College Park Lawyer Sentenced to over 8 Years in Prison for Money Laundering, Obstruction of Justice, Witness Tampering And Tax Offenses
Maryland Lawyer Laundered Drug Proceeds
Greenbelt, Maryland - U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte sentenced Walter Lloyd Blair, age 57, of Brookeville, Maryland, today to 97 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, after a federal jury convicted Blair in December 2009, on charges of money laundering, witness tampering, obstruction of justice and failure to file tax returns. Judge Messitte also ordered Blair to pay a $100,000 fine.
The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein and Special Agent in Charge C. André Martin of the IRS Criminal Investigation's Washington D.C. Field Office.
“Lawyers are supposed to help people comply with the law, not help them find ways to violate it,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “Walter Blair first advised his ‘clients’ about how to conceal drug proceeds, then helped himself to some of the money and failed to file income tax returns. Mr. Blair also obstructed justice by lying to the IRS, lying to a federal judge, and advising a witness to lie to the FBI.”
“Money laundering is a global threat, fuel for criminals to conduct their criminal affairs and is used to manipulate and erode our financial systems,” said C. André Martin, Special Agent in Charge of IRS Criminal Investigation's Washington D.C. Field Office. “This sentence sends a clear message that no one is above the law and attorneys who assist criminals with laundering their illegal income will be criminally prosecuted.”
According to evidence presented at the eight day trial, from at least 2002 to 2005, Blair practiced law in Maryland, maintaining offices in College Park and Washington, D.C. At some time between August and October 2003, a drug dealer from Richmond, Virginia, provided a relative residing in Germantown, Maryland with a safe containing $170,000 in proceeds from the sale of drugs, to maintain in her household. On October 25, 2003, the drug dealer’s girlfriend was found murdered, and the drug dealer and his girlfriend’s minor son were missing. The drug dealer was later found murdered.
Trial testimony showed that after learning of the drug dealer’s disappearance and his girlfriend’s killing, on November 4, 2003, the relative and a colleague met Blair at his office in Maryland to seek legal advice in connection with the drug dealer’s safe, among other things. After learning about the circumstances surrounding the drug money in the safe, Blair directed the relative to retrieve the money from the safe, which the relative delivered in a duffel bag to Blair at his College Park office. Blair counted and initially retained the contents of the duffel bag – $170,000 packaged in individual stacks wrapped in rubber bands. In an attempt to conceal the true nature of the drug proceeds, Blair created a false story about its ownership and source, which he explained to the relative and her colleague. Witnesses testified that Blair further advised that he would assist the relative to use the funds to purchase real estate and for lawyers for the drug dealer’s associates, including himself.
According to witness testimony, Blair directed another lawyer in his office to form a corporation to be controlled by the relative and used to purchase real estate with the funds from the safe. On or about November 7, 2003, Blair and the relative opened an account at SunTrust bank in the name of “Blair and Associates LLC for Jay Paul Property Management,” depositing $6,000 in cash from the safe into the SunTrust account, and keeping $1,000 in cash.
According to trial evidence, Blair contacted a mortgage broker and displayed to him $100,000 of the drug proceeds from the safe, which Blair said was available to assist the relative in purchasing real estate. The broker accepted $9,000 in cash and on November 7, 2003, accompanied the relative to open an account at BB&T Bank into which they deposited the $9,000. On November 11, 2003, Blair provided the broker with an additional $31,000 in cash from the safe to be used to purchase real estate for the relative. From late November 2003 to January 2004, the relative purchased property in Washington D.C. and in Emmitsburg, Maryland, writing checks totaling more than $19,000 from the BB&T account to purchase the properties.
The evidence proved that Blair used money from the safe to pay lawyers, including himself, representing the drug dealer’s associates in a federal case in the Eastern District of Virginia. Specifically, on November 12, 2003, Blair used $20,000 of the drug dealer’s money to purchase two bank checks of $10,000 each for two lawyers representing the drug dealer’s associates and deposited $10,000 for himself into his firm’s client trust account. In December 2003, Blair purchased two bank checks payable to a lawyer representing one of the drug dealer’s associates using some funds from the safe and wrote himself a check for $4,000 from the trust account for his legal services to the drug dealer’s associate.
In addition to laundering drug proceeds, the evidence at trial showed that Blair tampered with a potential witness. According to testimony, on November 12, 2003, a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation contacted the relative to conduct an interview regarding her knowledge of matters relating to the drug conspiracy, including the whereabouts of the girlfriend’s minor son. Blair advised the relative not to tell the FBI about the drug dealer’s cash from the safe, and that if the FBI asked about the money, to provide false information. A witness testified that Blair even had her rehearse hand gestures to make when questioned by the FBI.
Evidence showed that Blair also attempted to obstruct the due administration of justice in Virginia by concealing a prior reprimand by the West Virginia courts for witness tampering several years ago. The evidence showed that to secure permission to represent the drug dealer’s associate in Virginia, Blair represented to the Virginia court that he had not been reprimanded in any court and that there had not been any action in any court pertaining to his conduct or fitness as a member of the bar. In fact, in connection with his practice of law, Blair had been reprimanded for obstructing justice by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia.
Finally, Blair failed to file federal tax returns for tax years 2003 and 2004.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended Assistant United States Attorneys Michael Pauze and Jonathan Su, who prosecuted the case.