Monday, December 31, 2012

A Rant About the U.S. Department of Justice, Prosecutorial Priorities, and Small Potatoes

[U.S. Department of Justice photo from wikipedia]
As a former federal prosecutor for over 20 years and, currently, as an Augusta, GA criminal defense lawyer who regularly handles federal criminal cases, I have seen a number of changes in federal court over the years. Most of them are good. By and large, I still maintain that most federal prosecutors do a good job and that DOJ generally does an effective job of handling the prosecution of federal crimes. In short, I am still proud of my career as an AUSA and the fine job they do!

But I have noticed one disappointing trend which I wanted to blog about today. This trend involves some U.S. Attorney's Offices focusing more and more on "adopting" relatively small state criminal cases and "taking them federal," i.e. prosecuting small cases in federal court that do not belong there. In other words, in my opinion, generally, in the past, the feds focused more on larger, more complex federal cases. Today, on the  other hand, I believe some U.S. Attorneys' Offices are handling more and more relatively smaller criminal cases. Why is this so?

In my opinion, there are a number of reasons for this troubling trend. For example, some federal prosecutors find it easier to adopt and indict relatively simple state cases, instead of handling more intense federal grand jury investigations and putting together more complex federal cases from the ground up. Having handled a number of "mega" federal fraud and public corruption investigations and cases, as a former career federal prosecutor, I know fully well how difficult and time-consuming they can be to put together. But that is no excuse for AUSAs not to focus on them!

Another reason for this change in focus, in my opinion, toward smaller federal cases, originates with DOJ in Washington, D.C. In short, the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys generally grades each U.S. Attorney's Office performance based upon the number of criminal cases prosecuted, instead of the size of the cases prosecuted. As a result, in my opinion, the various U.S. Attorney Offices around the country are, in effect, encouraged to take on more smaller, quicker prosecutions than on the more labor-intensive "mega" cases. But, in my opinion, one "mega" fraud case, which can yield millions in fines and restitution for federal programs, is often worth more than fifty "small potato" prosecutions!

Shouldn't the feds focus more on the "mega" fraud cases and leave the smaller potatoes for the states to handle? What do you think?

Friday, December 21, 2012

A Sad Reality About Postal Employee Thefts and the Holidays

[Photo of Postal Delivery Truck from wikipedia]
As Christmas approaches, are you expecting to receive gift cards or money in the mail from family members? Well, frankly, we all must face the fact that, for various reasons, the mail does not always reach its destination, even at Christmas. 

As a former federal prosecutor, here, in Augusta, Georgia, I sometimes prosecuted mail thefts by U.S. Postal Service employees. Some cases involved simple thefts of newspapers or magazines. Other thefts included income tax refund checks and other valuables sent through the mail. But generally all such thefts involve a horrible abuse of a position of trust.

According to various news reports, during six months of 2012, 171 Postal employees around the country were charged with theft or destruction of U.S. mail. In one recent case, in an Atlanta federal court, Gerald Eason, a postal supervisor at an Atlanta mail distribution facility, was prosecuted, along with four co-workers, for reportedly stealing $3 million in U.S. Treasury checks, including folks' V.A. and Social Security checks.

So, while you may be expecting a gift in the mail this Christmas from grandma, please realize that, sadly, it simply might never reach your mailbox! Unfortunately, no one is immune from white collar crime, even during the holidays.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Goolsby Law Firm Brag Board

[Photo of the Goolsby Law Firm, 233 Davis Rd., Augusta, GA]
Recently, I included a post in which I bragged about my second son Blake's passing the Georgia bar exam and joining our Augusta, Georgia family law firm. Today, I hope you don't mind that, as a proud father, I once again want to brag a little bit--this time about my third son, Zachary. Zach is home for Christmas break and has now passed the midway point of law school! 

In other words, Zach has three semesters down and only three more semesters to go until graduation! Then, I believe we will be the only law firm in the history of the State of Georgia composed of a parent and three children--practicing law together--who are attorneys!

As Augusta, GA lawyers, we primarily handle divorces, child custody cases, adoptions, personal injury cases, and criminal cases, in both state and federal court. I believe I am the only former twenty year federal prosecutor in the Augusta and Evans, Georgia area. I have handled some of the largest, most complex fraud and public corruption cases in Georgia and U.S. history.

My first two lawyer sons, Richard (Ric) Goolsby, Jr. and Blake Goolsby, with whom I presently practice law in Augusta, both graduated from Mercer Law School. My third son, Zach Goolsby, presently attends the University of Georgia School of Law, which is where I also graduated. He and I will be the two "Double Dawgs" in our family law firm!

So, thank you for understanding and allowing me--a proud father--to brag once again! 

Congrats, Zach! We are very proud of you and look forward to your joining us at The Goolsby Law Firm! 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

HSBC Banking Company Settles With DOJ

[Photo of HSBC's London Headquarters from wikipedia]
Although I am a former federal prosecutor, (and also, currently, an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer), I have also taught criminal justice courses part-time at a local university. One of the topics which we recently discussed in my course about White Collar Crime dealt with whether or not some white collar corporate defendants in some cases can unfairly avoid criminal liability -- for the corporation and/or its officers -- by simply paying a fine. In other words, do some white collar criminals get away with fraud and corruption with just a slap on the wrist in the form of a monetary penalty?

Have you read about the case involving HSBC, one of the world's largest banking companies, which is headquartered in Great Britain? According to various news reports, HSBC has been under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for allegedly laundering or transferring funds from Mexican drug cartels and for allegedly transferring funds to benefit Iran, in alleged violations of various sanctions. While everyone is entitled to their day in court, and while everyone should be presumed innocent until proven guilty, these are some pretty serious allegations, don't you agree?

Today, according to various news reports, HSBC is reportedly entering into a "deferred prosecution agreement" with the U.S. Department of Justice, whereby prosecution of HSBC and its executives will apparently be deferred, or avoided, and HSBC will simply pay a whopping $1.9 billion penalty.

