Accepting a Guilty Plea in a Federal Case
In some cases the defendant will plead guilty to a lesser charge or to one of the charges listed in a criminal complaint or Indictment while other charges are no longer pursued by the prosecution. Or the agreement may have the defendant plead guilty to the primary criminal charge in exchange for the prosecution providing a more lenient sentence.
Moreover, for the deal to be worked out and executed it must be acceptable to both the prosecutor of the government's case, counsel for the defense, and the defendant.
Below is an article that's currently been in the headlines where two individuals accepted guilty pleas in the same case precisely for reasons explained above.
Ex-Congressman David Rivera Named as Co-conspirator in Federal Investigation
In 2012 Joe Garcia beat his opponent Incumbent Congressman David Rivera by double digits when the final results were tallied at the polls. It was Rivera's first loss after more than a decade of political service.
But the loss in that election may be the least of the former Congressman's problems.
Rivera who was plagued with scandals before his 2012 run regarding a half-million dollar campaign contribution by the Flagler Dog Track (now the Magic City Casino) came under investigation by both state and federal agencies. The state dropped its fifty-two charge investigation in early 2012 citing vague state finance laws and a statute of limitations issue but the FBI and IRS have not yet come to a decision if Rivera should have been responsible for paying taxes on the secret contribution.
More recently, in June of this year, a Tallahassee administrative judge dispensed an opinion to the Florida Commission on Ethics criticizing Rivera of double-billing taxpayers as well as his prior political campaigns for personal travel expenses. The statement also mentioned that Rivera hasn't properly disclosed his source of income to the state for many years.
Despite all of this, Rivera again filed to run for Congress this year for a short period of time. He later withdrew his name from the ballot citing his intention to run for the Senate in 2016.
In mid-August of this year, Ana Alliegro, Rivera's close associate and the previous campaign manager for Justin Lamar Sternad accepted a plea deal that charged her with conspiracy, making false statements and directing more than $80,000 in illegal campaign contributions to Sternad, a virtually unknown candidate that was running against Joe Garcia in the Democratic Congressional primary for the 26th Congressional District of Florida in 2012. Garcia handily beat Sternad in the primary.
Alliegro fled to Nicaragua to avoid a probe that was opened by federal authorities after the Miami Herald and its Spanish subsidiary El Nuevo Herald printed articles citing inconsistencies in Sternad's campaign funding records.
The articles also named former Congressman David Rivera as having the main role in the conspiracy. Allegedly, Rivera directed the funds to Sternad's campaign via Alliegro in an attempt to weaken his opponent's chances in the primary. Some of the funds were used to send out attack mailers aimed at the Garcia campaign. Thus far Rivera hasn't been charged and denies any wrongdoing.
However, upon Alliegro's return to the States in March, she was arrested and indicted on charges of campaign finance fraud. She originally pleaded not guilty to the four campaign finance violations but later accepted the plea deal leading many to believe she may testify against Rivera as part of the terms of the agreement.
Sternad was sentenced to seven months of incarceration after accepting a guilty plea on counts of accepting illegal campaign contributions, making a false statement, and conspiracy. The Indictment charged that in three Federal Elections Commission (FEC) filings a quantity of more than $81,000.00 in illegal campaign contributions were accepted by Sternad. He stated in federal records that the funds were organized and tied to Alliegro and Rivera. A federal judge reduced his sentence to thirty days citing his cooperation with federal investigators.
It's possible that Alliegro's acceptance of the guilty plea may signify that she may be preparing to assist the prosecution build their case against the former Congressman. However, her lawyer said there was no sure benefit by her guilty plea.
In an interview, he told Local 10 News "She's just accepted responsibility for what she's done"
As for Rivera, he continues to deny any wrongdoing to any of the allegations against him. He has continually declined comment about the federal investigation and after a candidate forum in August he refused to divulge any source of income received after he left his Congressional seat.
Should a Plea Agreement Be Accepted?
Accepting a plea agreement of guilty can sometimes be the best option based on the charges alleged by the government and the amount of evidence at hand. In this article Justin Sternad was able to shave six months off his sentence by cooperating with the government and Ana Alliegro has more than likely been assured that whatever penalties she would have faced will now culminate with a lighter sentence than if she were to go to trial and be found guilty of the charges alleged. Those in the know believe Alliegro will serve between six and eighteen months.
In a federal case, accepting a plea deal is a compromise which in many cases will still result in prison time however the term of incarceration will usually be substantially reduced. A plea agreement that doesn't result with incarceration will usually seek the defendant to testify against a co-conspirator or other individual who the government believes is more significant than the defendant in getting justice for a particular case.
As a former Assistant Federal Prosecutor I have learned that putting a deal on the table for the defendant's attorney to bring to his client and then getting the defendant to accept the deal is a victory for the prosecution. The disposition of any single case is always the goal of the government except in cases where it is clear that the primary defendant's incarceration would be the only acceptable outcome.
Before a plea bargain is agreed upon it is crucial for an experienced attorney who has strong knowledge in the federal system to examine all the evidence as well as any possible witness testimony that may be damaging and bring their client all options and ramifications of their decision before an agreement is accepted. The acceptance of a federal plea agreement also allows the government to focus their time and resources on other cases which wait on their schedule instead of devoting the time it would take to try the case in court. It also decreases the amount of trials federal judges need to hear and oversee. Thus, a plea agreement's acceptance may be mutually beneficial.
With a background of working for the government and now as a criminal defense attorney which includes over thirty-five years of federal courtroom experience, I am well-qualified to bring proposed settlements offered by the government to my clients to mutually decide if the offer is the best solution for their acceptance, or if it may be more advantageous to go to trial to fight the charges. In some cases a proposed settlement can be brought back to the prosecution for further negotiation in an attempt to get a better deal than was first presented.
If you, a friend, associate, or family member is charged with any federal crime call my law office as early as possible for the best defense available for any charges that deal with federal crimes
To view my qualifications and read what you should do if you are arrested and charged with any federal crimes or violations, click here.