Justia Lawyer Rating for Jason M. Melton Esq.
AVVO
Martindale-Hubbell
Super Lawyers
Florida Justice Association
American Association for Justice
FACDL
Florida Legal Elite
Published on:

Jerod Sechrist, who previously appeared on Deadliest Catch as a deckhand, was arrested earlier this month on drug charges in Tampa, according to reports.

According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office inmate database, Sechrist, 33, was arrested on Oct. 5 by the Tampa Police Department in Tampa, Florida.

He was charged with one felony count of possession of heroin and one misdemeanor count of possession of drug paraphernalia.

According to a criminal report affidavit, Sechrist was taken into custody on an open warrant for a previous reckless driving case. When he was searched, officers found a small clear bag in his pocket with a white powder substance inside, which tested positive for heroin, the affidavit states.

Sechrist appeared in three episodes of the Discovery Channel series in 2016, according to IMDB. 

If you or a loved one is charged with drug possession anywhere in the state of Florida, there are likely numerous questions running through your brain. What will happen to me next? What if the drugs weren’t actually mine? Does it make a difference that it was just a small amount? Am I going to spend time in jail? Do I need to hire a drug possession lawyer?

Ultimately, when you or someone you love is facing accusations of felony drug possession, you need to be informed and ready to handle the charges right away. You must have a seasoned drug crime lawyer fighting in your corner – that is an absolute must. From there, you can learn more about establishing a defense to the charges against you and what you can expect from the entire criminal process. 

Heroin is considered a Schedule I drug, having both a high potential for abuse, and no accepted medical use. Heroin can have terrible consequences for the user, both from a legal standpoint as well as a health standpoint, which is why Florida has a very low tolerance for these charges. Simple possession of less than 4 grams of heroin is considered a third-degree felony. Possession of 4 grams or more is considered drug trafficking, and is a first-degree felony. Selling more than 10 grams of heroin is a second-degree felony, unless the heroin is sold near a school, then the penalties are enhanced.

If you are convicted of possession of heroin less than ten grams, you could be sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison, a maximum of five years of supervised probation, a driver’s license suspension of two years, a maximum fine of $5,000, a substance abuse evaluation/screening/treatment, and you could even lose your vehicle and/or any property used during the commission of this felony. If you are convicted of possession of heroin more than ten grams, you could be facing up to 30 years behind bars. Possession of drug paraphernalia is a misdemeanor criminal offense, punishable by one year of incarceration and up to $1,000 in fines.

Our Florida Drug Crimes Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton have the experience needed to know that each drug case presents its own challenges, but we have a solid groundwork for handling cases just like yours. We can conduct a thorough investigation into your charges and answer the following questions: 

Did law enforcement violate your constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures?

  • Did law enforcement or the prosecution violate your constitutional right to the assistance of an attorney?
  • Did the police ignore or destroy exculpatory evidence?
  • Did police mishandle evidence or make any other common mistakes during their investigation?
  • Were the drugs in question actually found in your “possession”?

Our Tampa Bay Drug Possession Attorneys have the necessary experience to work through these questions. The answers we find can ultimately be the difference between a guilty verdict with a lengthy prison sentence and the charges being dismissed so that you have the opportunity to get the rehabilitation help you need.

Continue reading

Published on:

A domestic battery charge filed last weekend against actress and former political commentator Stacey Dash has been dropped.

The Pasco County Clerk & Comptroller posted an update on its website Friday.

According to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, Dash, 52, and a man became involved in an argument just before 8 p.m. on Sunday. Deputies claimed Dash pushed the man and slapped him in the face.

Deputies arrived and took her into custody.

The 5-foot-4, 108-pound star from the 1995 film Clueless owns a home in Pasco County, according to celebrity website TMZ.

Under Florida law, domestic violence or domestic battery is defined as any actual and intentional touching or striking of another person without consent, or the intentional causing of bodily harm to another person, when the person struck is a “family or household member.”

Under Section 741.28, Florida Statutes, the term ‘family or household member’ can include the following:

  • Wives and husbands;
  • Ex-wives and ex-husbands;
  • Individuals related by blood or marriage;
  • Individuals living together as a family;
  • Individuals who have resided together as if a family in the past; and
  • Persons who have a child in common (regardless of prior marriage).

