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Jervis Wise Obtains Acquittal in Federal Drug Trial

Jervis Wise, obtained a not guilty verdict this week for a client in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division. Wise’s client was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of cocaine. If convicted, he faced 10 years to life in prison. Fortunately, however, the client was acquitted and did not face sentencing.

Mr. Courtney Allen, a 34 year-old father, was alleged to have conspired with at least one other individual to purchase a half kilogram of cocaine for sale and distribution. The deal had been orchestrated by law enforcement officers who had arranged for a sale to be made by a confidential source who was working undercover with law enforcement and who faced federal drug charges himself. Allen had been a passenger in the car of another individual who attempted to make the cocaine purchase in the parking lot of a large shopping center in Manatee County, Florida. Allen and the other individual were arrested shortly after the attempted purchase fell through.

Law enforcement alleged that Allen and the attempted purchaser of the cocaine had pooled their funds together to make the attempted cocaine purchase. It similarly alleged that Allen and the attempted purchaser had discussed the drug deal over cell phones during a video-recorded meeting with the confidential source when the terms of the cocaine purchase were negotiated. Law enforcement further purported that cell phone records of Allen and the attempted purchaser linked them to one another in the purported cocaine conspiracy.

Following their indictment in the federal district court, Mr. Allen and the attempted purchaser proceeded to jury trial. The Government’s theory at trial was that Allen had knowingly and willfully entered into the conspiracy with his co-defendant to purchase the half kilogram of cocaine with intent to later distribute those drugs in smaller quantities. The defense disputed that Mr. Allen ever had knowledge of the cocaine deal or that he ever entered into any conspiracy to purchase or otherwise possess the cocaine. Allen established at trial that his association and communications with the co-defendant were legitimate and did not relate to any drug dealings.

After approximately five hours of deliberations, the jury ultimately returned a not guilty verdict for Mr. Allen. Had he been convicted, he would have faced a 10 year mandatory minimum sentence, with a potential sentence of up to life in prison.

Wise Wins Acquittal in Lakeland First-Degree Murder Case

A Polk County jury acquitted a Lakeland man defended by J. Jervis Wise last month on charges of first-degree murder and armed robbery in relation to the shooting death of an auto mechanic and alleged drug dealer in 2008.

Kaheem Shakel Bennett, who was fifteen at the time of the murder, was indicted on the charges in January of this year. Now 23, Bennett was tried on crimes related to the slaying of Ernest Allen, Jr. on December 29, 2008. Allen was killed in an apparent robbery at his home (which doubled as an auto shop and, from where Allen allegedly sold illegal drugs) in the North Lake Wire neighborhood of Lakeland. Another man, twenty-three year old Reeshemaha Antar Pearson, was arrested at the time for the murder as well. Twenty-one year old Sidney Lee Mells was arrested along with Bennett and Pearson for another murder at which authorities allege Bennett was present.

Despite not being officially classified as a cold case, it generated few leads as the months turned into years. However, in 2014 Lakeland PD established the Cold Case Unit to investigate and clear its over three dozen unsolved murders. Working on information obtained from Pearson, investigators developed a case against Bennett, which they presented to a Lakeland jury last month over the course of three days.

The state presented a witness who testified that Bennett was the mastermind behind the murder. However, Wise called the witness’s credibility into question, and did the same for other witnesses who alleged that Bennett admitted to involvement in the murder. Wise also presented the jury with witness testimony establishing an alibi for his client, telling the court that Bennett was at a nearby establishment at the time of Allen’s slaying. The jury deliberated for six hours before finding Bennett not guilty of both offenses.

2 Tons of Cocaine. Attorney Jervis Wise Obtains Not Guilty Verdict.

Jervis Wise obtained a not guilty verdict for a Honduran client charged in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, on charges of possession with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute the same. Federal law enforcement interdicted a fishing vessel off Honduras last fall and seized more than two tons of cocaine. Wise’s client, Edgar Roberto Thaiton-Arriola, and the other crew members from the boat were charged.

Despite the fact that two tons is substantially more than five kilograms, the charge is the same. Federal law establishes five kilograms as the threshold between lower and higher ranges of punishment. If convicted of possession with intent to distribute less than five kilograms of cocaine, defendants face five to 40 years in prison. If convicted of possession with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine, defendants face 10 years to life in prison. The amount of illegal substances seized can be taken into account by the court at sentencing for determination of final sentence.

Fortunately for Wise’s client, he was acquitted and no sentencing was necessary.

Lobster Fishing

Mr. Thaiton-Arriola is a 43-year-old father of four from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. In November, 2011, Edgar visited family near La Ceiba, a coastal city in Honduras. During the visit, his sister’s significant other told him about a job he could obtain working on lobster fishing boat during an approximately three-month fishing trip. He accepted the job and set out with a 17-person crew.

When the fishing boat, the “MR. GEO” left port, the ship was outfitted for lobster fishing. Edgar had no indication that the boat may later become in involved in drug activity. In addition to the 17-person crew, the owner of the boat was on board when it left port.

Change of Plans

About a day later, the ship anchored off a remote coastal area of Honduras. While the ship was anchored, a “go-fast” boat pulled alongside and loaded several barrels of gasoline on board. One or more of the crewmen on the go-fast boat were armed. The owner of the MR. GEO then left on that go-fast boat and told the crew of the GEO that nobody could leave.

Edgar and the other crewmen were very concerned and suspicious, but felt that they were stuck on the ship with no way out.

