Sitting in a jail meeting room in Phoenix, Arizona, in 2017, convicted drug dealer Richard Byrd had one thing on his mind: recouping an investment he said he made in the MGM National Harbor casino.
Byrd was meeting with attorney Joshua Treem and private investigator Sean Gordon, who were there on behalf of Byrd’s former attorney Kenneth Ravenell. Byrd agreed to record the meeting while secretly working for government agents investigating Ravenell. He wore glasses with a hidden recorder.
“I need my money. Bottom line,” Byrd repeatedly told his visitors.
Jurors spent Thursday watching tape of the jail meeting. Along with Ravenell, Treem and Gordon are charged with obstruction of justice, and federal prosecutors say the tape shows the pair later wrote a false affidavit and sent a letter to a federal judge that falsely stated what Byrd had told them.
Ravenell’s team arrived at the jail with a list of statements they wanted Byrd to sign, indicating that Ravenell had nothing to do with Byrd’s marijuana operation. Byrd initially agreed.
Throughout the three-hour first meeting, Byrd kept drifting towards his alleged casino investment. Byrd was furious, saying he needed the money to support his children.
Byrd says he invested money in the Prince George’s County casino through William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr. and his son, Hassan.
“That MGM deal wouldn’t have happened without me,” Byrd told Treem and Gordon. Byrd also said on the tape that William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr. and his son, Hassan, were “running like chickens with their head ... trying to raise $50 million” at the time for the venture.
Hassan Murphy told The Sun in January that his investment in MGM National Harbor “absolutely [did] not” include money from Byrd.
“My father and I have always acted legally and ethically in all of our dealings,” Murphy said. “We have not been charged with any crime, and it would be inappropriate for us to further comment about pending litigation in which we are not a party.”
Ravenell’s defense attorney Lucius Outlaw said in opening arguments that the investment is a “complete lie.”
“No one from the investment group will confirm Mr. Byrd’s story,” Outlaw told jurors. “No one from that list is going to come into this courtroom and say, yeah I know Richard Byrd. I know about his $2 million. No one.”
Prosecutors contended in their own opening argument that the money was “layered through two intermediaries.”
Byrd said he personally brought into the deal a real estate mogul he partnered with on a nightclub in Atlanta and another business partner agreed to contribute $50 million, Byrd says. Byrd asked for a 3 percent “finder’s fee.”
Byrd said he then contributed $2 million through an Atlanta entrepreneur, on the promise he would receive quarterly dividends and then be bought out for a ten-fold profit.
As federal authorities closed in on Byrd’s drug operation Byrd says on the tape that he met with Ravenell and Hassan Murphy. Murphy, he says, was concerned about Byrd’s looming criminal troubles and wanted to create a “vehicle” to handle Byrd’s investment. Byrd said he signed his power of attorney over to Ravenell in order to maintain the arrangement.
Eventually, after Byrd pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 26 years in prison, Treem and Gordon arrived at the Arizona jail cell, prodding Byrd for information about his drug case. Byrd kept returning to the money. He claimed the Murphys were hoarding his money.
“I mean how much motherf---ing money does Billy want?” Byrd said.
“He wants it all. This stuff he got from Freddie Gray isn’t enough,” Treem replied, referring to the $6.4 million settlement from the city Murphy helped secure for the family of Freddie Gray.
Byrd said he considered hiring a lawyer to file suit against the Murphys. He predicted they would be embarrassed if it came out that he was involved in the deal.
Treem and Gordon returned for a second meeting the next day, and Byrd told them that Ravenell “knew my whole business operation, from A to Z” including that he was laundering money from drug sales. He said he delivered Ravenell millions of dollars in cash.
Byrd again maintained that he would say whatever Ravenell wanted him to say, as long as he got his casino investment.
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“I gotta think about this,” Treem told Byrd.
Gordon asked Byrd to sign off on the list of statements clearing Ravenell. “A lot of this stuff is bulls---,” Byrd told Gordon.
After the meeting, Gordon signed an affidavit saying Byrd had asserted that Ravenell did nothing wrong. And months later, Treem sent a letter to a judge, saying that Byrd tried to blackmail Ravenell and had cleared Ravenell in the meeting.
Treem’s attorney, Robert Trout, told jurors this week that Treem had no idea he was being recorded, and did nothing wrong in the meeting. Treem told Byrd that he would not put him on the stand knowing Byrd was lying, and refused to destroy evidence as suggested by Byrd.
Of the letter sent to the judge, Trout said Treem believed Byrd was trying to blackmail Ravenell and that he “wanted to make a record.” “Josh Treem thought he was doing the right thing,” Trout said.