The statute specifically requires that the family or household members must be currently residing or have in the past resided together in the same single dwelling unit. The only exception is for persons who have a child in common.

Prosecutors make decisions on how to file or proceed with a criminal case based on evidence. The following are a few reasons why the prosecution may choose to drop charges of domestic violence: 

Insufficient Evidence

A major reason for dropping any criminal case is due to insufficient evidence. Successfully prosecuting the accused for domestic violence means that the prosecutor must prove each element of the offense by the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.

The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused:

  • Intentionally touched or struck the alleged victim against his or her will; or
  • Intentionally caused bodily harm to the alleged victim; or
  • Intentionally and unlawfully threatened, either by word or act, to do violence to the victim and, at the time, appeared to have the ability to carry out the threat; or the act of the defendant created in the mind of the alleged victim a well-founded fear that the violence was about to take place

A prosecutor might feel that the element of “intent” is missing. A prosecutor may also feel the evidence of a domestic battery is insufficient because the alleged victim’s credibility is suspect.The victim may have a history of mental illness, making false accusations in the past, or has a motive to exaggerate or fabricate the incident because the parties are involved in a custody or property distribution battle. Any of these reasons could convince the prosecutor that there is insufficient evidence to convict the accused and result in them not filing charges. 

The lack of a serious bodily injury could also result in charges being dropped. A serious bodily injury usually means that the victim suffered an injury necessitating medical treatment or serious impairment of a physical condition. These injuries may include:

  • Broken limb
  • Black eye 
  • Laceration or cut requiring stitches
  • Disfigurement
  • Concussion

If a physician testifies that the injuries were not serious, or that the victim was exaggerating the symptoms, then this could compel the prosecutor to reduce or dismiss the charges. 

Inconsistent Statements

A prosecutor will review any statements made by the defendant and the alleged victim. In some cases, the alleged victim will make a verbal statement that is different than what they originally said or wrote in their original statement to police. Their version of events could also be inconsistent with their actual physical condition that shows little or no injuries.

A change in the alleged victim’s story or another witness’ story introduces the idea that they are unreliable, have a poor memory, or are just lying. Inconsistencies may include:

  • Why the alleged victim was hit
  • Relationship between the accused and the alleged victim
  • Time of day the incident occurred
  • If any drugs or alcohol was consumed by either party involved
  • Body part struck 
  • A change of story or any inconsistencies within the alleged victim’s statement or in other questioning by police

Lack of Injuries

The lack of any visible injuries in no way means that a domestic battery did not occur and the presence of an injury is not required in order for someone to be charged with domestic battery. The prosecution only needs to demonstrate that there is evidence of harmful or offensive touching, which can include pushing or shoving someone, spitting in their face, or intentionally touching them in a violent manner. With that said, however, the lack of any visible injuries may persuade the prosecution to not pursue criminal charges. 

Lack of Witnesses

In most domestic violence cases, there are no other witnesses to the incident except for the accused and the alleged victim. If there is little to no evidence of an injury or fight, conflicting statements, and the accused has no record of domestic violence, a prosecutor may not wish to proceed with charges. 

Continue reading

Published on:

Two city officials in Jacksonville, Florida have been convicted of fraud and money laundering.

Federal court records show that jurors in Jacksonville found 39-year-old Katrina Brown and 57-year-old Reginald Brown guilty Wednesday on multiple charges. The former Jacksonville City Council members are scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 27. The government is seeking forfeiture of more than $750,000.

Prosecutors believe Katrina Brown obtained millions of dollars in U.S. Small Business Administration loans to expand her family’s barbecue business and create local jobs.

Investigators say she and Reginald Brown, who is not a relative, incorporated two businesses they used to submit fake invoices to their lender for services that the businesses had not provided.

An indictment says Reginald Brown deposited the reimbursement checks into the businesses’ bank accounts.

Money laundering is a white collar crime that occurs when an individual conceals funds earned from criminal activity within a legitimate financial channel. This is a serious federal offense and can result in stiff fines and jail time. These charges are serious and you can expect for federal prosecutors to pursue money laundering charges by working closely with federal law enforcement agencies and applying all of the laws at their disposal, including the Money Laundering Control Act, the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, and the Bank Secrecy Act. Because of the fact that there are severe consequences associated with these charges, you need the legal assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney if you face money laundering charges or any similar allegations.