Look, let's be fair: no one here is saying that any particular individuals in that situation should be prosecuted. We do not know all the facts. And no one should be judged based upon some news reports. And no one can fairly claim that $1.9 billion is merely a slap on the corporate wrist.

But the question still remains, as we discussed in my college class: Generally, do you believe that, in some criminal cases, (without focusing on that one), some corporations and corporate executives can avoid jail time by simply paying their way out of problems? Are there different standards or considerations in white collar crime, as opposed to street crime? What is your opinion?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

White Collar Crime, the Salvation Army, and the Holidays

[Salvation Army depiction from wikipedia]
The holidays are here, so, hopefully, that means that there is a lot of "peace and goodwill toward men." But unfortunately, it also generally means that crime is everywhere. too. Just pick up any newspaper or check any news website. It will quickly show you that -- in addition to "joy to the world" -- the holidays also bring a lot of crimes and crime victims to the world, too.

As a former federal prosecutor, I am particularly drawn to news stories about thefts from charities, particularly around Christmas. In other words, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, here, in Augusta, Georgia, I prosecuted a number of criminal cases, including one involving a former state senator, which dealt with thefts from charities.

One news report which caught my eye today occurred in Toronto, but it could have been anywhere. The reported case involves the alleged theft of approximately $2 million worth of toys from a Salvation Army warehouse by a Salvation Army Executive Director, David Rennie. Of course, all defendants are entitled to their day in court and the burden of proof remains on the prosecution.

But the facts of that single case aren't the point here. The point here is that, while we should all enjoy the holidays, we should also remember that there is a lot of crime "out there" and a lot of innocent crime victims who are suffering at this time of the year.

Maybe we should all put a little extra in the kettle. What do you think?

Friday, November 16, 2012

BP Settles Criminal Case With DOJ

[Official BP Logo depiction from wikipedia] 
Yesterday, we learned more about the anticipated resolution of criminal charges by the BP Oil Company with the Department of Justice. The charges, of course, relate to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill--the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. According to news reports, BP has settled its own (corporate) criminal liability by pleading guilty to felony misconduct and agreeing to pay a total penalty of about $4.5 billion over the next six years.

This announcement by the U.S. Department of Justice pertains only to BP's corporate criminal liability. Other criminal charges against several executives, along with some civil claims for damages, remain unresolved.

What do you think about this resolution, which is the largest monetary penalty imposed in U.S. history? Was it enough?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Goolsby Law Firm Brag Board!

[Photo of The Goolsby Law Firm--233 Davis Rd., Augusta, GA]

Please allow me to brag a little bit today. My second son, Blake Goolsby, has successfully passed the Georgia Bar exam and has now been sworn in as a licensed Georgia attorney! Blake has now joined his brother, Richard H. Goolsby, Jr., and me, (his father, Richard H. Goolsby, Sr.), in our family law practice, here, in Augusta, GA. We will continue to handle Augusta area divorce cases, personal injury cases, criminal law cases, and other general litigation -- but now, our family of lawyers is just a little bit bigger!

Now, I hope you can understand why I am so happy today!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Goolsby "War Story:" The Case of the Mysterious Purse

Have you ever been in a situation in which you sensed danger and realized you needed to think fast in order to escape it? Consider the following fact-based "war story" from my days as a federal prosecutor.

I will never forget how tired I felt that afternoon. I was an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Augusta, Georgia. Several months earlier, I had fought for the opportunity to handle the prosecution of a major healthcare fraud case. This was a major white collar criminal case --a career-making case -- which had made the news headlines nearly every day. Ever since my assignment, I had been working hard, seven days a week.

On this particular afternoon, I was sitting at my desk and reviewing some boring F.B.I. 302s, (investigative reports of witness interviews). The U.S. Attorney's Office receptionist buzzed and told me that a lady, a Ms. Johnson, was up front, waiting in the reception area. The receptionist didn't know exactly who this visitor was or why she was there to see me.

When I opened the door which divided the inner offices from the reception area, I immediately saw a middle aged woman who was neatly dressed. I still had no idea who she was. I also quickly noticed that she seemed emotionally distraught and that, oddly, she had one of her hands inside her purse.

I introduced myself to her and asked if I could help her. She proceeded to tell me that her name was Irene Johnson. She added that she was the wife of Jim Johnson. I also noticed that she continued to fumble with her purse -- nervously opening and closing it as she talked.

Immediately, I realized who she was. I had learned from my case agent that her husband had just been fired by the big healthcare company which was the target of my federal grand jury investigation. According to the local newspaper, Mr. Johnson, her husband, had confronted his boss about alleged wrongdoing at the company. As a result, the boss had just given her husband the ax. 

Even though I was not the guilty party who had fired her husband, I soon realized that this lady, as she continued to ramble and vent her anger, somehow blamed me, and our federal investigation, for their predicament.

And again, I watched as she kept fumbling with her purse, and kept putting one hand in it, as she continued to ramble on and on about how I didn't realize the damage I had caused her family.

Then, I started getting a little nervous. I was unsure what to do. Now, this woman was getting all worked up and chewing me out! And I had an errie feeling, and a sense of danger, but, still, I couldn't be sure about what I faced. Naturally, I couldn't see what was in her purse, but, just as naturally, I feared she had a pistol in it. To this day, I truly believe that she had a gun and that she was undecided about whether or not to use it. Maybe, I believe, she simply wanted to speak her peace before she took her revenge against me.

I quickly considered my options. I calculated that it would be difficult for me to attempt to tackle her, from across the room, before she snatched out her gun and shot me. But still, that seemed like one good option. However, on the other hand, I still just couldn't be sure she even had a weapon. I certainly didn't want to face the embarrassing prospect of taking down an innocent person who was simply reaching in her purse for a tissue! How would that look in the local newspaper? Nevertheless, I knew I needed to do something quick. I was in a situation in which I sensed that I needed to think and act fast, or possibly face dire consequences!

So, rather than tackling her, I decided to try a different approach. I chose to put on my best preacher's son's hat. In short, I elected to try to talk with her and show her some compassion. I proceeded to let her know how sorry I was about her predicament and, then, I told her that I would pray for her and her family.

