Once a prosecutor who put criminals behind bars, San Jose lawyer Jamie Harley now finds herself on the other side of the legal system and facing the prospect of time in prison.
A federal jury in San Jose on Tuesday convicted Harley of five counts of laundering money for a former client, punctuating a nearly two-week trial and almost three days of tense deliberations that for a time appeared deadlocked.
The 53-year-old veteran defense lawyer and former local deputy district attorney is scheduled to be sentenced in October on convictions that could spell the end of her lengthy and often controversial legal career.
The jury deadlocked on one charge against Harley, conspiracy, but otherwise rejected her defense arguments that she never intended to launder her client's money and believed she was dealing with a legitimate businessman. Harley, who recently changed her name from Jamie Harmon, bowed her head and wiped away tears as the jury verdict was read, then left the courtroom quickly after a long embrace with her husband.
Victor Vertner, Harley's lawyer, declined to comment.
A federal grand jury indicted Harley more than two years ago, accusing her of laundering more than $100,000 for Christian Pantages, a client who wound up pleading guilty to charges in the case and testifying against her during the trial. Prosecutors alleged that Harley laundered money from Pantages' illicit business trafficking in stolen computer equipment, after he had been charged with state crimes related to the theft ring.
Outside the courtroom, jurors indicated they simply could not believe an experienced, savvy attorney such as Harley would not know what she was doing with her client's money.
"I think what led people to the other side was as an experienced attorney with history and knowledge of the prosecutor side, she didn't act, she didn't get out," said Mark Porter, the jury foreman. "There were times she could have washed her hands of it, and didn't."
Government officials said the verdict sent a message to unscrupulous lawyers.
"It's particularly troubling when a person trained in the practice of law uses that legal expertise not for the greater good, but to corrupt the system and enrich themselves," said Mark Wollman, special agent in charge of San Francisco's office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which investigated the case.
Under federal sentencing guidelines, U.S. District Judge James Ware could sentence Harley to two to three years in prison for the convictions, and perhaps more if she receives additional punishment for abusing a position of trust. The judge, however, does have leeway to impose a lesser term if Harley presents so-called mitigating evidence.
Harley has been an embattled figure in local legal circles for years, and already faces troubles with the state Bar. In May, a state Bar court disciplined her for nine counts of misconduct involving six clients, unrelated to the Pantages matter, and imposed a punishment of six months' suspension from practicing law. A federal felony conviction, however, could result in her being stripped of her law license altogether.
The case against Harley dates back seven years, to her representation of Pantages and his business, Silicon Valley Resale. Federal prosecutors specifically alleged that Harley funneled $127,550 Pantages earned from selling stolen Cisco equipment into her attorney-client trust account, and then turned around and wrote a series of checks back to Pantages and his wife despite knowing the money was from peddling stolen technology. Harley kept a portion of the money for her legal fees.
During trial, Harley took the stand and denied knowing that the money was tainted, or that Pantages was involved in an illicit business.
The jury, however, did not buy the argument.
"Most of us felt like there was a lot of things leaning against her," Porter said.
Contact Howard Mintz at 408-286-0236.