It was a good week for Empire actor Jussie Smollett. With charges of falsely reporting a hate crime dismissed, he is now a free man. Unfortunately, the week was not as good for his lawyer, Mark Geragos.
Geragos is a well-known celebrity criminal defense trial attorney who has risen to prominence because of high profile clients who, besides Smollett, include Michael Jackson, Winona Ryder, Scott Peterson and Colin Kaepernick. He has also gained notoriety from appearances as a legal contributor on CNN.
This past week, Geragos found the tables turned. Instead of being the attorney representing a criminal defendant, Geragos was identified by The Washington Post as an unnamed and currently “unindicted co-conspirator.”
Geragos is accused of conspiring with attorney Michael Avenatti (made famous for representing adult-film actress Stormy Daniels). Avenatti is named as a defendant in a federal criminal complaint filed in the Southern District of New York. The complaint alleges Avenatti conspired with Geragos to extort more than $20 million from footwear giant Nike.
What is the wrongdoing by the trial attorney?
The two celebrity trial attorneys were representing a client in a lawsuit against Nike and demanded that Nike pay the legal fees. They told Nike that if their demands to pay these fees were not met, Avenatti and Geragos would inflict substantial financial and reputational harm on the company. The harm allegedly included setting up a news conference accusing Nike of misconduct in paying basketball players. To avoid the threat, Nike would need to pay Avenatti $22.5 million dollars in hush money.
Nike contacted federal prosecutors. Enough evidence was gathered to charge Avenatti as a defendant and Geragos as an “unindicted co-conspirator.”
What is an “unindicted co-conspirator”?
This term is used when someone is accused of conspiracy (in this case conspiracy to extort money), but is not yet named in the criminal complaint. Geragos is referred to as “CC-1” in the official document to protect identity, but in most instances, the unnamed, unindicted co-conspirator can be readily identifiable because the indictment gives a description of the relationship with the defendant as well as their illegal conduct.
If and when federal prosecutors believe sufficient evidence exists to charge and convict of the conspiracy set forth in the complaint, the unindicted person can become part of the investigation.
But why “unindicted”?
Why would a federal prosecutor choose not to indict a person if they believe they have participated in the crime? Although many reasons exist, the usual scenario is that the unnamed person has already “cut a deal” with prosecutors and has been granted immunity in exchange for testimony against the named defendant, or perhaps the unnamed person has already pleaded to a lesser offense.
Making a deal with the feds and being named an unindicted co-conspirator is not a good thing, but it is preferable to being named a defendant. As such, people under federal investigation often make every effort, through counsel, to reach out to investigators and federal prosecutors to resolve a case before the dreaded indictments are returned.
Since this news was released, Mark Geragos has been dropped from CNN as a contributor.
If you have legal questions, especially regarding investigations where you may be targeted as a co-conspirator, contact Columbus, Ohio criminal defense trial attorney Joe Edwards at 614-309-0243. Attorney Edwards has over 25 years of experience representing individuals charged at the state and federal levels.