That's what did it. That's what worked! I believe that when she saw that I was not a cold government prosecutor, but simply a nice young man doing his job, it melted her resolve to do what, (if anything), she might have been contemplating. But I don't want to overstate things. I didn't completely disarm her with my charm! Ms. Johnson did not smile at me, nor did she offer any apology. She seemed confused. Without a parting word, but after hearing I would pray for her, the flummoxed Ms. Johnson simply closed her purse, turned, and left.

Did she really have a gun? Did she really intend me harm? I will never know for sure. But I do know that, sometimes, when you sense danger, you had better think and act fast in order to escape!

And yes, I did pray for her. But you'd better believe that I never again entered the reception area of the U.S. Attorney's Office without first knowing who was waiting there and exactly what they were toting!  

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Goolsby "War Story:" More Examples of Kickbacks in Fraud Cases

[Depiction of Cash from wikipedia]

Recently, I started a series of posts in which I describe examples of kickbacks which were paid in major fraud cases I saw as a former federal prosecutor. Currently, I am a criminal defense lawyer in Augusta, Georgia, where I practice law with my sons, but I handled a number of significant white collar criminal cases as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for over 20 years.

In one major "honest services" mail fraud case, the defendant construction company paid a total of $2.7 million in kickback payments to an employee of another company, in exchange for being awarded profitable construction contracts by the other company's employee. 

One example of the many kickbacks, or rewards, paid in this case included payments for the other company's employee to purchase TWO vacation homes. In short, the construction company paid money toward his purchase of an $800,000 log cabin at a Minnesota lake and another $150,000 for the employee to purchase a condo at an exclusive winter ski resort in Whistler, British Columbia.

Of course, in return, the employee of the other company "scratched the back" of the construction company president by approving millions of dollars in construction projects.

As you can see, sometimes white collar crime pays pretty good; that is, until, like these defendants, you get caught!  

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Drones v. Right to Privacy

Drone depiction from]
We have all seen how the U.S. military has spied upon terrorists and "brought to justice" many of them in hot spots around the world. But this post does not involve such uses of drones to nail terrorists overseas.

Instead, I want to talk to you about the trend toward widespread usage of drones by law enforcement in the United States. According to various news reports, there will be about 30,000 drones in use in this country by the year 2020. Also, according to a recent survey by the Associated Press and The National Constitution Center, 44% of Americans actually support the idea of police using drones to track and catch criminals. Only 36% reportedly opposed it, according to the survey.

I don't know about you, but as a free citizen in a democratic society, I am alarmed about this trend involving unregulated usage of drones to watch us and about popular opinion in support of it. While I am very supportive of law enforcement using all legitimate tools to catch the "bad guys," (after all, while I presently may be an Augusta, GA criminal defense lawyer, I was a federal prosecutor for over 20 years), I am worried about "Big Brother" abusing this tool to stifle dissent and otherwise to step on our Constitution!

What do you think?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Job Losses: Another Cost of White Collar Crime

Depiction from]
We have discussed some of the serious costs of white collar crime before in this blog. Costs of fraud and corruption include not only the economic or financial costs, but also the social costs, including increased cynicism, or lack of trust, in our basic social institutions. But have you ever also considered that white collar crime can also, in some cases, cost jobs? Consider the following case.

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Peter DeSantis, of Engineered Architectural Systems in Alpharetta, Georgia, explained yesterday that he had to lay off employees during this recession due to recent thefts allegedly committed by a former employee. According to the news report, the former employee, Karalee Sciukas, was indicted this past month by a Forsyth County grand jury for allegedly stealing about $250,000.00, over several years, while employed as comptroller with the architectural company. According to the report, she allegedly wrote checks to herself and to other businesses which she reportedly controlled, and which were allegedly disguised as vendor payments.

Of course, Ms. Sciukas is presumed innocent and is entitled to her day in court. And the facts of that particular case are not the point of this post, anyway. The point is that white collar crime can have many serious costs and consequences, including lay-offs of employees during a bad economy.

As a former federal prosecutor, (and currently, as an Augusta, GA criminal defense lawyer), I have seen the devastating losses caused by fraud and corruption. I believe we can all agree that job losses are a serious problem and a serious cost of white collar crime.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Goolsby "War Story:" More Examples of Kickbacks in Fraud Cases

[Stacks of Cash Depiction from wikipedia]
Recently, I started a series of posts in which I describe examples of kickbacks which were paid in major fraud cases I saw as a former federal prosecutor. Currently, I am a criminal defense lawyer in Augusta, Georgia, where I practice law with my sons, but I handled a number of significant white collar criminal cases as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for over 20 years.

In one major "honest services" mail fraud case, the defendant construction company paid a total of $2.7 million in kickback payments to an employee of another company, in exchange for being awarded profitable construction contracts by the other company's employee. One of the many kickbacks, or rewards, paid in this case included a total of $13,945.00 paid to two dating services, (for the employee's benefit and enjoyment), including one dating service located in Atlanta and another one located in San Diego. In addition, the defendant construction company actually paid for the (other company's) employee's travel costs to fly around the country to date all the women he met through the dating services!

Now, you must admit, while fraud is wrong, those are nice kickbacks!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The GBI's Latest Probe of a GA State Senator

[Photo of Scales of Justice from]
According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation has reportedly been requested by the State Attorney General to investigate false expense reports allegedly submitted by State Senator Don Balfour of Snellville.  Of course, Senator Balfour is presumed to be innocent of any wrongdoing, and his criminal defense lawyer has essentially indicated simply that mistakes were made and that there was no intentional wrongdoing.

