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Feds plan to call as many as 39 witnesses as they seek to convict Baltimore defense attorney Ken Ravenell

The trial of Baltimore defense attorney Ken Ravenell on drug charges could see some of the area's most prominent attorneys and law firms forced into court to testify, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
The trial of Baltimore defense attorney Ken Ravenell on drug charges could see some of the area's most prominent attorneys and law firms forced into court to testify, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.(Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Some of the city’s top defense lawyers may be dragged into court to testify in the drug case against prominent Baltimore attorney Ken Ravenell, as federal prosecutors said Tuesday they plan to call as many as 39 witnesses.

Among the witnesses expected to be called are lawyers from the office of William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr., the firm that represented the family of Freddie Gray, whose death in police custody sparked the city’s unrest in 2015. Prosecutors told a judge their witnesses include former attorneys from the prestigious firm.

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Ravenell made his first court appearance Tuesday to face allegations that he conspired with the millionaire boss of a cross-country marijuana ring to launder money and conceal drug deals. The 60-year-old defense attorney from Monkton did not address the court.

Magistrate Judge Theresa Buchanan banned Ravenell, whop is free while he awaits trial, from traveling outside of Maryland and D.C.

“These are serious charges,” she said.

During the brief hearing in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt — it was over in nine minutes — Buchanan read Ravenell the three charges against him: racketeering conspiracy, narcotics conspiracy and a conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Prosecutors accuse him of conspiring to launder at least $10,000 in drug money and to distribute at least 1,000 kilograms — 2,200 pounds — of marijuana. He faces as much as life in prison.

Outside the courthouse, his attorney, Lucius Outlaw III, made a prepared statement to reporters. He did not take questions.

“Kenneth Ravenell has dedicated the past 30-plus years and counting to representing people in the toughest fights of their lives. He is held in high esteem by the criminal defense bar of Maryland, the state and federal judges of Maryland and many other jurisdictions, his clients, and the wider Baltimore community. He is supported by his family, including his lovely wife, Kay, and his five children,” Outlaw said. "While he regrets that this fight has been unfairly brought to him, he will not run away from it, he will take it head on, and he looks forward to proving his innocence and defeating the government’s five year and running effort to tarnish his name.”

Ravenell left court Tuesday surrounded by his family.

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The case against Ravenell centers on the years of 2009 to 2014, during which he worked for the Murphy firm and defended Jamaican national kingpin Richard Byrd. Byrd pleaded guilty to the marijuana and cocaine ring in November 2016. He agreed to forfeit $20 million along with interests in a New York nightclub, properties in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and five Mercedes-Benz cars.

Nearly three years later, federal prosecutors are accusing Ravenell of coaching Byrd and others in the drug crew on how to conduct their business undetected.

In the indictment unsealed last week, prosecutors accuse him of instructing the drug dealers to use disposable cellphones, to obfuscate their travels by making arrangements for dozens of trips, to formulate fake identities and hide their bank accounts, and to influence witnesses to lie or be silent.

Federal agents raided his offices in 2014 and again last June. Another of his attorneys, Peter White, told the judge Ravenell was no risk of running. White said his client knew the charges were coming.

“He’s known about this investigation for five years,” White told the judge.

A trial date has not yet been scheduled.

This news was mentioned in our weekday morning audio briefing on Sept. 25. Here's how to listen.

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