The Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office has withdrawn a blistering court filing that accused a national law firm of receiving laundered drug proceeds from convicted attorney Kenneth Ravenell — the latest rebuke of one of the office’s most prominent prosecutors.
In a filing Monday signed by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leo Wise and Zachary Ray and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Derek Hines, the office had objected to a request by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to weigh in on Ravenell’s latest attempt at an appeal, and said the firm that authored the association’s amicus brief had received laundered funds.
The very next day, the office withdrew the filing in a document that stripped the names of Wise, Ray and Hines and instead substituted the name of Brandon K. Moore, chief of the office’s appellate division, who had previously been uninvolved in the case. The office said it would consent to the NACDL’s brief being filed.
It’s a public example of leadership tightening the leash on its star corruption prosecutor. Earlier this year The Baltimore Sun reported that Wise was demoted from his role as a supervisor in the public corruption unit, which came months after he had clashed with leadership over how to handle the prosecution against former Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby. His demotion, sources told The Banner, came after he refused to alter personnel evaluations for two prosecutors.
The move also comes as there have been rumblings about discontent within the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which observers say has been experiencing unusually high turnover. Prosecutors have raised concerns over shifts in prosecutorial strategies and leadership’s management style under U.S. Attorney Erek Barron and his first assistant, Phil Selden.
Harvey Eisenberg, who led the office’s national security division for two decades, said he was unceremoniously stripped of his position without warning and without a replacement in mind. He said the office morale is “toxic.”
“I can tell you I retired sort of under protest 15 to 16 months ago, and I spent last 15 to 16 months taking phone calls from colleagues either venting or looking for references to get jobs elsewhere,” Eisenberg said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to comment.
Wise has been with the office since 2010, and has shepherded an array of major cases, including those involving the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force, former Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, and the case against Mosby. He recently published a book about the GTTF case, which raised eyebrows for some, as it is unusual for an active prosecutor to pen such a memoir.
The withdrawn filing came in another one of Wise’s high profile cases, the ongoing appellate case of attorney Kenneth Ravenell, who was convicted of money laundering in 2021.
Ravenell was one of the most successful lawyers in Baltimore, and federal prosecutors charged him in 2019 with aiding a drug kingpin client. The case had been simmering for years following a raid on Ravenell’s law office, and prosecutors would eventually also charge Ravenell’s attorney, Joshua Treem, and a private investigator with obstruction of justice.
Ravenell was convicted on one count by a jury; Treem and the private investigator, Sean Gordon, were acquitted.
Ravenell’s appeal of his conviction was denied by a three-judge panel in late April. Ravenell is asking for a hearing before the full panel.
On May 16, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers filed a motion asking to weigh in with an amicus brief, which they submitted. It was co-signed by counsel from the Philadelphia office of the law firm Blank Rome LLP, and said the Fourth Circuit decision established “a dangerous and unconstitutional precedent for criminal defendants.”
“This appeal presents issues critical to NACDL’s members, those they represent, and the criminal justice system,” the brief said.
In its reply, filed by Wise and also signed by Ray and Hines, federal prosecutors said Blank Rome had failed to disclose that it “directly profited from [Ravenell’s] illicit scheme to launder drug proceeds.”
“Indeed, it is because law firms like Blank Rome do not directly accept drug proceeds that [Ravenell] laundered his client’s drug proceeds through his own firm. Then, [Ravenell] directed his employees to transfer the drug monies to Blank Rome and other criminal defense lawyers and firms. Appellant did this repeatedly and numerous criminal defense lawyers and law firms received hundreds of thousands of dollars in this way.”
The accusation was part of the evidence at Ravenell’s trial, and cited in the joint appendix of evidence in the appeal. No one at the firm has been accused of a crime.
A media contact for Blank Rome did not respond to requests for comment.
In September, Wise and the other prosecutors on the case wanted a continuance related to the disclosure of expert witnesses, and Barron ordered them to withdraw the request and hold the trial as scheduled, according to the report in The Sun. Wise threatened to withdraw from the case, and Barron briefly removed Wise from the Mosby case before reversing course.
Wise has taken on big targets, and received criticism. Before joining the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, he was part of teams that took on Enron and big tobacco, and served as lead ethics counsel for the House of Representatives.
Mosby’s previous attorneys accused him of being racially and politically motivated against her, though a judge said the claims were without merit and moved to hold her former lead attorney in contempt. She is now represented by the federal public defender’s office, and the case is pending.
And it comes on the heels of a report in the Maryland Daily Record about a row within a Baltimore law club that was planning to co-host Wise for a talk about his recently published book on the Gun Trace Task Force prosecution.
Members of one of the clubs objected, citing the prosecution of Treem. Treem belongs to the Serjeant’s Inn club, which was to co-host the event with the Barrister’s Club, which invited Wise. The Barrister’s Club told The Daily Record that the event was ultimately cancelled over questions about the venue, not Wise’s invitation to speak.
Federal agents raided the office of Treem’s law firm as part of their investigation, rankling his firm and other members of the law community who viewed the charges against him as a reach.
“The prosecution of Josh Treem was an utter failure of judgment by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland,” Treem’s attorney Robert Trout said after the verdict.
Eisenberg, the retired longtime national security chief, said Wise is an “exceptional litigator.”
“Him being treated this way is absurd,” Eisenberg said.