Richmond, Va. — Teams of IRS agents, paralegals and Drug Enforcement Administration investigators have filtered through tens of thousands of law-firm emails as prosecutors attempt to build a criminal case against two prominent Baltimore defense attorneys, Ken Ravenell and Joshua Treem.
Federal agents raided the separate offices of the two lawyers in June. They copied 50,000 emails to and from Treem and have reviewed more than half of that cache by now, a federal prosecutor said. Investigators said they examined only emails directly connected to the two attorneys and the ongoing probe.
“They have done more than 50 percent of the review of the documents under seal with a magistrate judge," Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Hines told federal appeals judges Tuesday in Richmond, Virginia.
Tuesday’s hearing in the U.S. Court of Appeals brought a rare, public discussion of an ongoing criminal investigation into two of Baltimore’s top defense attorneys. Ravenell works criminal cases. Treem handles white-collar crime and he represents Ravenell in this case.
Questions have swirled since federal agents raided their offices. Neither man has been charged with a crime, and federal prosecutors have continued their investigation under a court-ordered seal. Officials declined to discuss the matter.
Meanwhile, Treem’s law firm has challenged the email sweep. Their argument reached the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond Tuesday, bringing to light new details about the criminal investigation.
In his written argument, Hines, the prosecutor, told the judges that Ravenell was under investigation for “assisting drug dealers [to] sell drugs, laundering the proceeds of drug dealers and then attempting to cover up their crimes by obstructing investigations."
Hines also wrote that the federal investigation into Ravenell was “frustrated by the obstructive conduct” of Treem.
Prosecutors have not named Ravenell and Treem. They refer to the men as “Target Lawyer A” and “Target Lawyer B" in court records, and their names were never mentioned during Tuesday’s hearing, only those identifiers. But the dates of the raids, descriptions of the lawyers and mention of a public statement issued by the law firm all point to Ravenell and Treem.
Treem and Ravenell have not returned messages seeking comment about the allegations. Neither man appeared in court Tuesday.
Hines prosecutes corruption cases in Baltimore and was among the federal prosecutors who secured convictions of the rogue cops of the city’s Gun Trace Task Force. On Tuesday, he argued for continued review of the emails, telling the appeals judges that investigators suspect other people may be implicated.
An attorney for Treem’s firm urged the judges to end the review, saying the investigative teams are trampling on legal principles that shield communications between lawyers and their clients. Of more than 50,000 emails copied from Treem, only 116 came from Ravenell, the firm’s attorney said. The raid netted thousands of emails to and from other clients, and the firm’s attorneys argued the search and seizure was far too sweeping.
“The whole concept of the attorney-client privilege is that you, the client, are willing to tell your lawyer your innermost secrets,” James P. Ulwick told the judges. He represented Treem’s firm of Brown, Goldstein & Levy. “You have to have that confidence that when you relay that information, it will be protected.”
A former federal prosecutor himself, Ulwick also asked the judges to order a lower court to sift through the emails and decide which should be released to prosecutors. Currently, the U.S. Attorneys Office in Baltimore had outsourced the review to teams in its Greenbelt office.
Hines has argued this separation provided sufficient protection. He said it’s routine procedure within the U.S. Department of Justice and a system of review that has been approved by a magistrate judge.
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U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Robert B. King pressed him. He noted the agents could be holding emails from, say, a client seeking legal advice when he didn’t pay his taxes. King compared the review to agents emptying out the office of a tax lawyer.
“I would hate to think of the government hauling my file cabinet down to the IRS office,” he said. “It’s nothing but the fox being in the hen house.”
The panel of three judges did not decide immediately whether the federal agents may continue the review. The decision is expected in coming weeks.
Ravenell came under a cloud in 2014 when DEA and IRS agents raided his office at the firm of William H. “Billy” Murphy Jr. Ravenell left the firm shortly thereafter.
That raid has gone unexplained. Today, he handles some of Baltimore’s most high-profile murder cases.
Last month, he defended the West Baltimore man who killed 7-year-old Taylor Hayes by firing a shot into the car in which she was sitting. The gunman, Keon Gray, was found guilty of second-degree murder. Ravenell also is 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.
Treem, also a veteran attorney, 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. Treem also defended the younger of the two D.C. snipers.