Meltzer & Bell Congratulates Ari Goldberg On Becoming a Partner

Meltzer & Bell, P.A. is pleased to announce attorney Ari S. Goldberg as its newest partner.  Ari’s been with Meltzer & Bell since 2015 and currently works out of the Palm Beach County office.  Before coming to Meltzer and Bell, Ari worked as an Assistant State Attorney at the same office where his wife, Victoria, is currently employed as a prosecutor.  In addition to his responsibilities with the firm, Ari teaches at Florida International University School of Law as an adjunct professor of trial advocacy.  He graduated from FIU Law in 2012 as Valedictorian.  He and Vicky live in West Palm Beach with their beautiful son Benjamin and beloved dog, Winston.  We wish Ari the best of luck as he continues to defend the criminally-accused throughout the State of Florida.  Congratulations on this much deserved promotion!

Ari Goldberg got his start at Florida International University College of Law (otherwise known as FIU law). During his time there, he made the Dean’s List every semester and graduated as Valedictorian of his class. He was hired by the State Attorney’s Office and was assigned to the County Court Trial Division as a Lead Attorney. Throughout his stay at the State Attorney’s Office, Goldberg handled hundreds of cases and supervised many assistant state attorneys.

His career then took him to the County Court Appellate Division. The office delegated Goldberg to handle County-to-Circuit appeals and he was the only assistant state attorney to do so. He then went on to write initial, answer and reply briefs, writs and post-conviction motions regularly. This experience gave Goldberg a thorough understanding of the prosecution’s side and gave him an in-depth knowledge on both appellate and trial court.

Before he left the State Attorney’s Office Goldberg was promoted to Felony Trial Division. Here he handled hundreds of felony cases, in which many were for second- and first-degree felonies. Ari was then hired by the team at Meltzer & Bell and has worked diligently on dozens of cases since then with excellence. We are proud to welcome him to the managing side and announce Attorney Ari Goldberg as a new partner with Meltzer & Bell, P.A.

Palm Beach County Sheriff Deputy Arrested for Aggravated Assault Cannot Own Weapons for 12 Months

An intoxicated off-duty Palm Beach County Sheriff’s deputy is now facing multiple charges for allegedly threatening three people in their car on October 12. That next Thursday, law enforcement arrested Jerald Samuel Alderman for three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm and one charge for using a firearm under the influence. The act was recorded on a cellphone by one of the reported victims and posted on Facebook shortly afterwards.

The video has been viewed thousands of times and showed Alderman at the side of the victim’s car. In the video, Alderman states that “If I see you downtown again tonight, guess what’s gonna happen?” When the driver asks what would happen next, Alderman yells at the three victims and bangs his firearm on the car three times. Later, Alderman stated to city officers who witnessed the interaction that the three victims were allegedly breaking into cars. That night there were no reports of car break-ins in that area.

Meltzer & Bell, P.A. have taken on the case and now represent the three victims who Alderman was threatening. This Tuesday afternoon a risk-protection hearing was held at the city’s request to prohibit Alderman from buying or possessing any guns for the next 12 months.

David Goudreau, one of our skilled associate attorneys, is currently representing the three victims. His clients were prepared to testify at the hearing if Alderman didn’t agree to the order. However, an agreement was reached so Goudreau’s clients weren’t asked to take the stand.

“We were expecting a full-blown hearing with testimony from both sides today,” Goudreau stated to news outlets after the hearing. He later went on to claim that, “We are happy with the outcome today and respect the fact that he did agree to the risk-protection order.”

Scott Richardson, who is the defense attorney for Alderman, stressed the agreement to the risk-protective order was in no way an admission to criminal allegations. It’s possible that Richardson will ask for the order’s length to be shortened after the verdict of the criminal case is decided. Until then, Alderman cannot own or buy guns until October 29, 2020.

A risk-protective order is often referred to as a “red flag law,” which is a legislative effort to restrict gun access to people who are considered at high-risk to abuse them. It is a component of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Act. The legislation was passed three weeks after the mass shooting at Parkland high school on February 14, 2018.

