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Federal Criminal Defense Blog

Federal Criminal Defense and Civil Litigation in Georgia and Beyond

Bremen, Georgia, Man Sentenced to 2 Years for Conspiracy to Commit Arson

Posted in Sentencing, Uncategorized

In June of 2012, Hitendrafumar Patel of Bremen, Georgia, asked a man to burn down a business which Patel owned, telling the man that the business was not profitable and that Patel wanted to use the insurance money to pay his expenses. Patel gave the man incendiary materials and a key to the business. Unfortunately for Patel, the man in question was an undercover agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation who recorded the conversation. As reported by a Florida media outlet, Patel was sentenced last week in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia to 2 years’ imprisonment for conspiracy to commit arson.

“They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” – Benjamin Franklin

Contact the attorneys at Gillen Withers & Lake LLC for a consultation on how best to begin pursing your legal matter or defense today. Expert criminal and civil attorneys. Contact us in North Georgia (404) 842-9700 or South Georgia (921) 447-8400.

9th Circuit Reverses Conviction for Tax Fraud Relating to Alleged Terrorist Funding

Posted in Tax Fraud, Uncategorized


On Friday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of Pirouz Sedaghaty, also known as Pete Seda, for allegedly making a false statement on a tax return, as reported in the Oregonian. Mr. Seda was convicted in 2010 for allegedly making a false statement on his 2001 tax return relating to alleged funneling of money to mujahideen in Chechnya through the group, the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation. The Ninth Circuit reversed Mr. Seda’s conviction on three grounds: (1) that the prosecution had withheld the fact that the government had paid money to a witness; (2) that the government omitted facts favorable to Mr. Seda in a summary of documents given to the defense; and (3) that agents had exceeded the scope of a search warrant. The Court further criticized the government’s use of irrelevant and inflammatory evidence relating to Osama bin Laden and terrorist activity to prejudice the jury. The government has released a statement stating that it is considering a possible further appeal of the case.

“As long as I have any choice, I will stay only in a country where political liberty, toleration, and equality of all citizens before the law are the rule.” – Albert Einstein

Start the process of resolving your case or matter today by calling the experienced and aggressive attorneys of Gillen Withers & Lake LLC. Contact us in North Georgia (404) 842-9700 (aclake@gwllawfirm.com) or South Georgia (912) 447-8400 (twithers@gwllawfirm.com) to consult on your matter.

Atlanta Area Man Receives $2.8 Million in Refunds–from Prison; Sentenced to 5 Years

Posted in Tax Fraud, Uncategorized

In 2008, Arnold Tobias Gervais was convicted in the Superior Court of Cobb County, Georgia, for submitting a fraudulent tax return claiming a $600,000 tax refund from the State of Georgia. He was sent to prison from 2007 to 2010. While incarcerated, Gervais caused his wife to file a false 2008 IRS Form 1040 claiming a refund of $811,073 from alleged income he allegedly received through a fictitious company, “Safety Shoes & More, Inc .” Gervais filed six other false claims for Federal tax refunds for alleged income relating to Safety Shoes & More Inc .

The IRS paid Gervais $2,832,260 in refunds. Fortunately, the IRS was also able to recover $2,232,012 from Gervais in  two civil forfeiture actions. Gervais was charged with filing false claims for income tax refunds in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. He was sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment on Monday.

 No man suffers injustice without learning, vaguely but surely, what justice is.  – Isaac Rosenfeld

Gillen Withers & Lake LLC are experienced trial attorneys who vigorously represent or defend their clients and who have achieved outstanding results for their clients. Contact us in North Georgia (404) 842-9700 (aclake@gwllawfirm.com) or South Georgia (912) 447-8400 (twithers@gwllawfirm.com) to consult on your matter.

The Propriety of Department of Justice Tip Hotlines and Soliciting Information from the Public

Posted in Uncategorized

An article this week has raised the interesting question of the propriety of the Department of Justice soliciting “tips” from the public in certain cases which it is investigating. DOJ currently is soliciting tips from the public in its investigation of George Zimmerman in relation to the death of Trayvon Martin and the Attorney General’s Office has stated that it will be setting up an email account,  sanford.florida@usdoj.gov, to gather information.

Legal experts interviewed for the article criticize DOJ’s practice as an attempt to shift responsibility for an investigation onto the public, and to create the misleading impression that the government is acting. Others cite the cost benefits of relying upon the public for information rather than creating an expensive investigative task force.

