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Defense counsel has no conflict of interest

Defense counsel has no conflict of interest

Where counsel for a defendant accused of money laundering never formed an attorney-client relationship with another defendant, never obtained any privileged information from that defendant nor was ever consulted or communicated with his lawyer, there was no conflict of interest that prevented the counsel from representing the money laundering defendant in this case.


Pending before the court is the United States’ motion for inquiry to resolve a possible conflict of interest involving attorney John Haugh, counsel for defendant Noe Salvador Becerra-Gonzalez.

Becerra-Gonzalez has been charged with conspiracy to launder money. According to the government, and, for these purposes not disputed by defendant, he is alleged to have received the proceeds from drug distribution and transmitted those proceeds to a drug trafficking cartel which operates in Axton, Virginia.

Rogelio Santacruz-Godinez, a defendant in a different case, was charged in a federal drug trafficking conspiracy. Santacruz-Godinez communicated and arranged for the shipment of cocaine from Axton, Virginia, to Winchester, Virginia, and West Virginia. Thomas Fagerberg represented Santacruz-Godinez, who has been convicted and is serving a criminal justice sentence.

Haugh represents that he and attorney Fagerberg have known each other for over 25 years. In April 2018, “Fagerberg contacted [Haugh] to inform him that a de-brief was scheduled to take place in West Virginia between [] Santacruz-Godinez and government agents [].” “Fagerberg advised he would be flying into Dulles airport and asked if [Haugh] would want to accompany him as an opportunity to catch up and discuss the possibility of handling cases together in the future.” At that time, Haugh was retired and not actively practicing law.

They met at Dulles and drove to West Virginia, but they did not discuss the specifics of Santacruz-Godinez’s case. While Haugh accompanied Fagerberg to the jail and was present in the large common space where Santacruz-Godinez and Fagerberg met and spoke, Fagerberg and his client spoke Spanish during their entire conversation. Haugh did not participate and does not speak Spanish. When Assistant United States Attorney Erin Herrigan and other government agents arrived, they were informed that Haugh was not representing the Fagerberg’s client, and, at their request, Haugh left the room.

The government’s motion for inquiry questions whether Haugh’s presence at the April 2018 meeting between Fagerberg and Santacruz-Godinez may create a conflict of interest for Haugh’s representation of Becerra-Gonzalez.


Haugh represents that he never formed an attorney-client relationship with Santacruz-Godinez nor obtained any information from Santacruz-Godinez that could be considered privileged. Further, Haugh states that he contacted the Virginia State Bar to inquire whether a conflict exists, and he “was informed that based on the above stated facts [] no conflict exists because an attorney-client relationship was never established with Mr. Santacruz-Godinez.”

The court finds that Haugh never formed an attorney-client relationship with Santacruz-Godinez. Santacruz-Godinez did not consult Haugh for legal advice nor communicate with Haugh. In addition, Haugh was not working with Fagerberg when Fagerberg represented Santacruz- Godinez. As the Virginia State Bar concluded, Haugh has no conflict in this case because he never formed an attorney-client relationship with Santacruz-Godinez. This court agrees.

Government’s motion for inquiry as to a conflict of interest dismissed.

United States v. Becerra- Gonzalez, Case No. 4:20-cr-00009-004, April 6, 2021 WDVA at Danville (Dillon). VLW 021-3-174. 4 pp.

VLW 021-3-174

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