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The South Florida woman told police she was in the bathroom for just a few minutes. In that short time frame, her 3-year-old son slipped out the back door – eventually causing her to be slapped with child neglect charges. hands.jpg

Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys know it’s a scenario that could happen to any one of us. This is one of those crimes that does not require intent. So it doesn’t matter whether you intended to place the child in harm’s way. If the court determines your actions – or lack of action – led to a child being placed at risk of harm, you could be facing felony charges.

What will be considered is whether the child did in fact suffer great harm. If not, it is possible your attorney may be able to have the charges dropped or negotiated down to a lesser offense.

In these cases, it is critical to hire an experienced defense attorney because a conviction is about more than jail time or hefty fines you might face. You risk significant problems with your employer, as well as the likely interference with regard to your custody or visitation of your children.

In this situation, an elderly neighbor called police after he had encountered the child that morning. He saw the child running through a front yard and then racing into the backyard. A couple of minutes passed, and the neighbor reportedly heard the boy screaming for help. He ran outside and found the boy stuck in a wooden fence that borders a lake.

The neighbor reportedly got the child lose. He recognized the boy because apparently, a few months ago, he found the same child wandering naked around the neighborhood by himself. In that instance, the neighbor returned the boy to his mother – though he did also contact police.

Authorities in that instance did not file charges, but they did make a report.

Upon returning to her home for this instance, the child’s mother insisted she had simply gone to the bathroom and the child had slipped out and ran down the block. She was furious with the neighbor for calling the police instead of returning the boy back home.

The boy, being 3-years-old, could not give a reason for why he had decided to leave the house.

Deputies arrested her on a charge of child neglect, leaving the child in the care of his father. The woman, who has no prior criminal record, posted a $3,000 bond later that day.

Florida law allows for varying degrees of punishment for child neglect, depending on the circumstances. Florida Statute 827.03 addresses both child abuse and child neglect. The latter is defined as a caregiver’s omission or failure to provide a child with the level of care that is necessary to maintain physical and mental health. This includes, but it not limited to, supplying food, shelter, clothing, medicine, medical services and supervision. You could also be charged with this crime if you fail to take reasonable efforts to protect a child from such treatment or exploitation from another person.

This one charge can be filed either as a result of one single incident, or as the result of a series of incidents.

If, as a result of this neglect, the child suffers some bodily harm, you may be charged with a second-degree felony. (Parents of children who have suffered accidental drownings are sometimes charged with this.) This is punishable by up to 15 years.

However, if the child did not suffer any bodily harm or injury, the charge is dropped to a third-degree felony, which is still punishable by up to five years in prison.
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A Miami millionaire whose business model was built around providing shelter to those who had suffered disaster has been arrested by federal authorities on charges of money laundering and fraud. dollarbill.jpg

Our Broward criminal defense lawyers know that while this case is exceptional for the fact that it involved many millions of dollars and well-known, wealthy investors, we tend to see more of these type of cases than other areas of the country.

Why?

Many of those who live in Miami are not native. They are newcomers and they are often on the hunt for opportunities to generate wealth. The combination of this, according to former federal prosecutors, leaves the area ripe for fraud.

The defendant in this case was, himself, from Venezuela. He used to boast about climbing some of the world’s highest peaks. He lived in a $12 million mansion in Miami, and a mountain lodge in Colorado. He drove a Maserati. He was a country club regular. He and his wife threw glittering, extravagant parties, attended by high-level politicians and celebrities.

All of this, prosecutors say, provided the illusion that his ventures were legitimate. However, they say the truth was less solid than the ready-made disaster shelters he was attempting to market.

The defendant’s company was founded seven years ago, and was pitched to investors as an innovative way to house those who had lost their homes in the wake of a natural disaster. It involved the use of a newly-created fiber-composite panel. Each panel locked into the others, kind of like Legos. The idea was to provide an affordable form of temporary housing post-disaster in areas like Haiti and other developing countries, where people could not rely on a strong federal government to provide immediate and adequate assistance.

His investors included several NBA players and a group of wealthy businessmen from the United Arab Emirates. His board of directors included former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. He even finagled his way into a White House meeting, where he was able to land a $10 million government loan to kick-start the disaster home business.

In all, investigators say the defendant was able to rake in $40 million in investments, primarily by deceiving investors into believing that his LLC had millions more in equity and cash.

One of those was a prominent developer and attorney, who handed over $4 million. He would later say it was the seeming stability of the company, combined with all the well-known others who were involved, that made it seem legitimate.

