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Tampa Attorney Pleads Guilty After Falling Victim to DEA Sting


A prominent Tampa attorney pled guilty to charges of hiding proceeds from illegal drug deals last week after agreeing to help a DEA agent and an informer set up a private trust for holding cash proceeds from sales of drugs that didn't exist.

Joe M. Gonzales had been an attorney and a civic leader for over three decades when an unnamed federal informant entered his offices in May 2014 asking him to help find a safe place to hide thousands of dollars from a cannabis growing operation. The informant told the 65-year-old attorney that he was facing up to three years in prison on wire-fraud charges, and he wanted the cash available to him after his release. The informant claimed that his cannabis operation netted up to $50,000 per month.

Court records say that Gonzales advised the informant on how to set up a private trust, and obtained a federal TIN for the trust. Gonzales subsequently met with a man the informant said was his brother, but who was actually a DEA agent, and received a cash payment of $14,000. He then deposited $12,000 of that amount into an account established for the trust. According to the plea agreement, Gonzales made several deposits in small amounts so as to avoid currency transaction reporting requirements.

Gonzales signed the plea agreement, which was filed in July. A sentencing date has not yet been set. He could be sentenced to up to five years in federal prison.

Gonzales has been a fixture in the Tampa area civic scene for a number of years. He received the Matilda Garcia Leadership Award from the City of Tampa Mayor's Hispanic Advisory Council in May, and was named Hispanic Man of the Year by the Tampa Hispanic Heritage Inc. Gonzales was a charter member of both organizations. He was also a one-time member of the Tampa Police Chief's Citizens Advisory Committee, the Sheriff's Hispanic Advisory Council, and the Hillsborough County Planning Commission, among other organizations.

The Law Offices of Bjorn Brunvand have been defending individuals against drug-related felonies and white-collar crimes for over a quarter century. Contact us today to discuss your Tampa Bay-are state or federal charges.

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