Lawyers who were paid in part by a potential co-conspirator in an alleged Hampton Roads drug distribution ring have been disqualified from representing a key defendant.
U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson removed both an Atlanta lawyer and a Norfolk lawyer from the Newport News federal case focused on organized narcotics trafficking. He said fee arrangements suggested “dubious circumstances.”
Drug distribution alleged
The government contends that Darrell King II was being set up to be an east coast hub for a Mexico-based cartel’s cocaine sales operation. Prosecutors said he received and sold large quantities of marijuana, cocaine and heroin, often using his workplace at a York County Harley -Davidson dealership.
His “California connection” was an individual identified as “J.B.,” prosecutors alleged in court papers. A dealership colleague – “D.C.” – allegedly claimed to be King’s “right hand man” in the narcotics business.
Atlanta lawyer Donald F. Samuel acknowledged contacts with both D.C. and J.B., but he nonetheless made an appearance on behalf of King, the government said. Prosecutors said it appeared D.C. was paying some of King’s legal fees.
Judge reviews fee records
Samuel’s summary of his interactions with D.C. and J.B. showed D.C. was helping to pay for King’s fees and working with family and friends to raise additional funds for King’s legal bills, Jackson said in a Sept. 25 opinion. Samuel spoke with D.C. about his knowledge of others suspected of involvement in the alleged crimes. Samuel also met in person with J.B. and J.B. left with the copy of an indictment, the judge summarized.
After reviewing fee records of defense counsel, Jackson said there was serious concern of actual present and potential future conflicts of interest with D.C. as a possible co-defendant in the case.
D.C. and his family had collectively paid 73% of King’s legal fees, the judge said. D.C. was not just King’s employer, but a friend who had known King for years, Jackson said.
“D.C.’s substantial contributions to the Defendant’s counsel fees coupled with D.C. being identified as an alleged co-conspirator raises serious concern of a present actual conflict and potential future conflicts as more evidence comes to light,” Jackson wrote.
The Harley-Davidson dealership was key to the analysis, Jackson explained. He said the government planned to present evidence that D.C. was identified as a co-conspirator by a witness buying cocaine from King in 2016.
“This witness identified D.C. by picture and name and knew his position with [the] Harley-Davidson dealership,” Jackson said. Moreover, distributions to the witness allegedly took place in the dealership parking lot, the judge said.
He said other promised evidence would show that people delivering multiple kilograms of cocaine were met at the dealership before getting directions to other locations.
Jackson found this entanglement was not a conflict that King could waive due to its “present severity and potential for more serious conflicts.”
Although Samuel was the focus of the disqualification inquiry, Jackson also removed Norfolk’s Jeffrey A. Swartz, who likewise had been retained by King.
Other grounds rejected
But Jackson said the lawyer-as-witness concern was not enough to disqualify King’s counsel under Virginia Rule of Professional Conduct 3.7.
“J.B. is not a co-defendant in this case. Although the Government suspects that J.B. may be a co-conspirator, this Court does not find that Mr. Samuel would be a necessary witness in establishing J.B. had a particular interest and involvement in the conspiracy,” Jackson wrote.
Jackson rejected the government’s suggestion that Samuel would not be able to properly cross-examine potential witnesses who contributed to pay his fees. Their potential testimony does not rise to the level of a serious potential conflict, Jackson reasoned.
Nor did the judge find a conflict based solely on Samuel’s contacts with D.C. or on D.C.’s payment methods. D.C. paid the lawyer with a cashier’s check. The government failed to establish that Samuel was paid with proceeds of illegal activities, Jackson said. The judge found no indication that Samuel’s contacts with D.C. had interfered with his independent professional judgment or otherwise affected his attorney-client relationship with King.
In response to Jackson’s ruling, King proposed to return the $55,000 paid by D.C. and to decline any further contributions by D.C. In a motion for reconsideration, King – still represented by Samuel – suggested the refund would alleviate the need to disqualify Samuel.
Jackson had not ruled on the reconsideration motion as of Oct. 6.
The government is represented by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy E. Cross and Assistant U.S. Attorney Bibeane Metsch.