The newspaper also pointed out that this is the first GBI investigation of a State Senator since a case which I handled as a (former) federal prosecutor against former Georgia Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, here in Augusta, back in 2007. The GBI has some really talented agents. My case against Senator Walker also involved other law enforcement agencies and a number of other more complex criminal charges. It will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens in this latest investigation.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Search Warrants v. Subpoenas: Practical Considerations on Which Method the Feds Will Use

[Photo from]
According to various news reports, earlier today, state and federal law enforcement officials executed a search warrant at a social services (DFACS) office in Columbus, Georgia. According to the reports, the agents were looking for evidence pertaining to an investigation of DFACS employees for allegedly falsifying records to obtain federal funding. It struck me as a little bit odd that government agents were doing a raid on a government office.

But the facts of that investigation really are not the point I wanted to make here. Instead, I want to discuss in this post some of the practical reasons why the feds sometimes select search warrants, as opposed to utilizing grand jury subpoenas, or some other method, to obtain evidence of a crime.

As a former federal prosecutor for over 20 years, (currently, I am an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer), I often had to advise or plan with federal agents about which evidence-gathering method to use. A common reason to utilize a search warrant, (instead of a subpoena), is if you are afraid that the "bad guys," or targets of the investigation, will engage in a "shredding party," if you tip them off, or that you may give them time otherwise to remove or destroy incriminating records.

But, trust me, there are also some practical reasons NOT to use a search warrant! For instance, if you go in with a search warrant, you may be required to seize everything!  This can amount to millions of pages of documents that you are then going to have to inventory, store, and actually read! On the other hand, if you use a subpoena, you can make a rifle shot request for a relatively few, selected documents and avoid all the trouble and mess of a search warrant!

Another problem with utilizing a search warrant involves the serious disruption it causes to what may be otherwise be a legitimate office or business.

Every white collar crime investigation is different! And that is what made it exciting to be a federal prosecutor! These are just a few of the practical reasons why one evidence-gathering method may be chosen over another. What do you think?

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Goolsby "War Story:" The Most Interesting Kickbacks Ever!

Presently, I am a criminal defense lawyer in Augusta, Georgia. As a former federal prosecutor for over 20 years, I prosecuted all kinds of white collar crime cases, including every kind of fraud and public corruption one can imagine! One of the interesting aspects of many of the fraud cases which I prosecuted involved the types of kickbacks which were paid, either to crooked government officials, or to employees who failed to give their employers their "honest services."

The latter category gave me an idea for a series of blog posts. In short, on occasion, I want to give you some examples of the most interesting kickbacks I have seen, as a former Assistant U.S. Attorney. Here goes....

In one major mail fraud case I prosecuted, among other expensive kickback gifts, the owner of a construction company bought two new Corvettes, (of different colors, of course), and a new Dodge Viper, for the employee of another company who approved payment of his invoices! 

Most folks would be content simply to have one sports car!  Don't you agree?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Internet Fraud and a Letter to Good Old Igor

Sadly, we are all potential victims of fraud on the internet.  It is everywhere! And even though I am a former federal prosecutor for over 20 years, (and currently, a criminal defense lawyer with my sons in Augusta, Georgia), I receive unsolicited emails from con artists all the time!  Here is a sample which I just received at the Goolsby Law Firm:

Greetings of the day. My name is Igor Iv__, I represent Mr. Mikhail 
K., he is the former CEO of Y. Oil Company here in 
Russia. A briefing on Y. Oil Company can be checked via this link:
I have a very sensitive and confidential briefing from the top 
(Oligarch) to ask for your partnership in re-profiling some fund 
running into several millions of United States Dollars. This will be 
done in barges to ensure a smooth business venture. I suggest that 
this business deal be kept discreet as my client is not in favor of 
the current Russian government. See link for more details:
Note that this transaction is a Bank to Bank transaction and all 
documents backing this transaction will be sent to you for subsequent 
I look forward to your soonest and positive response.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all stop such phony email solicitations? Although I won't reply to "Igor," because it would probably just cause me to receive even more such emails, I wish I could send ole' Igor the following:

Dear Igor,
Greetings of the day to you, too.  However, please be advised that your pathetic, phony email solicitation has erroneously been sent by you to a former U.S. federal prosecutor who once enjoyed prosecuting con artists for ripping off innocent victims, and that I am still sick and tired of people who attempt to prey on others over the internet.
Accordingly, please be advised that your fraudulent email solicitation has been forwarded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, along with INTERPOL, and that, if and when you are caught, you will face prosecution to the fullest extent of the law! So, please do not send me any more emails and please consider trying to make an honest living, before you are arrested!
No Regards,

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Goolsby "War Story" About Heroism, Fear, and Fighting Crooked Cops

[Although the following "war story" draws upon my personal experiences, please view it as a fictional account, and please also remember that all people, including alleged crooked cops, are presumed innocent until proven guilty!]

I learned many years ago that heroes don't exist at three o'clock in the morning. That night, I certainly didn't feel like a hero. I was at home. I was alone. And I was downright scared -- for me, and for my wife, who was eight months pregnant with our first child. She was asleep in the next room.

I was a young, aggressive, but naive, prosecutor with a cause. I wanted to save the world, shake some trees, and lock up all the bad guys. A fellow Assistant D.A. and I were investigating one of our local sheriffs. And the sheriff knew about our investigation. Among other allegations, a major drug dealer had named the sheriff as an accomplice who had allegedly provided guns to protect a drug deal. The sheriff denied the allegations.

I could tolerate the harassment by the sheriff and his deputies. One of the deputies followed me to court whenever I entered that county. Another would playfully frisk me in the courtroom. And they all gave me their best, most menacing, "go to Hades" glares. I could handle all that.

But earlier, that afternoon, my secretary had received a threatening, anonymous telephone call. The unknown caller had simply said, "Tell Mr. Goolsby I'm gonna come to his house tonight and blow his f_ _ king head off!" Now, that was hard to handle!

I will never forget that long, lonely night! As I sat in my recliner, with my .38 special nearby, I remember wondering whether the cause was really worth it. I would never give up the fight. But I had learned that fighting corruption often comes with costs. 

I had also learned that heroes don't exist at three o'clock in the morning.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Identity Fraud: Georgia's Fastest Growing Crime

According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other news reports, reported cases of identity fraud and theft are sky-rocketing in the State of Georgia, and elsewhere.  For instance, according to reports, the number of reported identity fraud cases doubled in Fulton and Cobb Counties during the past year alone.

