor" »

October 17, 2012

Former Prince George Bus Driver Gets 5 Years in Assault

A former bus driver who was reportedly fed up with certain co-workers was sentenced recently on her conviction for ramming the bus into the employee lounge last year. schoolbus1.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers
know that she faced up to 53 years on all charges, though prosecutors were seeking a 25-year sentence. She was ultimately sentenced to 5 years, and this is despite no prior criminal record and the fact that none of the workers who were in the lounge at the time suffered any life-threatening injury.

What probably did little to help her case was a post she made the night before on the wall of her Facebook page. In that post, she referred to the irritating actions of her co-workers, and added that she was done with fighting, done with talking and ready to go to jail.

What this message did was show intent. It showed forethought and planning. Were it not for this, it's possible a strong defense argument could have been made showing that the crash was entirely accidental or even possibly attributable to a medical condition.

You all but eliminate the possibility of an alternative theory of defense when you discuss or write about a crime before you carry it out - even if you only hint at it. Don't make the mistake of thinking that your text messages, Facebook posts or even conversations with friends are private. In the wake of a crime, particularly a serious or violent one, detectives will begin scouring every piece of fathomable evidence to which they have access. They'll check your Facebook wall and maybe even get a subpoena for your private messages. They'll get a subpoena for your phone records. They'll interview your friends and family and co-workers under oath. They might even request a warrant to seize your computer and search the files contained there. The bottom line is you can never assume that this information is going to be safe.

Which brings us to another point: You should never try to hide possible pieces of evidence from your defense lawyer. You should never, ever discuss the details of your criminal case with anyone but your defense lawyer. When you do discuss it, be totally honest. This way, your attorney can prepare and anticipate for the discovery of certain information or evidence that would tend to implicate you.

In this case, the bus driver who was charged reportedly had a temporary peace order out against one of the other drivers. A judge had just determined not to make the order final. That was about a week before the driver made the Facebook post. The following morning, around 5:30 a.m., she reportedly rammed her school bus into the side of the employee lounge, which was actually a trailer, where three people were inside.

No students were on the bus at the time, and those inside suffered minor cuts and bruises. One may need surgery to her arm.

A simple charge of aggravated assault under D.C. criminal code 22-404.01 can result in a fine of up to $10,000 and imprisonment of up to 10 years.

Continue reading "Former Prince George Bus Driver Gets 5 Years in Assault" »

October 16, 2012

D.C. Appellate Court to Examine Marijuana Schedule Classification

For the first time ever, an appellate court in D.C. will consider challenges to the federal government's position that marijuana has no legitimate medical benefit. medicalmarijuanajars.jpg

D.C. marijuana defense lawyers know that it is upon this stance that the federal government has waged crackdowns not only on the black market trade of the drug, but on state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivations as well.

The case, set to be heard later this month by a panel of three judges with the U.S. Court of Appeals by the District of Columbia, could have widespread implications not only for future D.C. dispensaries and medical marijuana users, but for those currently operating across the country.

Medical marijuana use and sale in D.C. has been a long, tough road. Voters actually approved legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes back in 1998, just two years after California became the first state to do so. However, Congress held the measure back for more than 10 years before the local D.C. Council finally passed a measure to authorize the program back in 2010. Since then, it's been a painstaking process of establishing rules and regulations as the city fights to steer clear of the legal pitfalls that have loomed large over medical marijuana operations in other states, particularly California.

The council has already set limits on the number of medical marijuana centers that may operate in each ward, and outward signage of facilities is discouraged. Although the council earlier this year gave 10 companies approval to start growing medical marijuana and selling it to patients who qualify, none of them have yet obtained the regulatory documents that are required to begin. (They have to obtain building permits, business licenses and certificates of occupancy from the D.C. Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.)

But perhaps this reticence has been because of the federal crackdowns faced by other cultivators and dispensaries in other states, where operators have lost millions of dollars and sometimes face criminal charges for their role in distributing marijuana. Under federal law, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, meaning there is no legitimate medical purpose for it and the sale or distribution of it constitutes a serious crime.

However, this is what is at issue in the upcoming case set to be heard in the appellate court. While there have been plenty of challenges to the federal government's classification of the drug, those efforts were crippled by the suppression of evidence showing the medicinal benefits of cannabis.

Now, they will be allowed to bring that evidence forward. The case pits Americans for Safe Access against the presidents' Justice Department.

Although the case is just now going before the appellate court, it actually began 10 years ago with a military veteran who began taking medical marijuana for chronic and acute conditions suffered after an on-duty vehicle crash. Once the Department of Veterans Affairs learned he was using marijuana, they denied him further medical and other benefits.

A number of recent national surveys indicate that nearly 17 million Americans use marijuana, many of those for medical purposes such as glaucoma, chronic pain or cancer.

Even if the court does not directly alter the restrictive Schedule I status, the court could order the Drug Enforcement Administration to look more closely at the available evidence in its classification determination.

