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Two men in New England were charged with fraudulently applying for a Payment Protection Program (PPP) loan worth over $500,000. These loans, stemming from the recent CARES Act, were designed to assist small businesses during the CoVid-19 pandemic. David Butziger of Rhode Island and David Staveley of Massachusetts were charged with conspiracy to making false statements on their SBA forms and conspiracy of bank fraud. Staveley was separately charged with identity theft and Butziger was separately charged with bank fraud. They claimed on their applications to have multiple wage-earning employees at four different businesses. The Justice Department stated the employees claimed to work at the businesses were not actually employed. The FBI uncovered emails between the two men, discussing ways to create an application for a federal PPP loan and the supporting documents under false information without getting caught.

Butziger claimed his company, Dock Wireless, had seven workers on the payroll. The Department of Revenue determined, under further investigation, those workers were not employed at Dock Wireless. Records further showed no evidence of any alleged workers except Butziger. Staveley claimed on his application there were dozens of employees unemployed across three restaurants he owned. However, under further investigation, it was determined two of the restaurants were closed before the pandemic hit early March, and the other restaurant had no indication Staveley was involved in the business.

For the men to be charged in a criminal court, they must be proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, to be guilty of the charges. Fraudulent applications to the PPP must have evidence containing immense wrongdoing in one or more of the four categories needed on the original application: 1) necessity for the loans, 2) size eligibility for the loan- less than 500 employees, 3) amount requested for the loan- under $10 million, or 4) the use of the loan- payroll, mortgage, rent, and/or utilities.

The Florida Supreme Court recently declined to consider whether law enforcement can legally force defendants to reveal their cellphone passcodes. In the case of Pollard v. State, 287 So. 3d 649, out of the Eighth Judicial Circuit in Alachua County, prosecutors sought to force the defendant to reveal the passcode to his cellphone as part of their criminal investigation. The case reached the Supreme Court of Florida; however, because the case was dismissed by the state attorney’s office, it will no longer be reviewed by the highest court in Florida.

This topic is a continuous debate between court systems and law enforcement throughout Florida and across the United States. Currently, two of the five Florida district courts are divided on the issue of requiring defendants to provide police with their cellphone passcodes. The 2nd District Court of Appeals which covers counties in the Southwest regions of Florida, has ruled a search warrant can require a defendant to provide their passcodes. In contrast, the 4th District Court of Appeals which covers counties in the Southeast regions of Florida, has ruled requiring a defendant to reveal their cellphone passcodes is unconstitutional violating a defendant’s Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

In the 5th District Court of Appeals (DCA), which covers the Central Florida regions including the counties of Lake, Osceola, and Orange; the court has not been presented with a case to rule on whether a search warrant required a defendant to unlock their cellphones. The 5th DCA has ruled on other situations involving the search of a cellphone. The court has adopted the ruling in the case of Smallwood v. State, 113 So. 3d 724, which found that police needed to obtain a warrant to search a phone upon seizing it once an arrest has been made. The 5th DCA has also ruled on specific situations where a warrantless search of a cellphone is applicable. In the case of State v. Phillips, 266 So. 3d 873, the court found that a defendant on probation for sexual offenses created a greater public interest to justify a cellphone search without a warrant.

Recently in Colorado, a viral video captured parents engaging in a brawl by choking, shoving, and throwing punches at each other. The viral video depicts an adult choking another, followed by several others rushing towards the fence where the initial conflict began. All of this occurred at an elementary school among 7-year-old children participating in a youth baseball game. The fights are alleged to stem from a call made by the umpire who is only 13 years of age. This brawl resulted in several injuries, citations for disorderly conduct and fighting in public, and ongoing investigations for several parents involved.

In Florida, a brawl of this nature is likely to lead to battery charges. Florida law defines battery as actually and intentionally touching or striking another person against their will or intentionally causing bodily harm to another person. A battery charge is a misdemeanor of the first-degree and a person convicted of such charge can be sentenced up to one-year imprisonment and imposed fines. If a parent involved in a brawl as portrayed in the video has prior battery or aggravated battery convictions, the battery charge can be increased to a felony battery. Felony battery is a third-degree crime. Conviction of such crime can result in up to five years imprisonment and imposed fines.

