Lawyer accused of conspiring with client in pot case
Attorney who works with pot dispensaries facing felonies over recent case
Published: Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 4:02 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 8:19 a.m.
Prosecuting drug dealers is nothing new, but what about going after their lawyers?
Santa Rosa attorney Michael Kenneth Beyries, who represents marijuana dispensary owners, faces felony charges stemming from his handling of a recent pot case.
He is accused of misusing attorney-client privilege in jailhouse visits with client Theodore "Teo" Christos, 33, of Santa Rosa, arrested last month in a drug-trafficking and money-laundering investigation.
Beyries, whose connections to Christos are currently under investigation, had resigned his state bar membership in the weeks before the private, in-custody talks with Christos that triggered the criminal charges.
The district attorney has charged him with three counts of practicing without a license — allegations that carry stiff fines and a possible prison sentence.
The investigation led to the seizure of confidential legal files and computer hard-drives from Beyries' office. Prosecutors and his defense lawyer are fighting over whether those documents can be used against him in court.
One item taken from Beyries' office at an unspecified time appears to be a housewarming invitation from Christos that implies Beyries was helping him launder hundreds of thousands of dollars from pot sales at fictitious dispensaries.
Beyries has not been charged with any drug offenses.
Longtime Santa Rosa attorney Jack Montgomery, who is representing Beyries, said none of the allegations are true. Montgomery said Beyries, who has carved a niche in pot dispensary law, has come under suspicion because of his specialty.
"I'm concerned with this prosecution," Montgomery said. "It's a slippery slope when they start prosecuting attorneys. It becomes a frightening prospect."
The Sonoma County courthouse was buzzing with news of the case this week.
Lawyers said they have to be careful not to cross the line between providing legal advice and aiding and abetting in criminal acts.
Many said they weren't worried about any increase in the prosecution of lawyers.
"I don't know anyone who would be," said Santa Rosa lawyer Steve Gallenson, who represents people charged with drug crimes.
Assistant District Attorney Christine Cook would not comment on the case, citing pending litigation and an ongoing investigation.
But court documents, detectives and Beyries' lawyer offered some details. Sheriff's Sgt. Steve Gossett, who runs the agency's narcotics team, said Beyries and Christos have been under investigation for more than a year.
"We believe they are linked together in some activity," Gossett said. "And we're still investigating."
Search warrant affidavits shed light on the closely guarded case. In papers filed by Deputy Terrence White, Christos and Beyries were described as being involved in marijuana distribution.
Christos was carrying a bag filled with $150,000 in cash when he was arrested Nov. 8 outside a Petaluma Hill Road home, the affidavit said. A search of his Hearn Avenue storage unit turned up 200 pounds of pot, packaged for sale, the document said.
Detectives found legal papers in the storage unit suggesting Christos loaned Beyries $100,000 and was to be repaid with $200,000 in legal services, the affidavit said.
At the same time, Beyries was involved in a separate legal dispute with another dispensary owner, Dona Frank, who alleged professional misconduct. Rather than risking sanctions, he resigned his lawyer's license on Oct. 25, according to a document filed with the state bar.
About two weeks later, Beyries invoked attorney-client privilege in phone calls and jail visits with Christos, the affidavit said.
Prosecutors arrested Beyries on Nov. 22 and charged him with three felonies. Montgomery maintains the charges are a mistake because Beyries withdrew his resignation from the bar before talking to Christos. The state bar website shows Beyries was reinstated Nov. 27.
Meanwhile, Beyries is free on bail. Prosecutors objected to his release without a hearing to determine the source of his money.
Just whether the district attorney will file additional criminal charges remains unclear. Two judges are reviewing boxes of seized files and information contained in computers to determine if they are privileged documents that can't be used as evidence.
Christos is in federal custody. U.S. marshals took him to Iowa, where he faces separate drug-related charges, said Joe Palmer, agency spokesman.
"There's a lot of work left to do on this," said Sheriff's Lt. Dennis O'Leary. "It's a pretty complex investigation."
(You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or email@example.com.)
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