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Press Release

Philadelphia Attorney Indicted for Conspiring to Launder Drug Proceeds Involving a Major Drug Distribution Organization

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Maryland
Also Charged with Tampering with Official Proceedings and Witness Tampering

Greenbelt, Maryland – Philadelphia attorney James Michael Farrell, age 63, of Wenonah, New Jersey, had his initial appearance and arraignment today in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland, on charges related to his activities on behalf of members of an extensive drug trafficking operation. Mr. Farrell pleaded not guilty to the charges and was released under the supervision of U.S. Pretrial Services. On October 26, 2015, a federal grand jury returned a sealed indictment charging Farrell with conspiracy, money laundering, tampering with an official proceeding, and witness tampering. The indictment was unsealed on January 28, 2016.                                 

The initial appearance and indictment were 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 Thomas Jankowski of the Internal Revenue Service - Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office; Chief J. Thomas Manger of the Montgomery County Police Department; Interim Chief Henry P. Stawinski of the Prince George’s County Police Department; Chief James W. Johnson of the Baltimore County Police Department; and Commissioner Kevin Davis of the Baltimore Police Department.

According to the 12-count indictment, Farrell was admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and maintained a law office in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Matthew Nicka, his wife 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, $20,000 in cash, 31 cell phones, documents regarding a plane purchased for $450,000, and tally sheets showing over $14.5 million in marijuana sales, among other items. 

The indictment alleges 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, location, ownership and control of the drug proceeds.  Specifically, the indictment alleges that the drug conspirators would deliver funds, usually in the form of cash to Farrell.  Farrell deposited some of the cash into his commercial bank accounts, recording the deposits as payments in the names of individuals who had not retained Farrell as their attorney.  In addition, Farrell wrote checks and disbursed cash to pay for the legal representation of grand jury witnesses or individuals charged or under investigation in Maryland in connection with the activities of the Nicka Organization, including legal representation by two Baltimore area attorneys. According to the indictment, Farrell also used drug proceeds to obtain money orders and deposit them into the inmate accounts of incarcerated individuals with knowledge of the drug conspiracy.  Farrell and his co-conspirators structured financial transactions to evade IRS filing requirements for transactions involving $10,000 or more in cash, thereby further concealing from the government large cash transactions by members of the Nicka Organization and it suppliers and customers.

The indictment further alleges that in February 2011, Farrell met with a drug dealer to discuss filing a claim with the DEA to seek the return of certain property DEA had seized from the drug dealer.  Farrell allegedly advised that individual not to disclose to DEA who had given the drug dealer the property.  On February 28, 2011, Farrell caused affidavits in support of the forfeiture of the property to be filed with DEA that contained the purported notarized signature of the drug dealer, when in fact the drug dealer had not appeared before the notary public.

On July 11, 2012, Farrell allegedly met with another drug dealer, knowing that person was represented by other counsel, and agreed to contact the Nicka Organization to obtain funds to assist with the drug dealer’s legal expenses.  Farrell directed the drug dealer 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 the drug dealer knew about the drug and money laundering conspiracy charged in the Nicka indictment.  On July 31, 2011, Farrell again met with the drug dealer and allegedly paid him $19,800 in cash.

If convicted, Farrell faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison for conspiracy to engage in money laundering and each of six counts of money laundering; a maximum of 20 years in prison for each of three counts of tampering with an official proceeding; and a maximum of 20 years in prison for each of two counts of tampering with a witness.   

David D’Amico, age 49, of Baltimore, Matthew Nicka, age 43, of Baltimore and his wife, Gretchen Peterson, age 34, of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, 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 had been fugitives since the indictment was returned in December 2010.  Nicka and Peterson were arrested in Canada in early August 2013, and D’Amico was extradited from Colombia, South America.  U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus has scheduled sentencing for D’Amico and Peterson on May 2, 2016, and for Nicka on May 9, 2016.

An indictment is not a finding of guilt.  An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings. 

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the DEA, 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 Attorney Deborah A. Johnston, who is prosecuting this Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force case.

Updated February 12, 2016

Drug Trafficking