As a former federal prosecutor, (currently, I am an Augusta, GA criminal defense lawyer with my sons), I tried to make identity fraud a prosecutorial priority. Also, although I was unable to get my bosses to follow though, as a former AUSA, I had also advocated the establishment of an identity theft  task force.  Fortunately, in federal court, penalties are serious enough to "get the attention" of identity thieves. However, on the state level, identity thieves often receive probationary sentences, at least for their first offenses.

Another problem with combating identity theft and fraud also exists in the State of Georgia. It involves law enforcement budget problems. I'll bet you didn't know that, just a couple of years ago, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, (GBI), was forced to eliminate its identity fraud unit, following state budgetary cutbacks.

As a result, sadly, just when the identity fraud rate is escalating across this state, Georgia law enforcement has been rendered less capable of dealing with it.  What do you think should be done?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How Do You Find A Good, Experienced Criminal Lawyer?

In this blog about white collar crime, we generally try to give you good, interesting information about various hot topics in criminal law.  I also try, from time to time, to entertain you with some of my "war stories" from the court room. But we also try to give you some practical ideas and information about our criminal justice system for you to discuss with your own criminal lawyer.

Today, I want to focus on that last category -- and a topic which has become a pet peeve for me.  The topic is: How do you find a good, experienced criminal defense lawyer? Put another way, if you are in trouble with the law, should you simply call around and find the dirt cheapest lawyer out there!? That part is the part which bothers me!

As Augusta, Georgia criminal lawyers, (including over 26 years as a former state and federal prosecutor), every single day, we receive telephone calls and email inquiries from people all over Georgia who are looking for a criminal defense attorney. And sometimes, it seems that all some callers care about, (even if they have money), is hiring the cheapest criminal lawyer they can find. In my opinion, as a trial attorney who has seen both the best and the worst which the bar has to offer, that is a lousy approach!

Here are a few suggestions about finding the best criminal lawyer for your criminal case. First of all, we recommend that you talk with family and friends about their recommendations. Did Lawyer Smith really get Uncle Clem out of trouble? 

We also suggest that you actually make appointments and meet with several prospective attorneys. And ask them good, tough questions about their experience, including how many criminal cases, and what kind of criminal cases, they have tried. But that is just a start. The point is that, when your life and freedom are on the line, you should do your research and focus on finding the best, most experienced criminal lawyer -- and not just the cheapest lawyer -- which you can afford! 

Trust me, all criminal lawyers, just like all plumbers, barbers, or doctors, are NOT just alike. Many are experienced and competent; others are not. So, do your research. But please, please, please don't simply look for the cheapest lawyer you can find!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Goolsby "War Story" About Tolerating Stress And An Intolerable Judge

"The not to feel secure, but to be able to tolerate insecurity." (Erich Fromm)

No doubt, all trial lawyers have war stories to tell about how, at some point in their careers, a fire-breathing judge has given them fits during a trial. Fortunately, for me, most of the Georgia judges I have appeared before have been polite and professional.  However, I will never forget one exception -- a cantankerous old judge who appeared to hate all prosecutors and all police officers, along with any lawyer who appeared in court against one of his favorite attorneys!  Here is my "war story" from my prosecution days about dealing with this judge and about what I learned from a stressful courtroom experience.

This experience occurred early in my career, when I was a young assistant district attorney.  I was trying my second rape case. Even on a good day, I still got the nervous "heebie-jeebies" whenever I appeared in court. The defendant in this case was represented by an experienced trial attorney who was one of the judge's best friends and "favorite son" in that community.  At least, it seemed that way to me!  Sometimes, when you are in such a courtroom, it seems like you can almost smell the "home cooking." In short, you feel like the visiting team and the home-town referee is favoring the home town team.  And I could tell that day that I wasn't invited to this special, "lovey-dovey" feast between the judge and his fair-haired son!

After jury selection, we routinely called our witnesses up front to be sworn in and "sequestered" in the witness room, in accordance with the rule of sequestration.  I informed the judge that I had routinely put our G.B.I. laboratory witness "on call."  In other words, I had decided to allow my expert witness to continue to work at the lab until just before I needed him to testify. After all, the lab wasn't too far down the street.  

I had no idea that this routine decision would set off the judge's fuse against me!  Here is what happened!

Just before I was supposed to make my opening statement to the jury, the judge called me and the defense lawyer up to the bench.  Then, without any warning or justification, the judge became as red as a ripe beet. While shaking his extended finger at my face, he shouted at me, "If your expert witness walks into my courtroom, in violation of the rule of sequestration, I am gonna lock you up!"  Then, he tersely added, "Now, make your opening statement!"

I did as I was told. I made my opening statement! Fortunately, because I was so focused on the important  task at hand, I managed not to become too rattled by the judge's threat. I stayed focused and won my case! 

But you can bet your bottom dollar that I kept nervously looking over my shoulder throughout that trial and made sure that my lab witness didn't waltze into the courtroom!

I also learned some valuable lessons from this dreadful experience. For instance, I learned that being a trial lawyer involves learning how to deal with stress and how to tolerate insecurity. With a tough old judge breathing down my neck, there was no way I was ever going to relax, or feel secure. But the key is that I persevered and managed to handle the stress.  In other words, I learned that, as a trial lawyer, you may not feel warm and fuzzy in the courtroom, particularly when a judge is spittin' fire at you, but you can still learn to deal with the insecurity, and tolerate it, in order to win your case!

I might not have enjoyed the home cooking, or the stressful experience, but victory makes a sweet dessert!

Monday, June 18, 2012

DOJ Strikes Out at Second Roger Clemens Trial

[Photo of Roger Clemens from wikipedia]
It appears that, following the not guilty verdict in the John Edwards trial, the Department of Justice has struck out yet again in another high profile criminal trial. This time, it is the Roger Clemens trial. 

