Today’s big local story is the news that Miami attorney Ben Keuhne, the Democratic Party hero who represented Al Gore in the 2000 presidential election, was indicted on six counts of money laundering, money laundering concealment and obstruction of justice. The U.S. Department of Justice is accusing the bow-tie loving lawyer of cleaning $5.2 million in dirty drug money that paid celebrity criminal defender Roy Black to represent Colombian cocaine kingpin Fabio Ochoa in 2002.
Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal’s law blog notes the Miami Herald’s coverage leans a little heavily in Keuhne’s favor. Law blog author Ashby Jones writes: “Now, just about every story concerning an indicted lawyer is likely to include a quote or two from folks vouching for the lawyer’s integrity. But several remarks about Kuehne in the Herald go beyond this, speaking to his squeaky-clean image and reputation for integrity.” That may be because Keuhne was one of the paper’s main sources in its Pulitzer Prize-winning stories about rampant voter fraud that occurred in Miami’s 1997 mayoral election.
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Indeed, this line from the Herald’s report shows some bias for the high-profile litigator: “Federal prosecutors face a formidable challenge in proving the case against Keuhne. They will have to prove that Kuehne knew Ochoa’s money came from the sale of family assets to drug trafficking associates or that he avoided knowledge through ‘deliberate ignorance.’” The article fails to mention key sections of the indictment -- which also charged Colombians Gloria Florez Velez and Oscar Saldarriaga Ochoa, an accountant and attorney, respectively, working for Ochoa -- that reveals some of the government’s evidence. For instance, Velez, Ochoa and Keuhne allegedly used the Black Market Peso Exchange, a sophisticated money laundering scheme used by South American drug cartels to wash cash going into the U.S., according to the indictment. The document explains that the exchange is operated by money brokers “who facilitate the exchange of the cartels’ drug dollars from the cartels and then selling those dollars to South American businesses and individuals who want to purchase U.S. dollars from unofficial sources.” In another instance, the feds accuse Kuehne of funneling $1.7 million from an individual named Hernando Saravia and companies in his name. Kuehne vouched for Saravia as a reputable and well-established businessman. In reality, the indictment states, the greenbacks came from five different undercover federal law enforcement operations in New York City and Miami “and were proceeds of narcotics trafficking.” The government claims Kuehne, in one of his opinion letters vouching for Saravia, that the Colombian owned two businesses that sold flowers and that the money Saravia transferred into Kuehne’s trust account came from the sale of a house he owned in Miami. The indictment states that two businesses were actually operated by undercover agents. -- Francisco Alvarado