A 65-year-old Philadelphia lawyer is going to prison for three and a half years for money laundering and witness tampering in the decade-old, Baltimore-based pot conspiracy that closed the Sonar nightclub and sent its owner to prison.
James Michael Farrell, a New Jersey resident who practiced law in that state and in Pennsylvania, took cash payments and turned them into money orders and cashed checks, and deposited cash in accounts under false names in order to obscure the fact that the money came from what prosecutors dubbed "The Nicka Organization," a group of associates that sold hundreds of pounds of pot from a Baltimore home and transported money and drugs across the country in trucks and private airplanes.
"Using the drug proceeds, Farrell wrote checks and disbursed cash to pay for the legal representation of grand jury witnesses and individuals under investigation in connection with the activities of the Nicka Organization, which included payments to two Baltimore area attorneys," prosecutors said in a press release announcing Farrell's sentence. Farrell also advised other defendants within the organization to hide evidence and lie to investigators, and forged names on forms filed with the federal government in an effort to recoup seized items.
The case started eight years ago, when police and federal agents searched a house on the 3500 block of Hickory Avenue in Hampden. Inside they found 80 pounds of pot, 30 cell phones, and tally sheets showing more than $14 million in marijuana sales.
One of the 16 members charged in the conspiracy was "Talking" Dan McIntosh, co-owner of Sonar and the former Talking Head nightclub. Prosecutors claimed McIntosh used Sonar to launder drug proceeds, and while that charge didn't stick, McIntosh did ended up getting a 10-year bit for his part in the organization's smuggling crimes.
The local developer Jeremy Landsman also was sent to prison for his part in the conspiracy. He was released last year, after which he headed to Vegas to party with city officials.
Three other co-conspirators, Matt Nicka, David D'Amico, and Gretchen Peterson, all went on the lam after they were indicted. Nicka and Peterson were arrested in Canada in 2013 and D'Amico had to be extradited from Colombia. After a protracted legal battle, last January they pleaded guilty, and U.S. District Judge Roger Titus sentenced D'Amico to 10 years. Nicka got 188 months, and Peterson seven years.
Farrell elected a trial, which took 15 days. "The jury's verdict and the evidence that supported it show that James Farrell not only aided drug traffickers but betrayed his professional obligations as a member of the bar and officer of the Court," said acting U.S. Attorney Stephen M. Schenning.
Farrell is the last defendant in the case.