To prosecute an individual for money laundering, the court must prove that the accused individual illegally gained the funds in question and then deliberately tried to hide where the funds originated from. If the prosecution fails to prove these two crucial pieces of evidence, the money laundering charges must be dismissed. Our Florida Money Laundering Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton understand that criminal charges like these can be false or the circumstances can be easily misrepresented. That is why our attorneys will believe your story and work as your trusted legal advocates to prove your side of the case. We will do everything in our power to have the charges against you dismissed or reduced. 

Money laundering can only occur if the accused earned funds through criminal activity. With that said, there are numerous other criminal charges that often accompany money laundering charges in Florida, such as financial fraud, health care fraud, drug trafficking, drug distribution, and even prostitution. Our Florida Criminal Defense Lawyers at Whittel & Melton can address any and all criminal allegations made against you simultaneously, with the hopes of resolving these claims in a positive outcome.

Our Jacksonville Criminal Defense Attorneys will launch an extensive investigation into your case and use every legal avenue available to mount a strong defense. There are defenses against money laundering and financial fraud crimes, such as:

  • Insufficient evidence: A prosecutor has the burden of proof to show that the accused intended to illegally hide the origin of allegedly laundered money and that the money was illegally obtained from a specific criminal activity. If the evidence fails to prove this, then it is entirely possible to have the case dismissed.
  • Absence of intent: If the prosecution cannot prove that the accused was aware that the allegedly laundered money was obtained illegally or that the accused intended to commit a crime, then the case could very well be dismissed due to the lack of intent.
  • Extreme duress or threats: If the accused can prove they were threatened and believed their life to be in danger if they did not participate in the money laundering crimes for which they are being charged, then it may be possible to have these criminal charges dropped or reduced. 

Continue reading

Published on:

Seven Floridians, including four doctors, are among 35 people arrested Friday by the FBI for alleged involvement in a $2.1 billion fraud that charged Medicare for false cancer genomic tests (CGx tests).

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the alleged fraud was perpetrated by defendants in Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas and exploited seniors’ curiosity about genetic medicine by enticing them to get unneeded DNA tests.

Dubbed “Operation Double Helix,” the crackdown targeted telemedicine companies, nine doctors and numerous labs following a joint investigation by the DOJ, the FBI, the U.S. Health & Human Services (HHS) Inspector’s General Office and U.S. attorneys’ offices.

The DOJ said the alleged scheme involved a telemarketer or in-person “recruiter” who would persuade a Medicare enrollee to take a genetic test, assuring them the program would pay full cost.

A doctor “in league with the fraudsters” would then approve the test and collect a kickback from the “recruiter,” the indictment reads.

A lab would run the test, bill Medicare, and share payments with the “recruiter,” according to the DOJ.

Reports indicate that the genetic testing bills submitted to Medicaid ranged from $7,000 to $12,000, with some as high as $33,000. In many cases, he said, the patient never got a report back, or the results provided were incomprehensible.

U.S. attorney’s offices in the Southern and Middle districts of Florida filed charges against defendants while four Florida doctors were indicted by U.S. attorneys in New Jersey. 

The federal government and the state of Florida are serious about finding and punishing those who are involved in health care fraud. Law enforcement uses any means to uncover fraud like task forces and undercover operations. Anyone can be the target of an investigation from an individual doctor to a billing company to an entire hospital system.