The act also includes bans on bump stocks, a raise in the minimum age to buy a gun, and a three-day waiting period on any kind of gun purchase. In addition, a person under a risk-protective order cannot buy any guns legally because all gun sellers are notified of their status immediately afterwards. Since the bill went into effect last year more than 70 petitions for risk-protective orders have been filed by the city or concerned family members.

Meltzer & Bell File Motion for Reynolds Wrap Heir to Dismiss a Coerced Plea Deal by the Prosecution

A 20-year sexual battery cold case is under intense scrutiny after DNA processing revealed that the Reynolds Wrap heir, Cornelious Florman, was a match at the crime scene. Law enforcement then obtained a warrant to ask for a recent DNA sample from Florman and it also turned out to be a match. Since Florman had a prior criminal record regarding rape, it was enough probable cause for officers to arrest the man for the crime.

Florman was charged for allegedly raping a 44-year-old woman on Fort Meyers Beach in June 1988. The woman had just left The Reef Bar when she claims he asked for a ride as “Cody.” While in the car, Florman hit her in the face and when she woke up, he allegedly assaulted her.

In September, Florman was officially sentenced to seven years in prison for sexual battery, followed by eight years of sex offender probation. Now, Florman’s new representation at Meltzer & Bell have attempted to file a motion to vacate Florman’s plea deal. This is because evidence indicates that Florman was coerced by the prosecution into the deal.

The instance wouldn’t be the first issue in Florman’s case. During an evidence hearing in June, Florman fought to toss out new DNA evidence because allegedly the officers didn’t comply with his request to speak to his lawyer. However, the DNA was still admitted into the case and Florman was sentenced in September.

Meltzer and Bell Supports Upcoming Art Show by the Wellington Art Society

The attorneys and staff at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. are honored to have become a sponsor of the Wellington Art Society’s upcoming event the Art Fusion Pop-Up Art Gallery. Wellington Art Society is a member-supported, nonprofit organization which promotes community-made art through exhibitions, educational, community outreach and cultural programs. Their membership includes a wide variety of people from art lovers to internationally recognized artists.

The Art Fusion and Pop-Up Art Gallery and Sale will be held at Live 360 Studio at the Mall at Wellington Green in Wellington Florida. The gallery and sales vendors will showcase over 70 works of art by the Wellington Art Society such as Brigitte, Balbinot, Erica Kyle, Norman Gitzen and Laura Jaffe. The event will be held on Friday October 4th from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m, Saturday October 5th from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and end on Sunday October 6th beginning at 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Come out and support the community with Meltzer & Bell, P.A. at the upcoming event this weekend. If you are in need of a criminal defense, then contact us at Meltzer & Bell, P.A. for experienced legal counsel.

New Hemp Law Limits ‘Sniff and Search’ Arrests

Marijuana

The prohibition against cannabis is quickly eroding in the United States to the point that law enforcement agencies are now having problems arresting people for marijuana crimes. While marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, hemp has been recently legalized across the country which makes Palm Beach’s police’s strategy of making ‘sniff and search’ arrests will no longer be viable. Anyone arrested for a marijuana offense or arrested based on an officer smelling marijuana should reach out to Meltzer and Bell P.A. at (561) 557-8686.

Police have traditionally made marijuana arrests based on seeing the drug and more importantly smelling the drug. The pungent odor of the drug used to be a giveaway that gave officers probable cause to conduct a warrantless search. The problem is hemp looks and smells identical to marijuana.

Hemp and marijuana are both derived from the cannabis sativa plant, the difference being, for legal purposes, the concentration of THC. THC is the psychoactive element of cannabis that produces a “high” sensation. In hemp the level of THC is negligible, and is now defined by law as having less than .3 percent THC. Any cannabis plant with over .3 percent THC will be considered illegal marijuana.

Florida State Attorney Dave Aronberg has now issued a memo to law enforcement that says:

“We will not be able to prosecute any marijuana or THC oil cases without a test from an accredited lab indicating that the THC content is over .3 percent”

Since there are no law enforcement labs currently set up to distinguish between hemp and marijuana, this memo is essentially a directive to stop making marijuana arrests based on probable cause due to smell. That is, it will be much more difficult for cops to make an arrest based on smelling marijuana since they will not be able to prove that it is marijuana and not hemp.

