It’s any defense lawyer’s nightmare.
On Monday on the eve of a criminal trial, Vinson & Elkins white-collar defense partner Matthew Jacobs received an email from his client Christian Reimer Stukenbrock. Stukenbrock was set to begin trial Tuesday on a 9-count wire fraud indictment alleging he misappropriated millions through a company he created called Silicon Valley Technology Group.
“Hi Matt,” wrote Stukenbrock, “Please contact the court to tell them that i will not be there tomorrow and cancel the proceedings.”
“I already left the jurisdiction,” he added.
Within 10 minutes, Jacobs wrote back to tell his client he was making a “terrible mistake.”
“You need to call me immediately,” wrote Jacobs, according to a copy of the email exchange filed on the docket of Stukenbrock’s case. “The government will find you and you will be committing a very serious crime. If you don’t call me within five minutes, we are going to notify the government and the Court and there will be a warrant for your arrest.”
True to Jacobs’ warning, later that afternoon U.S. District Judge Edward Davila, who is overseeing the case, issued a bench warrant for Stukenbrock’s arrest after reading the email into the court record. On Tuesday, after Stukenbrock didn’t show for trial and defense counsel informed the court they hadn’t heard any more from him, Davila vacated the trial schedule.
The U.S. Attorneys Office for the Northern District of California, which is prosecuting the case, issued a statement Wednesday urging anyone with information regarding Stukenbrock’s whereabouts to contact the FBI.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Jacobs, who was handling the case pro bono as part of the Northern District’s Criminal Justice Act Panel, said he had been looking forward to the trial and had no interest in aiding and abetting anyone absconding.
“Not showing up for trial is obviously a separate crime,” Jacobs said. “We felt as officers of the court that we had no choice but to inform the court.”
Jacobs’ Austin, Texas-based colleague Jennifer Freel said the trial team had been preparing over the Thanksgiving holiday. They were working Monday when the email from Stukenbrock came in.
“Matt did his opening statement for us and we talked about our voir dire questions for our jury, and we were working on PowerPoint slides for the opening when we got the news,” Freel said.
She pointed out that both she and Jacobs had been on the opposite sides of similar situations when they themselves were prosecutors. “It was a very different feeling when you’re the defense,” she said.
Added Jacobs, “We were ready for trial and it’s disappointing because we actually had a triable case. But it is what it is.”