By Benson Weintraub, Esquire, Fort Lauderdale February 14, 2008
Ben Kuehne was my law partner for 5+ years during the 1980'-1990's (Sonnett…Kuehne) and he mentored me since 1983 when I served as his 'associate' at the predecessor firm, Bierman, Sonnett, Shohat et. al.
I served as a full-time Visiting Professor of Law in 2005, after which I resumed private practice, now largely in the corporate compliance field (invariably circuitous to white collar criminal defense representation, particularly in the health care industry.).
Ben Kuehne is clearly a 'lawyer's lawyer' who instilled in me the highest appreciation of academic excellence in the practice of federal law. More critically, Ben sensitized me to the distinct ethical dilemmas presented institutionally to criminal defense counsel and ALWAYS taught me (AND CONTINUOUSLY REINFORCES THE NEED) to uphold and exceed our profession's highest ethical/legal standards.
Practicing criminal law in the federal courts places these dedicated, tenacious professionals in legal jeopardy merely by discharging their duties oaths, and obligations to the Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution, coextensively with duties to the courts and clients.
Ben successfully represented me before the Magluta grand jury in which each of his primary attorneys' fees, including those of Roy Black and Marty Weinberg, were also scrutinized (Weinberg was later disqualified from representing Magluta at trial in 99-583-Cr-Seitz). I don't recall whether Richard Strafer, the appeals lawyer, was called to that grand jury, but he, too, was routinely involved in Magluta's representation on appellate matters. Parenthetically, as an academic expert in money laundering, I prudently consulted him regarding propriety of accepting legal fees pre-dating his involvement in the Magluta/Falcon case.
Black, again, came out unscathed while other lawyers, including myself, were named as unindicted coconspirators for disclosing, with 11th hour client consent, but otherwise prepared to go jail for contempt), a $50,000 check from a third party) or plead guilty to violating a restraining order against the transfer of assets by the defendants, while Black and Weinberg walked away with fees approaching $10 million. The Miami Herald estimated that the aggregation of attorney fees and litigation costs exceeded $26 million, not to mention more than $500,000 imputed to the juror(s) for allegedly being bribed in the first case resulting in their acquittal.
Weinberg and Black were summoned to the US Attorney or grand jury too. What, if any implications can one draw from BLACK AND WEINBERG’S immunity from the type of prosecution for which Kuehne is now charged? Did they cooperate then? Did they cooperate against their client, lawyers, or retained counsel now? Did they set up Kuehne to take ‘their’ fall?
From these experiences and the overlap of identity of lawyers in the Ochoa case, I simply don't understand, knowing that Ben is clearly the least avaricious attorney I know, and based on his uncompromomising adherance to the to the law and the highest ethical standards, that he would intentionally commit money laundering, all the more so because he was not the beneficiary and was compensated proportionally and appropriately for a significant foreign financial investigation.
Kuehne and his Columbian accountant and local assistants personally checked official public Colombian government and financial records [is it possible that the corrupt national and provincial governments in Colombia manipulated "official" public records on which BPK relied?] to make an informed, deliberated, unbiased and independent conclusion as a Certified Fraud Examiner and premier lawyer extraordinaire.
Kuehne had no interest vested in the outcome of his conclusions and was entirely detached from the defendant's actual representation. His investigative role was minor in relation to the private investigation undertaken for the accused by Black’s PI's; Kuehne's objective investigation was limited temporally by the sole question presented; and the attorneys providing the representation, unlike Kuehne, were the only parties with an interest, financial or otherwise, in a dispositive [independent] conclusion by Kuehne.
That Black and Weinberg emerged unscathed from the Magluta investigation and took away from that experience the need to be more meticulous in accepting fees of potentially suspect origin, and it's recurrence in the Ochoa case is commendable.
But The Herald’s article published Feb. 7-8, 2008 states: "Ironically, the investigation first focused on Black... [B]ut authorities dropped their interest in Black and shifted to Kuehne, who became the target because his buffer-like role insulated Ochoa's defense attorney [Black] from any criminal liability for accepting the fees." Miami Herald (Internet ed. 2/7/2008)(emphasis added). Jay Weaver’s observation in this respect speaks volumes in terms of motive/benefit and accurately capsulizes the essence of this tragic episode in Kuehne's otherwise unblemished career.
This makes no sense and suggests the unspoken implication of Kuehne's status as a 'sacrifical lamb' without the motive or financial interest common to other lawyers who were plainly significant beneficiaries of otherwise prudent fee-paying conduct now alleged by the government to have been criminalized.
Kuehne, if retained by the defendant's attorneys to be a "buffer" to "insulate[ ]" them (and hoping for a pro forma favorable conclusion, hired the wrong lawyer) and if true, Black’s conduct would itself be appalling.
Finally, what about the latest revelations that Kuehne's codefendant was an undercover cooperator--seeking to unsuccessfully set up Kuehne in return for 5K1.1 or Rule 35 in S.D.N.Y --- in a Justice Dept. reverse sting. Could this be the AG's US Attorney Scandal Redux or Bush's retribution for Kuene's tenacious representation, with the pre-eminenet lawyer, David Boies, Esq. in Al Gore's representation contesting grand theft of the 2000 election?