If you have been arrested for a marijuana related offense or if you have been stopped and searched based on the smell of marijuana, you need to reach out to Meltzer and Bell P.A. at (561) 500-5000.

Judge’s Ruling Could Affect Patient Brokering Cases

Patient brokering at drug treatment centers has become an ongoing issue in the state of Florida. Investigations led by several news outlets have uncovered the real crooked nature of these centers such as the practices at Whole Life Recovery. This has led to numerous legislative attempts to deter large patient-brokering operations, which is a type of healthcare fraud.

Many treatment centers hire “body brokers,” which are people who are paid to look for addicts. These “junkie hunters” are compensated for referring potential patients to their treatment centers. Once the center has admitted the unaware addict, they can then charge their insurance company outrageous rates. Some have even reported drug tests ordered by treatment centers to cost $5,600.

In 2018, State Attorney David Aronberg responded to this issue with the Florida Patient Brokering Act. The new legislation has led to numerous arrests and convictions, which caused a number of drug treatment centers to close their doors.

Since Aronberg’s act, numerous notable drug treatment centers have been linked to patient brokering. Additionally, the act may have also led to a decline in fatal drug overdoses. Aronberg recently presented data from the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner. The data demonstrated a decrease in fatal drug overdoses from 2017 to 2018. The report states the number of opioid-related deaths in Palm Beach had dropped from 588 in 2017 to 326 in 2018.

While the operation has been successful, it comes with some challenges. Some offenders have argued they were unaware of Florida’s patient brokering laws because they’re so new. Others state they were given bad counsel from attorneys when setting up their drug treatment centers. However, the current statute does not list ignorance of the law as an admissible defense. Now, a new ruling by Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Laura Johnson may drastically change David Aronberg’s plans.


What Does the Ruling Mean

Johnson’s ruling is for the current case State of Florida vs. James Francis Kigar. The case surrounds a Boynton Beach treatment center operated by Kigar called Whole Life Recovery. Over the last two years, law enforcement officials in Palm Beach County have been investigating allegations of fraud, money laundering, kickbacks and patient brokering related to the center.

Kigar is now facing a total of 95 counts linked to patient brokering and other relevant crimes. He has pleaded not guilty by stating he was unaware of Florida’s patient brokering laws. Kigar claims he was wrongly informed by his attorney to pay kickbacks for referrals. Judge Laura Johnson responded to this case with a controversial ruling.

Johnson stated in a six-page order that, “A defendant may assert the advice of counsel defense when charged with violations of the Florida Patient Brokering statute.” She also ruled the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant was aware their actions were illegal.

Judge Johnson’s ruling is based on a legal term called “mens rea,” which states a person must know what they’re doing is wrong to be charged with a crime. The ruling basically states the defendant must have intended to commit a crime. This is controversial because the issue of intent isn’t included in the current Florida Patient Brokering Act.

Judge Johnson’s new standard could undo many prosecutions sought under David Aronberg. A defendant could escape criminal charges if they’re able to prove the crime was unintentional. The ruling may also drastically change the path of Kigar’s case, which was looking grim beforehand.

The Impact of Judge Johnson’s Ruling

Johnson’s ruling could tremendously affect David Aronberg’s Sober Homes Task Force. It may lead to a number of appeals and dismissals for previous patient brokering cases in the Palm Beach area. In addition, it may establish a new standard in how the State Attorney can prosecute future kickback cases involving drug treatment centers.

Assistant State Attorney Justin Chapman plans to ask Judge Johnson to reconsider her decision. If she denies the request, Chapman may file an appeal with the Fourth District Court. However, there’s been no word of that from the State Attorney’s Office.

Many are hoping the appellate court will untangle Johnson’s ruling to decide the fate of future patient-brokering cases. If Judge Johnson retains her ruling, prosecutors will have a much harder time convicting a person of patient brokering. People who have taken bad advice or were unaware of Florida’s patient-brokering laws will not be legally punished for the crime.
This blog was last updated on March 6th, 2019.

Florida May Pass Stricter Distracted Driving Laws

Cellphones and other electronic devices have become a staple in our daily lives. The majority of the time these instruments help us navigate the world around us. However, many people use their electronic devices recklessly while they’re driving. This has become a dangerous growing trend for the state of Florida. The Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) reported that there were 50,190 accidents related to distracted driving in 2017.

