Why attorney Daniel Stanford believes he has become a target in what he calls a "new front" in the federal government's War on Drugs. [Editor's Note: In the second installment of this online-only exclusive, indicted Lafayette criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford tells his side of the story. Read the first installment, which published Friday, here and more on the federal indictment of Stanford here.]
On paper, the relationship between Lafayette attorney Daniel Stanford and Curious Goods owner Richard Buswell almost reads like a rip-off Quentin Tarantino script. There are drugs, cash money, expensive cars, clandestine meetings and a whole cast of criminal masterminds disguised as business men and lawyers whose multi-state empire crumbles at the hands of the feds.
That version is close to how a recent federal indictment, unsealed Oct. 3, reads against Stanford, Buswell and seven others with alleged roles in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
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 a week ago.
As you might expect, Stanford says there is much more to the story.
Daniel Stanford is known as one of Lafayette's top criminal defense lawyers, but his first meeting with Curious Goods owner Richard Buswell did not take place in a lawyer's office.
The two first crossed paths on the outside of a boxing ring in July 2011, introduced by a fighter Buswell sponsored and Stanford trained. A month later, the U.S. Attorney's Office unsealed a 28-count grand jury - not the one mentioned above - against Buswell for his role in a securities fraud scheme in which he allegedly made millions of dollars by bamboozling hundreds of local investors.
From the time of Buswell's indictment in August 2011 through late September of that year, the relationship between the two remained "peripheral," Stanford says, focused mostly on their connection with a number of local fighters (boxing and training fighters is a longtime hobby for the attorney). After several discussions about the securities fraud matter over that period, Stanford says Buswell asked for his legal services, and a contract was signed Sept. 29, 2011.
"I basically have 14 boxes of papers dumped on me, so I start trying to understand everything as fast as I can about the case," Stanford recalls. Shortly after an arraignment hearing where Buswell pleads not guilty, Stanford says holes in the federal government's case began to emerge. "I realize Buswell is being set up as a fall guy for these broker/dealers and several Lafayette investors who have very strong connections," Stanford tells IND Monthly. "I then bring this up with the U.S. Attorney because one of these dealers - Advanced Blast - is still doing it, so I ask why aren't you going after them. The prosecutor's answer: We're just interested in the local bad guy.'"
Sometime between October and November is when Stanford says he first hears about synthetic cannabinoids, which is at the heart of the government's case against him. "This is when I start learning about these new chemicals coming out, and how there's not even a study conducted to prove these chemicals are bad, but the government, instead of trying to understand, just starts trying to regulate these compounds that are being made by chemists. Before, I wasn't aware there was even this industry. And as a lawyer, I see a whole new area of criminal litigation that would be coming out of this."
Hoping to seize the opportunity, Stanford starts researching the issue, and eventually meets Dan Francis, the founder of a pro-synthetic cannabinoids group in California that Stanford claims is attempting to work in unison with legislators and law enforcement agencies.
On Nov. 28, Stanford opened a Louisiana version of the group, called RCA, or the Retail Compliance Association.
"The Louisiana version of RCA was incorporated but never got off the ground," says Stanford. "The idea was to work [together] with our law enforcement and legislators."
About a week later, on Dec. 7, Stanford attends a meeting of Curious Goods franchise owners and employees at Buswell's house. He maintains that he spoke about five minutes, advising the group that if contacted by law enforcement to immediately get in touch with a lawyer. The next day, the feds launch an all-out raid of every Curious Goods retail store, arresting employees, and, eventually, Buswell. On Dec. 9, U.S. Magistrate Patrick Hanna sends Buswell back to jail for violating the terms of his release in the federal fraud case.
According to Stanford, here's where the story gets interesting.
In addition to the securities fraud case, Buswell now faced state charges for distributing a controlled dangerous substance called "Mr. Miyagi" - a form of synthetic marijuana - and for filing a false public record against two witnesses in the federal case.
Stanford says that prompted two federal DEA agents to pay Buswell a visit at the Iberia Parish Jail on April 5, claiming they were serving him with a state Civil Forfeiture document.
"Why would two federal agents need to go to Iberia Parish Jail to serve Buswell with a state document? The DEA didn't need to serve Buswell. They were trying to get him talking and to implicate me," Stanford says.
For Stanford, that discovery did not come until late June, when he receives wire-taped recordings taken by the federal agents during their visit with Buswell in April, which coincided with a motion being filed by federal prosecutors to have Stanford removed from the securities fraud case, citing a conflict of interest.
Several days after obtaining the taped conversations, transcripts of which were viewed by IND Monthly, Hanna issues a ruling disqualifying Stanford from continuing his representation of Buswell. According to the transcripts of the federal wiretapping, Buswell repeatedly tells agents that Stanford is not the lawyer for Curious Goods. He says Barry Domingue, Buswell's business partner, is the attorney for Curious Goods, and that Stanford only represents him in the federal fraud case.
"By the end of the May 14 hearing, the federal prosecutors are arguing that I shouldn't be representing Richard Buswell because we are both targets of the fed's criminal investigation into Curious Goods," Stanford notes. "They claim if Richard is allowed to cooperate he will implicate me, and the judge issues a ruling that the DEA agents did nothing wrong by serving him. But not once did they tell the judge they taped their interview. But they did. They were all wired up when they went to Iberia Parish Jail. That's a violation of his 6th Amendment rights because he did not have a lawyer present."
Stanford eventually is granted a rehearing by federal Judge Richard Haik on his disqualification from being Buswell's lawyer. But the rehearing is considered moot after Stanford is listed in the federal grand jury's indictment for the Curious Goods conspiracy, unsealed Oct. 3. Now Stanford faces a slew of conspiracy charges ranging from money laundering to distribution of illegal substances, but he will not get his day in court for another year.
"This is corruption in the sense of a misuse of power by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the DEA," argues Stanford. "And yes, I think my representation of Richard in the securities fraud issue is the reason I was indicted in the Curious Goods case. I think the two cases are directly connected, and they're using this to open a new front in their War on Drugs."