Here is a sampling of significant criminal cases handled by the attorneys at The Weinhardt Law Firm.
United States v. David Schmit (N.D. Iowa 2022): Mark Weinhardt, Todd Lantz, and Elisabeth Tursi successfully defended David Schmit, a successful CPA and business owner, against multiple felony charges relating to Mr. Schmit's personal tax returns. The United States, led by the Tax Division of the Department of Justice along with a local Iowa prosecutor, pursued charges for filing false returns and obstructing an IRS audit. After a two-week trial, a jury in the Northern District of Iowa rendered a unanimous verdict, fully acquitting Mr. Schmit of the charges. Afterward, Mr. Schmit stated: “I'm most grateful for the jury's careful consideration of the facts and also appreciative of my legal team's expert guidance and my family's unwavering support.”
State of Iowa v. Jordan Bryant (Story County District Court 2021): Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz defended Jordan Bryant against charges of First Degree Murder and First Degree Robbery arising from an armed robbery gone wrong that resulted in a shooting death. After one of the most complex investigations in the history of the Ames Police Department that involved hundreds of witness interviews, four people were charged. One defendant was convicted on all charges at trial, and the other two pleaded guilty to substantial felonies, with one of them agreeing to testify against the Firm's client at trial. Despite those facts, and facing a sentence of life without parole, Jordan Bryant took her case to trial. After two weeks in court, the jury largely agreed with Mark and Todd that Jordan's role in the event was dramatically different than the others. The jury found Ms. Bryant guilty of involuntary manslaughter, Iowa's lowest level of felony, and Third Degree Robbery, a misdemeanor.
Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz represented clients who were investigated by the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service related to their personal tax returns (Form 1040s). The investigations involved multiple tax years, IRS summonses, and federal grand jury subpoenas relating to the IRS's concerns about overstated expenses and questionable business expenses. Mark and Todd advised the firm's clients through the investigations and advocated on their behalf with prosecutors and IRS agents. Ultimately, both investigations were closed without any adverse action against the firm's clients.
State of Iowa v. Buelow, 951 N.W.2d 879 (Iowa 2020): Fontae Buelow was convicted in Dubuque County of Second Degree Murder in the alleged stabbing death of his girlfriend. Mr. Buelow asserted his innocence and said it was a suicide. The Firm did not try the original case but was retained by Mr. Buelow's family to take the case on appeal. The Iowa Court of Appeals and the Iowa Supreme Court each unanimously reversed the conviction. The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with the Firm's argument that evidence of the decedent's mental health problems and documented suicidal behaviors was wrongly excluded as evidence. The case was widely covered by the media. The Des Moines Register covered the case here.
Attorney Mortgage Fraud Investigation (United States District Court, Southern District Iowa 2017–2020): In 2017, federal prosecutors notified a prominent Iowa real estate attorney that he was a "target" in a grand jury investigation of an alleged “house-flipping” mortgage fraud scheme involving, among others, a local realtor. Even though the realtor pleaded guilty and gave evidence against the Firm's client, the Firm's attorneys persuaded the government that the attorney did not join any fraudulent scheme and that his conduct was consistent with industry standards. After a lengthy investigation, the government determined that the Firm's client would not be charged.
Felony OWI Prosecution (Woodbury County District Court 2020): Mark Weinhardt and Elisabeth Tursi defended a successful western Iowa business owner who was charged with felony operating while intoxicated following a traffic stop in Woodbury County. After extensive discovery and a contested evidentiary hearing, the court granted Mark and Elisabeth's motion to suppress all of the evidence in the case because the arresting officer lacked any basis to stop the Firm's client's vehicle in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Thereafter, the Woodbury County Attorney dismissed all charges.
State of Iowa v. Jeff Hornback (Crawford County District Court 2019): The Firm represented an individual accused of setting fire to his house and attempting to collect insurance proceeds. Following a week-long trial, the district court judge determined that “All of the evidence at trial weighs in favor of the defendant's innocence and the fire being an accident.” Persuading the judge of the client's innocence required the Firm's lawyers to explain (and debunk) scientific evidence about the cause and origin of the fire and financial analysis about the defendant's alleged motive.
United States v. Leesa Marie Parkhill-Nieland (United States District Court, Southern District of Iowa 2019):Todd Lantz successfully defended a woman accused of stealing government funds, social security fraud, and making false statements to a government agency, all of which were federal felony charges. The case centered on the Firm's client having received Social Security Disability Insurance benefits while she owned two businesses with family members. The Firm's client denied that she committed any crimes, and she took the case to trial. After five days, the federal district court jury returned a verdict that she was not guilty on all criminal charges.