Florida lawmakers are hoping to pass a new bill for tougher distracted driving laws. Current legislation does have a texting-while-driving ban implemented under Section 316.305 of the Florida Statutes. The law itself is controversial though and has been accused of being toothless. This is because Florida is one of only four states that doesn’t allow police officers to pull someone over for looking at their electronic device.

In 2018, a similar bill was sponsored but died while in the Senate. Some representatives believe the reason for this was because the bill wasn’t very clear. It instead focused on making texting while driving a primary offense. The 2018 bill did nothing to address other distracted driving actions such as talking on the phone or perusing social media.

Now, lawmakers are attempting to pass a new proposal to toughen up distracted driving laws. House Bill 112 (HB 112) provides a lot more clarity. The bill addresses all types of distracted driving, not just texting. Some of these include speaking into an electronic device, e-mailing, instant messaging, or reading with your electronic device. If the bill passes, then distracted driving laws in Florida will be significantly stronger. This means more traffic violations for Florida residents and possible charges for multiple offenses.


What Does the Bill Say?

House Bill 112 amends and adds new provisions to Section 316.305 of Florida’s Statutes. The section would be renamed from “Florida Ban on Texting While Driving Law” to “Florida Ban on Wireless Communication Devices While Driving Law.” The purpose of this is to incorporate all distracted driving devices such as electronic watches or tablets.

If HB 112 is approved, then you wouldn’t be allowed to use a wireless communication device at all. Even speaking into the device could result in a nonmoving violation. The only acceptable way to utilize your wireless communication device under HB 112 is if it’s in “hands-free” mode. Basically, if you’re holding your wireless communication device you could receive a nonmoving violation.

The bill is very similar to legislation active in California. Both Senate Bill 1213 and Senate Bill 28 were enacted into law in July 2008, so the legislation has been in effect for nearly ten years. While distracted driving has declined, the problem unfortunately still exists. A press release by the California Highway Patrol stated there were 97,000 citations issued for distracted driving in 2017. Data also indicates 22,000 drivers were involved in distracted driving collisions that year.


The Problem with HB 112

Distracted drivers cause serious injuries and sometimes fatalities every year. Florida lawmakers have decided to respond to this issue with stringent legislation. On the surface, this bill seems to be a good idea, but it could also impose an influx of unnecessary citations on Floridians.

If HB 112 passes into law, then police officers could pull you over for simply picking up your phone. The implementation of this law may leave many Florida residents with traffic tickets. People with multiple violations could have issues with their insurance or simply be unable to pay the full cost of the ticket.

What’s even more unsettling is the ineffectiveness of hands-free mode. The National Safety Council argues using a hands-free device requires the same amount of brain processing power as texting and driving. Both activities require the driver to split their attention, meaning you’re just as likely to get into an accident talking on hands-free than if you’re sending an electronic message.

If this is true, then HB 112 doesn’t solve the problem of distracted driving by allowing hands-free. Instead, our legislation would be imposing a law that doesn’t lessen distracted drivers and requires officers to waste time issuing unneeded tickets.

It’s important we keep Florida roads safe. However, it’s just as imperative we implement thoughtful legislation that attacks every avenue of the problem. We’re still unsure of the fate of HB 112 and it’s possible amendments. Hopefully, Florida lawmakers will alter the bill so it can effectively tackle the issue of distracted driving.
This blog was last updated on March 6th, 2019. 

Florida May Lift Ban on Smokable Medical Marijuana

In 2016, Amendment 2 or the Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative was approved into law by voters. The legislation allows Floridians to use medicinal cannabis for certain conditions such as glaucoma, epilepsy and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Although Amendment 2 legalized medical marijuana, it still doesn’t allow patients to smoke it.

Currently, Florida law only permits patients to consume marijuana in four ways. You can ingest cannabis pills, use tincture forms, apply a topical cream or inhale the substance through a vaporizer. Unfortunately, Florida still has a smoking ban on all medical marijuana products. It’s impossible to buy cannabis in pre-rolled cigarettes or as a whole-flower from a dispensary.

