A longtime criminal defense lawyer in Baltimore who stashed more than a million dollars in two safes in his basement pleaded guilty today in federal district court in Greenbelt in a tax evasion prosecution.
The lawyer, Stanley Needleman, was licensed to practice law in Maryland for more than three decades in state and federal court, the U.S. Justice Department said.
Needleman, who had an office in downtown Baltimore, pleaded guilty to tax evasion and to a financial structuring charge in which he made deposits in increments under $10,000 to avoid having his bank file required currency transactions reports. He was charged in a two-count information in August.
Needleman, according to the terms of his plea deal (PDF), consented to disbarment. He agreed to stop practicing law Aug. 24.
Court papers disclosed that Needleman did not use an advance fee retainer agreement. Rather, he charged a one-time “engagement fee” to represent a client whether or not the case was dismissed, the client took a plea deal or the client opted for trial.
Prosecutors said Needleman’s payments were usually in full and due before the he entered an official appearance in any given case. Cash, according to prosecutors, was the most common form of payment.
Federal agents reviewed the number and type of cases Needleman handled between 2006 and 2010 and estimated the amount of legal fees the matters would have generated. In some felony drug cases, Needleman charged $10,000 to $30,000.
Investigators said the estimated dollar amount was “significantly” more than what Needleman, 68, reported on his tax returns. As part of the investigation, agents interviewed former clients.
Needleman, according to the government, made more than a hundred bank deposits, staggered over a five year period, that were all under $10,000. Banks are required to file a currency transaction report for cash transactions over $10,000.
Prosecutors, including assistant U.S. attorney Marin Clarke, said Needleman agreed to pay more than $661,000 to Maryland and to the IRS in unpaid taxes. Money seized from Needleman’s home in April will go toward restitution, according to the plea deal. Prosecutors said Needleman agreed to forfeit $492,646.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein said in a prepared statement that he hoped the prosecution deters “similar crimes by lawyers and other businesspeople who accept cash payments.”
Needleman, Rosenstein said, “probably thought he could avoid detection by hoarding the money in his basement instead of spending it on a lavish lifestyle, but a thorough investigation proved him wrong.”
A lawyer for Needleman, Kenneth Ravenell of Baltimore’s Murphy PA, was not immediately reached for comment this afternoon.
Sentencing is scheduled for December 15 in front of U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams Jr.
The financial structuring charge carries a maximum 10-year prison term, and the tax evasion charge is punishable by up to five years behind bars.