Our Florida Medicare Fraud Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton have extensive experience defending clients against accusations of fraud and related state and federal crimes. We can help with the defense of anyone in the healthcare industry, including:

  • Doctors, nurses and pharmacists
  • Hospitals, hospital systems and clinics
  • Home health care companies
  • Medical billing and coding companies

Medicare and Medicaid fraud investigations in Florida are often the result of inaccurate claims. These claims may include excessive charges, charges that weren’t authorized, and false charges.The federal government will label these claims as fraudulent billing or reimbursement requests. The most common causes of a Medicare or Medicaid fraud investigation are:

  • Phantom billing – billing for services that were never performed
  • Submitting a claim for unnecessary medical services or medical equipment
  • Submitting a claim for medical supplies, equipment, or services that were never ordered
  • Submitting a claim of certification for medically unnecessary supplies 
  • Submitting a claim of certification for medically unnecessary services, like hospice or home health care
  • Double billing
  • Upcoding
  • Inflating charges
  • Overusing medical equipment or services
  • Providing or accepting kickbacks

Doctors, nurses, health care services, physician-owned entities, nursing homes, registered care providers and facilities, hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, laboratories, DME providers, DNA centers, and cancer centers are the most common targets of a health care fraud investigation. As we have stated before, this list is certainly not all-inclusive and any individual, business, facility, or entity in the healthcare industry can be the subject of health care fraud criminal charges. If a person submits a false claim to a federal health care program, even if they do not realize that the claim will be classified as false, they may end up as the subject of a Medicare or Medicaid fraud investigation.

Criminal penalties for Medicare or Medicaid fraud may include one or more of the following:

  • Hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines
  • Up to 10 years in prison for each count of Medicare or Medicaid fraud
  • Up to 20 years in prison for each count of Medicare or Medicaid fraud that resulted in serious bodily harm
  • Life sentence behind bars if the Medicare or Medicaid fraud results in the death of the patient 

Continue reading

Published on:

Stacey Dash was arrested for domestic battery after an incident Sunday night in New Port Richey, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

The 52-year-old “Clueless” actress was taken into custody after an argument with a male, whose name was redacted in an incident report obtained by CNN. She is accused of pushing and slapping him.

The report states that police were called to a home Sunday evening “to respond to a domestic dispute” between the two.

According to the report, “The victim sustained red scratch marks to his upper left arm from being pushed.”

Dash was taken into custody and transported to the Land O’ Lakes detention facility without incident. She posted bail and was released on Monday morning, according to a spokesperson for the Pasco County Sheriff.

Prosecutors have become extremely aggressive about pursuing allegations of domestic violence in the state of Florida. While family violence against a spouse, significant other or anyone else with whom one resides is a serious issue, domestic violence allegations are among the most common to be made up, exaggerated or used for an ulterior motive. 

Many Florida domestic violence charges arise out of the context of a marriage or bad family living situation that is deteriorating or a child custody dispute to give one parent leverage against the other. In many of these situations, an ordinary family disagreement is exaggerated by one person who may later try to recant once they have had time to cool down. Unfortunately, Pasco County prosecutors can and often do pursue these cases even when the alleged victim has recanted and does not wish to continue with pressing criminal charges. 

Domestic abuse charges may arise out of a wide range of situations even when there is no actual contact and the alleged victims suffer no actual injury. Acts that may constitute domestic violence include but are not limited to the following:

  • Battery
  • Assault
  • Punching
  • Acts of intimidation or threats of harm
  • An open handed slap
  • Marital rape
  • Punching, shoving or kicking
  • Sexual abuse
  • Biting
  • Choking
  • Strangling

Domestic battery is defined as intentionally causing unwanted touching or striking of another person or causing bodily harm to the person. The difference between a battery charge and a domestic battery charge is the relationship between the defendant and the victim. 

A domestic battery charge can arise when the alleged victim is a family member or household member of the defendant. A family member or household member under Florida law includes wives, husbands, ex-spouses, individuals related by blood or marriage, co-parents even if never married, individuals who live together as a family and individuals who lived together as a family in the past. With the exception of co-parents, one of the required legal elements that must be proven in these cases is that the defendant and victim currently or previously lived together in the same residence.

In the state of Florida, domestic battery is classified as a first degree misdemeanor, with penalties that may include up to one year in jail or twelve months probation, and a $1,000 fine. Prosecutors might rely on minor injuries like bruising or swelling in the neck area to support this aggravated version of the domestic violence offense. Because allegations of choking or grabbing of the throat and neck area are common in domestic violence cases, people sometimes face severe felony charges based on relatively minor signs of injury.

