The Cambridge Police Department is on the hunt for a gentleman who may end up actually being prosecuted by the United States Attorney’s Office in Federal District Court. This time, it is a white collar crime, as well as a crime of violence, and it reads like the backdrop to the 2002 movie “Catch Me If You Can”
The investigation is not a new one. In fact, the Cambridge Police issued an arrest warrant for 45-year old John B. (hereinafter, the “Suspect”) back on April 9th. While the authorities believe the Suspect is still in the area, he has yet to be caught. In the meantime, he keeps changing his identity. His primary two aliases are a gun toting federal agent and, the other, a well-dressed restaurant owner.
While the chase is on, he has been able to cheat his unsuspecting victims out of thousands of dollars.
Police say the Suspect’s method of operation is to meet his victims at their homes under the pretense of selling them a dark blue Chrysler 300. He then robs them or simply drives them somewhere, takes their money and then drives off.
In one con, a 42-year-old New Hampshire. man agreed to buy the car in exchange for $1,000 and some landscaping work, according to Somerville police. The Suspect, wearing a three-piece suit and claiming to be a restaurant owner, took the money and ditched the victim at the Somerville Depot, where they had stopped under the pretense to buy shrubs for the landscaping work.
The Suspect allegedly pulled a similar scam five days earlier, only this time, he was disguised as a federal agent. He even showed his badge and handcuffs. Finally, he showed his gun. That was when he put the semiautomatic handgun to the side of the 21-year-old Haverhill man’s head. That time, he had asked the victim to bring him to Cambridge so he could get the car title for the sale. However, upon reaching the desired location, the Suspect pulled out the gun and allegedly stole $4,000 in cash from the victim (the reported price he had asked for the car) and the victim’s iPhone. He presented two new sales’ options to the victim, namely, get out of the car and run or I will shoot you.
The victim wisely chose the first option.
While the local police are now undertaking the manhunt for the Suspect, and he has certainly, by the descriptions, committed local crimes for which each state may prosecute him (such as assault, armed robbery, larceny, etc.), he has also crossed the line into potential federal prosecution.
When a crime crosses state lines, in this case Massachusetts and New Hampshire, it becomes a federal matter even though both states may also individually prosecute for the crimes perpetrated on their soil. Usually, the events would be tied together as a common scheme or plan. For example, in this matter, both crimes would be prosecuted together if the prosecutors could show them to be a part of the same operation.
Of course, this is easier if there are more than one person involved on both sides of the state line. In that case, you could see conspiracy charges.
In cases like this, it is the federal prosecutor’s office who decides whether the matter will be prosecuted in state or federal court (although, technically, it could be prosecuted in both). In most cases where a person simply steals this amount of money once in one state and once in another, they will pass. However, there are a couple of elements of the Suspect’s methods which may make the case more appealing to federal authorities.
First of all, the fact that the Suspect is passing himself off as a federal agent is not something that the feds are likely to appreciate very much. Something like that, in itself, could tip the balance in favor of federal prosecution. Secondly, somehow the Suspect, presumably a Massachusetts resident, got word of selling his car to someone in New Hampshire and then got that driver to take him back to Massachusetts under false pretenses. Both these specifics make that one theft, in and of itself, take place in both states.
“Sam, you make it sound as if federal prosecution is worse than state prosecution”.
Yes, I do. Because, at least in terms of Massachusetts, it is. The sentences tend to be harsher in federal court and federal authorities have many more resources at their disposal in the preparation and prosecution of crimes. After all, their investigators tend to be agencies like the DEA and FBI.
Federal investigators often take their time before taking their suspect into custody. They are more careful and generally have developed a stronger case than is often seen in state court. They are also quite talented in lulling a target into a false sense of security as the investigation seems to ebb and flow over a long period of time.
Finally, the Rules of Criminal Procedure are much tougher for the defense in federal court. One example of this is that certain materials which are presented to the defense right away in state court (such as, in felonies, Grand Jury Minutes) are generally not given to the defense until just before trial in federal court. This means that, after waiting perhaps close to a year, the defense is not given reams of transcripts which are the most important part of preparing for trial until the eve of that trial.
A federal criminal matter is one in which it is even more important to have an experienced and gifted defense attorney represent you. The rules are different and therefore many of the defense strategies must be different as well. Having that divorce lawyer who helped Aunt Katie 14 years ago in a shoplifting charge is likely not going to give you the representation you need in such a case. Unless, of course, you are actually wanting an involuntary vacation in federal housing.
In my approximately 25 years of practice in criminal law, I have handled a variety of matters in federal court both in New York as well as Massachusetts. Should you or a loved one be in the unfortunate circumstance of being suspected, or indeed charged, in such matters, and you wish to consult me, please feel free to do so. Simply email me through our site or call me at (617) 206-1942.
For the full article upon which today’s blog is based, go to