High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel J. Stanford will spend months, possibly years, battling for his reputation after a federal grand jury named him a co-conspirator in the Curious Goods money laundering and drug trafficking case.
By Patrick Flanagan • Photos by Robin May
[Editor’s Note: This online-only exclusive is the first in a series of stories on this case. In the next installment, which hits TheInd.com Monday afternoon, Stanford explains why he thinks he’s a federal target in what he calls “a new front in the War on Drugs.” ]
Daniel Stanford is a criminal defense lawyer, but in the eyes of the federal government, he’s no different than some of the clients he represents. In other words, the feds believe he, too, is a criminal.
At least that’s how a recent federal grand jury indictment makes it seem.
That grand jury indictment was unsealed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office on Oct. 2, alleging Stanford and eight others were involved in a high-stakes money laundering conspiracy to distribute and market synthetic cannabinoids — also known as potpourri or fake weed — through the guise of the Lafayette smoke/head shop Curious Goods.
||Lafayette criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford faces
his toughest case yet: defending himself against federal money laundering and conspiracy charges.
Solely looking at the fed’s allegations, Stanford appears to be less of a criminal defense attorney and more of a high-stakes criminal mastermind involved in a multi-state synthetic drug distribution conspiracy.
According to the indictment, Stanford attended a clandestine meeting on Dec. 7 at the home of Curious Goods’ owner Richard Buswell, where the feds allege he “trained, advised, and instructed the individual franchise owners of CURIOUS GOODS LLC and their employees, on how to store, display and sell the ‘Mr. Miyagi’ products, how to detect and evade law enforcement, and how to respond to customers who asked questions about how to use the ‘Mr. Miyagi’ products and/or the physiological effects.”
The next day, an unindicted co-conspirator gave Stanford $80,000 in cash for his services at the meeting, or so the indictment makes it seem. The cash, coupled with $156,921 Stanford received in checks from Curious Goods LLC, are what the feds are calling laundered money.
U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley, who asked that questions for this story be submitted in writing, has not yet responded to a list of questions emailed to her spokeswoman Monday.
In interviews last Friday and again Thursday of this week, Stanford shared his side of the story with IND Monthly, starting with the “notorious” Dec. 7 meeting at the home of Buswell, who he had been representing in a federal securities fraud case since Sept. 2011. “I received a phone call from Buswell asking if I could stop by this corporate meeting he was holding for Curious Goods at his house that evening,” Stanford recalls. “I stopped by for all of 30 minutes. After the first five minutes, I stood up, introduced myself, and talked about how this was a new, gray area of the law and that if any of them are ever contacted by law enforcement they should call a lawyer immediately. If I’m there teaching them to evade selling Mr. Miyagi [synthetic marijuana] to law enforcement, then I must be doing a bad job because here they are selling to the police knowingly.”
Stanford also showed IND Monthly signed contracts and receipts accounting for the $80,000 in cash he received Dec. 8, the day the DEA and local law enforcement launched a multi-parish raid of all Curious Goods’ locations.
Stanford says on the day of the raids he was in court in Opelousas, and upon returning to Lafayette that afternoon found Buswell waiting for him at his office.
According to the receipts, Buswell, anticipating he’d be arrested that day, gave Stanford a black backpack filled with about $100,000 in cash. Stanford says the cash actually belonged to Paul Buswell, Richard’s brother, whom Stanford identifies as the feds’ “unindicted co-conspirator.” After bailing Buswell and several Curious Goods’ employees out of jail, a second receipt was signed the next day showing Stanford returned the black backpack to Buswell, which after bonds were paid contained $37,500.
Stanford claims another distortion in the federal indictment is the allegation that he was paid $156,921 in checks for representing Curious Goods. The lawyer for Curious Goods is actually Barry Domingue, who primarily practices personal injury and construction law. He, too, is named as a conspirator in the grand jury’s indictment.
Though he does not deny receiving the payments, Stanford says that money is unrelated to Curious Goods. Those payments stem from a Sept. 2011 contract Stanford signed to represent Buswell in an ongoing federal securities fraud case. Stanford says his representation of Buswell in the securities fraud matter is the reason he is being implicated in the Curious Goods case (that matter will be the subject of a second online installment next week).
While the Curious Goods conspiracy makes for great headlines, it’s all smoke and mirrors, maintains Bill Goode, a former federal magistrate who has worked as a criminal defense attorney since 1987. Goode, who leases office space to Stanford, says the feds case all boils down to how you interpret “attorney’s fees” and the 6th Amendment, which entitles all defendants, whether they’re guilty or not, to legal representation.
“If a drug dealer hires you as a lawyer and he pays you with money that came from drugs, the drug dealer has laundered money,” says Goode. “And if you the lawyer know that money is tainted, then you also are complicit.” Goode says the issue of lawyers representing drug dealers recently went before the Department of Justice.
Lafayette criminal defense attorneys Daniel Stanford and Bill Goode question whether the synthetic marijuana at the heart of the federal case against Stanford and eight others is even illegal.
“Based on a Department of Justice provision, money laundering doesn’t apply to Daniel Stanford because you can’t prosecute a lawyer for money he receives for 6th Amendment purposes,” says Goode. “All the money Daniel Stanford received from Richard Buswell was for attorney’s fees for the securities fraud case. The feds say Daniel was paid with checks from Curious Goods, but what’s to question about getting paid from a client’s business? It happens all the time. As far as the cash, Daniel has receipts proving it was never his cash. I’ve had clients bring me cash money so in case they get arrested I’ll be able to bail them out. Possessing cash for a client is not illegal.”
Goode also questions if “Mr. Miyagi,” the synthetic marijuana sold by Curious Goods, is even illegal. He points to an emergency ban passed by the federal government on March 1 of last year outlawing five substances used to make synthetic marijuana. Mr. Miyagi contains none of those substances, but Goode says federal prosecutors are basing their argument on the 1986 Federal Analog Act, which allows any chemical considered “substantially similar” to a controlled substance to be treated as such.
“Not once did the feds go to Curious Goods and say, ‘Hey we got this emergency ban, and we think Mr. Miyagi may be an analog of those banned substances,’” says Goode. “They could’ve said, ‘Take it off the shelves, and we’ll test the product and see if there’s a problem.’ Curious Goods is like any other business; they use a credit card machine, they pay their property taxes, their sales taxes. It’s not like you’re having to go meet someone in the shadows of some parking lot to make some shady deal. But no, instead of giving these people the opportunity to know they may be doing something wrong, the feds just go bust in and arrest everyone.”
Goode also notes that the grand jury process is a one-sided affair that allows only the prosecution to present its side of the case, oftentimes presenting illegal evidence like hearsay. “If you’re indicted, even if you’re innocent, you’re going to be in for one helluva ride.”