The Civil Rights Division of the DOJ has used “tip hotlines” to gather evidence in the recent past, including to investigate allegations that the Albuquerque, New Mexico, Police Department employed excessive force; to investigate allegations that officials in Meridian, Mississippi were racially discriminating against juveniles; and to investigate allegations that the Alamance County, North Carolina Sheriff’s Department used racial profiling. However, upon information and belief, this is the first time DOJ has established such a tip-line to gather evidence against an acquitted person.

“The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.” — George Washington

Contact the attorneys of Gillen Withers & Lake LLC in North Georgia (404) 842-9700 or South Georgia (866) 416-8333 (toll-free)/(912) 447-8400 on your civil or criminal legal matter.

Fourth Circuit Holds that NYT Reporter May Be Compelled to Testify in Trial of Former CIA Agent Over First Amendment Objections

Posted in Uncategorized

On Friday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that there is no First Amendment privilege which prevents a journalist from being compelled to testify in a criminal proceeding. The decision arose from the trial of former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling under the Espionage Act for unauthorized leaking of State secrets. Sterling alleged provided information on CIA efforts to interfere with the development of nuclear capabilities by Iran to James Risen, a reporter for the New York Times. Risen allegedly used the information in his 2006 book, State of War.  The Court of Appeals concluded that Risen must testify in Sterling’s trial. The Court’s decision reversed an earlier ruling by the trial court that Risen was protected against testifying. If you have some time to kill, the full 117 page opinion is made available here: U.S.v.Sterling.Opinion.

Risen has stated that he is willing to be imprisoned for contempt, rather than reveal the identity of his source. Were Risen to be imprisoned for contempt, he would follow the lead of fellow former Times reporter Judith Miller, who was imprisonedfor 5 months in 2005  for refusing to testify in the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby for leaking the identity of CIA employee Valeria Plame to the media.“A lean compromise is better than a fat lawsuit.” – George Herbert

Gillen Withers & Lake LLC are experienced trial attorneys who vigorously represent or defend their clients and who have achieved outstanding results for their clients. Contact us in North Georgia (404) 842-9700 (aclake@gwllawfirm.com) or South Georgia (912) 447-8400 (twithers@gwllawfirm.com) to consult on your matter.

A Federal Prosecution of George Zimmerman? Almost No Chance.

Posted in Double Jeopardy

The Florida trial of George Zimmerman on charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter for the death of Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, has captured national public and media attention for weeks, and has aroused strong views on both sides. Saturday’s verdict of acquittal in favor Mr. Zimmerman did not bring the closure which some believed it would, and only served to ignite the passions surrounding the case.

It is not the purpose of this Blog to review State criminal proceedings or to take sides in public controversies, except in this case to express regret over the unfortunate fact of the incident which resulted in this controversy, and perhaps to commend Mr. Zimmerman’s defense team, who worked vigorously on his behalf.

However, the Department of Justice issued a statement on Monday that it is continuing to investigate Martin’s death and that “[e]xperienced federal prosecutors will determine whether the evidence reveals a prosecutable violation of any of the limited federal criminal civil rights statutes within our jurisdiction, and whether federal prosecution is appropriate in accordance with the Department’s policy governing successive federal prosecution following a state trial.” And that is a matter which this Blog may concern itself with.

Ordinarily, a second prosecution of Mr. Zimmerman, especially in Florida, for the same or similar alleged offenses would be barred by Federal and State constitutional guarantees against Double Jeopardy, which stems from the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee that “or shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb…” However, under the “dual sovereignty” doctrine, since the Federal government and all the States are separate sovereigns, one sovereign is not bound if jeopardy has attached in the prosecution of a defendant by a different sovereign. Under the doctrine, a person who commits an offense may actually be committing two distinct violations–one State and one Federal.

So, given that the Federal government is not barred by Double Jeopardy in re-prosecuting Mr. Zimmerman, what are the chances that Federal government will do so? The consensus opinion of most commentators is that it is not very high.

First of all, despite the storm of media stories following the Department’s announcement, the Department’s statement was actually highly guarded–deferring to the opinion of “experienced federal prosecutors,” noting the “limited” federal civil rights statutes available, and referencing the Department’s policies governing successive prosecutions.

The reluctance of the Department’s statement is understandable, especially when one consults the Department’s policy on successive State/Federal prosecutions referred to in the statement. That policy may be found in the United States Attorneys Manual, and states in relevant part:

Statement of Policy: This policy establishes guidelines for the exercise of discretion by appropriate officers of the Department of Justice in determining whether to bring a federal prosecution based on substantially the same act(s) or transactions involved in a prior state or federal proceeding. See Rinaldi v. United States, 434 U.S. 22, 27, (1977); Petite v. United States, 361 U.S. 529 (1960). Although there is no general statutory bar to a federal prosecution where the defendant’s conduct already has formed the basis for a state prosecution, Congress expressly has provided that, as to certain offenses, a state judgment of conviction or acquittal on the merits shall be a bar to any subsequent federal prosecution for the same act or acts. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 659, 660, 1992, 2101, 2117; see also 15 U.S.C. §§ 80a-36, 1282.

