Lawyer admits laundering $100K of drug money

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SAN DIEGO — San Diego criminal defense attorney James Warner pleaded guilty Tuesday to a pair of federal felony offenses, admitting he laundered $100,000 of a client’s drug proceeds and tampered with a potential witness in the case.

James WarnerWarner, 65, a member of the California bar since 1974, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller to conspiracy to launder drug proceeds and attempted harassment of a witness.

Warner faces a statutory maximum of 23 years in prison when he is sentenced Oct. 16.

“Individuals who assist drug traffickers in their endeavors will be held just as accountable as the person who is actually selling the drugs,” said Drug Enforcement Administration San Diego Special Agent in Charge William R. Sherman. “Regardless of your profession, if you assist drug dealers with their criminal activities, you will be punished. The fines assessed show the seriousness of getting involved in this kind of illegal activity.”

As part of his guilty plea, Warner agreed to a criminal forfeiture of $100,000, the sum that was laundered. The defendant also agreed to forfeit approximately $200,080 in cash seized from his law office during the execution of a search warrant, along with more than $34,500 seized from his personal and business accounts.

According to the plea agreement, federal drug agents searched the home and business of one of Warner’s clients in May 2012. The drug trafficker told Warner that agents had overlooked $100,000 in cash during their search, and Warner agreed to conceal the money.

As part of the money laundering scheme, Warner took the $100,000 — which he knew to be drug proceeds — and invested it in an offshore business.

According to the plea agreement, Warner used his own money from his U.S. bank accounts and wired about $99,965 to a bank in the British Virgin Islands.

Warner then structured the $100,000 he received from the drug trafficker into his personal and business bank accounts to further conceal and disguise the nature of the drug proceeds.

Structuring is the breaking up of cash deposits under $10,000 to avoid bank reporting requirements.

According to the plea agreement, Warner created a fictitious corporation named Grenadine Development Inc. and opened a bank account in the name of Grenadine Development Inc. to issue checks to the drug trafficker.

Warner also admitted that he failed to file an IRS Form 8300 “Report of Cash Payments Over $10,000 received in a trade or business,” which was required to be filed when the defendant received currency greater than $10,000 in his business as an attorney.

According to his plea agreement, Warner also admitted that he tampered with a witness when he told his client, a drug trafficker named “T.K.,” that he should pay the legal fees of another drug trafficker to Warner to prevent him from cooperating against T.K.

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