Today, various news reports indicate that Clemens, the former professional baseball pitcher, has been found not guilty on all counts by a federal jury in Washington.  As you will recall, Clemens was charged with allegedly lying to Congress in 2008 about his alleged lack of steroid use while a pitcher. You may also recall that an earlier trial of Clemens, last year, ended in a mistrial, after government prosecutors offered inadmissible testimony.

Now, following two trials, and following the expenditure of millions in taxpayers' dollars, another high profile defendant has been acquitted.  As a former federal prosecutor, and, currently, as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer, I don't know exactly where the government went wrong, but it surely is a shame to see such a waste of scarce tax dollars on criminal cases which probably should never have been brought in the first place! Don't you agree?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Ponzi Scheme Nets 110 Year Sentence for Allen Stanford

[Allen Stanford Mug Shot from wikipedia]
Did you hear the news about the sentencing yesterday of Defendant R. Allen Stanford in a Houston federal court?  He was sentenced to serve a whopping 110 years in federal prison!  

In March, a jury reportedly convicted Stanford on thirteen counts of mail and wire fraud for his role in a massive $7 billion ponzi scheme.  According to government prosecutors, Stanford treated investors "like road kill" in an international investment fraud scheme, whose scope was apparently exceeded only by the ponzi scam of investment fraud "king," Bernie Madoff. According to news reports, Stanford's criminal defense lawyers plan an appeal.

Stanford's 110 year sentence was surpassed by Madoff's 150 year sentence.  But is there really a difference?  

As a former federal prosecutor, (and currently as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense attorney), I am reminded of a story once told by a judge about another sentencing.  The judge had sentenced a bank robber to serve 77 years in prison.  The defendant told the judge, "But I can't make 77 years!"  The judge replied, "Well, just make it the best you can!"

Well, I guess Mr. Stanford, like Mr. Madoff, will just have to make it the best he can, too.  What do you think?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Georgia Tax Returns Face New Identity Fraud Screening System

[Photo of GA State Prison from Wikipedia]
As a former federal prosecutor, and, currently, as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer, I have handled many cases involving identity fraud. The State of Georgia, like many states, has had a serious problem with fraudulent income tax returns being submitted for tax refunds by con artists using identities of innocent victims.  According to various news reports, the State detected approximately 29,000 fraudulent tax returns in 2009, 52,000 such returns in 2010, and the number has swelled to approximately 100,000 bogus tax returns for 2011. 

But, apparently, help is on the way for the Georgia Department of Revenue in preventing tax refunds from being sent to identity thieves!  According to news reports, the State of Georgia has recently implemented a new computer screening system which will better detect fraudulent tax returns. For instance, the new screening system has better access to millions of legitimate addresses and can apparently better detect bogus addresses.

We can only hope it helps!  Identity theft affects us all, including all of us, as taxpayers, and also all those identity theft victims out there who were expecting quick tax refunds!

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The John Edwards Verdict: Hot Off the Press!

[Photo of John Edwards from wikipedia]
Have you heard the news about the jury verdict in the John Edwards criminal case?  According to news reports, Edwards has been acquitted on one count and a mistrial, (based on a hung jury), has been declared on the remaining counts of the federal indictment charging him with trying to conceal alleged campaign contributions to his secret lover, Rielle Hunter.  

It is unclear at this juncture as to whether or not the federal prosecutors will attempt to re-try the former Senator on the mis-tried counts.

Please recall that I had predicted in this blog that Edwards would be found not guilty!

Criminal Appeals and Oral Argument: A Few Observations

A few days ago, I had an oral argument before the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, in Atlanta, Georgia.  As a former federal prosecutor, here in Augusta, I often had to handle appeals of guilty verdicts in trials which I had handled.  (I was very fortunate that I lost only one case in over 20 years as an AUSA). 

Now, as an Augusta criminal defense attorney, I sometimes still must appeal, either a verdict or a sentence.  But no matter which side I have been on -- as a federal prosecutor, or as an Augusta criminal defense lawyer -- the experience of handling an oral argument has been quite similar.  Here are a couple of observations about oral argument which you probably won't find in a law book anywhere!

1.  THE TIME FLIES BY DURING ORAL ARGUMENT:  Generally, each side is allotted fifteen minutes to argue their respective sides of the case. In my recent case, since I represented the appellant, I got to go first and last, so I chose to argue ten minutes in my first argument and reserved five minutes for rebuttal.  There is a time clock in front of the lecturn which shows how much time you have left. Once the judges started peppering me with questions, I was again amazed at how fast the time whizzed by!

2. LAWYERS SHOULD CAREFULLY RESPOND TO JUDGES' QUESTIONS:  Another thing I have learned is that lawyers should focus on, and respond to, the judges' questions.  In other words, you must be willing to discard any planned argument and simply answer their questions.  After all, it is what the judges think is important that matters and not what you may think that matters!

3.  LAWYERS SHOULD RELAX AND ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE:  Finally, I recommend that attorneys should try to enjoy the experience of arguing before an appellate court.  Look, I realize that it can be a grueling experience to prepare for oral argument and to attend court out of town. And it is never fun to get grilled by judges while a time clock is ticking!  But, on the other hand, doing an oral argument, for attorneys, is sort of like playing in the Super Bowl for football players.  

This is why I went to law school and why I enjoy being a criminal lawyer -- the supreme challenge of having my client's fate in my hands while I try to use my skills and experience as an advocate to protect his rights -- and that is what practicing law should be all about!  In other words, the stakes are high, but you can make a difference, so you should relax and enjoy it!  

Also, getting to go to Atlanta for an oral argument also means staying at a nice hotel and eating at fancy restaurants, (like Durango's and the Blue Willow Inn) -- and that part of practicing law can be fun, too!    