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October 9, 2012

Sex Assault Suspect Sought in D.C./Fairfax County Area

Authorities in Fairfax County are searching for a man they suspect is connected to a series of sexual assaults there.thetouch.jpg

D.C. criminal defense attorneys understand that teens and young women have reported being approached and groped by a man described by police as a shorter Hispanic man with a trimmed beard in his 30s who wears a black-and-white bandana and/or a red baseball hat.

Of course, that may fit the description of a lot of people in the area, and clothing is not an especially great identifier as it is so easily changed. Facial hair, too, is not necessarily a good identifier, unless it is particularly unique.

Police have released a sketch of the man they believe is responsible for each of the attacks, which have occurred on a regular basis in that area since mid-September.

The youngest alleged victim was 15, while the oldest was 40 - all female. One woman said she was attacked while walking home with her young daughter.

The suspect is accused of approaching the women, cornering them, fondling them and then fleeing when they yell for help.

Many of these incidents occurred in the evening, when it began to get dark. This means that barring some form of surveillance footage, it may be difficult for authorities to catch the man unless he is caught again in the act. Witness testimony is often unreliable, particularly when a good visual is obstructed by darkness. It doesn't mean the attacks didn't occur, it just means that making sure to identify the correct suspect may prove challenging. The burden of proof, as always in criminal cases, lies with the prosecutor.

Sexual abuse charges in D.C. can be filed in four different degrees, or levels of seriousness.

The first of those is first-degree sexual abuse. This charge is the most serious, and it requires prosecutors to prove that a person engaged in a sexual act with another or caused another to engage in sexual act that was either with the use of force or the threat of force. This could be anything from physically holding someone down to rendering them unconscious with a chemical substance to threatening serious physical harm or death, whether or not they actually carry out that threat. A person found guilty of first-degree sexual abuse faces a prison sentence of up to 30 years and/or a fine of up to $250,000.

Second-degree sexual abuse is similar, except that it does not require the accused to have participated in rendering the alleged victim unconscious or unable to consent. It merely requires that the person took advantage of a person who was unable to refuse participation. This may also be charged if the offender threatens to harm the alleged victim. This offense carries a maximum sentence of 20 years behind bars and/or a fine of up to $200,000.

The other thing that these two charges have in common is that they require a sexual act, i.e., penetration.

For accusations of unwanted sexual contact or touching, as in these cases, third and fourth-degree charges are more appropriate. Third-degree involves forced sexual contact or sexual contact that is engaged in on the basis of threat of harm or that is carried out by rendering a person unconscious. The fourth is similar, except that it doesn't require that the individual actually acted in making the person unconscious. These charges carry penalties of up to 10 and 5 years, respectively.

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October 8, 2012

D.C. Child Abuse Cases Not Always Clear-Cut

Often when we think about "child abuse," we are picturing the horrific images formed by the headlines recounting terrible cases of neglect or physical injury. babyhands.jpg

But D.C. criminal defense lawyers know that charges of child neglect, child cruelty and child abuse are much more nuanced than that. Sometimes, charges are filed in cases where the allegations are questionable or in which some may not define the actions as criminal.

For example, in many states, it's still legal for school officials to paddle misbehaving children. And yet, parents themselves may be charged criminally for meting out corporal punishment.

A recent case out of Manassas, VA involved no physical injury whatsoever.

The 38-year-old owner of an unlicensed day care is charged with four counts of cruelty and injuries to children. Investigating authorities say the woman was responsible for caring for six children under the age of 2 years-old.

When authorities received a report of child abuse at the home, they found three of those children were being unsupervised in a separate room. Additionally, the woman's 16-year-old daughter was reportedly made to work long hours watching the children. As a result, she was charged with three counts relating to the infants and a fourth count relating to her daughter.

Police there said that while none of the children were hurt, children who are that young require constant supervision.

A number of similar cases in the area have come to light when investigators were tipped off that the facilities had not obtained proper permitting to run a day care facility. Title 29 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations, Chapter 3, requires that any facility or person who provides regular supervision or care to children must be licensed. (This does not apply to informal baby-sitting agreements or when the individual who is watching the child is a relative.) The statute also requires that such facilities must submit to inspections when requested.

Violation of this statute constitutes as a misdemeanor, and a facility may be fined up to $300 for failing to obtain proper licensing.

However in this case, the bigger problem is the pending felony charges.

D.C. child cruelty cases, under D.C. Criminal Code 22-1101, can be charged as either first or second-degree offenses. For a first-degree offense, prosecutors have to prove that the defendant either beat, willfully mistreated or tortured a child under the age of 18 and that the defendant did so recklessly or intentionally and that the child sustained some form of injury as a result and that the actions weren't justified as a reasonable form of discipline on the part of the parent.

Second-degree child cruelty cases require that prosecutors prove that the defendant acted in a way that created a grave risk of bodily harm to a child and that he or she did so either recklessly or intentionally. In these cases, too, prosecutors have to prove that the actions were not justified by reasonable parental discipline.

The latter charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

No one charged with such an offense should speak to police without first seeking the counsel of an experienced criminal defense lawyer.