In addition to battery, a person participating in a brawl at a sporting event may receive assault or disorderly conduct charges. Assault is defined by Florida law as an intentional, unlawful threat by word or act to do violence to the person of another, with the apparent ability to do so, and creates a well-founded fear in such other person that violence is imminent. Disorderly conduct is defined by Florida law as acts that corrupt the public morals, or outrage the sense of public decency, or affect the peace and quiet of persons who may witness them or engages in brawling or fighting. A conviction of assault or disorderly conduct are considered second-degree misdemeanors which can carry up to sixty days in jail and fines.

The police have asked me to turn over my cellphone and laptop so that they can search it for illegal material and child pornography. I don’t have anything to hide, but I don’t want to turn anything over unless I really need to. What do the police need to get a search warrant for my electronics?

Under the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, as well as under the Florida Constitution, the police cannot search through information on your computer, laptop, cellphone, tablet, or other electronic device without either your consent or a search warrant. If you refuse to give consent, then a police officer or other law enforcement agent would need to provide a sworn affidavit to a magistrate or judge stating the grounds for probable cause. The affidavit would need to provide specific information showing that there is a high probability that law enforcement will find illegal material on your devices if they were allowed to search them.

Many people wonder how law enforcement could possibly know whether their devices contain illegal material such as child pornography. Most tips that law enforcement receives regarding child pornography comes from internet services providers, such as Google or Safari. Internet service providers are private companies. Given that 4th amendment protections only apply to invasions of privacy committed by government actors and not private individuals or companies, the 4th amendment does not protect you from private companies turning over information they have to law enforcement. For example, if an internet service provider becomes aware of an image of child pornography, it can report that image, including providing the web server and address, to law enforcement. Law enforcement can then use this information to establish the probable cause they need to get a warrant for uploads or downloads of this illegal material.

My child has recently been hanging out with a new group of friends. I haven’t met the friends yet, but I’m aware that a few of them have been in trouble at school and have even been arrested in the past. I don’t believe my own child would commit any crimes, but I’m worried my child may still get into trouble if he’s with these other children and they do something illegal.

Parents should be aware of who their children are spending time with, as if their friends commit a crime and your child is with them when it happens, your child can be charged with the same crime. The most serious example of this is felony murder. Felony murder laws have gained recent media coverage, as some criminal justice reformation movements are pushing to change or abolish felony murder laws across the states. Under Florida’s homicide statutes, a person who is present during or an accomplice to the commission of certain felonies can be charged with second-degree murder if someone is killed during the commission of that felony, even if that person is not the one who actually killed someone and did not intend for anyone to die. Continue reading

I was arrested for battery after an altercation I was involved in and assumed I would be charged with a misdemeanor offense but later learned that I was charged with felony battery. What are the different types of battery and why was I charged with a more serious offense than I initially thought I would be facing?

Under Florida law, there are several different types of battery charges. Battery is defined under Florida law as actually and intentionally touching or striking another person against their will or intentionally causing bodily harm to another person. Battery is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one-year imprisonment and fines. Continue reading

I was in need of money and told people I was raising money for a charity, but I plan to keep the money for myself instead of actually making the donation. Can I be charged with a crime?

The crime of wire fraud generally involves obtaining money, property, services, or something of value under false pretenses using electronic means of communication, including the internet, emails, text messages, social media websites, or wire transfers. Mail fraud is a similar offense, only the communications occur through the United States Postal Service or other carriers.

Wire fraud is illegal under both federal and Florida law. The Florida Communications Fraud Act criminalizes schemes to defraud, as described above. Under Florida law, a scheme to defraud is defined as “a systematic, ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud one or more persons, or with intent to obtain property from one or more persons by false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises or willful misrepresentations of a future act.” In the situation described above, asking people for money for a charity while knowing that the money would not actually be turned over to that charity and instead used for other purposes would be an intentional scheme to defraud. Continue reading

If you have been accused of a crime and not yet retained an experienced criminal defense attorney, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the police’s demands to discuss the alleged charges. When you are unrepresented, police are more likely to employ illegal tactics to get a confession from you. These tactics include using violence, promises, or threats to force a confession. To best protect your rights, it is important to know how police can – and, more importantly, cannot – elicit a confession from you during their investigations.

