Criminal Justice News

Friday, June 22, 2012

Lawyer Sentenced to Three Years in Federal Prison for Accepting Cash After Promising to Tamper with Grand Jury Testimony

LOS ANGELES—A California attorney was sentenced to three years in federal prison today for his conviction on federal extortion and obstruction of justice charges related to a scheme in which he accepted a $50,000 cash payment after promising that a client would lie to authorities conducting a federal grand jury investigation.

Alfred Nash Villalobos, 46, who formerly resided in South Lake Tahoe, was sentenced today by United States District Judge George H. King. Villalobos was convicted in August 2011 of endeavoring to obstruct a grand jury investigation and interfering with interstate commerce by extortion.

During today’s sentencing hearing, Judge King described Villalobos’ crimes as “extraordinarily serious offenses” that “threatened the integrity of grand jury proceedings” that are “the foundation of the justice system in this country.” Judge King noted that Villaobos was “an attorney who had taken an oath to uphold the law,” but the lawyer was driven by “his own greed and financial gain.”

“Attorneys need simply to know: If you attempt to corrupt the system of justice, there will be severe consequences to pay,” Judge King said as he imposed the prison term.

Villalobos formerly lived in the West Hills district of Los Angeles and, according to California State Bar records, had an office in that part of the San Fernando Valley. In 2009, when he still resided in the Los Angeles area, Villalobos solicited cash and other compensation totaling more than $100,000 from the target of a federal grand jury investigation. In exchange for the payments, Villalobos agreed to cause his client, who was a witness in the grand jury investigation, to make specific false statements to the Assistant United States Attorney and the grand jury conducting that investigation. This conduct formed the basis of the obstruction of justice charge.

In addition to obstructing justice, Villalobos was found guilty of attempting to interfere with commerce through the wrongful use of fear to extort cash payments and other compensation.

The evidence presented at trial established that Villalobos agreed to an August 4, 2009 meeting at a Century City law firm. At the meeting, Villalobos received $50,000 in cash, which was to be the first installment of a $107,000 bribe.

The bribe was paid by an attorney who represented the target of an investigation into immigration visa fraud who was cooperating with authorities. The FBI had opened an investigation into Villalobos when he first proposed the bribe scheme to the Century City attorney. At the time, Villalobos was representing a worker involved in the immigration fraud scheme who had been contacted by the government to provide testimony about the alleged fraud. During a series of communications between Villalobos and the Century City attorney who was representing the target of the investigation, Villalobos proposed a plan in which he would instruct his client to provide false testimony that would benefit the target of the immigration fraud investigation. In exchange for the false testimony, Villalobos expected more than $100,000 in cash and other forms of payment. Villalobos explained that his client would be coached to make false statements during an interview with a federal prosecutor, and he “guaranteed” that his client would provide testimony consistent with that interview during later contemplated grand jury testimony.

The Century City attorney reported Villalobos’ proposed scheme to the FBI, and he made recordings of his conversations with Villalobos. During the conversations, Villalobos requested $107,000 in cash, plus charitable donation receipts. At one point, Villalobos suggested that part of the payment could be in the form of a $6,000 charitable donation receipt for a $100 painting he would donate to the organization allegedly involved in the immigration visa fraud.

Villalobos also agreed that, for an additional fee, he would instruct his client to make false statements about another witness expected to give a statement to federal prosecutors. Villalobos said that the false statements would lead the government to believe that a fraud scheme did not exist and that the other witness was a disgruntled employee who fabricated allegations of immigration fraud.

Villalobos agreed to the meeting in Century City so the first $50,000 of the $107,000 bribe could be paid in cash. Villalobos agreed to accept the remainder after his client provided the promised false testimony. After Villalobos accepted the cash, he was taken into custody by FBI agents posing as workers in the law firm.

In December 2011, the State Bar of California suspended Villalobos’s law license based on his convictions in this case.

This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

No comments: