Philadelphia Attorney Convicted for Money Laundering Conspiracy Involving the Proceeds of a Major Drug Distribution Organization, Witness Tampering and Tampering with Official Proceedings
Drug Lawyer Held Accountable for “Joining a Criminal Enterprise”
Greenbelt, Maryland – Late on February 2, 2017, a federal jury convicted Philadelphia attorney James Michael Farrell, age 63, of Wenonah, New Jersey, of money laundering, witness tampering, and obstruction of official proceedings, related to his activities on behalf of members of an extensive drug trafficking operation.
The conviction was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Karl C. Colder of the Drug Enforcement Administration - Washington Field Division; Special Agent in Charge Gary Tuggle of the Drug Enforcement Administration – Philadelphia Field Office; Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Holloman of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office; Chief J. Thomas Manger of the Montgomery County Police Department; Chief Hank Stawinski of the Prince George’s County Police Department; Chief Terrence B. Sheridan of the Baltimore County Police Department; and Commissioner Kevin Davis of the Baltimore Police Department.
“The evidence proved that James Farrell went far across the line between representing a criminal defendant and joining a criminal conspiracy,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “He ordered witnesses to lie, filed forged affidavits, concealed criminal proceeds, and laundered financial transactions to avoid detection.”
According to the evidence presented at his 14-day trial, Farrell was admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and maintained a law office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Matthew Nicka, Gretchen Peterson, David D’Amico, and others were part of an extensive drug trafficking operation which was discovered by the DEA when they executed a search warrant at a residence in the 3500 block of Hickory Avenue in Baltimore on March 18, 2009. The residence was a center of operation for the group. Agents seized more than 80 pounds of marijuana, 30 cell phones, and tally sheets showing over $14 million in marijuana sales, among other items.
Trial testimony showed that beginning in 2009 and continuing through at least April 2013, Farrell conspired with Nicka, D’Amico, Peterson and others to conduct financial transactions using the proceeds of the Nicka Organization in order to conceal the source and control of the drug proceeds. A witness testified that the drug conspirators would deliver to Farrell drug proceeds in the form of cash. Farrell then deposited some of the cash into his commercial bank accounts, recording the deposits as payments in the names of individuals who had not provided the cash to Farrell. The evidence showed that, using the drug proceeds, Farrell wrote checks and disbursed cash to pay for the legal representation of grand jury witnesses and individuals under investigation in connection with the activities of the Nicka Organization, which included payments to two Baltimore area attorneys. Evidence presented at trial demonstrated that Farrell also used drug proceeds to purchase money orders, which he directed to be sent to the inmate account of an incarcerated individual who was part of the Nicka organization.
According to trial evidence, in February 2011, Farrell met with a member of the Nicka organization to discuss filing a claim with the DEA to seek the return of certain property DEA had seized upon arrest. Farrell advised that individual not to disclose to the DEA that another member of the Nicka organization had given him one of the items of property. On February 28, 2011, Farrell caused four affidavits in support of the forfeiture of the property to be filed with DEA that contained the forged signature of this individual and the forged signature of the notary public.
According to witness testimony, on July 11, 2012, Farrell met with another member of the Nicka organization, knowing that person was represented by other counsel. Farrell directed that member of the Nicka organization to meet with federal law enforcement officers and federal prosecutors, but to only tell them what they already knew, rather than sharing all the information about the drug and money laundering conspiracy, and the fact that Farrell had previously handed that person $10,000 cash in exchange for a $10,000 check. Farrell then agreed to try to obtain $25,000 to assist with that person’s legal expenses.
Farrell faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to engage in money laundering and for each of six counts of money laundering; a maximum of 20 years in prison for each of two counts of tampering with an official proceeding; and a maximum of 20 years in prison for tampering with a witness. Farrell was acquitted of one count each of tampering with an official proceeding and tampering with a witness. U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus has scheduled sentencing for Farrell on May 15, 2017, at 1:00 p.m.
U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus previously sentenced: David D’Amico, age 52, of Baltimore, to 10 years in prison; Matthew Nicka, age 46, of Baltimore, to 188 months in prison; and Gretchen Peterson, age 37, of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, to seven years in prison. D’Amico, Nicka and Peterson pleaded guilty on January13, 2016, to conspiracy to distribute at least 1,000 kilograms of marijuana and conspiracy to commit money laundering. D’Amico, Nicka and Peterson were fugitives from the time the indictment was returned in December 2010, until Nicka and Peterson were arrested in Canada in early August 2013, and D’Amico was extradited from Colombia, South America. Judge Titus also entered forfeiture orders requiring Nicka to pay a money judgment of $15 million; and D’Amico to pay a money judgment of $1 million, which represents the proceeds of the offense.
Twelve other defendants were convicted in this investigation and sentenced to up to 121 months in prison.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the DEA Washington and Philadelphia Field Offices, IRS-CI, and the Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Baltimore County and Baltimore City Police Departments for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys Deborah A. Johnston, Leah J. Bressack, and Mara Zusman Greenberg, who are prosecuting this Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force case.