Appeals Court Upholds Conn. Attorney's Money Laundering Conviction
Just before his trial on money laundering charges, Seymour attorney Ralph Crozier asked if he could serve as his own co-counsel. A federal judge denied the request. When Crozier appealed his conviction and 30-month prison sentence, he said his constitutional rights were violated when he was barred from serving as an official member of his own defense team Once again, the courts have ruled against Crozier. In upholding his conviction, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said federal judges have broad discretion to decide if criminal defendants can share defense counsel duties with another lawyer, an arrangement known as hybrid representation "District courts have a strong reason to deny defendants' requests to defend their case in tandem with a lawyer," the Second Circuit wrote in an unsigned opinion released March 3. "Courts are concerned not only with the potential disruption such an arrangement can cause, but also with how a defendant can use the role of co-counsel to provide the equivalent of testimony, through questions to witnesses and argument to the jury, without having to take the witness stand." The Second Circuit also said there was the possibility of juror "confusion," particularly if Crozier cross-examined Bruce Yazdzik, a convicted oxycodone dealer who was Crozier's former client and the government's main witness. Authorities say that Crozier offered to launder Yazdzik's drug sale proceeds by investing them in a solar energy company that another lawyer had launched. Crozier filed a notice to appear as co-counsel the night before jury selection was set to begin in September 2014. Connecticut U.S. District Judge Janet Hall denied the request. In his brief to the Second Circuit, Crozier argued that his "extensive experience as a trial attorney" was a compelling enough reason for him to be allowed the hybrid representation and that any potential juror confusion could have been avoided had his involvement been limited. "Mr. Crozier stands well apart from these lay criminal defendants [involved in other hybrid representation requests] based on his extensive experience as a practicing lawyer who has tried over 100 cases in his almost 38 years of practice," according to his brief. But the U.S. Attorney's Office in Connecticut said Crozier's history as an attorney should have no bearing on his request to act as co-counsel. Additionally, federal prosecutors said he offered no compelling reason why he needed to serve as co-counsel in order to receive a fair trial. "The only rationale that Crozier put forth was his extensive trial experience," according to the brief filed by the U.S. Attorney's Office. "But that experience cannot bear the weight Crozier places on it." Crozier did not complain that he had received inadequate representation from his trial lawyer, Michael Hillis of Dombrowski Hillis in New Haven. Hillis did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Second Circuit cited its own 1989 case, United States v. Tutino, in rejecting Crozier's argument that his Sixth Amendment fair trial rights were violated when he was denied the right to serve as co-counsel. "A criminal defendant has no constitutional or statutory right to represent himself as co-counsel with his own attorney," the Second Circuit wrote.
In 2010, Crozier was hired to defend Yazdzik on drug trafficking charges. That same year, Crozier invested $30,000 of Yazdzik's money in a solar energy company. Court records show that Crozier told Yazdzik how he would invest the money so as to not draw suspicion; Crozier would later argue that the government didn't definitively show that the money came from drug sales. Crozier was arrested following a Drug Enforcement Agency sting operation in which Yazdzik's mother, who was wearing an electronic wire, asked Crozier to hold $11,000 of Yazdzik's money from his "shipments." Yazdzik was sentenced to 10 years in prison but he assisted the DEA by providing information about Crozier's investments. Crozier was sentenced to 30 months in prison on April 17, 2015. In addition to his arguments that the trial court abused its power by denying his request to serve as co-counsel, Crozier told the Second Circuit there wasn't enough evidence to convict him. In its briefs, the U.S. Attorney's Office countered that there was plenty of evidence. "In light of ample evidence against him, which included the testimony of his co-conspirator Yazdzik, corroborating testimony from a third party, bank records which depicted the laundering, Crozier recorded comments, Crozier's admission to arresting agents, and Crozier's own testimony, which this court found to contain at least three false statements sufficient to justify an obstruction of justice enhancement, Crozier's attacks on the sufficiency of the error do not even hint of plain error," U.S. Attorney Deirdre Daly wrote.