On a stretch of North Federal Highway in Lighthouse Point sits a branch of Bank of America.
The location, at the corner of Northeast 29th Street near Pompano Beach, is at the heart of a landmark motion filed recently in Fort Lauderdale federal court that sought phone records from the National Security Agency (NSA) in a South Florida criminal case.
In the fallout over NSA leaker Edward Snowden’s revelations, one of the unintended consequences is a sudden interest on the part of many defense lawyers across the nation to seek agency records that could help their clients in ordinary criminal cases.
U.S. officials have acknowledged in the wake of Snowden’s leaks that for years the NSA has collected and stored vast amounts of telephone and email records as part of its strategy to detect potential terrorist attacks against the United States.
One of the first phone-records motions in a criminal case came from Marshall Dore Louis, a Miami defense attorney who represents Terrance Brown, implicated in a federal bank truck robbery conspiracy case. Dore may have started a trend.
After Dore filed his motion in June, he received calls and email messages from dozens of attorneys across the country interested in filing similar motions in their cases.
In addition, many more attorneys in drug-trafficking cases nationwide are said to be preparing motions after Reuters revealed on Aug. 5 that the NSA is a partner in a special Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) unit that supplies tips to local law-enforcement authorities. Those tips come from a massive phone-records database that the DEA’s Special Operations Division (SOD) taps, Reuters said.
The expected onslaught of demands for NSA records from defense attorneys is an ironic twist for a once-secretive agency whose acronym was often jokingly said to stand for No Such Agency.
Brown was recently convicted of only one of the nine counts in a case stemming from a deadly Oct. 1, 2010, robbery that unfolded when a Brinks truck was delivering $397,500 to a Bank of America branch in Miramar. The government has yet to decide whether it will retry Brown on the eight counts upon which the jury could not reach a verdict.
Brinks worker Alejandro Nodarse Arencibia of Hialeah, 48, was killed when one of the robbers — not Brown — shot him in the head as he walked to the bank with a bag containing the money.
While that robbery has been the focus of media attention since Dore filed his motion in June, his demand for NSA records actually focused on an earlier episode — July 26, 2010 — when federal prosecutors allege that his client was at or near the Bank of America branch at Lighthouse Point waiting for a money truck to arrive.
No robbery occurred because the truck never showed up, but Brown was still linked to the conspiracy because prosecutors insisted he was in the area. As evidence, they cited phone calls to him from alleged accomplices but did not produce any phone records showing he was positively there.
“The government was asserting that my client was in Lighthouse Point, Fla., attempting to rob a bank in July, but they did not have location data for the phone that they alleged was his,” Dore said in an interview Wednesday. “So, they did have it for people that they alleged were in the conspiracy, but not my client.”