A federal judge sentenced Baltimore defense attorney Kenneth Ravenell to four years and nine months in prison plus three years of supervised release Wednesday after he was convicted in December on one charge of money laundering.
Federal prosecutors had asked U.S. District Court Judge Liam O’Grady to sentence Ravenell to eight years in prison, whereas Ravenell sought probation. Ravenell is expected to appeal.
“This is a difficult day for everyone, including the court,” O’Grady said when passing down the sentence. Still, he called the conviction “about as clear a case of money laundering that can be found.”
Ravenell and his attorneys declined to comment, and dozens of his family and friends showed up in court to provide support.
He is ordered to report to Federal Bureau of Prisons custody Oct. 15.
O’Grady denied Ravenell’s request to stay his sentence until his appeal is heard, saying he didn’t see a sufficient legal argument that would lead to a reversed conviction.
Federal authorities originally charged Ravenell with racketeering, drug conspiracy and money laundering for allegedly helping a multistate marijuana operation run by drug kingpin and nightclub owner Richard Byrd. Byrd was convicted in 2017 and he testified against Ravenell, as did other members of his organization.
Sentenced to more than two decades in prison, Byrd no longer appears on online federal prison rolls and may have been released early, perhaps due to his cooperation with prosecutors. There are several sealed filings in his criminal case.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment about Byrd’s status.
Ravenell had hired prominent attorney Josh Treem and investigator Sean Gordon for his legal defense, but the two men became a part of the case after a jailhouse interview with Byrd and also were federally charged. A jury found both men innocent.
With Treem and Gordon acquitted on all charges, and Ravenell acquitted on six of the seven charges against him, Ravenell’s attorneys lobbied O’Grady to offer leniency on the grounds that the jury must not have found the evidence persuasive. O’Grady, while praising the jurors for their thoughtfulness and consideration, disagreed.
“[The jury] very clearly could have convicted each of the defendants on all the charges,” O’Grady said. “There was sufficient evidence.”
O’Grady also ordered Ravenell to forfeit an unspecified amount of money as it relates to his criminal activity. The specific amount will be announced later, in a written ruling.
Prosecutors pushed for a harsh sentence in the hopes it would serve as a deterrent to other high-profile defense attorneys who may be laundering money for their clients.
“Whether Mr. Ravenell is an outlier or the tip of the iceberg, we don’t know,” said Leo Wise, the lead federal prosecutor, in court.
O’Grady agreed, saying deterrence is needed, thus the imprisonment.
Prosecutors said Ravenell, then working as a partner at the law firm Murphy, Falcon and Murphy, used the firm’s bank accounts to launder $1.8 million in drug money through a series of complex transactions involving other lawyers, go-betweens, shell companies and even a United Nations ambassador from Uganda.
During and after the high-profile trial, members of the legal community were quick to criticize the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland and Wise for what they considered an overzealous investigation into one of the state’s most respected lawyers.
Wise, in his remarks to the court Wednesday, seemed unfazed, calling Ravenell greedy and corrupt.
“Without money launderers like Ken Ravenell, large-scale drug dealers like Richard Byrd wouldn’t exist,” Wise said.
O’Grady said he considered Ravenell’s significant contributions to the legal world, his community, his church and his family support when determining his sentence.
Ravenell sent the court 88 letters from lawyers, judges, former clients, faith leaders, friends and his wife supporting him as he asked for leniency.
New Antioch Baptist Church Pastor Kenneth Barney, defense attorney and close friend Randall Craig and sister Doris Brown-Ravenell all testified in court Wednesday on behalf of Ravenell’s character, money laundering conviction aside.
“We are asking you, your honor, by using your discretion to show mercy and leniency to restore Ken back to the community,” Brown-Ravenell said.
Growing up in extreme poverty in South Carolina, Ravenell, 62, was born to sharecroppers and had 11 siblings. He shared a room with his younger brother Paul, who Ken taught how to feed the hogs, cut wood, tend to crops and pray.
Ravenell attended South Carolina State University, a historically Black university, before graduating from the University of Maryland School of Law in 1984. Craig attended Maryland with Ravenell and said his friend’s nickname as a law student was Ken “I love the law” Ravenell.
Barney said Ravenell joined New Antioch Baptist Church of Randallstown on March 24, 1996, and has stood out in a congregation of roughly 7,500 for his generosity and commitment. Many of the letters submitted on Ravenell’s behalf, as well as the testimony offered in court, centered on his faith and commitment to family.
“I don’t know another man like him who is so dedicated to the law and the community,” Craig said.
As a criminal defense attorney, Ravenell has handled numerous prominent cases, including that of a West Baltimore gunman who shot and killed 7-year-old Taylor Hayes. He also sued Baltimore County Police on behalf of the young son of Korryn Gaines, the Randallstown woman killed by officers during a standoff.
If his conviction is upheld, he likely will be stripped of his law license.
Ravenell himself did not say much in court, knowing that if he commented on his case his words could be used against him in future court proceedings. What little he did say was to O’Grady.
“I wish you knew me,” Ravenell said. “I really wish you did. I wish you knew me like my family and friends.”
O’Grady passed judgment gently, telling Ravenell he wishes he had known him and that he will be “sorely missed” by the community while he is in prison.
“That doesn’t mean I don’t admire the work you’ve done,” O’Grady said. “I wish you well.”