In re: Dr. Brian Adams (2015-2018): A highly respected orthopedic surgeon at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics hired Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz after the State Auditor released a public report claiming he diverted more than $1.9 million in payments for medical and non-medical services. Personal funds were seized from the surgeon, and a federal investigation was opened. Weinhardt and Lantz diligently reviewed the State Auditor's files, conducted their own investigation, and prepared a thorough presentation to the United States Attorney's Office and investigating agents. Ultimately, the investigation was closed without any charges or findings, and all seized funds were returned to the Firm's client.
State of Iowa v. Jennifer Graham (Taylor County District Court 2018): Todd Lantz and Elisabeth Tursi represented a woman charged with Fraudulent Practices in the Second Degree arising from a quit claim deed that the State alleged was fraudulent. Todd and Elisabeth investigated the matter and presented evidence to the prosecutor that was not considered prior to criminal charges being filed. That presentation convinced the prosecutor to voluntarily dismiss all criminal charges against the Firm's client.
State of Iowa v. Tommy Tipton (Polk County District Court 2016-2017): The State charged Tommy Tipton, a sheriff's deputy and elected official in Texas, with aiding and abetting his brother's well-documented scheme to defraud multiple state lotteries. The Firm's client won lotteries in two different states. Facing a felony charge that carried a maximum punishment of 25 years' imprisonment, Mr. Tipton hired the Firm. Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz represented Mr. Tipton, investigated the case, advocated with the prosecutor and the district court, and eventually negotiated a plea bargain to fully resolve the criminal case. Mr. Tipton served only 75 days in a Texas county jail and was able to retain his firearms privileges.
State of Iowa v. Skow (Humboldt County District Court 2015-2017): The State charged a successful entrepreneur in the ethanol plant maintenance industry with nineteen felonies, including theft, money laundering, and ongoing criminal conduct, relating to the entrepreneur's prior employment with a competing business. After Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz investigated the case, prepared a written presentation for the prosecutor, and deposed the key witnesses, the prosecutor agreed to dismiss all charges in exchange for a guilty plea to a tax-related charge, which resulted in a deferred judgment and a probationary sentence.
United States v. Venkata Atluri (United States District Court, Southern District of New York 2017): Mark Weinhardt represented the president of a New Jersey computer staffing company charged with paying kickbacks to executives within a large New York-based medical management firm to maintain business for his staffing company. When he was charged, the president was in his native India on family business and the pending arrest warrant prevented his travel elsewhere. Mark negotiated with the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York for safe conduct for the Firm's client back to the United States and negotiated a plea agreement. In a sentencing hearing for which Todd Lantz did substantial preparation work, Mark, working with counsel from New York's Hughes, Hubbard & Reed, persuaded the New York federal court to impose a sentence of just three months. That was a substantial downward variance from the low end of the guideline sentencing range, which was 18 months.
FDIC/SBA Bank Fraud Investigation (2012-2016): Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz represented the president of an Iowa bank who was investigated for allegedly fraudulent transactions involving certain of the bank's real estate and business loans. Mark and Todd extensively investigated the facts of the case, presenting the U.S. Attorney's Office and the investigating agents with a dossier of evidence several inches thick to demonstrate the absence of wrongdoing by their client. Ultimately, the government closed the investigation with no criminal charges.
Alternative Energy Criminal Tax Investigation (2014-2016): Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz represented an officer in an alternative energy company that was investigated by the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS for alleged fraud in the claiming of tax benefits in the alternative energy industry. After a lengthy investigation, the authorities terminated the investigation and filed no criminal charges.
United States v. Mo Hailong (United States District Court, Southern District of Iowa 2016): Acting as lead counsel and working with a team of lawyers from Iowa and California, Mark Weinhardt defended a Chinese national accused of stealing trade secret seed corn technology from two of the world's largest agribusiness companies and sending that technology to China. The case garnered national press, including feature articles in the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times. Federally indicted for theft of trade secrets and international transportation of stolen property, Mr. Mo faced a maximum sentence of 15 years. After extensive pretrial motion practice and investigation, Mark and his team negotiated a plea agreement calling for a maximum five year sentence. Following a contested sentencing hearing, the court sentenced the Firm's client to three years. This case has since been the subject of the book The Scientist and the Spy: A True Story of China, the FBI, and Industrial Espionage.
State of Iowa v. Trent Steinhart (Marion County District Court 2016): Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz represented a highly respected teacher and father in a criminal prosecution that began when the client accidentally left his infant daughter in his vehicle while on a short trip to the grocery store. Weinhardt and Lantz investigated the case and advocated with the local county attorney, who agreed to dismiss all criminal charges if the client successfully completed an informal probation term and produced a public service announcement to avoid similar accidents in the future. While the criminal case was going on, the Iowa Department of Human Services made a finding that the Firm's client had engaged in child neglect, which would have been devastating to his career as a teacher. Mark and Todd challenged that finding in administrative proceedings that were ultimately appealed to the Iowa District Court, which ruled that the finding by the Department of Human Services was unfounded and cleared Mr. Steinhart's name.
Sabotka v. Salamah (Ringgold County District Court 2016): Todd Lantz was hired by owners of agricultural land in Southern Iowa who had been found in contempt for not complying with a prior court order relating to drainage of surface water from a neighboring property. Todd defended the landowners against an aggressive quasi-criminal contempt action pursued by the neighbor. Ultimately, Todd convinced the district court judge to dismiss the contempt proceedings at the end of the first day of a two-day trial.
State of Iowa v. Timothy Watts (Polk County District Court 2016): Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz represented an out-of-state business owner who was charged with first degree theft arising from a check issued to a local contractor for work on a project in the Des Moines area. After investigating the case, Mark and Todd filed a motion to dismiss on the basis that the alleged facts did not constitute a crime under Iowa law. Before the court could rule on that motion, the State dismissed its case against the business owner.
United States v. Ram Hingorani (United States District Court, Southern District of Iowa 2015): Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz represented the owner of a commercial construction company that performed over $23 million in government contracts that the government later claimed the company was ineligible to receive. After a lengthy investigation and criminal prosecution, the business owner pled guilty to two counts and the government dismissed 28 counts. Although the government argued for 24 months' imprisonment and the advisory sentencing range was much worse, the firm persuaded the federal judge to require only six months in a halfway house and a period of supervised release.
United States v. Anthony Bartleson (United States District Court, Northern District of Iowa 2015): Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz represented the owner of a small masonry company who was accused of embezzling from an IRA plan for the company's employees. Following a negotiated guilty plea, Todd represented the client in a contested sentencing hearing in which the government argued for imprisonment. Ultimately, the federal district court was persuaded to impose a sentence of probation only, which was a downward variance from the advisory sentencing range.
State of Iowa v. John Hoyman, 863 N.W.2d1 (Iowa 2015): Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz defended former Indianola City Attorney John Hoyman against felony charges of theft, fraudulent practices, and felonious misconduct in office arising from alleged irregularities in Mr. Hoyman's billing to the City for legal services. Following a jury trial, Mr. Hoyman was acquitted on the theft and felonious misconduct charges but convicted on the fraudulent practices charge. Mark and Todd argued to the Iowa Supreme Court that the district court erred in its instructions to the jury in two respects. The Supreme Court agreed, notably holding for the first time that to be guilty of fraudulent practices by submitting false documents, the defendant must intend to deceive the recipient of the documents and not merely know that the documents are incorrect. Mark and Todd further argued to the Supreme Court that the district court should have recused itself based upon the judge's spouse's close friendship with the prosecutor. While not ruling on that challenge on the merits, the court directed that a different district judge hear the case on remand.
Real Estate Lending Bank Fraud Investigation (2012-2015): The Firm represented the owner of numerous rental properties in a city in Iowa. The firm's client sold many of those properties. The owner later became a “target” of a federal investigation into allegations of bank fraud. The client was investigated for conspiring with the purchasers of the properties to deceive banks into lending money to fund the purchases. In response to the government's investigation, the Firm conducted a detailed factual and legal investigation of its own and made an extensive presentation to the government of why its client should not be charged. At the conclusion of its investigation, the government elected to pursue no charges against the Firm's client.
United States v. Michael Stein (United States District Court, Southern District of Iowa 2014): Mark Weinhardt defended the owner of an Iowa City pharmacy against 15 counts of health care fraud. The government alleged that the Firm's client, in conjunction with a Florida company, engaged in a nationwide scheme to defraud health insurers out of the cost of drugs for treating hemophiliacs – drugs that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient per year. Mark countered that all of the drugs delivered by the Firm's client had been medically necessary and eligible for insurance coverage and that the prosecution was a misguided extension of a purely civil contract dispute. The jury acquitted Mr. Stein on all charges.
Criminal Immigration Fraud Prosecution (United States District Court, District of Kansas 2014): Mark Weinhardt along with counsel in Kansas, represented one of two owners of a staffing company that supplied computer programmers to U.S. industries. The government alleged in a 21-count Indictment that the defendants committed immigration fraud, mail fraud, false statements to the federal government, and money laundering by bringing some of the programmers to the United States without complying with all of the rules of the H-1B visa program. Mark and his Kansas counsel (as well as counsel for the co-defendant) prepared the case for trial but, following a wide-ranging pretrial motions hearing the week before trial, the government agreed to dismiss all criminal charges against the individuals in exchange for deferred prosecution agreements for the two men and a guilty plea and modest fine from the now-inactive company.
State of Iowa v. Grady Marx (Polk County District Court 2013-2014): Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz represented a business owner accused of theft, fraudulent practices, money laundering, conspiracy, and ongoing criminal conduct. The charges arose from the Firm's client's business dealings with a former employee of the Iowa Department of Transportation. After Mark and Todd investigated the case and presented the results of their investigation to the prosecuting attorney, the State agreed to a complete dismissal of all charges against the Firm's client.
Employee Stock Ownership Plan Grand Jury Investigation (2012-2013): The Firm represented a Northwest Iowa manufacturing company regarding allegations of fraud in connection with the company's Employee Stock Ownership Plan. Mark Weinhardt defended the company and its majority owner with regard to the investigation, conducted a thorough internal investigation of his own and contended that no crime had been committed by anyone. After a little more than six months — a very short time for a complex white collar investigation — the prosecutors notified the Firm that they were closing their file on this case and returning the documents taken in the search warrant.
Campaign Finance Prosecution (Polk County District Court 2010-2012): Along with Iowa City Attorney Leon Spies, Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz represented an individual in a 30-month investigation and prosecution arising out of a campaign contribution. A special prosecutor charged the Firm's client and other individuals and entities with campaign finance offenses. On the Firm's motion, the court dismissed one of the charges against their client, and the special prosecutor dismissed the other two charges shortly before trial. The client entered an “Alford” plea to a simple misdemeanor (the lowest level of criminal offense in Iowa), and he received a deferred judgment. Mr. Weinhardt said at the time of the resolution, “Against a $350 fine, a consistent denial of wrongdoing, and no criminal record, it was hard to justify the expense of a two-week trial, even though we were confident about the outcome of that trial.”
Iowa Medicaid Fraud Control Unit: Social Services Agency Investigation (2012): Mark Weinhardt represented a prominent social services agency that was investigated by the Iowa Medicaid Fraud Control Unit (“IMFCU”) for both suspected billing improprieties and alleged physical mistreatment of the agency's clients at the agency's facilities. Mark conducted his own extensive internal investigation of the agency's operations, shadowed the government's investigation, and then presented their findings to the IMFCU. That agency closed the investigation without any action against the social services agency or any of its management or employees.
Attorney General's Investigation of Iowa Film Office (2010-2012): The operation of an aggressive tax credit program to attract filmmaking to Iowa resulted in a statewide scandal, multiple criminal charges, and some prison sentences. The Firm's client fared better, however. Mark Weinhardt represented a filmmaker and that filmmaker's production company for more than two years during the investigation. He presented the government with an analysis of the facts regarding the film project in question and ultimately persuaded the Attorney General's Office to bring no charges against either the filmmaker or the production company.
United States v. Vision Systems Group and Viswa Mandalapu (United States District Court, Southern District of Iowa 2011): Mark Weinhardt represented a computer consulting firm and its owner in a prosecution alleging various immigration fraud and mail fraud crimes arising from the company bringing computer programmers to the United States under the H-1B visa program. After winning a motion to dismiss that threw out a number of the charges in the case, and after litigating a motion to suppress that excluded some of the government's evidence from trial, the case was resolved with a guilty plea under which the company paid a fine and owner received a sentence of probation with no incarceration.
Clean Water Act Grand Jury Investigation (2007-2011): Mark Weinhardt represented a business entity that owns and operates a 10,000-head cattle feedlot in Iowa. The entity became the subject of a federal grand jury investigation into alleged violations of the Clean Water Act arising from a manure spill that allegedly entered into protected waters of the United States. Over the course of an investigation that lasted more than three years, Mark advocated to the government's criminal prosecutors that no crime had occurred. In early 2011, the government advised the entity that it would take no criminal action in the case.
United States v. Armas (United States District Court, Southern District of Iowa 2011): Mark Weinhardt and Todd Lantz successfully defended at a jury trial a woman accused of tampering with a witness in a separate criminal case. The woman had come to Iowa from her home in Southern California to care for an infant relative during criminal proceedings involving the parents of the infant. Mark and Todd's client was indicted following an encounter between her, other members of her family, and a figure in the other criminal case. The jury acquitted the client after two hours of deliberation.
State v. Sholom Rubashkin and Aaron Rubashkin (Allamakee County District Court 2010): Mark Weinhardt, along with other counsel including West Des Moines attorney F. Montgomery Brown, defended Sholom Rubashkin, the general manager of Agriprocessors, Inc. in Postville, Iowa, in a five-week trial. The complaint, which originally alleged 9,311 counts, alleged that Mr. Rubashkin permitted the employment of minors in a meatpacking plant and under certain dangerous conditions in violation of Iowa law. At the close of the State's evidence, the district court granted a defense motion to dismiss some of the counts. The jury acquitted Mr. Rubashkin on the remaining counts.
The case arose from the immigration enforcement raid against Agriprocessors in May 2008, then the largest workplace immigration enforcement action in United States history. Mr. Rubashkin's acquittal received national media coverage, including in The New York Times. When the charges were originally filed in September 2008, they also named Mr. Rubashkin's father, plant owner Aaron Rubashkin. Mark represented Aaron Rubashkin from the inception of the case until the State voluntarily dismissed all charges against Aaron Rubashkin.
United States v. Brown (United States District Court, Southern District of Texas 2010): Mark Weinhardt represented a former executive of a publicly-traded oilfield services company accused of violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Mark represented his client through a years-long investigation, negotiated a guilty plea that capped his client's exposure at less than half of what was suggested by the United States Sentencing Guidelines, and then represented his client at sentencing. The court sentenced Mark's client to one year and one day of incarceration, well below the guideline sentence and well below the sentence recommended by the federal government even after an adjustment for cooperation with the government's investigation.
United States v. Gammage, 580 F.3d 777 (8th Cir. 2009): Mark Weinhardt successfully appealed the sentence of a man convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm following a domestic violence conviction. Based upon his criminal record from decades ago in Mississippi, the district court sentenced Mr. Gammage to a mandatory minimum 15 years in prison. Mark argued on appeal that the sentencing enhancement under the Armed Career Criminal Act did not apply, and the Eighth Circuit agreed. On resentencing, Mr. Gammage received a sentence of time served.
United States v. Hatch (United States District Court, Southern District of Iowa 2009): Mark Weinhardt represented the owner of a company that illegally sold night vision goggles — considered a regulated munition under the Arms Export Control Act — in a prosecution for violating the AECA and other federal statutes. Despite sentencing guidelines under the AECA calling for a sentence of at least five years, Mark negotiated a guilty plea to a lesser charge and, at sentencing, the client received a sentence of probation with no incarceration.
United States v. Iannone (United States District Court, Southern District of Iowa 2003): Mark Weinhardt defended a nationally prominent cardiologist at a jury trial. Their client was accused of insider trading in connection with options trades in advance of a merger announcement in the medical technology industry that earned the client over $1 million. Dr. Iannone was charged with 28 counts of conspiracy, insider trading, and wire fraud. The jury acquitted Dr. Iannone on all 28 counts.
Food Safety Grand Jury Investigation (2001-2004): Mark Weinhardt represented a public company in the food industry in a grand jury investigation in which the government alleged food safety violations. Mark persuaded the government not to indict the company and negotiated a pretrial diversion agreement that also spared any individual within the company from criminal action.
State v. Savage (Polk County District Court 2000): Nationally known journalist and columnist Dan Savage covered the 2000 Iowa presidential caucuses for Salon.com. Mr. Savage, a Seattle resident, wrote that he registered to vote as an Iowan and voted at the caucus near his hotel. The State brought felony charges carrying a five-year prison term against Mr. Savage for making a false declaration of Iowa citizenship. Mark Weinhardt represented Mr. Savage and settled the case with a guilty plea to a misdemeanor and the payment of a small fine.