Articles Tagged with Federal Criminal Defense

Many people are arrested by police when suspicions are raised in cases when they’re pulled over for simple traffic stops. This also frequently happens when law enforcement is given access to people’s homes for indeterminate reasons, such as a 911 call for a domestic argument that wasn’t actually serious and may have even been resolved before police arrived.

For example, if a police officer notices a pouch of what appears to be marijuana with a box of rolling paper in plain view, they can possibly make an arrest, even though they were called to the scene for a totally different purpose.

But in many cases, when police notice items that cause them to assume that a more substantial crime may be involved due to what they feel to be evidence witnessed with their own eyes, they may choose to further investigate and hold parties they believe to be involved as they begin and continue the inspective process.

Michael Cohen is a Fort Lauderdale Criminal Defense Attorney whose practice concentrates on the defense of federal charges. In cases such as these, his help can be invaluable for resulting in the best outcome if charges are filed by the federal government or the State of Florida.

When an arrest takes place by law enforcement when they assume the evidence they stumbled upon by chance may be a fragment of a greater possible crime, in many cases they may be correct.

Such was the case when Miramar Police were investigating an armed home invasion that took place in 2013 at a residence inhabited by three men: Harlan and Frantz Decoste, and Francis Jeudy.

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In early November, 2011, an unnamed board member of Pharmasset Inc., a New Jersey based pharmaceutical company that developed a drug named sofosbuvir, (brand name Sovaldi) which had promising results in the treatment of hepatitis C met with members of the company’s Boca Raton based legal team and longtime advisors Robert Spallina and Donald Teascher.

Steven Rosen, CPA, a director in a Plantation based accounting firm was also present at the meeting. At the time, Pharmasset didn’t have any major drugs on the market.

The unnamed board member owned a substantial amount of his company’s stock and was discussing financial and legal advice with the lawyers and accountant regarding what he may realize monetarily from a pending buyout transaction if the company was sold. Rumors of the sale of the company had been abounding recently causing the stock price to slowly move on a slightly upward bias. During the extent of their conversation he told the three men that Pharmasset was in the advanced stages of a negotiation to sell the company.
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After an investigation that went on for over half a year, eight South Florida men were taken into custody as the result of a sting that covered territory along the East Coast in an offshore online sports gambling ring that was operated out of the suspect’s homes as well as local businesses. The online bookmaking ring took bets on professional and college sports including football, baseball, and basketball.

Related suspects were also arrested in New York City, Upstate New York’s Rockland County as well as Bergen County, New Jersey, with a grand total of over $4 million seized by federal agents between all locations. More than sixty search warrants were executed by multi-state agencies made up of the Organized crime unit in Florida as well as the FBI’s criminal division in the New York Metropolitan area and the Rockland County District Attorney’s Organized Crime Unit with assistance from the New York State Police Special Investigative Unit, Queens District Attorney’s Organized Crime Division, the NYPD Asset Forfeiture Unit, the Clarkstown and Ramapo police, the Bergen County, New Jersey Prosecutor’s Office, and the Department of Homeland Security.

In New York, the biggest catch found in the net was Daniel Pagano, now 61, the son of former Genovese crime family boss Joseph Luco Pagano. The younger Pagano is alleged to be a Captain in the continuing criminal enterprise.

Also picked up in the operation and accused of being linked to the infamous crime family was Pasquale Capolongo who was taken into custody in West Palm Beach, Florida. Capolongo had moved from White Plains, NY to West Palm Beach. He has a history of convictions for illegal gambling charges during the time he lived in Rockland County which has apparently followed him to South Florida.

The South Florida portion of the booty amounted to over $1.2 million and was snatched from the suspect’s homes, safety deposit boxes and personal bank accounts. According to papers released by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, in this new age of digital crime; in addition to conducting their illicit business from their homes it is also alleged that they worked out of local casinos and a dog track, an Italian market in Coral Springs, a scrap metal business in Pompano, and even a Whole Foods market and CVS Pharmacy.

Arrests were initiated last year in Rockland County in early December with the conclusion of their own separate investigation which separately went on for over a year. At the time, District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said that they were “taking in millions of dollars a month” and continued by saying that “the investigation uncovered evidence that the enterprise had links to organized crime.”

