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Florida Pre-Release Officer’s Federal Convictions Affirmed

In a January 13, 2011 ruling, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the criminal convictions of Florida pre-trial release officer Shynita Townsend for taking bribes to allow a releasee greater freedom.

The appellate court’s decision affirmed Townsend’s convictions for knowingly and corruptly accepting a thing of value (jewelry and cash) as an agent of a local government; acting as an accessory after the fact, knowing that a crime against the United States had been committed; and two charges of obstruction of justice.

Following her convictions, Townsend, a Miami-Dade County corrections officer, was sentenced to concurrent federal prison terms of 45 months on each count, plus two years supervised release and a $400 special assessment.

Townsend had been assigned to supervise the pre-trial release of Humberto Febles, who was arrested on multiple state charges that included cocaine trafficking and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was released on June 6, 2003 after posting a $500,000 bond. As a condition of his release, Febles was not to leave his residence for any reason and was required to wear a radio-frequency ankle bracelet to ensure compliance.

Permission was granted by the state court for Febles to work at a nursery from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., plus 15 minutes on both ends for travel time. Febles, however, never actually showed up for work. Instead, he was “running a booming business” which included “tending to his several marijuana grow houses.” Townsend never verified that Febles was attending his nursery job, nor did she do anything about his failure to submit proper documentation.

When Febles needed more time away from his house, he gave Townsend a pair of $280 diamond earrings. After that, according to Febles’ self-described right-hand man, Ramon Hernandez, Townsend allowed Febles to “go wherever he wanted.” Townsend helped to cover-up Febles’ excursions by letting him remove the ankle bracelet and then put it back on. She also made entries in a log file that his trips away from home were the result of “power fail[ures]” or for otherwise excused or authorized reasons.

When Febles was arrested at an out-of-town tire shop and charged with felony possession of a concealed weapon, Townsend helped him get out of jail the same day upon accepting a $5,000 cash bribe, which was delivered in a McDonald’s bag with a side of fries. She then dictated a letter from his nursery job to make it appear that he had permission to be at the tire store.

Febles, however, had been under surveillance, as were his grow houses. When law enforcement agents contacted Townsend about Febles’ schedule and whereabouts, she called Febles to alert him. She also called him right before drug agents were going to execute a search warrant. He left town and stayed on the run from September 1, 2004 until he was killed in Mexico during a drug deal in February 2008. When Febles became a fugitive, Townsend altered and hid his pre-release file.

On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit found that Febles’ bribes amounted to a thing of value of “$5,000 or more,” as required by the criminal statute. The appellate court also held that “intangibles, such as freedom from jail and greater freedom while on pretrial release, are things of value” under 18 U.S.C. § 666 (a)(1)(B). Further, the Court of Appeals determined that “the value of an intangible in the black market of corruption is set at the monetary value of what a willing bribe-giver gives and what a willing bribe-taker takes in exchange for the intangible.” The value of Townsend’s intervention to help Febles maintain his freedom was $5,280, the Eleventh Circuit found, which met statutory requirements.

Townsend’s conviction for acting as an accessory was upheld because there was evidence that she helped Febles avoid apprehension by alerting him of the impending search warrant. She had also obstructed justice by altering, destroying, mutilating or concealing his pre-release file. The second obstruction charge was upheld based on evidence that Townsend had warned Febles of the search warrant that was about to be executed.
Her convictions and sentences were accordingly affirmed. See: United States v. Townsend, 630 F.3d 1003 (11th Cir. 2011), cert. denied.

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Related legal case

United States v. Townsend