Being convicted of any battery charge, regardless of whether it is domestic violence or not, can cause very serious consequences. A conviction can affect a person’s freedom, livelihood, reputation and finances. Any individuals facing such charges should choose to consult with a criminal defense lawyer who has extensive knowledge and experience with domestic violence cases, aggravated battery, and simple battery charges. Our Pasco County Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton have handled numerous domestic battery and domestic violence cases, so we know your rights and can go over all of your legal options that may be available to you given the particular circumstances of the case.

Continue reading

Published on:

Police claim they have reports of a man trying to lure a teen girl into his van in Winter Haven.

The incident was reported to have happened Thursday afternoon in front of Polk State College. Investigators said the man attempted to lure a 15-year- old girl into his van and when she declined, he allegedly blocked her path with his van. 

In less than 48 hours, Winter Haven Police said they arrested a 55-year-old man, in connection to the incident. He has been charged with stalking, a misdemeanor, and driving with an expired license. 

A Winter Haven police officer spotted a van that matched the description pulling into a parking space at 3:53 a.m. at the Racetrac gas station on Havendale Blvd. 

Police claim the man admitted to the incident. 

Reports indicate that there was a witness who yelled and told the teen girl not to get into the van, causing the man to take off. 

The accused allegedly told officers he was just offering her a ride and that he asks people if they need rides all the time. He said he thought she was an adult. 

Under Florida law, stalking is considered a serious offense and is charged as a misdemeanor. Stalking is generally defined as a pattern of following, watching, or monitoring another person with the sole intent to harass, frighten, intimidate, threaten, or cause emotional duress. The act of stalking can vary in how it is carried out, and may include the following: 

  • Following someone – this can be just once or on a routine basis
  • Driving past or randomly showing up at someone’s residence, place of work, or school
  • Cyberstalking: monitoring a person’s computer, cell phone, or social networking activity 
  • Monitoring a person’s whereabouts through a secretly implanted GPS device on their vehicle or person
  • Sending someone unwanted letters, gifts, or emails
  • Contacting someone repeatedly via phone calls and text messages
  • Secretly videotaping or photographing someone
  • Gathering information about a person without their permission through public records, internet searches, private investigators, or by contacting the person’s friends, family members, and acquaintances
  • Threatening a person or their friends, family members, or pets
  • Damaging a person’s property, such as their home, vehicle, or other property

In the state of Florida, a person who repeatedly, willfully, and maliciously follows or harasses another person is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. If the person repeatedly, willfully, and maliciously follows or harassed another individual, and makes a credible threat towards that person with the intent to cause fear of death or bodily harm, the offender will be charged with a third degree felony. This crime is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. 

Stalking charges are taken very serious in the state of Florida. If you have been accused of stalking, you do not want to just sit around and wait to see what happens. Instead, you need to take action right away, ideally before formal charges are even filed. This will give you the best possible chance of avoiding arrest and prosecution, if possible, as well as any undeserved penalties. 

There are several things you should not do if you learn you are being investigated for or charged with stalking. You should NOT:

  • Try to talk to the alleged victim about the case or have any contact with the alleged victim. 
  • Talk to law enforcement or other investigators without an attorney present. It is very common for the police to ask for statements from the accused during an investigation. An experienced attorney can take charge and help prevent you from talking your way into more trouble.
  • Give any evidence to law enforcement without consulting with your lawyer first. Even if you believe the evidence will show you are not guilty of the alleged crime, you should wait for your attorney to review this and handle the matter accordingly. 

Continue reading

Published on:

The Citrus County Sheriff’s Office claims it has been on the offense against drug trafficking for the past two months through a covert operation they call “Operation Coin Toss.”

“Coin Toss” resulted in four search warrants and 24 arrests. Fifteen of those people were previously convicted felons, according to reports. 

The Sheriff said two of the homes searched, one on Fern Place in Homosassa and another on Arter Street in Crystal River, were in deplorable conditions and they’re working with code enforcement to get them torn down. 

The Sheriff said it’s the largest operation of its kind since he took over in 2017, and they’re just getting started. 

The Sheriff also added that one of the people arrested through this operation has already agreed to serve eight years behind bars, according to reports.

When facing drug charges in Citrus County, and elsewhere in Florida, you need a criminal defense lawyer you can rely on to handle your case with expert consideration. Our Citrus County Drug Crimes Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton know the anxiety that comes with being charged with a drug crime and how hard this can all be on you and your family. Our experienced attorneys stand ready to tackle the drug charges against you, whatever they may be, and will work with you every step of the way to get the best possible outcome for your case.

