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Why is lawyer Ben Kuehne being indicted for money laundering?

Feb 08, 2008 Why is lawyer Ben Kuehne being indicted for money laundering?

Bill of Rights. (From the public domain.)

Indictments are obtained in such a secret, uneven, unfair and often unjust manner that the day perhaps is around the corner when one day a grand jury will approve the indictment of a lawnmower if a prosecutor requested it.

Unfortunately, not enough solace exists by merely responding that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. For instance, bond laws at the state and federal level often presume that certain criminal charges give rise to a presumption that no bond will assure the defendant’s presence at all court dates. Additionally, an indictment often amounts to a scarlet letter against the defendant in relation to his or her neighbors, friends, employers, and co-workers. An indictment is a sword that only prosecutors are permitted to seek and wield; it is an unfairly lopsided situation.

In the news of February 7, the money-laundering federal indictment (here, and the case docket is here) against Miami lawyer Benedict Kuehne was unsealed. His indictment arises from allegations that he intentionally misadvised well-known lawyer Roy Black that multi-million dollar legal payments to Mr. Black were coming from legitimate sources. The indictment alleges that Mr. Kuehne helped cook the books upon which he rested his advice to Mr. Black. These are mere allegations; let us see what proof the prosecution has.

Ben Kuehne is solidly a member of the legal establishment, and one whose politics seem to be very much Democratic and in opposition to those of Miami’s United States Attorney who is likely a Republican, having been appointed by George Bush II. How much is this prosecution legitimate versus an attempted warning to members of the private bar that nobody is safe from sham indictments if prosecutors are even willing to go after roundly well-respected establishment lawyers? Similarly, in Virginia, why did the elected Commonwealth’s Attorney of Albemarle County (voted out of office last November) bring an indictment (ultimately dismissed by the judge, thank goodness) against apparently well-respected lawyer Deborah Wyatt for embracery of a grand jury for the apparently non-existent "crime" of letting some grand jurors know she was available to testify before them (when prosecutors have full access to put any witnesses before the grand jury that s/he chooses, behind closed doors, with no judge nor criminal defense lawyer present)? Why, indeed.

As Mr. Kuehne’s prosecution unfolds, we will hopefully see the extent to which this prosecution is or is not about disingenuous shenanigans by the prosecution. Jon Katz

ADDENDUM: Thanks to a fellow listserv member for bringing this Ben Kuehne case to my attention. The Miami Herald article on the Kuehne case is here.

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