After receiving the gasoline, the MR. GEO fished for lobster for a few days. Federal prosecutors in Tampa would later argue that the ship did not actually fish, but rather, received a large quantity of lobster from another boat and that any lobster fishing was a ruse to disguise the boat’s drug activity.

After approximately three days, the GEO left the fishing grounds and refueled a go-fast boat that was suspected of smuggling cocaine from Colombia up the Caribbean coast at the direction of the captain. Shortly thereafter, the captain was called to go rescue another go-fast boat that was in distress. That boat was sinking and was loaded with nearly 2 tons of cocaine. The crew of the GEO reluctantly took the crew of the go-fast boat (three men) on board, but would not take the cocaine on. The captain of the GEO eventually ordered the crew to take on the cocaine and the GEO crew complied, under duress.


The following morning, a Navy ship that was carrying some Coast Guard personnel working with Operation Panama Express interdicted the GEO. Shortly before the interdiction, Navy aircraft observed the GEO throwing the cocaine bales and gasoline barrels overboard. The Navy ship recovered the bales in the waters surrounding the GEO.

The 20 individuals on board the GEO were held on the high seas for approximately four weeks until they were brought to port in Tampa to faces charges.

Three of the GEO crewmen were juveniles and were sent back to Honduras based on their age. The remaining 17 people were indicted for possession with intent to distribute more than 5 kilograms of cocaine while on board a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the US and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute the same.

Three members of the go-fast crew pled guilty and agreed to cooperate with the US Attorney’s office in the prosecution of the GEO crew. On the first day of trial, the captain of the GEO also pled guilty. The remaining 13 individuals – all crew members of the GEO – proceeded to trial.


The Government’s theory at trial was that all of the crew knew that the GEO would be involved in drug activity. The defendants, on the hand, asserted that they boarded the GEO without knowledge of the intent to participate in drug activity. Once the refueling operations began, the crew was stuck at sea and had been coerced by veiled threats to follow the captain’s orders.

At trial, the government presented various coast guard and DEA witnesses as well as two of the members of the go-fast crew. The go-fast crew attempted to implicate the GEO crew and alleged that the whole crew had knowledge of the conspiracy and willfully participated in it all along the way.

The defense disputed that position and was able to bring out many inconsistencies in the testimony of the go-fast crewmen. The jury was also made aware that the go-fast crewmen were facing 10 years to life imprisonment and had entered into plea agreements to attempt to provide substantial assistance to the Government in hopes of receiving breaks on their sentences. The jury also heard evidence of the very violent nature of the drug trafficking business, particularly in Honduras. That evidence was elicited to show the jury the duress that the crew was under when they realized that they were caught up in a high-level drug conspiracy.

Not Guilty Verdict

After only three hours of deliberations, the jury ultimately returned not guilty verdicts on both counts as to all 13 of the defendants. Had they been convicted, the defendants would have faced 10 year mandatory minimum sentences with potential sentences of up to life in prison.

Appellate Results

United States v. Hill, — Fed.Appx. —, 2018 WL 3654836 (11th Cir. Aug. 1, 2018)

In United States v. Hill, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit vacated the Appellant’s 24-month sentence of imprisonment on convictions for conspiring to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7b, and for two substantive Anti-Kickback offenses. The alleged healthcare kickback scheme involving a pharmacy, a marketing company, and a group of sales representatives. Mr. Wise argued on appeal that his client’s U.S. Sentencing Guidelines range was miscalculated at sentencing because the calculation relied on the purported intended loss from the scheme ($954,692.05), rather than on the net value of the improper benefit to be conferred from the alleged offenses. The Eleventh Circuit agreed and found plain error in the calculation of the Guidelines range, vacating the client’s sentence.

United States v. Barona-Bravo, Juan Carrasquilla-Lombada, et. al., 685 Fed.Appx. 761 (11th Cir. 2017)

Appellant Juan Carrasquilla-Lombada had been charged in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division, on one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of cocaine while aboard a vessel subject to the jurisdiction of the United States and one count of possessing with intent to distribute five kilograms of cocaine in violation of 46 U.S.C. §§ 70503(a), 70506(a), (b); 21 U.S.C. § 960(b)(1)(B)(ii); and 18 U.S.C. § 2. The charges stemmed from the Coast Guard’s interdiction of a 208-foot freighter vessel in international waters off of Central America. The Coast Guard went to find 640.9 kilograms of cocaine located in various areas of the ship. Upon the initial recovery of cocaine, all members of the crew were taken into custody at sea and later indicted on the two federal charges.

The jury ultimately found Mr. Carrasquilla-Lombada not guilty on the substantive possession charge, but guilty on the conspiracy charge. He, along with six other defendants, appealed the convictions and sentences to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. On April 14, 2017, the Eleventh Circuit vacated all of the defendants’ sentences and remanded the case to the district court for resentencing, finding error in the failure to make individualized findings on the record concerning the scope of criminal activity each particular defendant agreed to jointly undertake.

State of Florida v. Fowler, 195 So. 3d 378 (Fla. 2d DCA 2016)

In State v. Fowler, the client had been charged in state court with Trafficking in Cocaine. The charges stemmed from evidence seized during a search conducted at the client’s residence. The circuit court granted a dispositive motion to suppress all of the evidence seized during the search, finding that law enforcement had entered the residence illegally. After the grant of the motion to suppress, the State appealed to the Florida Second District Court of Appeal. Mr. Wise represented the defendant on appeal and argued that the circuit court judge was correct in granting the motion to suppress. The District Court of Appeal went on to affirm the lower court’s grant of the motion to suppress. All of the charges were dropped in the lower court as a result thereof.