Our experienced drug possession and drug trafficking lawyers at Whittel & Melton, handle most types of drug cases. As former prosecutors, we have unique insight into the case against you and an intimate understanding of how law enforcement investigates these cases. With that said, we also know what mistakes police commonly make, and we can apply that insight into helping with your case. 

We also have an in depth knowledge of the problem prosecutors face with proving their case and what information is generally needed to move forward with a drug crimes case. We will conduct our own thorough investigation into your criminal matter to look for any potential flaws and weaknesses in the charges against you, such as:

  • Was any evidence obtained illegally?
  • Does the prosecution have sufficient evidence? 
  • Can the prosecution prove all elements of the drug crime?

From the start, we will begin mounting a strong defense on your behalf. We will not wait to see what moves the prosecution will make. We will make sure your side of the story is heard and that your interests are protected. 

If you are facing a drug possession charge, the penalties you may be facing will vary depending on the type of drug and the amount of the drug in your possession. Possessing larger quantities of a drug can lead to charges of possession with intent to distribute. It is important to also note that drugs that have a high potential for abuse have harsher penalties should you be convicted.

The best thing to do is face drug crimes charges head on. We will make sure you know what you are up against and the severe consequences if you are convicted, which can include:

  • Felony conviction on your criminal record
  • Being excluded from certain types of employment in the future
  • Being fired from your current job
  • Hefty fines
  • Jail time

If you are facing drug crimes charges involving drug trafficking, manufacturing, distribution, and cultivation, then you are in for a fight as prosecutors tend to pursue these cases quite aggressively. Law enforcement will be looking to shut down  the illegal drug operation and make sure that anyone involved is punished.

While these charges intend to target drug crimes associated with an organized operation, sometimes people get charged with distribution simply because of the amount of drugs they had on them at the time of their arrest. Our Citrus County Drug Crimes Defense Lawyers at Whittel & Melton handle a wide array of serious drug charges, including:

  • Transportation and trafficking
  • Possession and possession for sale
  • Manufacturing, cultivation, and importation
  • Marijuana grow houses
  • Juvenile drug crimes

We know how criminal drug charges are brought and prosecuted. We will challenge all of the evidence against you and look at the following key factors to see if they can help with your defense: 

  • Illegal search and seizure: If the police searched your car, home or person when they found the alleged drugs in question, we can determine whether or not your constitutional rights were violated. 
  • Improper police conduct and procedures: We can challenge improper police conduct, such as the use of informants, undercover officers, and illegal procedures involved in your arrest. 

Continue reading

Published on:

Miami Dolphins running back Mark Walton has been sentenced to six months’ probation for weapons charges after reaching a plea deal on Monday. 

Court records show Walton plead no contest to a misdemeanor weapons charge.

In addition to probation, Walton must take anger management and driving courses and must give up his firearm.

Walton did have a slew of other charges stacked against him, including marijuana possession and reckless driving, all of which were dismissed. The charges stemmed from a March incident in which Walton fled on foot from his rented car after police tried to pull him over. Authorities claimed they found a rifle and the marijuana in the car.

The 22-year-old Walton played college football at the University of Miami and was a 4th-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2018 NFL draft. He signed with the Dolphins earlier this year.

When you are facing serious criminal charges, such as a drug or weapons charge, you may be wondering how these types of charges can be dropped or dismissed. Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton have successfully had charges reduced or dropped against many clients over the years, and it is possible that we can help you, too. 

It is important to point out that not all criminal cases go to trial. In fact, many criminal charges are dropped before trial after negotiations between prosecutors and defense lawyers. It is also worth noting that only the prosecutor has the power to drop criminal charges.Criminal charges can be dropped due to many factors that can ultimately outweigh the prosecution’s case, like insufficient evidence, inadmissible evidence, and lack of witness credibility. 

Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton also know there is an important difference between dropping charges and dismissing charges. Charges can be dismissed only after charges have been filed. A charge can be dropped before or after a charge has been filed. To clarify, you may need a charge dropped by the prosecutor, or you may need a charge dismissed by the prosecutor, however, a court can dismiss a charge if a prosecutor makes a legal error in the case. Either way, we can help you.