In truth, before the company even went public, a judge had taken away his authority to continue running the Miami Beach-based firm. Creditors, including the Swiss Bank, were knocking on his door, claiming he owed nearly $225 million in loans he was given after reportedly being dishonest about an electronics business he previously owned, which had gone bankrupt back in 2000.

Some began to suspect, however, that the model of disaster housing that the defendant was hawking simply didn’t make much sense in terms of cost-effectiveness. However, by the time many of them began to suspect something was up, investigators say, it was too late.

As of now, the company has gone bankrupt. The defendant has promised to repay creditors some $50 million, but it’s unclear whether he will be able to do so. His mansion has been auctioned off, and the formula for the disaster housing panels was sold to a company in Brazil.

Cases like these can be incredibly complicated, and require a legal team that can devote significant time and energy researching the complexities.

18 U.S.C. 1956 defines money laundering as conducting transactions with money obtained unlawfully, while representing the proceeds as being lawful. This can be done with either the intent to promote or carryout that unlawful activity, with the intent to defraud the IRS and/or state and federal authorities or knowing that the transaction is at least partially set up to conceal the nature of its source. A conviction will result in up to 20 years in prison and fines of either $500,000, or twice the value of the property involved in the transaction – whichever is more.
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Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers have been watching closely as Florida has been at the forefront of the movement to outlaw synthetic marijuana and so-called “bath salts.” seasalt.jpg

Despite bans by the federal government, Florida, Broward County and the city of Fort Lauderdale, the drugs remain prevalent due to imports from overseas and the ability of chemists to tweak the ingredients just enough to skirt these laws. It’s this element that can also be critical in terms to a defendant’s criminal defense.

While we certainly don’t encourage anyone to use or sell these substances, particularly given the level of uncertainty that can accompany a drug that hasn’t been thoroughly tested, we will encourage those who have been arrested in South Florida for possession or sale to contact a lawyer immediately.

To give you an idea of the scope of the issue, the American Association of Poison Control Centers reported in 2010 receiving few more than 300 calls relating to synthetic marijuana. The following year, the agency reported there were more than 6,100 calls regarding these synthetics.

Since a number of laws have been enacted in an effort to curb the availability of these drugs, those calls have fallen to 2,500 calls (as of Oct. 31 of this year). So, while it has fallen off dramatically, that’s still a pretty significant number.

Regardless of the name, “bath salts” is a broad term for what is actually synthetic cathinones, which is a substance found in a native east African and Middle Eastern plant that has been barred in the U.S. for many years. Although they are sometimes referred to as synthetic marijuana, they are actually closer to amphetamines in their actual effect.

They are in the same class of drugs as ecstasy – which is part of the problem. They mimic ecstasy and cocaine. By contrast, bath salts are cheap and fairly easy to acquire, despite the bans.

In March, Gov. Rick Scott signed off on House Bill 1175, which replaced Senate Bill 1502 and adds 92 different variations of synthetic marijuana and bath salts (or “spice”) to the list of drugs that are illegal in Florida.

Then in July, President Barack Obama signed a federal ban on the substances, and the Drug Enforcement Administration subsequently arrested nearly 100 suspected suppliers and distributors throughout the country. “Operation Log Jam” resulted in the seizure of 5 million packets, materials needed to make nearly 15 million more and $36 million.

Even just simple possession of the substance under 3 grams is considered a high-level misdemeanor.

Then in August, Fort Lauderdale banned the substances as well, requiring that any such product sold in the city has to have a detailed health warning and a clear, accurate list of all ingredients so officers are able to verify whether it contains any substances that are prohibited. Those who violate the city law face up to two months in jail, a $500 fine plus a requirement to cover the city’s investigative cost – including for lab tests, which could get quite pricey.
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A Fort Lauderdale police officer has pleaded guilty to a charge that he falsified an arrest report, and further that he lied about in a sworn deposition. policevan.jpg

Still, he won’t have to serve any jail time, as a Broward judge has sentenced him to three years of probation. He has also lost his job.

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers, however, believe this points to a greater issue, which is the trustworthiness of police testimony.

It’s not even that all or even most officers lie intentionally. In fact, we would contend that the majority don’t, and do their best to be truthful. However, just like any other witness, they are human and subject to mistakes. The problem for defendants is that law enforcement testimony tends to be given a greater weight in criminal proceedings. As such, it is critical for your defense lawyer to press hard for the truth in these cases. The fact is, you may not even realize there is more to the story until your lawyer conducts an independent investigation of the facts. this is why it’s so important to never simply plead guilty by assuming there is too much evidence against you to do otherwise. At the very least, you need to consult with an experienced lawyer before you agree to a plea deal, because there is often a good chance that the terms of that plea agreement could be improved with the aid of skilled legal representation.

