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Criminal Defense Attorney Helps “Sting” His Own Clients

On January 23, 2009, Chevaliee Robinson was sentenced to 15 years by a U.S. District Court in Ohio after pleading guilty to drug conspiracy and money laundering charges. Robinson’s arrest was one of 30 made by federal agents in connection with an undercover sting operation that lasted more than three years. The primary informant in the investigation was Robinson’s attorney, Frank Pignatelli.

Court records indicate that Pignatelli was facing indictment as a co-conspirator for allegedly helping his clients purchase “stash houses,” which were to be used to store drugs and money. Instead, he avoided prosecution by turning on his clients and becoming an informant. Information provided by Pignatelli led authorities to seize hundreds of pounds of cocaine and marijuana, as well as over $3 million in cash and property.

Although many people expressed outrage or disgust at Pignatelli’s questionable behavior, his own attorney, Lawrence Vuillemin, said he had “acted responsibly and as required under the law.” Be that as it may, others believe that lawyers who inform on their clients make a mockery of attorney-client privilege.

Robinson’s new attorney, James Campbell, said Pignatelli’s decision to turn on his client “leaves a bad taste in my mouth.” Legal analyst Dan Recht stated, “It is in fact outrageous. All involved in the criminal justice system and citizens themselves should be outraged by it.”

Criminal defense attorney Scott H. Greenfield was more blunt and less polite. “It is, quite plainly, about as inconceivably ruinous to the integrity of the criminal justice system for a person masquerading as a criminal defense lawyer to use the information obtained to rat people out,” he said. “[T]here is no place horrific enough in the bowels of hell for the soul of a lawyer who would flip on his clients to save his sorry criminal butt.”? Adding insult to injury was the fact that Pignatelli continued to practice law after cooperating with federal investigators, though he now practices in Colorado instead of Ohio. Under the circumstances, one must wonder if any of Pignatelli’s current clients are aware of his cavalier attitude regarding attorney-client confidentiality.

Apparently that issue also concerned Colorado authorities. On February 4, 2009, the Colorado Supreme Court’s Office of Attorney Regulation announced it had filed a petition to suspend Pignatelli’s law license. He is accused of failing to disclose that he was the subject of a federal criminal investigation in Ohio at the time he applied to the Colorado bar. He also faces allegations of neglecting his clients in Colorado, and the disciplinary charges further address the attorney-client privilege issue.

But not everyone is unhappy with Pignatelli. As it turns out, his actions will serve as a boon for local law enforcement agencies. According to a spokesman for the Criminal Investigative Unit of the IRS, local law enforcement budgets will soon receive a large portion of the money seized during the federal investigation with Pignatelli’s help.

Sources:, Beacon Journal, Colorado Supreme Court press release,,

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