Before going to court for a trial, our criminal defense lawyers can argue that the prosecution’s case is not strong enough to obtain a conviction in what is called pretrial negotiations. This is where we will urge the prosecution to dismiss or drop the charge. The prosecution may accept or counter with an offer to reduce the charge. We can further review the facts and possibly counter back that even the reduced charge will not prevail in court.

A reduced charge is possible when the evidence is not strong enough for a certain charge, but strong enough for a lesser charge. When this happens, prosecutors may offer a plea bargain agreement. This means that prosecutors will dismiss the original charge if the defendant agrees to plead guilty or no contest to a less severe charge instead. Our Florida Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton can make sure your rights are protected when it comes to plea bargain agreements. These vary case by case, and we may advise you to take the deal or reject the agreement if the case against the original charge is weak.

To conclude, there are many ways to get your criminal charges dropped or dismissed. However, for this to happen, you first need to seek legal help from us as soon as possible. The earlier we get involved with your case, the much better the odds of obtaining a favorable outcome. We want to help you move on from criminal charges and resume your normal life with as little damage to your reputation and record as possible. Every case is unique, so we can make sure you understand all of your legal options. 

Continue reading

Published on:

A federal jury found the owner of a Tampa Bay area medical marketing company guilty on Thursday for his role in a $2.2 million-plus Medicare fraud scheme involving the payment of kickbacks and bribes to medical clinics in Miami in exchange for the referral of DNA swabs that were obtained from Medicare beneficiaries.

Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez of the Middle District of Florida, Special Agent in Charge Michael McPherson of the FBI’s Tampa Field Office and Assistant Inspector General Shimon Richmond of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the Inspector General’s (HHS-OIG) Miami Regional Office made the announcement.

After a four-day trial, the 49-year-old Land o’ Lakes man and owner of DBL Management LLC was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to pay health care kickbacks and one count of structuring currency transactions to avoid reporting requirements.  

The man is expected to be sentenced Oct. 2 by U.S. District Judge Susan C. Bucklew of the Middle District of Florida, who presided over the trial.

According to the evidence presented at trial, the man was paid by Clinical Laboratory Company A for each DNA swab that he arranged to be referred to the laboratory.  In order to obtain DNA swabs, the man paid cash kickbacks and bribes to medical clinics in Miami in exchange for the referral of DNA swabs that were obtained from Medicare beneficiaries. The man directed the owners of the medical clinics to collect the DNA of all of the patients at the clinics, regardless of medical necessity.

In the first phase of the scheme, from November 2013 to May 2014, the evidence at trial showed that the man paid these cash kickbacks directly.  In the second phase of the scheme, from May 2014 to November 2014, after his arrest on other charges, the man established shell companies, including Healthcare Marketing Florida of Melbourne, and conspired with nominee owners to facilitate the payment of kickbacks, receipt of fraud proceeds, and transfer of unlawfully obtained DNA samples for medically unnecessary testing.  Over the course of the entire conspiracy, Clinical Laboratory Company A submitted more than $2.2 million in genetic testing claims and paid the man a percentage of the Medicare reimbursements that it received.

The evidence at trial showed that, in order to conceal his payment of illegal cash kickbacks, the man would travel to different ATMs and bank branches throughout southern Florida and make separate withdrawals of thousands of dollars in cash in order to avoid the filing of U.S. Department of Treasury “currency transaction reports” for an individual withdrawal of more than $10,000.

The man was previously found guilty by a jury in December 2015 of various health care fraud, money laundering and identity theft charges in a case handled by the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.  

He is currently serving 14 years in prison.

The state of Florida, along with every other state, is constantly looking for ways to bring in additional revenue and to cut the rapidly growing costs of Medicare and Medicaid programs, which is why they are going to such great lengths to uncover potential Medicaid and Medicare fraud and abuse cases. 

In the majority of cases, Medicare fraud involves using false information to obtain unauthorized benefits, and can take a variety of forms, but it typically involves defrauding the Medicare system through billing for services that were not provided or that were not provided as described. Medicare beneficiaries are sometimes involved in fraud schemes where they split the Medicare or Medicaid funds with another party for care that was not provided.