Continue reading "D.C. Child Abuse Cases Not Always Clear-Cut" »

October 5, 2012

D.C. Defense Lawyers: Cops Don't Always Get it Right First Time

Our D.C. criminal defense attorneys have scores of anecdotal evidence to prove that there are times when, despite good intentions, police simply don't get it right the first time around.baseballbat.jpg

We know that witness testimony is notoriously unreliable. Investigations can be sloppy. Sometimes there are even false confessions.

A recent case out of Maryland just goes to further prove this point.

A 22-year-old was arrested for attacking a 72-year-old man with a baseball bat. The victim was reportedly waiting at a bus stop when he was approached by a man demanded his belongings. When the man refused, the alleged assailant returned with a baseball bat and beat him until a person nearby saw what was happening and yelled for the attacker to stop. However by that time, the victim had suffered severe injuries.

When police showed the victim a photo line-up of potential suspects. One was the 22-year-old. He was subsequently arrested and charged with felony assault.

Although the laws vary slightly between Maryland and Washington D.C., here in D.C. and assault can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony. If the attack results in minimal injuries, the person can be imprisoned for up to 180 days and fined up to $1,000. If, however, the attack results in significant bodily injury (or one that requires hospitalization or immediate medical attention) the maximum imprisonment is upped to 3 years and the fine is increased to $3,000.

If the attack is charged as an aggravated assault, which is that the defendant knowingly attacked a person and put him or her at risk of death or caused them to become unconscious or suffer extreme pain or some physical disfigurement. In this case, the maximum imprisonment is 10 years and the maximum fine is $10,000.

So these are serious charges.

This case was even more serious, as the defendant was initially charged with attempted first-degree murder.

With the defendant in custody, police were moving forward with the case - until a witness interviewed in an unrelated crime told police they had the wrong person in the baseball attack. This individual informed police of three others who had personal knowledge of that attack. At that point, police went on to interview those individuals and realized they had made a mistake.

They released him and subsequently arrested another man in his early 20s.

Keep in mind, not only did the victim identify the 22-year-old as his attacker, but police had earlier dismissed the possibility that the 20-year-old had been involved, based on surveillance footage captured of the incident. Investigators had determined by watching it that the 20-year-old did not match the height of the person scene in the video carrying out the crime.

But this just goes to show how unreliable evidence can be. Suspects who are falsely arrested or accused, when confronted with such "indisputable evidence" may feel that they have no alternative choice but to plead guilty or falsely confess.

This case just further proves that isn't true.

You always have options, and you should always consult with an attorney before making any statement to police.

Continue reading "D.C. Defense Lawyers: Cops Don't Always Get it Right First Time" »

October 3, 2012

Sex Assault Defendant Gets Suspended 1-Year Sentence, $400 Fine

An ex-nurse's aid who had been accused of sexually assaulting two incapacitated residents at a nursing home in Virginia pleaded guilty to two counts each of assault and battery. touch1.jpg

D.C. criminal defense lawyers understand that in exchange for this plea, the penalties for the 47-year-old were minimal: a 12-month, suspended sentence in jail and a $100 fine on each count.

The laws for sexual assault vary from state-to-state, but generally, the sexual assault of an incapacitated person tends to bring about more serious penalties. IN D.C., for example, D.C. Codes 22-3001-3101 address the issue of sexual abuse. A person may be charged with sexual abuse in the second-degree if he or she knows or should have known that the alleged victim was incapable of giving or communicating consent or declining participation. (The difference between this and first-degree sexual assault is that the defendant must have participated in rendering the individual unconscious or otherwise unable to consent.) Still, the charge is serious and can result in a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and a fine of up to $200,000, under D.C. Criminal Code 22-3003.

So why was this individual able to serve virtually zero jail time, despite the conviction?

It probably comes down to proof. Although he pleaded guilty, prosecutors likely knew that had the case gone to trial, the solid proof of the crime was likely minimal.

The alleged victims may not have been able to get up on the stand and clearly testify before a jury about what happened.

Police in Virginia began investigating the aide amid accusations that he had molested several of the residents. (Police have also charged administrators at the home with failing to report those assaults to authorities.)

The nursing home reported to police two allegations against the former employee, even though one of those had been deemed unfounded. However, information on a third allegation involving another female resident was not provided to authorities.

In the latter case involved a woman who was paralyzed on her left side after suffering a traumatic brain injury two decades ago. A nurse who was conducting therapy for the patient reported that she saw the aide leaving the room and when she entered, the woman was extremely upset. It was later alleged in broken communication that he had attempted to force her to perform oral sex on him.

Authorities at the home met with the accuser for a half an hour and determined there had been no wrongdoing.

But the evidence that was provided to authorities (only after a family member of the woman called police) was primarily circumstantial in nature. The fact that the aid was seen leaving the room and the resident was subsequently upset does not necessarily mean that a sexual assault occurred. Or even if it did occur, the proof is severely lacking.

In the other case, the former aide was charged with felony aggravated battery and misdemeanor sexual assault against another woman, who reportedly accused him of fondling her.

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