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A sting operation that led to the conviction of an attorney who offered to launder drug-trafficking proceeds in a scheme inspired by the hit TV show “Breaking Bad” was affirmed by a federal appeals court Aug. 4 ( United States v. King , 2017 BL 272454, 6th Cir., No. 16-4039, 8/4/17 ).
“The undercover officer feigns an offer to commit a crime and the individual accepts the offer, converting an offer to commit a crime based on untruths into a crime based on a true desire to violate the law. Sometimes, as it happens, the resulting crime blends non-fiction with fiction,” Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton wrote for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
After watching the AMC hit show about a science teacher who finances his cancer treatment by making and selling methamphetamine, defendant Matthew King approached Marcus Terry at a strip club.
King needed money and believed Terry was a drug dealer when, in fact, Terry was an undercover informant, according to the court summary.
King pitched Terry on a money laundering scheme based on what he saw the fictitious lawyer Saul Goodman do on “Breaking Bad,” the court summary showed. That is, he proposed either creating a sham corporation for a non-existent entertainment company (under the assumption that such enterprises are “cash-heavy") or funneling the money through an interest-bearing account King used for client services. The second option would allow King to hold onto the money and deduct for fake legal services and slowly return the money to Terry.
The two decided on the second option after many conversations—all of which Terry recorded and turned over to police. King was eventually charged and convicted of two counts of money laundering.
On appeal, King argued the recorded tapes violated his constitutional right to cross-examine Terry. However, the court disagreed, saying the government didn’t introduce the tapes to prove the truth of the statements in them, but to show that King believed he was participating in a money laundering scheme.
“This was a sting operation after all,” the court said. “The prosecution used Terry’s statements to show that Terry represented the money to be drug money and that King believed him.”
Circuit Judges Eugene Edward Siler Jr. and Helene White also sat on the panel. Federal Public Defender Claire C. Curtis, Cleveland, represented King. Daniel R. Ranke from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Cleveland represented the government.
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