Now, Florida governor Ron DeSantis is giving legislation an ultimatum. He’s threatened to drop the state’s appeal of a court decision which found the smoking ban violated a constitutional amendment. The republican governor has given lawmakers a deadline to fully address the issue, or he’ll drop the appeal altogether. The court must determine if the smoking ban is unconstitutional or not by March 15th, which is 10 days after the annual legislative session begins.


Why Smokable Marijuana?

Many medical marijuana patients wish they had access to smokable cannabis products. The reason for this is because of the different effect smoking marijuana has in comparison with vaping or ingesting it orally. When you smoke marijuana, you’re burning the whole plant. Therefore, all the chemical compounds and terpenes found in the cannabis will turn into an inhalable smoke.

Vaping or ingesting marijuana orally creates a different outcome. If you’re vaping, then you’re consuming whatever compounds of the plant the manufacturer put into the oil. This means you may not be as affected by vaporizing as you would if you smoked the whole-flower. Orally ingesting marijuana is effective but can take up to an hour to finally work.

Because of this, some medical marijuana patients believe they’ll fare much better on smokable marijuana. They claim the concentrates and oral forms of medical marijuana are not powerful enough to soothe their medical condition. If the smoking ban on medical marijuana is lifted, then patients would have more freedom in how they choose to consume their medicinal cannabis.


How Likely Is It Florida Will Lift the Smoking Ban?

Lifting the smoking ban on medical marijuana is a hot topic on Florida’s Capitol Hill. Senate Bill 182 (SB 182) has already undergone some changes since its proposal on February 13th, 2019. Originally, doctors were required to have a “case review panel” before they’re able to order smokable marijuana products for patients. The doctor would be required to attend a panel run by the Board of Medicine to determine if their patient requires smokable medical cannabis.

This was withdrawn, however, when Representative Ray Rodrigues offered an alternative proposal. Instead, doctors would provide documentation which proves the patient would benefit from smoking medical marijuana. The doctor would then be required to submit these documents to the state Board of Medicine rather than appear in front of a case review panel.

Rodrigues’s amendment also requires dispensaries to sell smokable marijuana in pre-rolled cigarettes. If implemented, the amendment would ban patients younger than the age of 18 years old from smoking medicinal cannabis. Both of these provisions were added to address concerns about the negative health effects associated with smoking.

The sponsor of the bill, Senator Jeff Brandes, added an amendment to the bill. Children who wish to smoke medical marijuana must obtain approval from a pediatrician. The only exception to this is if they’re terminally ill. Additionally, Brandes’s amendment would allow people in nursing homes, hospices, and assisted living facilities to smoke medical cannabis.

The subject of smokable medicinal marijuana is a hot topic with a possible resolution in sight. Jeff Brandes stated to The News Service of Florida after the Senate committee meeting, “We’ll ultimately find a place to land this… I think the March 15th deadline no longer seems out of reach.” The bill may seen controversial, but it has a lot of unexpected support. There’s a large likelihood that smokable medical cannabis may be on the market within the next year.
This article was last updated on March 6th, 2019.

What We Know About the Robert Kraft Prostitution Scandal

Robert Kraft along with 300 other people have arrest warrants issued for them for soliciting prostitution in Florida’s Treasure Coast. Florida police in multiple counties conducted coordinated sting operations to arrest men who visited massage parlors for illicit sexual services. Kraft was arrested in Jupiter, in Palm Beach County, an area known for its affluent community and its million-dollar playgrounds for the rich which includes President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.

Palm Beach County police have claimed the operations were meant to stop human trafficking but there seems to be little evidence from the arrest affidavit that human trafficking was ever a concern for investigators.

In fact, none of the women who operated, Orchids of Asia Day Spa, the Asian massage parlor where Kraft was said to have frequented, were charged with human trafficking crimes.

The Investigation

The lead detective in the Orchids of Asia bust, Andrew Sharp, started his investigation after communicating with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office which had been working several massage parlors in Martin County. The investigation in Martin County tipped off Detective Sharp to the Orchids of Asia Day Spa.

