Attorneys

James M. Trusty Member

/ P (202) 524-4176

LinkedIn connect on LinkedIn / Twitter @TrustyLawyer

After 28 years as a prosecutor, James (“Jim”) Trusty brings to Ifrah Law extensive experience in complex, multi-district white collar litigation, especially in matters involving RICO, The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, and The Money Laundering Control Act of 1986.

As the federal government continues to apply increasingly broad interpretations of these statutes in its investigations and prosecutions of white collar defendants, corporations and individuals can face the threat of exponentially higher monetary penalties and added jail time. To clients defending against such allegations, Jim offers the insider’s view on how federal cases are built, investigations pursued and settlements negotiated.

Joining Ifrah Law after a long career in public service, most recently as Chief of the Organized Crime Section at the United States Department of Justice, Jim now focuses his practice on the litigation and resolution of complex disputes for clients in a broad array of industries facing issues ranging from cybersecurity and computer fraud, to money laundering and asset forfeiture.

For seven years, Jim served in the DOJ’s Criminal Division, where he was ultimately responsible for investigating and prosecuting regional, national, and international cases, supervising significant pleadings and providing strategic and tactical guidance in complex investigations and multi-defendant trials. In addition to running the RICO review unit, he also was in charge of establishing and promoting policies focused on immigration reform, firearms trafficking, proposed Congressional testimony for DOJ officials, and Internet gambling. Significant and sensitive matters on which he worked include the post-conviction review of Alaska corruption cases related to U.S. v. Theodore Stevens, the investigation into allegations of misconduct by a sitting U.S. Attorney and one of her Assistant U.S. Attorneys, and numerous death penalty cases.

Prior to his work at DOJ, Jim acted as Assistant U.S. Attorney in Greenbelt, Maryland, where he investigated and prosecuted a wide variety of white collar and other criminal cases, including The Washington area Sniper investigation.

Jim regularly speaks at conferences, seminars, and training sessions on topics related to complex litigation and criminal law. He has coached several Mock Trial teams at American University Washington College of Law. Jim has been awarded numerous honors over the course of his career including the Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award, Federal Prosecutor of the Year, Community Prosecuting Award, and the Child Abuse Protection Award, to name only a few.

Awards + Recognition

  • Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award, 2011
  • ATF Honors Award, 2010
  • Baltimore SAC Award (ICE), 2009
  • Assistant Attorney General’s Award (MS-13), 2007
  • Project Safe Neighborhood Gang Prosecution Award, 2007
  • Project Safe Neighborhood Innovative Practices Award, 2007
  • FLEOA National Award for Investigative Excellence, 2007
  • Federal Prosecutor of the Year, Montgomery County Police, 2005
Instructor, "Federal Criminal Practice Seminar “Handling Cooperating Defendants and Confidential Informants”" National Advocacy Center (NAC)April 2012 & October 2012
Speaker, "RICO (Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office)" Chicago, ILDecember 2012
Instructor, "RICO Prosecution and Indian Country" National Advocacy Center (NAC)January 2013
James Trusty, Lecturer, "RICO Training (USAO)" New Orleans, LASeptember 2013
Instructor, "Federal Criminal Practice Seminar" National Advocacy Center (NAC)February 2014
Opening Statements, "Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association" Linthicum, MDOctober 2014
James Trusty, Instructor, "RICO Training" NAC National Conference January 2015
Instructor, "FBI Laboratory Moot Court (forensics)" Quantico, VAOctober 2015
Instructor, "Maryland State Attorney’s Association" Linthicum, MDNovember 2015
Instructor, "FBI Laboratory Moot Court (forensics)" Quanitco, VAFebruary 2016
Instructor, "Trial Advocacy Program for Pakistani prosecutors" Bangkok, Thailand March 2016
Panelist, "Advantages and Disadvantages of RICO" St. Louis, MOJuly 2016
Speaker, "Death Penalty Investigations" National Advocacy CenterJuly 2016
Opening Statements, "Department of Justice (DOJ) Attorneys" Washington, DCAugust 2016
Instructor, "Oklahoma Supreme Court RICO Training (mandatory for all sitting judges)" Oklahoma City, OK August 2016
Speaker, "Presentation on wiretap evidence Japanese delegation" Washington, DC October 2016
Instructor and Opening Statements, "Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association" Linthicum, MDOctober 2016
Speaker, "RICO prosecution; Cooperating Defendants" Honolulu, HINovember 2016
Instructor, "Threat Investigations (USMS deputies)" Houston, TXNovember 2016
James M. Trusty, Speaker, "Wiretap Investigations (Philippine delegation)" Washington, DCDecember 2016

When A Threat Becomes A Crime

A Miami Beach man was recently accused of threatening President Trump on Twitter. He sent the threat directly to Secret Service, challenging them to stop his Inauguration Day surprise. They did, and Dominic Puopolo, who used the screen name of Lord Jesus Christ, is now in federal custody.

Sending a threat to the President, to an ex-wife, or to a judge is a federal felony, punishable by as much as 20 years in the federal penitentiary. But what constitutes a threat? What if the person sending a letter or email is merely angry and has no intention of carrying out the threat? What if the author is demonstrably suffering from mental problems? And are there times where the pre-trial process greatly exceeds the length and difficulty of the eventual trial of a threats case?

