Defense lawyer is accused of laundering drug money
By Milton J. ValenciaGlobe Staff / March 24, 2011
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Robert A. George, a prominent defense lawyer who has represented a who’s who of clients from members of the New England Mafia to the trash collector convicted in a notorious Cape Cod murder, was arrested yesterday on federal charges of laundering drug money.
George, 56, of Westwood was charged with conspiring to launder money and money laundering in allegedly orchestrating a scheme to “clean’’ a former client’s drug profits. That former client, according to court records, was working with federal investigators all along.
George was also charged with structuring transactions to evade reporting requirements after he received $25,000 from another individual, a prospective client, and allegedly made two bank deposits of less than $10,000, in order to avoid documentation of the money, according to court records. That prospective client was really a US Drug Enforcement Administration agent pretending to be a drug dealer from the Dominican Republic.
Wearing street clothes and appearing calm and at ease, George made an initial appearance in federal court in Boston yesterday and was released on $50,000 unsecured bond. He faces up to 20 years in prison on each of the money laundering charges.
George would not comment on the allegations against him yesterday. But one of his lawyers, Rosemary Scapicchio, said he denies the accusations.
Scapicchio also criticized federal prosecutors, who she said went after a defense lawyer who for three decades has represented indigent clients, while failing to pursue wrongdoing within their own ranks.
“In this case, they are investigating a criminal defense attorney who is out there protecting people’s rights,’’ she said. “This is outrageous.’’
George’s arrest early yesterday morning at his home sent ripples across the Massachusetts legal community.
Several defense lawyers arrived at the courthouse to show their support for George.
“I know Mr. George is an attorney with 30 years of an impeccable record, an impeccable record,’’ Scapicchio said. “He represents people who are charged with very serious crimes, and he does a very good job at it, and I’m sure the government’s not happy with the job he does.’’
But prosecutors said yesterday that the alleged money laundering was no different than dealing illegal drugs.
“When an attorney assists in the criminal concealment and laundering of drug money, as is alleged in this case, it impedes the administration of justice and is an affront to all ethical and law-abiding members of the bar,’’ US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said in a statement.
Steven Derr, DEA special agent in charge, said, “If convicted, Mr. George is no better than those who distribute illegal drugs.’’
Prosecutors allege George initiated the money-laundering scheme after a chance encounter with a former client outside the South Shore Plaza in Braintree some time around March 2009. George, prosecutors said, asked the client whether he still hid cash from a prior larceny involving more than $700,000, to which the client said he had “money all over the place,’’ according to court records.
George then told the client that he had an associate at a mortgage company who could “clean’’ the money and that he could return $80,000 legally if the client gave him $100,000 from the larceny, the records said. Cleaning the money means to make it appear that it came from a legitimate source.
The client, a career criminal who was not identified by prosecutors yesterday, told authorities of the encounter and, at investigators’ urging, agreed to wear a wire during future meetings with George.
He then agreed to meet George’s mortgage associate to launder $100,000 that he said was from drug sales.
George, according to court records, tried to distance himself from any mention of drugs, knowing it was illegal, but continued with the scheme and set up meetings.
The client then met George’s associate on two occasions, without George present, and each time gave him $100,000 in cash stuffed in a duffel bag in exchange for a $80,000 check made out to a fake company created by the DEA.
On one occasion, the client, still wearing a wire, made it clear that the money was from the drug trade, telling George’s associate to be careful with the cash because “there was some coke on the money and a [police] dog would hit on it.’’
In follow-up meetings with the client, George started to complain that he did not receive anything from his associate, after he had set up the scheme, according to the court records. He told the client to be careful, too, saying, “I don’t want this all to unravel as to what we’re doing.’’
In June 2010, George’s associate was approached by law enforcement and agreed to cooperate and wear a wire during future meetings between them. Two months later, the associate gave George $20,000 for setting up the scheme and told him, “A deal is a deal,’’ the records detailed.
The associate, who owned a mortgage company in Dedham and a construction company in Dover, was not identified yesterday.
Prosecutors also allege that George met with his former client in February at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Westwood and asked him to refer legal clients. The client then set up a meeting between George and an undercover agent pretending to be a drug dealer from the Dominican Republic. After the agent gave him $25,000 in cash, George made deposits of $9,000 and $8,000 at separate
Bank of Americabranches and then gave the former client a $2,500 check, 10 percent of the retainer, for referring the dealer, court records said.
George is married and has an adult daughter.
George has represented a range of clients, including leading members of the Mafia such as Francis P. “Cadillac Frank’’ Salemme. He also defended Christopher M. McCowen, the trash collector who was convicted of the notorious rape and murder of Cape Cod fashion writer Christa Worthington.
Kevin Reddington, a Brockton-based lawyer who will also represent George, said he was respected by judges, district attorneys, and defense attorneys across the state.
“He’s one of the top, most aggressive defense attorneys in the criminal trial practice,’’ said Reddington. “We all know Bob is a fighter and he’s going to let this resolve itself in the court. He’s maintaining his innocence.’’
Milton Valencia can be reached at email@example.com.