Sharp then began his investigation of Orchids by searching through reviews of the establishment where patrons claimed sexual services were provided. Sharp relied on one website in particular, Rubmaps.com, a forum that specifically is meant to provide details and reviews for illicit massage parlors. Based on postings on that site that detailed clients paying for “hand jobs,” sharp began surveillance of the business.

His surveillance went for a week where he observed men enter the establishment and he logged how long they were inside.  After his week of surveillance, Sharp sent in a Florida Department of Health inspector to inspect the business. The health inspector noticed that there appeared to be two rooms with beds and dressers that appeared to indicate that women were living on the premises, the only oblique indication of human trafficking in the arrest affidavit.

Sharp and two other detectives then decided to conduct a “trash pull” where they rummaged through the dumpster behind the massage parlor looking for evidence. What they found was several white grocery store bags. According to Sharp, white grocery bags are a telltale sign of an illicit massage business.

Going through the bags, Sharp and his team found ripped up sheets of papers that seemed to be a ledger of some sort as well as several plastic napkins that “appeared to be covered in seminal fluid.” Sharp had the napkins tested and they were found to be positive for seminal fluid.

After a second trash pull, Sharp began another round of surveillance where he interviewed men leaving the establishment. Each of the men divulged that they had paid for and received sexual services inside the massage parlor.

Gathering this information lead to a search warrant that allowed for Sharp to secretly install video cameras in the Orchids of Asia Day Spa. For five days Sharp and his team watched men receiving sexual services in the spa and cataloged the encounters, all of which are in the report. Since the Johns are only described by their clothing, it is hard to tell which of the documented encounters was Kraft from the affidavit.

The Charges

While police departments in large scale prostitution arrests and sting operations in Florida often cite stopping human trafficking as the primary reason for conducting these arrests, rarely are human trafficking rings ever busted up from these arrests. In fact, in this particular operation, there have been no human trafficking charges brought. The two proprietors of Orchids of Asia Day Spa, Hua Zhang and Lei Wang, were charged with operating a brothel, hiring prostitutes, and for engaging in prostitution.

Kraft and the others who have warrants for their arrest or have been arrested already are being charged with solicitation of prostitution.

What Happens Now?

The attorneys of Meltzer and Bell are well experienced in prostitution offenses and several of our attorneys have already spoken to the media about what is the likely outcome for Mr. Kraft. Ari Goldberg, one of our attorneys who once was a Palm Beach county prosecutor explained that first time offenders arrested for solicitation are facing the lowest level misdemeanor in Florida. A second-level misdemeanor has a maximum punishment of 60 days in jail or a $500 fine.

Steven Bell, one of our named partners, explains further that in all likelihood Robert Kraft, who has no prior history and is a first time offender, will not plead guilty and will instead negotiate for a diversion program which may include community service, testing, and educational programs. As long as Mr. Kraft follows through with the program his charges will be dismissed.

If you have been arrested for a prostitution related offense, reach out to the attorneys of Meltzer and Bell to start your defense with experienced criminal litigators.

Lawrence Meltzer and Steven Bell Commit to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers

It is an honor to announce that Lawrence Meltzer and Steven Bell have committed to being Life Members of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). Founded in 1958 the NACDL prides itself on protecting the rights of Americans. The NACDL believes in a fair and just judicial system that caters to every economic class and social status. Members of the NACDL commit to supporting the due process rights for anyone accused of a crime. They also uphold a high level of integrity for the criminal defense profession, and always promote the fair direction of the criminal justice system. The NACDL is also highlighted by thousands of esteemed private lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel members, judges, and law professors. This acclaimed membership has now been made into a lifetime calling for Mr. Bell and Mr. Meltzer so that they may advance the cause of protecting legal rights for the criminally accused for years and years to come. The NACDL’s motto, “Liberty’s Last Champion” is the epitome of what Meltzer and Bell, P.A. hold true. The law firm has been a beacon of light for countless South Floridians facing all types of legal battles. Meltzer and Bell, P.A. understands that the criminal justice system is one that should be handled with the upmost respect not only in regards to the judicial court system, but also for each and every individual that is preparing to face legal actions. Steven and Lawrence promise to preserve their criminal justice standards and to always serve with the equal, sensible, and civilized care one should count on.