In this case, the 30-year-old officer reportedly claimed to have conducted the traffic stop and subsequent arrest of a man in Fort Lauderdale. But in fact, he did not conduct that arrest – a fellow officer did, and then transferred the arrest to him. Why? Because the officer was a rookie. He was on probation. He needed more arrests under his belt.

It may seem harmless if the individual was going to be arrested anyway. However, it’s a huge problem from the defense standpoint for the simple fact that it deprives the defendant of the right to address one of his accusers – in fact his primary accuser – per the Sixth Amendment.

The rookie officer in this case said he made an honest mistake. He said he never meant to take credit for another officer’s work, but by the time the defendant’s lawyer questioned him about how the traffic stop unfolded, he said he relied on the incorrect information in the report. He said he’d forgotten all about it.

But the defendant in the case couldn’t forget because his rights were on the line.

A jury found him guilty of perjury last month, which is a second-degree felony, according to FL Statute 837.02. It carries a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison.

But prosecutors in this case never asked for prison time, and the judge didn’t dole it out. In fact, he agreed to withhold adjudication – that is, formal acceptance of the jury’s verdict – assuming that the former officer completes his probation without incident. If he does, he may not have to contend with a permanent criminal record, aside from his adjudication on a misdemeanor charge of falsifying a police report.
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We tend to think of charges involving Broward prostitution as being relatively minor – in and out of jail in a night or two. modelsilouette.jpg

However, our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyers know that the state of Florida, and the federal government as well, has begun taking these crimes more seriously, going so far as to label some cases sex trafficking.

FL Statute 787.06 defines human trafficking as a form of modern-day slavery in which alleged victims are subjected to coercion, fraud or force for the purpose of either forced labor or sexual exploitation. Human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation is a first-degree felony punishable by up to 30 years in prison. If, however, that victim is under the age of 18, it becomes a life felony. If the victim is under the age of 15, it’s also a life felony, but the state has less of a burden to prove that the defendant knew of the victim’s young age.

The recent sex trafficking case out of Broward was actually handled in federal, U.S. District Court.

The defendant was convicted of enticing a 16-year-old girl from South Florida to participate in prostitution.

According to court records, the girl had worked as a prostitute for the defendant for a handful of months last year. He had reportedly sent her a message on a social networking site, asking if she wanted to work for him and offering her as much as $3,500 weekly.

It’s not clear how the two knew each other before, but she agreed to his offer and he began to set her up with “dates.” He took pictures of the girl naked and in other provocative poses, which he then posted on escort service sites. From there, he would arrange for the girl to meet dates in a local motel off the main highway in Hollywood. She was charging clients between $80 and $180 a session. The defendant then took all of the girl’s money at the end of the day, returning to her a cut of 40 percent.

The girl said she told him she was 16, but he ordered her to tell everyone else that she was actually 18.

Then in October of last year, the girl was arrested for an undisclosed crime. She was ordered to spend time at a residential center for juveniles, located in Pembroke Pines. Upon her release, she reportedly received another message from the defendant, asking her to return to work for him.

It was then that she went to authorities. The Federal Bureau of Investigations got involved, and recorded subsequent phone conversations in which the defendant offered the girl a raise in order to continue working for him.

The 32-year-old defendant has entered a plea of guilty to a single charge of sex trafficking of a minor. His sentencing is scheduled for early next year, and he faces a minimum of 10 years in federal prison.

These are not crimes you can take lightly – whether you are the sex worker or the one accused of facilitating the work. Call us today to learn more about how we can defend your rights.
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Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys are committed to providing our clients with aggressive, knowledgeable representation the first time around. This is key in criminal cases because rarely will you get a second chance, as was illustrated in the recently-decided appeal of U.S. v. Murray illustrates. money1.jpg

This was a case out of a federal court in Texas.

Three men were federally charged and later convicted on dozens of counts of white collar crimes, including mail fraud, conspiracy to commit mail fraud, securities fraud and money laundering – all related to a Ponzi scheme.

The three were the previous owners of Premiere Holdings. The trio reportedly accepted millions of dollars from investors, and then took huge fees and paid those investors returns drawn from the principal of the investors’ own accounts. The actual investments were, in fact, in default, and while the company claimed a 1 percent fee, their actual fee was closer to somewhere between 15 and 25 percent.

The program went bankrupt back in 2001. Some investors lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, including entire life and retirement savings. All told, roughly $30 million was lost.

