A prominent Boston defense attorney was charged Wednesday with conspiracy and money laundering in what federal prosecutors say was a plot to conceal the source of more than $225,000 in drug money.
Robert George, 56, was arrested at his Westwood home by federal drug agents. He made a brief initial appearance in U.S. District Court and was later released on $50,000 unsecured bond.
His attorney, Rosemary Scapicchio, said George vehemently denies the charges, and she accused federal agents of setting him up.
George, who is known for his aggressive style and gregarious personality, has had a long list of high-profile clients, including organized crime figures Francis "Cadillac Frank" Salemme and John Martorano.
He also represented Christopher McCowen, a trash collector convicted in the murder of fashion writer Christa Worthington on Cape Cod, and William Bennett, who became the prime suspect in the Charles Stuart murder case after Stuart claimed in 1989 that a black man had killed his pregnant wife. Stuart later jumped off a bridge to his death, and Bennett was cleared.
For the last two years, George and an unindicted co-conspirator _ the owner of a mortgage company _ conspired to conceal the source of more than $225,000 in drug proceeds, according to an affidavit written by Joseph Tamuleviz, a special agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration. The company owner later became a cooperating witness against George in the investigation.
George is accused of introducing a former client to the businessman, who converted the drug money into checks made payable to a fictitious undercover company. The former client, who also was cooperating with investigators, taped a series of phone calls and meetings with George.
The ex-client told George and the businessman that he had about $1 million in cash from selling cocaine and needed it "cleaned."
Prosecutors say George told the cooperating witness that he would pay him a fee for bringing him clients. George then allegedly took $25,000 in cash from an undercover agent posing as a drug dealer and made two separate deposits of that money, in amounts under $10,000 to avoid a reporting requirement. George then allegedly gave the cooperating witness a fee in the form of a check made payable to a fictitious undercover company.
George is charged with one count of money laundering conspiracy for the $200,000 initially laundered and one count of money laundering for the $2,500 check he wrote to the cooperating witness as a referral fee. He is also charged with one count of structuring for the two checks under $10,000 that he deposited into his account to avoid the reporting requirement.
If convicted of the money laundering charges, George faces up to 20 years in prison. He faces up to five years on the structuring charge.
"Defense counsel play a critical role in the criminal justice system, protecting important constitutional rights upon which we all depend," U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in a statement.
"But when an attorney assists in the criminal concealment and laundering of drug money ... it impedes the administration of justice and is an affront to all ethical and law abiding members of the bar."
George rolled his eyes and appeared to mouth the word "stupid" as he was led into the courtroom to hear the charges against him. He did not comment to reporters after he was released.
His lawyer criticized federal agents for investigating George, saying prosecutors have faced no punishment for sending wrongfully convicted defendants to prison for decades.
"In this case, they're investigating a criminal defense attorney who is out there protecting people's rights," she said. "It's outrageous."