The purpose of this policy is to vindicate substantial federal interests through appropriate federal prosecutions, to protect persons charged with criminal conduct from the burdens associated with multiple prosecutions and punishments for substantially the same act(s) or transaction(s), to promote efficient utilization of Department resources, and to promote coordination and cooperation between federal and state prosecutors.

This policy precludes the initiation or continuation of a federal prosecution, following a prior state or federal prosecution based on substantially the same act(s) or transaction(s) unless three substantive prerequisites are satisfied: first, the matter must involve a substantial federal interest; second, the prior prosecution must have left that interest demonstrably unvindicated; and third, applying the same test that is applicable to all federal prosecutions, the government must believe that the defendant’s conduct constitutes a federal offense, and that the admissible evidence probably will be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction by an unbiased trier of fact. In addition, there is a procedural prerequisite to be satisfied, that is, the prosecution must be approved by the appropriate Assistant Attorney General.


[As set forth above] [t]he second substantive prerequisite is that the prior prosecution must have left that substantial federal interest demonstrably unvindicated. In general, the Department will presume that a prior prosecution, regardless of result, has vindicated the relevant federal interest. That presumption, however, may be overcome when there are factors suggesting an unvindicated federal interest.

The Department’s policy therefore weighs against successive State/Federal prosecutions. Furthermore, it is difficult to see what substantial Federal interest it would advance to justify a second prosecution. Mr. Zimmerman’s shooting of Mr. Martin was the sort of alleged offense which is traditionally left in the jurisdiction of the States.

Also, in regard to the third criteria in the Department’s policy, does Mr. Zimmerman’s conduct constitute a Federal offense? Commentators have discussed several potential charges under the civil rights provisions in the Federal criminal code. Notably, there is 18 U.S.C. § 249, the result of the Matthew Shepherd and James Bird Hate Crime Prevention Act (HCPA) of 2009, which criminalizes “Hate crime acts.” Section 249 provides that:

(1) Offenses involving actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin.–Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, a dangerous weapon, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin of any person–(A) shall be imprisoned not more than 10 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both; and (B) shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both, if– (i) death results from the offense…

However, a hate crimes prosecution of Mr. Zimmerman will be all but impossible for the Justice Department to prevail on, given the fact that the FBI investigated the case in 2012 and made findings, released to the media, that race was  not a motivating factor in the incident. The same problem exists regarding a second statute which has been discussed for charging Mr. Zimmerman–18 U.S.C. § 245, which prohibits persons from using force or threat of force to willfully injure, intimidate or interfere with, persons engaging in an array of federally-protected activities and against persons based on race, religion or creed in certain circumstances.

Any future Federal prosecution of Mr. Zimmerman would therefore face incredibly high obstacles–ones which prosecutors would need a pole vault to clear. It is extremely doubtful that the Department of Justice will risk bringing a second set of charges against Mr. Zimmerman which it would not succeed on, thereby creating another occasion for Mr. Zimmerman to be cleared and another opportunity for public and media furor.

“Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at  the cost of liberty.” – Justice Louis Brandeis

Gillen Withers & Lake LLC are experienced trial attorneys who vigorously represent or defend their clients and who have achieved outstanding results for their clients. Contact us in North Georgia (404) 842-9700 (aclake@gwllawfirm.com) or South Georgia (912) 447-8400 (twithers@gwllawfirm.com) to consult on your matter.

French, Swiss Defendants Acquitted in Paris on Charges Relating to the U.N. Oil-for-Food Programme

Posted in Uncategorized

Readers may remember the United Nations’ Oil-for-Food Programme, which operated between 1996 and 2003 and permitted Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to sell oil on the world market in exchange for food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods despite a U.N. embargo. The Programme became the subject of much criticism that its proceeds went to benefit Iraqi officials instead of the Iraqi people, and a 2005 independent inquiry uncovered a system of bribery and kickbacks.

Well today, French oil company Total, Swiss oil trader Vitol, and 17 other defendants were acquitted by a court in Paris of charges relating to the Oil-for-Food Programme, according to the Swiss Broadcasting System. The defendants had been accused of bribery, complicity and influence peddling. Had the defendants been convicted, Total could have faced fines of up to 1.88 million euros and its charged executives could have faced up to 5 years in prison.


