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Attorney Stanley Needleman Sentenced to a Year in Prison

December 15, 2011

Stanley Needleman (left) with Jose Morales in 2008. Photograph by Rarah.

Federal District Court Judge Roger W. Titus sentenced former Baltimore defense attorney Stanley H. Needleman to a year in federal prison and fined him $10,000 on Thursday after a nearly three-hour hearing in which lawyers and former judges from Baltimore sang Needleman’s praises.

“I always found him completely honest,” retired Baltimore County Circuit Court Judge Dana Levitz told the court, which was packed with several dozen Needleman supporters. “I remember thinking how difficult it most be for him to be zealous an advocate for such difficult clients. His total commitment, his total involvement—the practice of law was, for him, his sole focus.”

Criminal charges against Needleman were unsealed on Aug. 29, four months after his home and office were searched by IRS and DEA agents. They found more than $1 million in two safes in his home, according to a charging document (a source told City Paper that more than $500,000 had been found in a safe in Needleman’s Mount Vernon office). Needleman pleaded guilty to tax evasion and “structuring financial transactions” on Sept. 1. He agreed to forfeit nearly $500,000, plus pay any back taxes and civil penalties owed to the IRS and Maryland state treasury.  He was disbarred and faced up to 15 years in prison.

Prosecutors had asked for a  two-year sentence; Needleman’s lawyers, Kenneth Ravenell and William H. “Billy” Murphy, asked the court to sentence Needleman to probation.

After Needleman’s guilty plea three months ago, DEA Spe­cial Agent in Charge Ava Cooper-Davis called the investigation “a long term, highly com­plex effort.” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Wilkinson continued at that theme during the sentencing hearing, which began an hour after it had been scheduled and was held in front of a courtroom packed with Needleman’s friends and family. “This was not an ordinary tax evasion case,” she told the court in arguing for an upward departure from the sentencing guidelines that can be allowed in especially complex or intricate cases of tax evasion. She went on to detail the difficulty government agents had in tracking Needleman’s money, much of which he took in cash payments from clients. “He took painstaking steps to make sure he was accounting to the IRS enough money so he wouldn’t be suspected,” Wilkinson said.

The prosecutor said the case began more than two years ago with “a lot of rumor and innuendo . . . about bags of cash and where they were going and how he was accounting for it.” She also said a witness came forward “back in 2007.” Wilkinson declined to clarify the statements to a reporter during a short recess.

Prosecutors were able to track much of Needleman’s cash because he kept a hand-written ledger next to his bed, Wilkinson said. But Needleman’s own accounting stopped abruptly in October 2010.

“This is not a case of need, this is a case of greed,” Wilkinson said. “I know that the court is aware that there are very serious facts in this case about which these character witnesses have no knowledge.

“A lawyer is not allowed to provide financial assistance to a client,” Wilkinson continued,  “but we know he spent $30,000 to bond out a client—one he knew was involved with very serious criminal activities.”

A former Needleman client, Jose Morales, was suddenly set free on a $30,000 cash bond in late July 2008 only to be caught soon after in Texas, trying to charter a jet to fly back to Baltimore with six kilos of cocaine.

Morales told federal investigators that Needleman was involved in criminal activity—and that he was muling the kilos in order to pay back a bail bond. In open court on March 8, 2010, a federal prosecutor in Texas derided Morales for lying about his former lawyer, according to the hearing transcript. Morales, a career criminal with arson, drug dealing, identity theft, and many vehicle thefts on his record, was sentenced that day to nearly 22 years in prison for the drug crime.

In September of this year, federal prosecutors charged Morales in another drug conspiracy, bringing him in from prison in Allenwood, Pa., to face the vague charges in a Greenbelt courtroom. Though the conduct allegedly occurred in and around Baltimore, the case is being heard by Roger W. Titus, the same judge overseeing Needleman’s case. (All the federal judges in Baltimore recused themselves from Needleman’s case).

Needleman remains free pending an assignment to a federal prison. His lawyers said they will suggest one to Judge Titus on Monday, and Needleman would be expected to report to prison some time after that.

At his sentencing hearing, Needleman asked Titus for mercy. “I was wrong. I am wrong,” he said. “If I had the power to leap backwards and freeze frame the hands of time, I would. Since April of this year, I am an emotional and intellectual zombie.”

“Being a lawyer invigorated my very being as a human being. Now as you look at me, I dwell in the abyss of ruination.”

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