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Goolsby Law Firm Brag Board

[Photo of the Goolsby Law Firm located at 233 Davis Road, Augusta, GA]

I hope you don't mind if I, as a proud father, brag a little bit today about my second son, Blake Goolsby.  As you may know, I already practice law in Augusta, Georgia with my oldest son, Ric, and now, my second son, Blake Goolsby, will be joining us, later this summer, at the Goolsby Law Firm! (see here)  In other words, my second son, Blake, just graduated from Mercer Law School a week ago.  Now, he is studying for the Georgia Bar Exam before he joins us at our family law practice later this summer in Augusta. We are so proud of Blake and all his accomplishments!

Of course, I don't mean to overlook my third son, Zachary, who just completed his first year of law school at the University of Georgia, in Athens.  We are proud of Zach, too, and also look forward to him joining us at the Goolsby Law Firm in a couple of years, too!  We are truly a family law firm which handles a little bit of everything, including divorces, adoptions, personal injury, and criminal law, in both Georgia state and federal courts.

That's all for bragging about my sons today!  I hope you understood!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Food Stamp Fraud in a Food Stamp Nation

[Food Stamp SNAP Logo Depiction from wikipedia]
Times are tough.  Some people claim that the United States has become a food stamp nation.  According to the latest government statistics, over 46 million Americans now receive food stamp assistance.  Most store owners and food stamp recipients are honest.  But, as to every government program, including the food stamp program, there will always be some fraud and cheating.

For instance, according to various news reports, a St. Paul, Minnesota Iraqi immigrant and market owner, Khaffak Ansari, was sentenced this week to serve 41 months in federal prison for food stamp fraud.  According to reports, Ansari was also ordered to pay $2.4 million in restitution.

Food stamp recipients are generally required to use their government-issued debit cards to purchase food, but sometimes, with a wink and a nod from cheating store owners, they purchase alcohol or cigarettes, or trade their debt card credits for cash.

In Ansari's case, the government claimed that he cheated the government food stamp program, (also known as the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, or "SNAP"), out of $2.5 million by trading cash for food stamp benefits for which the government then reimbursed him.

As a former federal prosecutor, I sometimes prosecuted fraud cases like this one.  I also sometimes saw the same problem occur which apparently happened in this Minnesota case.  Specifically, sometimes when the government agents make such cases, they estimate the amount of fraud, but they don't always have clear cut proof to back up their estimates.

Yes, times are tough.  But here's hoping that the government will do a better job of cracking down on the cheaters, so that there will be something left to help the honest folks.  Don't you agree?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

New Rules For Old Problems: An Update On The Secret Service Scandal

[Secret Service badge depiction from wikipedia]
Did you hear the latest news reports this past week about the Secret Service scandal in Cartagena?  A total of eight agents are now reportedly no longer with the agency.  The troubled agency is also reportedly implementing new conduct rules which, among other things, would prohibit agents from drinking alcohol on trips and forbid them from inviting any foreign guests back to their hotel rooms.  In addition, the agency will also reportedly assign chaperones to some foreign trips to make sure agents are acting appropriately!

What do you think about these new rules?  Do you believe the rules will really help?  Frankly, as a former federal prosecutor who has worked with Secret Service agents for many years, (see our law firm's website here), I don't believe the rules are necessary for most agents.  Again, as I have reported before, most Secret Service agents are highly trained and very professional.  In other words, they simply don't need any chaperones, or new conduct rules!  

In addition, in my opinion, I don't believe such rules will really help deal with the few "bad apples," who will always find ways to engage in such misconduct, no matter what the rules require.

What do you think? 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Prediction About the Verdict in the John Edwards Criminal Trial

[Photo of John Edwards from wikipedia]
As the trial of former Senator John Edwards actually begins tomorrow in a Greensboro, North Carolina federal courtroom, I just wanted to remind you of my prediction about his fate, last year, shortly after Edwards was indicted on six federal felony charges.  You will recall that the criminal charges involve his alleged concealment of over a million dollars in campaign contributions which went toward covering up his affair with Rielle Hunter.  My prediction was here.

I still stand by my prediction!  But will I be right!?  In other words, laying aside whatever you might think of Edwards, personally, what do you think a jury will do in this criminal case?

As a former federal prosecutor for over 20 years and, currently, as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer, I maintain that, generally, the best defense in a criminal case is to essentially admit the act, but deny the intent, or guilty knowledge.  It will be interesting to see if a variation of this defense works in this case.

What do you think?

Monday, April 16, 2012

The U.S. Secret Service Cartagena Bombshell

[Secret Service Badge Depiction from wikipedia]

As a former federal prosecutor, for over 20 years, I had the good fortune to work with federal agents from a wide range of agencies, including the I.R.S., F.B.I., A.T.F., and the Secret Service, (among many others).  Based upon my experiences, no agency has more professional, "straight-arrow" agents than the U.S. Secret Service.

So, you can imagine my surprise to hear that, this past week, up to eleven Secret Service agents were sent home from Cartagena, Colombia, based upon reports that someone allegedly refused to pay for the services of a hooker!  Really!?  The agents were reportedly part of the advance team sent down to prepare for President Obama's Latin America diplomatic visit.  Now, a major investigation of the agents (and agency) is under way.

Look, no matter how this investigation turns out, I still maintain that the Secret Service is one of the finest, most professional, law enforcement agencies in the world.  I have seen their work!  They not only protect the President, and other federal officials, but also they are the federal law enforcement agency responsible for investigating counterfeiting and a host of other federal crimes.  So, we need these guys!  Here's hoping that the Secret Service, which was created by President Lincoln in 1865, will soon overcome this embarrassment and continue their tradition of professionalism and  fine work!  What do you think?

Friday, April 6, 2012

Prosecutorial Misconduct, the Michael Morton Case, and Lessons Learned

[Photo of Lady Justice from wikipedia]
Did you see the C.B.S. 60 Minutes segment last week about a wrongly convicted man named Michael Morton?  Well, you should have seen it! This story was incredible! This poor man has recently been freed from a Texas prison, after serving 25 years for a crime he did not commit.  The horrible crime was the murder of his wife. His liberators included criminal attorney Barry Scheck and the Innocence Project, which helped clear Morton through DNA testing which was unavailable when he was convicted. Fortunately, police now also reportedly know who actually committed the murder.

