The Illinois attorney ethics board has recommended the disbarment of an attorney convicted of smuggling trunkloads of Cuban cigars into the country during the 1990s.
The hearing board of the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission on August 9 recommended stripping the law license from Richard Steven Connors, convicted in 2002 of violating the Trading with the Enemy Act, falsifying information on his passport and conspiracy. Connors, sentenced to 37 months in prison and ordered to pay a $60,000 fine, denied the allegations. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction in 2006.
The ethics board found that Connors had engaged in criminal acts that reflected adversely on his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer. It also found that his conduct “tended to bring the legal profession into disrepute.” The recommendation was first reported by the Legal Profession Blog.
Connors was a former public defender, according to reports by The Associated Press at the time of his conviction.
A review board will accept, modify or reject the recommendation before passing it along to the Illinois Supreme Court for a final decision.
According to the Seventh Circuit ruling, Connors made 31 trips to and from Cuba between 1996 and 1999. His activities were discovered after Connors’ ex-wife alerted the U.S. Customs Service. Connors argued unsuccessfully on appeal that his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure had been violated by his wife’s collaboration with the customs service.
In recommending disbarment, the Illinois attorney ethics board found no mitigating factors. The board noted that Connors had been suspended for one year following an earlier ethics breach, misappropriating client funds.
“There is no doubt the crimes for which Respondent was convicted involved moral turpitude and reflected adversely on his honesty, truthfulness, and fitness as an attorney,” the board wrote.
Connors represented himself in the matter. He could not be reached for comment.
In ruling against Connors, the Seventh Circuit noted that the operation was “fairly lucrative.” One trip resulted in his smuggling 46 boxes of the cigars valued at about $350 per box.
The court described the allure of the Cuban cigar. “It is undisputed that the leaves grown in the fertile soil of the Vuelta Abajo, in the western province of Pinar del Río, cultivated and prepared according to centuries-old traditions, produce an incomparably smooth, pungent, and full-bodied smoke,” the court wrote.
The court added that it wasn’t just the Cuban variety that held a certain appeal. “Actually, all cigars do,” the court said in a footnote. “As Rudyard Kipling noted in The Betrothed, ‘[A] woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a Smoke.’ “
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