I sometimes wish that people would put a little more emphasis on the observance of the law than they do upon its enforcement.–Calvin Coolidge

Gillen Withers & Lake LLC is an expert small firm headed by former attorneys for the Government dedicated to aggressively pursuing our clients’ matters and vigorously defending their rights. Call us to talk about your matter today in Atlanta (404) 842-9700 or Savannah (912) 447-8400.

6th Circuit Court of Appeals Undoes Amazingly Soft 1 Week Sentence for CEO Convicted in $18 Million Fraud

Posted in Sentencing

Michael Peppel, the former CEO of  MCSi Inc., based in Dayton, Ohio, was convicted on charges of conspiracy, fraud, and money laundering for a scheme which defrauded investors of $18 million. Peppel allegedly cooked MCSi’s books to cause its stock value to remain high.

Peppel faced between eight to 10 years’ imprisonment. However, according to the Columbus, OH, Republic, in 2011, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio sentenced Peppel to one week in prison. All the Blog can say is: well done indeed, Mr. Peppel.

In fairness to the District Court, District Court Judge Sandra Beckwith found Peppel to be “a remarkably good man.” Peppel defended that he had made misrepresentations to MCSi’s investors in an effort to save the company. He pleaded the fact that his family depends on him, and his community service work helping convicted felons find work to the Court.

As you probably guessed would happen, in February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit overturned Peppel’s sentence as “drastically light.” The District Court is set to hand down a new sentence on June 4.

“Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.” — Abraham Lincoln

Gillen Withers & Lake LLC are experienced trial attorneys who vigorously represent or defend their clients and who have achieved outstanding results for their clients. Contact us in North Georgia (404) 842-9700 (aclake@gwllawfirm.com) or South Georgia (912) 447-8400 (twithers@gwllawfirm.com) to consult on your matter.


4th Circuit Court of Appeals Overturns Money Laundering Convictions in $100 Million Life Insurance Investment Scheme

Posted in Money Laundering, Reversal

Adley H. Abdulwahab was convicted of fraud, conspiracy, and money laundering in 2011 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia relating to a $100 million life insurance settlement scheme which defrauded more than 800 investors.  As reported by the Fort-Worth Star-Telegram, Abdulwahab, a Texas resident, and four other co-conspirators fraudulently marketed life settlements–the purchase of life insurance policies by investors–to his victims, most of whom were elderly, through Abdulwahab’s company,  A&O Resource Management Ltd. The conspirators made misrepresentations to investors regarding A&O’s prior success, its size and office locations, its number of employees, the risks of its investment offerings, and its safekeeping and use of investor funds. Abdulwahab was originally sentenced to 60 years in prison.

Last week, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Abdulwahab’s money laundering convictions and ordered that he be re-sentenced, in the case of U.S. v. Abdulwahab, Docket No. 11-5093, the opinion in which may be read here. The convictions were based upon commissions which A&O paid to a sales agent. The Court held that Abdulwahab’s convictions under the money laundering statute, 18 U.S.C. 1956, were barred as a result of “merger.”  Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Santos, 553 U.S. 507 (2008), the Court cited the rule that the term “proceeds” in the money laundering statute only refers to the “net profits,” and not the “gross receipts,” of the underlying crime and that an individual therefore cannot be convicted of money laundering for “paying the expenses” of a crime.



“It is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive.” — Earl Warren

Start the process of resolving your case or matter today by calling the experienced and aggressive attorneys of Gillen Withers & Lake LLC. Contact us in North Georgia (404) 842-9700 (aclake@gwllawfirm.com) or South Georgia (912) 447-8400 (twithers@gwllawfirm.com) to consult on your matter.

Atlanta Resident Jessica Loren Posey Recieves 7 Years for Sex Trafficking Involving Minors

Posted in Sex Crimes

Atlanta resident, Jessica Loren Posey, 25, was sentenced on Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia to serve more than 7 years in prison for transporting a 16 year-old girl across State lines for the purpose of prostitution, as reported by the Gwinnett Patch. Posey was charged with transporting a minor who Posey met in 2010 when the girl was 16, as well as other minors, within Georgia as well as to Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio in order to engage in sex acts. Posey created advertisements featuring the minor, which she displayed online.

Atlanta has grown into a hub for sex trafficking of minors in the U.S. To learn more about this serious problem, visit INnocence ATLanta or Street Grace.

“There must be law, steadily invoked and respected by all nations, for without law, the world promises only such meager justice as the pity of the strong upon the weak.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

Gillen Withers & Lake LLC are experienced trial attorneys who vigorously represent or defend their clients and who have achieved outstanding results for their clients. Contact us in North Georgia (404) 842-9700 (aclake@gwllawfirm.com) or South Georgia (912) 447-8400 (twithers@gwllawfirm.com) to consult on your matter.