Two of the men declared personal bankruptcy after settling a lawsuit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission in which one agreed to repay $700,000 and another $3.5 million.

However, the criminal investigation didn’t start until later. As a result of that, one man received 20 years. Two others pleaded guilty and received 3-year prison sentences. All were in prison by March 2010.

However, the validity of the actual convictions wasn’t what was in question upon appeal. It was the rather strange action by the district court to re-open the case after sentencing in order to impose restitution fees.

The pre-sentence Investigation report showed that for each of the men, restitution wasn’t able to be pursued according to 18 U.S.C. 3663A(c)(3). Therefore, none of the men were required to pay restitution upon sentencing and there was no mention of deferring a restitution announcement to a later date.

The cases were considered closed. However, two months later, prosecutors filed a motion seeking restitution under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996. Under this act, victims of a crime for which the defendant was convicted may be entitled to an order of restitution for the following:
–Damage or loss to property;
–Bodily Injury;
–Loss of Life;
–Loss of Income.

In this case, in October of 2010, the trial court granted the prosecution’s motion and a hearing was scheduled for the next month to determine how much was owed. Several more hearings were held, and by August of last year, the district court had calculated that the total amount owed was $17.5 million.

Upon appeal, defendants argued that the court did not have the authority to issue the order at the time it did.

Ultimately, the appellate court ruled that trial judges do lack the authority to go back and correct a sentencing error unless Congress has provided otherwise (an unlikely scenario). As such, the appellate court reversed this restitution order.

The trial court in this case acted inappropriately by re-opening the case. It simply doesn’t happen very often and, as the appellate panel rightly determined, it shouldn’t happen.

Defendants who are not pleased at the outcome of a trial can always appeal the case on a number of legal grounds, but those proceedings can take many years and with limited success.

It’s far better to invest in a skilled criminal defense lawyer at the outset, and avoid the headache and heartache later. You have rights — even after conviction.
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We live in an age when technology is expanding exponentially, and the courts are struggling to keep up. mobilephone.jpg

Our Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorneys know that just a decade ago, pagers were a common form of communication, and Facebook was not a part of the collective American lexicon.

Now, almost everyone has a personal cell phone and that phone has not only replaced land lines — but also serves as personal computer, camera, television, calendar and communication device.

And it’s that little device that has become central to numerous arguments in criminal cases across the country, including Florida. The fact is, these devices are treasure troves of information for criminal investigators. In some instances, they can make or break a criminal case. Often, defense attorneys have to fight hard to keep such evidence out of the case.

At particular issue is whether the warrantless seizure of these devices constitute a Fourth Amendment violation.

A judge in Rhode Island recently thought so. Cell phone evidence led to the conviction of a man there on charges of murder relating to the death of a 6-year-old boy, and the judge ruled that evidence should not have been admissible, meaning the defendant will get a new trial.

However, a judge in Washington State ruled that text messages were similar to voice messages, which could be potentially heard by anyone in a room, and were therefore not protected by the state’s strict privacy statutes.

And then you have a federal appeals court in Louisiana that is currently wrestling with the issue of whether records of location filed away in your smart phone are deserving of privacy protection or whether they should instead be classified as business records belonging to the phone company.

Perhaps because the courts can’t seem to reach a consensus on these issues, a Senate committee is slated to hear proposals to alter the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, found in 18 U.S.C. Chapter 119. This is the law that governs how authorities can monitor digital communications.

Certain kinds of cellphone information have been subject to warrantless surveillance by the courts. The amendment to the law would mandate that police obtain a search warrant in order to search an e-mail communication – no matter how old the record. That would update the rule that allows a search without a warrant of e-mails that are older than 180 days. This would add an extra protection for criminal defendants.

But what about cell phone data? E-mail might be included in that data, but it’s certainly not the only thing available – and it’s those other elements – an extensive list of them – which haven’t yet been granted legal protections.

There was a ruling out of Ohio that indicated police would have to have a warrant for a cell phone because, unlike a single piece of paper that could be stuffed into a person’s pocket, a cell phone in a pocket might contain a laundry list of personal information – some of it not solely belonging to the suspect.

However, in California, the state Supreme Court ruled that a cell phone could be seized and searched without a warrant as long as the phone was in the possession of the suspect at the time he or she was arrested. Of course, who doesn’t carry their cell phone with them everywhere these days?

The bottom line for our potential clients is that one should never assume that just because you sent a private text or e-mail that it can’t later be used against you in court. If you have messages that may be possibly incriminating, discuss those concerns with your attorney immediately.
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