In the South Florida connection all the men are charged with racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, money laundering, conspiracy to commit money laundering, varying counts of bookmaking, conspiracy to commit bookmaking, and the unlawful use of two-way communication devices to facilitate a felony. All have been saddled with bond in excess of one hundred thousand dollars with Capolongo’s topping off at $1 million. Coming in second in the high-bond lottery was Michael Dangelo of Pompano Beach who had additional charges of drug trafficking and possession of cocaine and oxycodone which raised the amount of his bond to $777,000.

The Broward Sherriff’s Office said that the operation was foiled by texts and phone wiretaps, surveillance, along with cooperating witnesses and defendants as well as videotaped recordings of live transactions, and the hard work of their undercover deputies.

Sheriff’s spokesperson Gina Carter mentioned that “this is an ongoing investigation and we anticipate several more key players will be arrested in coming weeks.”

Four of the men who were arrested in Palm Beach County including Capolongo had hearings before a Broward Circuit Court Judge to account for the sources of their bond funds which must have been obtained from legitimate sources. The other three men were Devon Alexander Shalmi, 30, Joseph Petrolino, 47, and Thomas Cuce, 32. But for now the four remain in custody. All the men arrested live in the immediate neighborhoods of West Palm Beach, Boca Raton, Parkland, Margate and Coral Springs in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. The others arrested were Allan Klein, and his son Darren, Michael Dangelo, and Erik Bishop.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel commented on the workings of the criminal enterprise by saying “Criminal networks like these may not seem dangerous to the public… but it is activity such as this that leads to violence and fuels organized crime throughout the country.”

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Fred Topous Jr. is a registered sex offender who pleaded guilty in 1999 to the charge of assault with intent to penetrate a thirteen year old minor female who just happened to be his boss’s daughter. He can easily be labelled a career criminal as his records show that he’s either been imprisoned or on parole for all of but three years between the years of 1984 and 2006 for three individual criminal convictions.

But after his release from prison in 2006, Topous hit the lottery… I mean he literally hit the lottery!

In 2008, Topous picked the six winning numbers in Michigan’s $57 million State Lottery. The proceeds netted him a whopping thirty-four million dollars in a one-time lump sum payout.

In some cases, ex-convicts’ who have significant amounts of money or receive windfalls after their release have been ordered to give a substantial amount to the state to cover the expense of their upkeep for the period of time they were incarcerated. But in Topous’s case, the attorney general’s office didn’t pursue any economic payback. So to sum it up Topous got to keep the full payout, his debt to society already paid in full.

But this article isn’t about Fred Topous Jr., not directly at least. This is a story about Murder for Hire.

In late 2009, Topous began a business venture with a well-known area lawyer named Clarence K. Gomery. Together they purchased what was originally a golf course and redeveloped the property into Northern Meadows, a wedding and banquet facility by way of the newly formed company. T&G Real Estate Development LLC that Gomery setup. Before going into private practice Gomery held the positions as an Assistant County Prosecutor as well as County Prosecutor in two separate jurisdictions.

The purchase was made for $500,000 of which Gomery didn’t contribute any funds. However, Gomery had Topous sign a document which was subsequently altered (as decided in a civil suit judgment) to indicate Gomery as fifty percent partner on the property deal. Gomery’s law firm Gomery and Associates, also handed Topous a bill for legal services rendered in the amount of $25,000 which Topous paid. Topous charged that he paid approximately $500,000 and didn’t receive accounting of the purchase of the property. During the course of its operation, T&G Real Estate Development LLC only received one payment of $1500 from Northern Meadows.

Hence, Topous sued Gomery in the 13th Circuit Court on the grounds that he had made several demands requesting the operating accounting and the agreement but received no satisfaction. He hired Chris Cooke to act as his attorney in the case.
According to court documents Gomery had primarily refused to produce any books, records, or accountings. Attorney Cooke charged that Gomery “induced” his client to invest funds in the new business and then “used the business to host weddings for family members at Plaintiff’s expense.” According to court documents the attorney also accused Gomery of “fraudulently editing the operating agreement giving him fifty percent ownership and fifty percent interest in the property with no monetary investment on his own part.” He also claimed that Gomery named Topous as the responsible party for property taxes associated with the property owned by the newly formed LLC.

