Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Disbarred Fla. Attorney Lands Back in Jail for Being Flight Risk


Disbarred Fla. Attorney Lands Back in Jail for Being Flight Risk
Julie Kay
Daily Business Review
05-21-2007

A federal judge has thrown disbarred Miami attorney Louis Robles back in jail after Robles' girlfriend told the court he was planning to flee the country before finalizing a criminal plea deal on charges that he stole millions from his clients.

On May 10, U.S. District Judge Alan Gold in Miami issued an arrest warrant and ordered Robles' $1 million bond revoked, calling him a flight risk. Robles, a nationally known Miami mass torts lawyer, was placed in federal prison May 11, days before Gold was set to decide whether to accept a plea deal for a 10-year sentence that was worked out between Robles and prosecutors.

Gold found that Robles may have moved some of his clients' unaccounted-for funds to foreign countries while traveling abroad prior to his indictment. In his order, Gold stated he was concerned about the fact that Robles only has $1 million left out of the $13 million prosecutors say Robles misappropriated from clients, and that he traveled to foreign countries just before he was indicted.

Robles' girlfriend, named in court records only as "Ms. Wiki," reported to his probation officer that over the last two months, Robles asked her if she could get him and his grandson phony passports. He also had been talking to a pilot who previously offered to help him flee, according to the probation officer's petition.

On May 14, however, Robles' attorney, assistant federal public defender Hector Flores, filed a motion seeking a review of the bond revocation, claiming the allegations in the probation officer's petition are "overstated and lack factual support." He said, "Counsel believes the Government's own investigation of these matters supports this conclusion."

According to Gold's order, the office of U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta had suggested electronic monitoring and home detention for Robles. But Gold wrote that "no adequate assurance was given prior to (or during) the hearing that the Defendant even has a place to reside in the event he was reinstated on bond."

These developments came days before a scheduled hearing today at which Gold is set to decide whether to accept a plea deal for Robles. It calls for Robles to serve 10 years in prison and pay $13 million in restitution to victims. But prosecutors say they've only found $1 million left in Robles' bank accounts and don't know what happened to the other funds or to the $13 million he received when he sold his Key Biscayne mansion last year.

The latest allegations against Robles could affect Gold's willingness to accept the plea deal and put Robles in a position to stand trial, according to defense lawyers not involved in the case. Two of the 41 counts Robles faces carry 20-year maximum penalties, and the remaining counts carry five-year maximum penalties. "The maximum potential sentence, therefore, provides an incentive for flight," Gold stated in his order.

Neither prosecutors nor Flores returned calls for comment.

"This could destroy the plea agreement," said Miami criminal defense attorney Richard Sharpstein, who's not involved in the case. "This is absolute proof that Louis is out of his mind. If he's trying to reunite himself with lost money, that can be huge."

ABUSE AND ALCOHOL

Robles, 59, was indicted in May 2006 on 41 counts of mail fraud and misappropriating $13.5 million in settlements from asbestos clients.

According to the indictment, Robles used client trust money to finance movie productions and waste management companies and to make mortgage payments on a $13 million Key Biscayne mansion and a Colorado condominium, and to finance an extravagant lifestyle that included two full-time servants.

At a hearing scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Monday, prosecutors are set to report on whether Robles' 4,390 victims approve of the plea deal worked out between prosecutors and Robles.

Late Thursday, Gold issued an order denying Robles' motion for bond following a hearing May 17. Gold held the hearing after Robles' probation officer, Urania Salamanca, filed a petition May 9 requesting bond revocation based on Robles' girlfriend's statements that he was planning to flee.

The petition also stated that Robles' girlfriend has said Robles is physically and psychologically abusing her and that she is "in fear for her life." He is also starting to abuse alcohol, the petition stated.

"The defendant's girlfriend has concerns that if the defendant were to flee, she cannot pay the $100,000 lien put on her property to secure the bond," the petition said.

Robles' girlfriend and the pilot Robles allegedly talked to, Dwight Hewlett, testified at Thursday's hearing. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge issued an order denying Robles' motion for bond.

In his order, Gold stated he was revoking the bond because of the substantial sentences Robles faces, the defendant's initial reluctance to accept the plea agreement, the fact that Robles has engaged in foreign travel recently, his lack of family ties in Miami since his relationship with his girlfriend is troubled, and that only $1 million of the $13 million he apparently obtained from clients is left.

"The inference, therefore, is strong that the Defendant may have secreted some of the unaccounted for monies in foreign countries during his foreign travel prior to the filing of the indictment in this matter," Gold said.

ROBLES PANICKED?

In 2002, the Daily Business Review first reported on a four-year Florida Bar investigation into Robles and the abrupt closure of his downtown Miami office in 2002.

The Bar had received numerous complaints from some of Robles' estimated 7,000 asbestos clients around the country. Clients had complained that Robles overcharged them for costs, didn't return phone calls and sent them few, if any, settlement payments. The Florida Supreme Court later disbarred him.

After being indicted last year, Robles initially pleaded not guilty. Then, earlier this year, he struck a plea deal with federal prosecutors that called for him to serve 10 years in prison and pay full restitution to victims.

Not so fast, said Gold, who told prosecutors last month that he wanted them to send letters to all victims to determine whether they approve of the plea deal terms. Some victims told the Review they thought the deal was too lenient.

Bruce Lehr, a Miami criminal defense attorney and former county prosecutor who is not involved in the case, said it's not clear if the latest developments would harm Robles' chances of getting the plea deal accepted by Gold.

"A judge can look at it either way," Lehr said. "Either as unrelated panic, which doesn't change the appropriateness of the plea deal, or as disrespect and additional criminal behavior." In his 24 years of practice, Lehr said only one of his clients has fled, the day after he bonded out of jail.

But Sharpstein said Gold, who is known for being a relatively strict judge, likely would be tougher on Robles as a result.

The few clients of his who fled the country while out on bond "inevitably" got caught, Sharpstein said. "The world is a very small place," he said. "It's an idiotic act."

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