Any confession made involuntarily cannot be used against you in court. However, not all involuntary confessions fall under this category. A forced or coerced confession has only occurred when the police have threatened to use, or have used, violence against the accused which directly lead to their confession. Some examples of this type of force include: Continue reading

Florida lawmakers have recently been focusing on increased efforts to combat the crime of human trafficking. The result of these efforts has been new legislation criminalizing a broad range of conduct most people don’t realize is connected with human trafficking. News headlines of human trafficking arrests have been increasing across the state, with many individuals facing lengthy prison sentences for these crimes.

Many people have difficulty distinguishing between the crimes of human trafficking and prostitution. The key difference is essentially consent or coercion. Prostitution criminalizes the exchange of sexual acts for money with consenting individuals. Human trafficking is considered by the Florida legislature to be modern-day slavery involving an element of coercion that isn’t present in prostitution. Human trafficking also includes trafficking individuals for labor or services.  Most prostitution offenses are misdemeanors, while human trafficking offenses are felonies carrying much harsher sentences. Continue reading

I recently wrote a check and knew at the time that I did not have enough money in my bank account to cover the full amount. I was hoping that I could add enough funds to my account before the check was cashed to cover it, but I wasn’t able to and now the check has bounced. I know that my bank will charge me overdraft fees, but can I also be charged with a crime?

The short answer is it is possible. Under Florida law, there are many ways you could potentially face criminal charges for check fraud. For example, it is illegal to write a check or use a debit card while knowing at the time that there are insufficient funds in your account. It is also a crime to cash or deposit a check into your account with the intent to defraud, forge checks, forge signatures or sign someone else’s name on a check, or otherwise alter a check and then deposit it into your account or cash it. Writing a check and then improperly issuing a “stop payment” order on it to prevent it from being cashed is also a crime.  Issuing a worthless check or debit card order is a misdemeanor of the first degree punishable by up to one-year imprisonment and a fine if the amount is less than $150. If the amount is $150 or more, it becomes a felony of the third degree, punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a more severe fine. Cashing or depositing a check with the intent to defraud is also a felony of the third degree. All are theft and fraud crimes. Continue reading

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I would like thank my attorney Thomas Luka. I knew from the beginning I had the right guy in my corner. While celebrating with family and friends at a Public Park in Seminole County, a fight broke out among various people. Myself, and a good friend, broke up the fight and the instigators left. Six months later, I was wrongly accused as the person who started the fight. The first attorney I hired could not even get a response from the State Attorney handling the case. Someone referred me to Tom and I felt comfortable at his demeanor and reactions.

After conversations with Tom, who knew I would settle for nothing less than a FULL DISMISSAL due to my innocence, I hired him. His firm of Adams and Luka did the due diligence by interviewing witnesses and the police who were on the scene, as well as starting a dialogue with the State Attorney. After gathering statements from witnesses, Tom was able to present a strong argument on my behalf to the State Attorney on why the case should be dismissed. If the State Attorney was not willing to dismiss the case, Tom was ready to take the case to trial.

The result by Thomas Luka: Case Dismissed.

I am 53 years old with a spotless record and glad to keep it that way thanks to the time, effort, hard work, and professionalism of the Adams and Luka and Tom Luka.

Earl from Mesquite
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Thomas Luka left a life-long great impression of lawyers. He was always professional, on time, and answered things honestly. From the start and during the 14 months it went on - Tom was very upfront and honest with me about the possible outcomes. The result was better than I had hoped for. Tom really over-delivered. HIGHLY RECCOMEND. Marcela Giorgi
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Adams and Luka were very professional and savvy in the courtroom. When you're in court with Mr. Luka you will think you have the best attorney there. I recommend this law firm. Pioneer Tech
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Rich Adams is an outstanding criminal attorney. I have had the opportunity to refer several friends and clients to his practice for handling of criminal matters, and on every occasion he has produced an excellent result. Rich practices with attention to detail, a thorough knowledge of the law, and a passion to defend his clients. I will continue to refer clients to Rich Adams, and would strongly recommend him for your legal needs. Brian Pink
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