But the point of this post involves one of the primary reasons why Mr. Morton was wrongly convicted in the first place.  According to the news report, back in 1987, when the case was tried, the prosecutor allegedly withheld key investigative reports from the defense.  (This allegation, which is reportedly being made against the former D.A., who is now a judge, is still under investigation).  One of the alleged withheld reports involved an interview of the grandmother of the Mortons' little boy, who was at home when his mom was tragically murdered.  In the report, the young child reportedly told his grandmother that the killer had a mustache, (which Mr. Morton did not have), and that this dad was not home at the time of the murder.  Again, this evidence was reportedly withheld from the defense.  

In fairness to the former D.A., he contends that he told the defense attorney about the report.  In other words, this question (about whether or not the report was turned over), is in dispute.  But don't you see how wrong it was if the D.A., in such a case, did not turn over such exculpatory evidence to the defense?

Here is my proposed solution to this serious problem:  I believe that prosecutors everywhere should generally be required to turn over ALL investigative reports to criminal defense attorneys.  Look, I know this solution can work!  As a former state and federal prosecutor, for over 26 years, I generally always followed an "open file" discovery policy in all criminal cases, (with limited exceptions for confidential informants' identities, or other sensitive matters, such as victims' addresses or telephone numbers).  In short, sometimes the procedural rules may not have required full disclosure, but I preferred to follow a "show and tell" policy of everything in my file.

Prosecutors should realize that, by being more open in discovery, they not only are doing the right thing, but also they will quickly get more guilty pleas, because the defendant will more clearly see you've got them when you show them "what you got!"

But, over the years, I have seen some short-sighted prosecutors who appear to want to hide their files from the defense.  As an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer, I have learned that obtaining discovery from an overly zealous prosecutor can be like pulling teeth with pliers!  This is wrong!  And it can lead to wrongful convictions, as in the Morton case!

I was an aggressive prosecutor who zealously represented crime victims' rights!  Trust me, I was no bleeding heart!  But I also tried to always remember that, it is the prosecutor's role, as former Supreme Court Justice Sutherland described it, to "strike hard blows, but not foul ones."  In short, if the evidence is on your side, you can still try hard to win, but it won't hurt for the D.A. to help ensure a fair trial, and a level playing field, by turning over ALL the evidence to the defense attorney!  

Then, maybe we wouldn't have to look back, 25 years later, and wonder -- what else should have done to ensure this poor man a fair trial?

What do you think?

Friday, March 23, 2012

An Armenian Bank Fraud Ring Bites the Dust

[Photo from mortgage]
As a former federal prosecutor, (and, currently, as an Augusta, Georgia criminal defense lawyer), I have often predicted that, sadly, most of us will eventually become victims of identity theft.  But this week, thanks to the good work of federal prosecutors in Los Angeles, at least one organized crime ring, which focuses on identity theft and bank fraud, has "bitten the dust!"

According to various news reports, four members of an Armenian organized crime conspiracy were found guilty in Los Angeles federal court of one of the largest bank fraud and identity theft schemes in California history.  

According to reports, the enterprise was headed by one of the defendants, Arman Sharopetrosian.  The four defendants operated their criminal enterprise out of their prison cells.  They reportedly used cell phones to access Social Security numbers and birth dates of innocent victims and used the information to steal over $10 million from victims' bank accounts.  (Just imagine what they might have accomplished if they had not already been incarcerated!?)  

The defendants will be sentenced at a later date.  And they will face some really tough federal statutory and guidelines sentencing!  Each count of federal bank fraud carries with it a 30 year statutory maximum.  Also, each count of aggravated identity theft carries with it a mandatory two year prison sentence which must run consecutive to any other counts!  Hopefully, these guys also won't be allowed to keep their cell phones!

Have you ever been a victim of identity theft or fraud?  Do you know someone who has?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Blago Goes To Prison: The Real "Reality Show"

[Photo of Rod Blagojevich from wikipedia]
[On the C.B.S. t.v. reality show Big Brother, when a contestant is eliminated from the competition, his or her photograph goes from color to black and white!]

Did you see the news reports about the final press conference of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich?  Yesterday, Blagojevich spoke to the news media and supporters one last time before he headed off, today, to report to a federal prison in Colorado.  Blagojevich will likely serve about twelve years of his fourteen year sentence, which he received last year following his convictions on multiple federal felony charges related to, as Blagojevich puts it, "political horse-trading."  In short, among other things, the former governor was convicted of attempting to sell the former Senate seat held by former Senator Obama.  Blagojevich is currently appealing.

But the appeals must wait.  Today, Blagojevich is headed to prison for a long time.  Although I am a former federal prosecutor, and although I have visited countless jails and prisons, fortunately, I have always gotten to go home after each brief visit.  But not the former governor.  He now faces having to adjust to a whole new lifestyle, including menial jobs, limited contact with family members, lousy food, and almost constant boredom. 

The former governor may now be scrubbing dishes or even toilets.

What do you believe would be the worst part of enduring a fourteen year prison sentence?  Of course, it is also very difficult for family members.  For Blagojevich, along with the usual difficulties, he may also miss the spotlight and holding press conferences.  What do you Blago's photo fades from color to black and white?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Thieves Who Steal Girl Scout Cookies

[Photo of girl scout cookies from]
This is a special year for the Girl Scouts of the USA.  The Girl Scouts are celebrating their 100th year anniversary.  One hundred years ago, in 1912, Juliette Gordon Low founded this fantastic organization in Savannah, Georgia.

Each year, around this time, we all look forward to purchasing Girl Scout cookies, including my favorites: Thin Mints, Samoas, and Tag-Alongs!  But have you heard about the sad, recent news reports of thefts and robberies being committed against girl scouts who are selling cookies?  So far, I have read about reports of such thefts occurring in Texas and South Carolina.

This is a sad state of affairs when girl scouts face such threats or danger from greedy thieves who would stoop so low!  Here's hoping that this will not occur again any time soon and that the Girl Scouts will continue to be around for another century!