Stanley Needleman's 30-year law career officially came to an abrupt end Thursday when the criminal defense attorney pleaded guilty to tax evasion and agreed to pay more than $1 million in penalties.
The plea came four months after agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration raided his downtown law office and Pikesville home, finding $1.15 million in unreported income inside two safes. Agents found a ledger detailing the cash payments from his legal clients, prosecutors said.
"Any businessman who receives payments in cash faces the temptation to commit similar crimes — some fall to that temptation," said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein in an interview after the hearing. "Our hope is that cases like this come to the public's attention and serve as a deterrent."
Needleman, 68, who specialized in drug cases, voluntarily agreed last week to be disbarred, officials said. His plea calls for him to pay more than $660,000 in unpaid taxes and to forfeit more than $490,000 in cash that prosecutors say he "structured," a term for depositing money into an account in increments less than $10,000 to avoid IRS reporting requirements.
The plea did not include an agreed-upon sentence, and Needleman could receive a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison at his sentencing, scheduled Dec. 15. The case is being heard in Greenbelt, after federal judges in Baltimore recused themselves because of Needleman's extensive work in federal court here.
"Stanley has definitely stumbled, but he's been a great lawyer for a long time. He made a mistake, he was a man and admitted his mistake, and he's going to move forward in his life," said his attorney, Kenneth W. Ravenell. "We expect he'll continue to do positive things for others and positive things in his community, because he's that type of person."
Attorneys in Baltimore were stunned by the charges. Michael Kaminkow, a defense attorney who said he's known Needleman for more than 30 years, was in Greenbelt for a separate matter and attended the hearing.
"I'm saddened, for him and his family," Kaminkow said. "He was extraordinarily well-liked by defense attorneys and prosecutors. [Since the raids] I can't say he was in good spirits, but he tried to keep up with his work. It's hard to put up a good face when you're looking at going to prison, potentially."
It was unclear whether the investigation had a broader scope. Authorities said DEA agents initiated the case and executed the search warrants, but Needleman ultimately faced tax charges.
Rosenstein declined to discuss how the case was initiated or why particular agencies were involved, though he said the DEA and IRS jointly investigated after an initial review of Needleman's tax returns did not appear to match up with the revenue expected from the cases he handled.
Separately, Needleman faces charges in Baltimore County District Court, where he is accused of stealing a textbook from a judicial clerk's desk. Ravenell said this week that those charges were "without merit."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun