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United States v. 8 Gilcrease Lane

November 10, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


Thomas A. Bowdoin, Jr., renews his motion to vacate an Order approving his release of claims, see Dkt. # 41, in this civil in rem forfeiture proceeding. Mr. Bowdoin seeks to restore his right to litigate his claim to the defendant properties, arguing that his prior counsel gave him bad advice and the Government tricked him into releasing his claims. See Bowdoin's Mots. to Rescind Withdrawal of Claims [Dkt. ## 66, 67, and 131]. As Mr. Bowdoin's own descriptions of events fail to support these arguments, and there is no other reason to grant reconsideration under Rule 60(b), the Court will deny the motion.


The Government filed this civil forfeiture action on August 6, 2008, asserting that certain real properties, bank accounts and other things were subject to forfeiture because they were obtained with proceeds from an illegal Internet Ponzi scheme.*fn1 See Compl. [Dkt. # 1]. On August 15, 2008, verified claims to the properties were filed by Bowdoin/Harris Enterprises, Inc.; AdSurf Daily, Inc. ("ASD"); and Mr. Bowdoin. See Dkt. # 6. After meeting with the Government, on the advice of his counsel, Mr. Bowdoin filed a motion to withdraw his claims, Dkt. # 39, which was granted by Court Order on January 22, 2009. See Dkt. # 41.

Mr. Bowdoin now states that his lawyers in the civil forfeiture case urged him to retain Steven Dobson of Dobson and Smith as his criminal attorney for the anticipated criminal prosecution. He did so and thereafter Mr. Dobson met in Washington, D.C., on two occasions with William Cowden, an attorney with the Department of Justice. Further, according to Mr. Bowdoin:

In December 2008 and January 2009, Dobson and I met with Cowden and other government officials in Tallahassee, Florida to discuss matters concerning the issues of criminal liability and the civil in rem forfeiture proceeding.

Before meeting with Cowden, Dobson asked that I sign an agreement expressing my intent to cooperate with the Department of Justice and releasing the assets. I did that. Dobson represented to me that I could possibly avoid prison or get a reduced sentence if I agreed to disclose details concerning ASD and releasing the assets. I agreed to cooperate and release the assets. I also signed a document stating that I would release my claims in the above-captioned civil in rem forfeiture proceeding, again thinking that necessary for a possible avoidance of a prison term. I did all of this on the understanding that by cooperating I could possibly avoid a prison sentence. I am 74 years old and have a heart condition. Any measure of prison time would constitute a life sentence. Given the possibility of a long prison term, I agreed not to exercise my rights in the civil forfeiture proceeding, anticipating from representations made by Dobson that this could possibly keep me out of prison. Dobson retained my signed agreement and provided it to DOJ Counsel before my initial in-person meeting.

During our meeting in Tallahassee, Florida, Cowden requested that I dismiss my claims in the above-captioned civil forfeiture proceeding. Dobson provided Cowden with my signed agreement. I was led to believe that a grand jury indictment was forthcoming. My attorney represented to me that Cowden had spoken to a judge, persuaded the judge that I was a flight risk, and that I would be held without bail following a prompt indictment. Dobson led me to believe that I would be promptly arrested if I failed to cooperate with Government counsel.

Dobson stated that unless I cooperated, Cowden was prepared to bring criminal actions for wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit same. Dobson represented that Cowden would seek the maximum sentences for each charge, which would be in the range of 20-40 years imprisonment.

Dobson lead [sic] me to believe that if I cooperated there was a possibility that I would not be incarcerated or imprisoned.

Based on representations by Dobson, I believed that my cooperation would still result in a criminal sentence that could possibly not include imprisonment or incarceration. Dobson said that none of this could be put in writing. But Dobson had lied to me. . . .

On January 13, 2009, my attorneys filed a release of claims to seized property and consent to forfeiture. On January 22, 2009, the Court entered its Order granting that motion.

During the course of my two meetings with government counsel, I became aware contrary to what I was led to believe by my counsel that my agreement to freely discuss my involvement with ASD still included a definite imprisonment. . . . [A]fter I had already revealed significant information against my interest, I came to understand that I faced incarceration following a criminal action.

Cowden explained that I would be subject to the maximum penalty under the statute, but that he would inform the judge that I cooperated. I slowly came to understand what I understood from Dobson not to be the case: that my agreement to cooperate provided me no benefit in the criminal matter except the possibility of a reduced sentence if the judge desired which would still be a life sentence. I came to realize that the pleadings were filed not in exchange for the government's relinquishment of seeking a ...

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