Reason #5789

by digby

Not to trust the Bush Justice Department:

[N]ow comes a disturbing prosecution in Miami of an attorney who helped to represent Al Gore during the 2000 election recount fight.

Ben Kuehne, one of South Florida's pre-eminent lawyers, has been charged with conspiracy, money laundering and obstruction of justice and is looking at a potential 20-year sentence. The charges stem from a series of opinion letters he wrote in the federal prosecution of Colombian drug kingpin Fabio Ochoa Vasquez.

In 2002, Kuehne was hired by Roy Black, Ochoa's lawyer, to determine the origin of payments made by Ochoa to Black. It is a crime for an attorney to accept money that he knows was obtained through drug sales, and Black was being careful not to accept tainted fees.

Kuehne's investigation, which included traveling to Colombia, determined that the money for Ochoa's defense was from the proceeds of cattle, horse and real estate sales. The Ochoa family ranch is an asset that predates Ochoa's drug involvement.

Kuehne was paid about $200,000 for his advice. All told, he allowed $5.2-million in legal fees and costs to be transferred to Black, after having determined that it had been derived from legitimate sources.

But the government in its indictment says that Kuehne knew that at least some of the money was the proceeds of drug trafficking and sent through money launderers. Reports are that FBI and IRS agents found that some of the Ochoa family assets were auctioned off to known cartel members.

Kuehne and two Colombian defendants — an accountant and lawyer who had worked with Kuehne — pleaded not guilty on Feb. 7 in federal court in Miami.

Part of the reason I'm writing about this case is that I know Ben Kuehne. He was a volunteer lawyer when I headed the ACLU of Florida. I remember him as a meticulous lawyer of the highest professionalism and integrity. His reputation is that of a "lawyer's lawyer," and some of the most prominent members of the Miami legal community say it is impossible that Kuehne knowingly broke the law, as such a thing is beyond him.

Also, Kuehne is a high-profile progressive. In addition to his representation of Gore, he spent a number of years as a board member of Legal Services of Greater Miami. And in 2006, the liberal group People for the American Way gave Kuehne its "spirit of liberty" award as a "champion of constitutional rights."

Sure, they might just be trying to stop criminal defense lawyers from defending accused criminals with money. That would be par for the course for hard core prosecutors.

But this stinks to high heaven of the usual partisan prosecution bullshit that's come out of the Bush Justice department. It's the way they roll. They should not receive even the slightest bit of additional power going into a vital election.