Federal prosecutors indicted prominent Baltimore defense attorney Ken Ravenell on charges of conspiracy to commit racketeering, money laundering and drug distribution, accusing the veteran lawyer of covering up and aiding the crimes of one high-profile client, a Jamaican marijuana kingpin.
The 60-year-old defense attorney from Monkton had not been arrested as of late Wednesday, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore said. She declined to comment further.
A federal grand jury indictment was unsealed Wednesday, bringing to light the results of a closely guarded investigation into the attorney that included raids on his law offices in June and in 2014. The law office of his attorney also was raided in June. The latest sweep by DEA and IRS agents nabbed more than 50,000 emails.
Ravenell has declined to discuss the case. He did not return messages late Wednesday.
Federal prosecutors are accusing him of conspiring from 2009 to 2014 with a cross-country drug crew led by Richard Byrd in Baltimore. During those years, Ravenell worked as a partner in the prestigious law firm of William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr. and defended Byrd in a federal drug conspiracy case. Murphy did not return messages.
The indictment identifies Byrd only as “R.B.,” but Byrd has identified Ravenell in his own efforts to get his 2016 conviction thrown out.
Byrd pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to a conspiracy to distribute drugs and launder money. He was sentenced to 26 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $20 million as well as forfeit $1.6 million in cash. The high-rolling drug boss owned property in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and interests in a Manhattan nightclub. DEA officials said he led one of Baltimore’s biggest drug crews in recent history. Now, prosecutors say Byrd reached his heights with help from his lawyer.
They allege Byrd and his crew paid Ravenell for advice on how they could avoid detection.
“Ravenell instructed members of the conspiracy to utilize certain drug couriers, to utilize specific modes of transportation, and to transport shipments of drugs and money at particular times of day, all for the purpose of evading law enforcement,” prosecutors wrote in the indictment.
They wrote that Ravenell instructed them to use pay phones and meet in person to avoid wiretaps. He allegedly told them to use disposable cellphones, to cover their travels by making arrangements for dozens of trips, and to concoct fake identities to hide their bank accounts.
“Ravenell and other members of the conspiracy used the law firm’s bank accounts to launder money and funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to and from various businesses and individuals," prosecutors wrote.
They have accused Ravenell of carrying out some schemes with a person only identified in the indictment as “S.G."
“Ravenell obtained access to incarcerated co-conspirators whom he did not represent, so that Ravenell, S.G., and others could attempt to improperly influence their testimony, attempt to cause them to execute false affidavits and witness statements which Ravenell and S.G. knew to be false, and attempt to cause witnesses to withhold testimony,” according to the indictment.
Prosecutors charged Ravenell with conspiracy to launder more than $10,000 and to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana. He faces life in prison on the drug charges alone.
Federal agents had raided Ravenell’s law office in 2014. He left the Murphy law firm by the end of that year, with the case ongoing against Byrd. The raid went unexplained.
In the years since, Ravenell has emerged as one of the top defense attorneys in Baltimore. He routinely handles high-profile murder cases in Baltimore Circuit Court. Last month, he defended the West Baltimore man who shot and killed 7-year-old Taylor Hayes. The gunman, Keon Gray, was found guilty of second-degree murder.
He is also representing Phillip West in a murder trial next month. West is accused of shooting to death his pool game partner at the Blarney Stone Pub in Fells Point.
Meanwhile, Ravenell has sued Baltimore County Police on behalf of the young son of Korryn Gaines. The Randallstown woman was shot and killed by police during a barricade in 2016. Ravenell won the boy an award worth millions of dollars, but a judge later threw it out.
In June, federal agents raided his office on Saint Paul Street in Mount Vernon. Again, their raid went unexplained.
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They also seized tens of thousands of emails from Ravenell’s own attorney, Joshua Treem. His law firm, Brown, Goldstein & Levy, challenged the seizure, forcing a prosecutor to appear before the federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, last week to defend the raid.
At that time, prosecutors revealed they were investigating Ravenell and Treem.
A veteran attorney himself, Treem began his career as a federal prosecutor in Baltimore in the 1970s, according to his firm’s website. He went on to defend high-profile clients including the Indianapolis Colts who were sued after leaving Baltimore in 1984. He handles white-collar crime. Treem has not been charged with a crime.
An attorney for his firm had argued that tens of thousands of his emails dealt with other clients. Therefore, the attorney James P. Ulwick argued, they should be protected under the principle of attorney-client privilege.
U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Robert B. King described the sweep of emails as “nothing but the fox being in the hen house” and, on Friday, the appeals court ordered prosecutors to turn over all the emails for the courts to filter through.
Meanwhile, Byrd remains in federal prison. He has asked the courts to throw out his conviction. Among his reasons, he argues that his defense attorney was biased.
Byrd says his then-attorney pressured him to plead guilty in order to cut short the investigation of Ravenell.