Last May a jury established that Gomery did indeed induce Mr. Topous into the agreement by violating ethical rules as well as committing malpractice and fraud by altering the operating documents at the same time he collected $25,000 from his new business partner under the pretext of settling a lawsuit which threatened Topous’ brother, Jeff, by making it “go away.”

The jury awarded the property to Topous in full with exception of $13,000 which went to improvements made by Gomery before the lawsuit was filed. Besides losing the property Gomery was ordered to pay Topous $314,000 to cover court costs and attorney’s fees. Additionally, Judge Thomas Power issued a sanctions order against Gomery in November. The following April, Gomery filed for bankruptcy placing his payment obligation on hold. Topous then opposed the stay of debtor payments.

It is not clear exactly when and the reasoning behind it, but at some point Gomery came to the conclusion of having Mr. Topous’s lawyer killed. But it’s easy to speculate that perhaps he felt the lawyer did too good a job which ultimately caused him to wind up in his current dilemma.

But Dale Fisher, the man that Gomery allegedly hired to kill the lawyer said “That he [Gomery] had just lost so much money in the lawsuits and that he was interfering in his bankruptcy and it was destroying his life… It was destroying his wife, his family.”

Gomery knew Fisher when he hired him to do some work at his home and arranged a meet in his office to discuss his “detailed plan”. But what Gomery didn’t count on was that Dale Fisher was a man with a conscience.

Fisher agreed to meet in Gomery’s office on several occasions and then alerted police to Gomery’s plan which would be carried out using him as the instrument. He also told police that he was paid $1000 to purchase a rifle with a payment of $20,000.00 pledged to be paid after the deed was done. In a later interview, Fisher was quoted as saying “I couldn’t fathom why somebody would choose me to commit such a heinous crime.”

Fisher also alerted Cooke to the threat who was stunned at the revelation. He later said that he “went to the authorities and they acted expeditiously to analyze the threat.”

Upon learning of the plot, police had Fisher meet with Gomery at his home while wearing a listening device. They heard Gomery and Fisher discuss the type of weapon that was to be bought and where it was to be purchased, how the murder would go down and where and when it would happen.

Gomery was arrested in mid-July after detectives tracked him down at his daughter’s home; but not until after a drawn out drama and negotiation with police transpired. Police units from five different departments arrived at the scene to assist with the arrest. He was first contacted by police in mid-evening on the evening before his eventual arrest. When a detective first contacted him he allegedly told him that police would need to prepare to “dig in… it was going to be a long night.” After that first exchange, police surrounded his daughter’s house and decided to just wait it out, instead of breaching the home to take him into custody; avoiding an unpleasant and possibly dangerous confrontation.

At approximately 9:30pm, one of the detectives made contact with the suspect by phone and told him they were waiting for him at his own home. He asked him to go there as an arrest warrant had been issued. The detective explained that Gomery told him that he wasn’t prepared to do that “due to the fact that he does not want to sit in jail overnight.” Afterward, Gomery turned off his cell phone while police continued their surveillance and established a perimeter around the home. Attempts by a detective to contact him by way of a bullhorn from the driveway of the house were unsuccessful as Gomery stayed put.

At approximately 4:00am that following morning, police noticed lights being turned on in the house. Not long after that, Gomery’s wife exited the house and entered an SUV in the driveway. She was immediately stopped by police while in a separate SUV, Gomery’s daughter and her passenger being the suspect attempted to leave. When stopped by police his daughter told them they were preparing to drive to the County Jail where her father intended to turn himself in. Gomery was then taken into custody.

He is now facing the felony of soliciting murder. Because the crime involved the carrying of a weapon with unlawful intent he will also face a separate charge of solicitation of a felony.

After his arraignment by a District Court Judge he was remanded to the County Jail on a $5 million cash surety bond.

Two days after his arrest Gomery answered a motion that was filed by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court to dismiss the case.

In District Courtroom testimony Fisher affirmed that there was a plan in place, devised by Gomery to kill Cooke using him as the assassin along with the specifics of the plot and the amount to be paid.

The case continues… Check back here for updates as it moves toward its conclusion.

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His reign of terror which operated Internationally including Australia, the Mid-East and the United States finally came to an end when Miami Federal District Judge Cecilia Altonaga sentenced Jamaican born Damion St. Patrick Baston to twenty-seven years in federal prison.

