Ex-Prosecutor-Turned Drug Cartel Lawyer Gets Prison

From Reuters

A onetime government prosecutor who became a defense attorney for Colombia's notorious Cali cartel was sentenced to five years in prison Friday for his involvement in drug trafficking.

U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler sentenced William Moran, 61, a former state prosecutor who became one of Miami's most prominent criminal defense lawyers, to 60 months on a money laundering conspiracy charge.

A federal jury had found Moran and co-defendant Michael Abbell, a Washington defense attorney who was once a top Justice Department official, guilty on two charges in July. But Hoeveler in late May tossed out the jury's finding that the two lawyers were guilty of racketeering.

The multimillion-dollar case was the government's first effort to include a U.S. defense attorney in its war on the notorious South American drug lords. It had become a cause celebre for defense attorneys who said the government was unfairly attacking the criminal defense bar.

"What the government won't allow is that they don't like the way Mr. Moran practices law," Moran's defense attorney, Holly Skolnick, said in arguing for a lighter sentence.

Moran, who said he would appeal, made an impassioned statement to the judge before he was sentenced saying that, after undergoing a divorce and losing his house and practice in the five years since he was indicted, he had suffered enough.

"I am a grotesque stranger to myself. I don't know what else you can do to me," he said.

The silver-haired Moran was dressed in his prison uniform as he said he was unfairly charged merely for defending clients facing drug charges. Moran has been jailed since his arrest in September after fleeing to Mexico in July, just before the jury delivered its verdict.

"I had three pieces of business and somehow or other I got thrown into the Cali cartel," he said. " . . . I don't know what I ever did to incur their [the U.S. prosecutors'] wrath."

Hoeveler, who turned down the government's request for a longer sentence and Skolnick's request for a shorter one, said he will credit Moran with time served against his sentence. Moran faces a separate charge for jumping bail.

Moran said he would appeal. Assistant U.S. Atty. Ed Ryan declined to comment beyond statements in court. The government is expected to appeal.

The prosecutors had pushed for up to 12 years' imprisonment, but they had dropped early in the sentencing process their insistence that Moran should be held accountable for all of the estimated $2 billion laundered by the cartel.

Hoeveler said Friday they might have had legal grounds for that argument.

Abbell was the director of the Justice Department's Office of International Affairs in the early 1980s. Hoeveler scheduled his sentencing for money laundering conspiracy for June 18.

The case against Moran and Abbell resulted from a four-year investigation known as Operation Cornerstone, which federal officials said uncovered shipments of thousands of tons of cocaine into the United States hidden in everything from fence posts to coffee and frozen broccoli.

Prosecutors had charged that Moran and Abbell participated in the conspiracy by silencing informers, delivering threats and preparing false affidavits for drug cartel kingpins Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela and his brother Gilbert Rodriguez Orejuela.

The jury's verdict in July had come after Moran and Abbell's second trial. The first trial, which lasted five months, ended in late 1997 when a jury failed to reach verdicts on most of the charges.

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