DEA, IRS checked emails

Pros­e­cu­tors at­tempt to build case against Bal­ti­more lawyers

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Tim Pru­dente

RICH­MOND, VA. — Teams of IRS agents, par­ale­gals and Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tors have fil­tered through tens of thou­sands of law-firm emails as pros­e­cu­tors at­tempt to build a crim­i­nal case against two prom­i­nent Bal­ti­more de­fense at­tor­neys, Ken Ravenell and Joshua Treem.

Fed­eral agents raided the sep­a­rate of­fices of the two lawyers in June. They copied 50,000 emails to and from Treem and have re­viewed more than half of that cache by now, a fed­eral prose­cu­tor said. In­ves­ti­ga­tors said they ex­am­ined only emails di­rectly con­nected to the two at­tor­neys and the on­go­ing probe.

“They have done more than 50% of the re­view of the doc­u­ments un­der seal with a mag­is­trate judge,” As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Derek Hines told fed­eral ap­peals judges Tues­day in Rich­mond, Vir­ginia.

Tues­day’s hear­ing in the U.S. Court of Ap­peals brought a rare, pub­lic dis­cus­sion of an on­go­ing crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into two of Bal­ti­more’s top de­fense at­tor­neys. Ravenell works crim­i­nal cases. Treem han­dles white-col­lar crime and he rep­re­sents Ravenell in this case.

Questions have swirled since fed­eral agents raided their of­fices. Nei­ther man has

been charged with a crime, and fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors have con­tin­ued their in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­der a court-or­dered seal. Of­fi­cials de­clined to dis­cuss the mat­ter.

Mean­while, Treem’s law firm has chal­lenged the email sweep. Their ar­gu­ment reached the U.S. Court of Ap­peals in Rich­mond on Tues­day, bring­ing to light new de­tails about the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

In his writ­ten ar­gu­ment, Hines, the prose­cu­tor, told the judges that Ravenell was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for “as­sist­ing drug deal­ers [to] sell drugs, laun­der­ing the pro­ceeds of drug deal­ers and then at­tempt­ing to cover up their crimes by ob­struct­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions.”

Hines also wrote that the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Ravenell was “frus­trated by the ob­struc­tive con­duct” of Treem.

Pros­e­cu­tors have not named Ravenell and Treem. They re­fer to the men as “Tar­get Lawyer A” and “Tar­get Lawyer B” in court records, and their names were never men­tioned dur­ing Tues­day’s hear­ing, only those iden­ti­fiers. But the dates of the raids, de­scrip­tions of the lawyers and men­tion of a pub­lic state­ment is­sued by the law firm all point to Ravenell and Treem.

Treem and Ravenell have not re­turned mes­sages seek­ing com­ment about the al­le­ga­tions. Nei­ther man ap­peared in court Tues­day.

Hines pros­e­cutes cor­rup­tion cases in Bal­ti­more and was among the fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors who se­cured con­vic­tions of the rogue cops of the city’s Gun Trace Task Force. On Tues­day, he ar­gued for con­tin­ued re­view of the emails, telling the ap­peals judges that in­ves­ti­ga­tors sus­pect other peo­ple may be im­pli­cated.

An at­tor­ney for Treem’s firm urged the judges to end the re­view, say­ing the in­ves­tiga­tive teams are tram­pling on le­gal prin­ci­ples that shield com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween lawyers and their clients. Of more than 50,000 emails copied from Treem, only 116 came from Ravenell, the firm’s at­tor­ney said. The raid net­ted thou­sands of emails to and from other clients, and the firm’s at­tor­neys ar­gued the search and seizure was far too sweep­ing.

“The whole con­cept of the at­tor­n­ey­client priv­i­lege is that you, the client, are will­ing to tell your lawyer your in­ner­most se­crets,” James P. Ul­wick told the judges. He rep­re­sented Treem’s firm of Brown, Gold­stein & Levy. “You have to have that con­fi­dence that when you re­lay that in­for­ma­tion, it will be pro­tected.”

A for­mer fed­eral prose­cu­tor him­self, Ul­wick also asked the judges to or­der a lower court to sift through the emails and de­cide which should be re­leased to pros­e­cu­tors. Cur­rently, the U.S. At­tor­neys Of­fice in Bal­ti­more had out­sourced the re­view to teams in its Green­belt of­fice.

Hines has ar­gued this sep­a­ra­tion pro­vided suf­fi­cient pro­tec­tion. He said it’s rou­tine pro­ce­dure within the U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice and a sys­tem of re­view that has been ap­proved by a mag­is­trate judge.

U.S. Court of Ap­peals Judge Robert B. King pressed him. He noted the agents could be hold­ing emails from, say, a client seek­ing le­gal ad­vice when he didn’t pay his taxes. King com­pared the re­view to agents emp­ty­ing out the of­fice of a tax lawyer.

“I would hate to think of the govern­ment haul­ing my file cabi­net down to the IRS of­fice,” he said. “It’s noth­ing but the fox be­ing in the hen house.”

The panel of three judges did not de­cide im­me­di­ately whether the fed­eral agents may con­tinue the re­view. The de­ci­sion is ex­pected in com­ing weeks.

Ravenell came un­der a cloud in 2014 when DEA and IRS agents raided his of­fice at the firm of William H. “Billy” Mur­phy Jr. Ravenell left the firm shortly there­after.

That raid has gone un­ex­plained. To­day, he han­dles some of Bal­ti­more’s most high-pro­file mur­der cases.

Last month, he de­fended the West Bal­ti­more man who killed 7-year-old Taylor Hayes by fir­ing a shot into the car in which she was sit­ting. The gun­man, Keon Gray, was found guilty of sec­ond­de­gree mur­der. Ravenell also is rep­re­sent­ing Phillip West in a mur­der trial next month. West is ac­cused of shoot­ing to death his pool game part­ner at the Blar­ney Stone Pub in Fells Point.

Treem, also a vet­eran at­tor­ney, be­gan his ca­reer as a fed­eral prose­cu­tor in Bal­ti­more in the 1970s, ac­cord­ing to his firm’s web­site. He went on to de­fend high-pro­file clients in­clud­ing the In­di­anapo­lis Colts who were sued af­ter leav­ing Bal­ti­more in 1984. Treem also de­fended the younger of the two D.C. snipers.

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