For years, the smoothing talking former nightclub dancer enticed women into a life of prostitution that spanned numerous continents by making them believe he was a hip hop music producer, later bragging to them that he was a member of Bloods, the violent West Coast street gang based out of Los Angeles. Once under his influence he repeatedly raped them and used tactics of verbal abuse, threats to their family and savage beatings to keep them under his control.

It appears that his venture into the sex for sale and sex trafficking trade began around the time he married an 18-year-old woman of Australian descent only identified as TJM on Queensland’s Gold Coast in an Islamic ceremony. He met her at a party in 2009 and married her the following year. She would be one of many women from outside the borders of the United States to testify against him.

According to court testimony his next Australian victim, identified as KL met him in a restaurant also on the Gold Coast. He told her he was a music producer seeking talent from Australia. After beginning a passionate relationship with her he let her believe that he was interested in opening a new restaurant and would let her in on the action but instead, as he did with his first conquest he threatened her and used acts of violence to bully her into working for him as a prostitute. He posted her pictures in local newspapers offering escort services as well as on the Internet along with her contact information using known “escort service” Web sites. He drove her to “dates” and kept all the proceeds she earned. He also opened a strip club called the Bachelors Club that KL was listed as owner/operator. According to Baston’s testimony she kept the books and he split all profits from the venture with her. KL denied his statement and testified that she only allowed him to use her name because she was in fear of him due to him threatening to hurt her and her family.

By 2011 he was peddling both women out of various rented dwellings on the Gold Coast and flew to Dubai with KL and the woman from New Zealand where he did the same in that middle-eastern country. He reentered the United States and settled in South Florida in 2012 with two of the women.

Six women in total of which three were flown in by the prosecution testified against him including three Americans, two Australians, one from Lithuania and one New Zealander. All six of the women testified that he forced them to work as strippers in Australia, in Dubai and South Florida and then coerced them into working for his various escort services.

This past June at trial, a federal jury of twelve, including Baston’s ex-wife heard testimony of how he forced them into a life as sex slaves and prostitution after beating and raping them.

Evidence presented in court disclosed that Baston was convicted of possessing stolen property in the late 1990s. That conviction led to an order to deport him to his native Jamaica by a U.S. immigration judge. During his own testimony he denied the deportation and said it was a “touchy subject.” He first turned up in Australia in 2009 under a stolen identity of a man that lived in Iowa. He used the passport and identification cards of a man named Rayshawn Bryant who was the victim of the identity theft.

In addition to the oral testimony, a transcript of a recorded conversation between Baston and the woman from New Zealand (flown in by the prosecution) identified as GP was heard by the jury which was made up of five men and seven women. In addition to the transcript, when making her original complaint she told the New South Wales Police Department that at one point in 2010 Baston hung her upside down, from a fire escape by her feet while he verbally abused and threatened her. She also testified that he forced her into a shower with scorching hot water running and wouldn’t let her out for hours as he beat her without mercy. The female detective that took GP’s statement testified that she was the most terrified victim she had ever interviewed throughout her twenty-five year career, most recently working for the sexual battery division.

One of the South Florida women testified how he ruined her life by getting her pregnant. She also disclosed that she subsequently had given birth to his child.

The twenty-one charges against him included importation of an alien for prostitution, sex trafficking by force, coercion and fraud, transportation for prostitution, money laundering and aggravated identity theft.

When Baston took the stand he told a completely different story. He said he was educated in New York City studying for the fashion industry, became a master in karate and weight lifter. He then worked as a dancer in nightclubs before becoming a talent agent in the music business. He said that he never forced or intimidated any of his numerous girlfriends into prostitution or his escort services, and never took their money.
“I am not a pimp… I was always nice and kind… It was love. It was romantic. It was fun.”

The presiding federal judge didn’t buy his story.

The arrest and conviction came as a result of a joint effort among Australian and United Arab Emirates law enforcement agencies along with United States federal authorities that stemmed from a 2008 law to combat international sex trafficking.

The mandatory minimum sentence for the self-described entrepreneur’s crimes was fifteen years in federal prison.

Declaring that a “sentence of life (in prison) would not provide just punishment,” Miami Federal District Judge Cecilia Altonaga sentenced Baston to twenty-seven years in federal prison. The reason given by the judge for what would appear to be a light sentence based on testimony that convicted him at trial was only that nobody was killed by his actions.

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