When it comes to threatening communication prosecutions, federal prosecutors are increasingly finding themselves stuck at the intersection of crazy and criminal. It is a juncture where seemingly serious threats might actually be meaningless rambling but where internet rants might actually reflect a true intent to harm or kill the stated victim. And in today’s bitter, divided, and tumultuous political climate, would anyone bet against threatening communications being sent to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? If so, please contact me, as I’ll definitely take the other side of that wager.

“The President must die. When I am released I will kill him.” U.S. v. Rendelman, 641 F.3d 36, 40 (4th Cir. 2011).

[If the President refuses to meet with me, he] “will get the worse Christmas present ever, “will suffer for 30 days,” and “will wish for death but death will not come for him.” U.S. v. Dillon, 738 F.3d, 284, 288 (D.C. Cir. 2013).

“Enough elementary schools in a ten-mile radius to initiate the most heinous school shooting ever imagined…And hell hath no fury like a crazy man in a Kindergarten class.” U.S. v. Elonis, 135 S. Ct. 2001, 2006 (2015).

The Easy Case

Certainly, a decent chunk of these prosecutions stem from imprisoned inmates taking the time to send a “I can’t wait to kill you” letter to their prosecutor (usually spelled “persecutor” in these letters) or to the judge who sentenced them to the “outrageous” sentence, often a term of imprisonment that lies perfectly within the sentencing guidelines. Further, these jail bards conveniently tend to include a return address, handwriting suitable for comparison, their name and even their inmate number, to so to avoid confusion. The sole issue in this type of case tends to be simply whether additional consecutive time will make any sort of difference to our “Cape Fear” penitentiary pal.

The Harder Case

Creatively worded threats, however, occasionally generate serious issues as to sufficiency. For example, in U.S. v. Zavrel, 384 F.3d 130 (3rd Cir. 2004), the defendant and her roommate mailed 17 envelopes containing corn starch to juveniles whom she blamed for her son’s juvenile prosecution for, wait for it, terroristic threats. The corn starch resembled anthrax, a deadly chemical that had in fact been mailed to several potential victims in late 2001. The issue decided by the Third Circuit was whether the simple mailing of corn starch established a “communication” for purposes of proving a threatening mailing under 18 U.S.C. Section 876.   It was.

The other common issue, which made its way all the way to the Supreme Court, is whether the sender of the threat has to in fact intend to harm the recipient (subjective standard) or whether the sender must simply intend to communicate threatening words which are reasonably understood by the recipient to constitute a threat (objective standard). In Elonis, (2015) Chief Justice Robert’s opinion adopted the latter standard, resolving a Circuit-split that had existed for some time. Still, the issue of whether the recipient reasonably views the letter or email as a threat remains a regular feature of these cases.

The Hardest Case

The hard case is when the defendant says horrible things that are directed toward some public, possibly political figure, but it’s not clear that he or she constitutes a “true threat” to the recipient.  And, the defendant already is serving a substantial prison sentence. These are the class of cases that the federal criminal justice system is least likely to deal with in a satisfactory way. There tends to be a perfect storm of factors coming together to complicate the superficially simple case: “important” victims, such as judges, the President, or prosecutors; a defendant with a serious, pre-existing mental health problem, and threatening language that is both graphic and somewhat implausible.

For example, one defendant claimed that he literally would crucify his intended victim, before signing off with “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” and some defendants openly discuss the jurisprudence of threatening communications while enlightening readers to the fact that a person “who placed a mortar launcher in the cornfield across from his wife’s residence would have a clear line of sight through the sun room…” Elonis, at 2005. And the man who threatened President Trump via Twitter casually mentioned that he is Jesus.

The typical court process for such a case is that the judge orders a mental health evaluation for competency, which results in the prisoner being shuttled to one of several federal facilities which include competency and criminal responsibility assessments. Not surprisingly, some of these defendants are kept months before they decide not to take the prescribed medications, often based upon the belief that the prison medical personnel are just part of a grand conspiracy that continues to manifest itself through each of the defendant’s cases. Not a lightly undertaken process, forcible medication of a defendant requires significant, and often lengthy, litigation as well. To the extent that the defendants fire their attorneys out of frustration, a fairly common development, the case slows to a snail’s pace.

The Future

And this becomes the most obvious challenge to the criminal justice system in this realm – the defendant, clearly suffering from some mental deficiency, is incarcerated pre-verdict for longer than his applicable sentencing guidelines and in some instances at, or approaching, the statutory maximum for his crime. Yet, he may in fact pose a danger to the recipient of his threat, so dismissing the charge is not a favored result either. In the current climate where the likelihood of these challenging cases is on the rise, the question is whether anyone or any institution will take the lead in balancing ideas of deterrence and punishment with the practical reality that many of these defendants fall outside the mainstream in terms of mental health as well as case resolution. Nobody wants to travel down the wrong road at this intersection, so bet on reaction, not pro-action.

The post When A Threat Becomes A Crime appeared first on Crime In The Suites.

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