Robert Feitel, a veteran lawyer with a long history of prosecutions, charged into court as the Justice Department’s point man to take on a prominent Miami lawyer in a case that came to symbolize the rights of attorneys to accept fees from international drug traffickers.
Feitel accused lawyer Ben Kuehne of fabricating documents to cover up dollars for the Medellin Cartel. He accused him of orchestrating the payments through overseas wires. He even said Kuehne knew much of the money came from the sale of drugs.
Now, years after the case ended, Feitel is cast in a strikingly similar position as the man he once prosecuted.
The Miami Herald found that more than $100,000 in drug money belonging to criminal organizations was sent to Feitel’s law firm by South Florida undercover officers posing as money launderers to infiltrate drug groups.
The undercover police picked up the cash in New York and sent the money to Feitel — now a defense attorney who specializes in drug cases — at the behest of criminal organizations in a series of payments never questioned by the former prosecutor, records and interviews show.
Kuehne, whose case was ultimately dropped by the government in 2009, said he was surprised to learn about payments to the man who once prosecuted him.
“The question is: Why was he getting the money?” said Kuehne, a former member of the Florida Bar’s board of governors who represented Vice President Al Gore in the 2000 presidential recount. “Is he going to get the same knock on the door?”
Contacted by phone, Feitel said he was unaware of the money sent to his office in northwest Washington, where he works mostly as a solo practitioner, adding he was surprised by The Herald’s call. “We’re usually pretty careful” about accepting questionable fees, he said.
Oh... it's the usually we're pretty careful defense! Henry and others were having none of it:
Several defense lawyers from Miami said they were riled that the onetime senior prosecutor was never questioned by law enforcement agents about the money sent to his account — funds picked up off the streets of New York from drug suspects.
“In his role at the DOJ, he prosecuted Ben for the same thing;” Bell said.
In an earlier interview, Feitel said money sent from a U.S. bank like the one used by the task force is more difficult to screen than funds from overseas exchange houses. “How was I supposed to know” the money is tainted? said Feitel. “That would have been difficult.”
One former federal prosecutor said money wired to a law firm from someone who is not a client should have raised basic questions. “What did he think the money was for?” said Joseph DeMaria, a Miami attorney who once served on the DOJ’s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section. “He’s got to be saying to himself: ‘Why am I getting this money? Especially someone who was a former prosecutor who’s even more heightened on these kinds of issues. He spent his career putting people in jail for money laundering.”