A number of programs exist at both the state and federal level to uncover and prosecute cases of Medicare fraud by patients, providers, insurers, or owners of a company in the healthcare industry. 

Medicare and Medicaid costs the federal government between $80 and $100 billion each year, so government investigators make it their top priority to constantly be on the lookout for any red flags. The Anti-Kickback Statute (AKS) is one tool that the government uses to prosecute actions of fraud. The AKC makes it a crime to give or receive bribes or kickbacks in exchange for patient referrals. 

The penalties for violating the AKS are very serious. The AKS is a criminal statute, and a conviction equates to a felony. A conviction under the AKS can lead to five years in prison and fines of $25,000 per violation. The government can also seek hefty financial penalties of $50,000 for each violation of the AKS.

Continue reading

Published on:

The former mayor of Port Richey, Dale Massad, was found guilty Tuesday of conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The jury’s verdict came at about 6 p.m. at the end of a one-day trial in which four witnesses testified. The jury took less than an hour to decide on the evidence.

Massad, 68, faced multiple charges from his February arrest, but the ones at issue Tuesday stemmed from a jailhouse phone call with former acting Mayor Terrence Rowe.

The state tried to prove that call showed Massad targeted a Port Richey police officer involved with his case.

Investigators claim that Massad called the man who filled his spot as mayor, Terrance Rowe, from jail and the two conspired to have a Port Richey police officer involved in Massad’s case fired.

The police officer testified that he felt threatened and intimidated by Massad. 

The police officer had helped the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate Massad’s alleged practice of medicine without a license, and he was the one monitoring his calls for the agency.

Massad’s defense team argued that there was no clear evidence of conspiracy to intimidate the police officer in the call, including when the former mayor told Rowe that “anything he can do” where the police officer is concerned was good.

The call lasted 14 minutes. It took the jury about 50 minutes to convict Massad of obstruction of justice and unlawful use of a two-way communications device. 

Jurors also heard from City Manager Vince Lupo, who testified that council members usually made records requests through him.

The state argued that because Rowe made repeated email requests to the city clerk instead of Lupo, he was trying to avoid the normal process.

Police Chief Gerard Decanio said the jury made the right call.

“To think that you’re going to call from jail and order certain things to be done, it’s ridiculous,” Decanio said. “So justice prevailed today. The jury brought back the right verdict.”

Massad’s attorney, however, believes the jury should have come back with the opposite verdict. The defense team believes city officials wanted him out as mayor, and that they unfortunately succeeded. 

Massad’s legal team requested a speedy trial in the hopes that they would win and Massad could post bond. They are now working to expedite the prosecution for the original charges.

This was only the tip of Massad’s legal problems. He still faces trial on charges of attempted murder and practicing medicine without a license.

Massad will continue to be held in jail without bail, pending his next trials. However, Tuesday’s conviction could result in prison time. 

At the first Port Richey City Council meeting since the city elected its new mayor, Scott Tremblay, it was business as usual, with no comments about the Massad trial during the first few minutes of the session.

Tremblay did say he’s looking forward to helping the city move forward, despite two other trials involving Massad looming over the city’s near future.  

Conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges are nothing to scoff at. These crimes are nothing minor. In fact, these are felony offenses that can negatively impact one’s freedom, life, and livelihood. A person commits the crime of obstruction by engaging in any act or behavior that interferes with the investigation or prosecution of a crime. Both state and federal laws have many provisions written in regarding obstruction of justice for many different laws, but such actions can range from simply warning someone about a subpoena for documents to hiding a suspect from police. Certain types of interference may seem innocent, such as warning a co-worker that they are being investigated, while others cross the legal line more blatantly, like destroying evidence. The greater the obstruction of justice, the greater the criminal consequences. 

Even a person who is not directly involved in a crime that is under investigation can be charged with criminal obstruction. These charges are not necessarily black and white, and can be quite confusing. If you have been charged with criminal obstruction or have questions about the crime, consult with our Pasco County Criminal Defense Attorneys at Whittel & Melton who can make sure you fully understand what you are up against. 

Continue reading

Contact Information