In The News

In The News

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

President Obama Commutes the Sentence of a Nichols Law Firm Client – Her Nightmare is Over

By Michael Nichols
Categories: Drug Crimes

East Lansing – Mike Nichols has vivid images of a federal trial in 2007 in US District Court for the Western District of Michigan in Grand Rapids. One of those images? Cindy Valdez Shank breaking down uncontrollably on the witness stand while testifying about getting beaten by her ex-boyfriend, Alex Humphrey and all she could think of was “daddy please save me.” The trial judge took a recess and discharged the jury while Ms. Shank remained broken; emotionally-drained and in tears sitting in her chair. She was describing for the jury why she never left the man, who she says kept her as a captive for several years while he operated Lansing's largest drug trafficking ring ever.
“The judge looked at me and mouthed ‘get her under control,’” says Nichols. Nichols adds: “it was a moment that I said to myself “this is her chance to tell her story and I am not going to calm her down, get her under control or put up with gamesmanship … this is her trial and her life is at stake.” The trial at which Shank and a co-defendant, who she barely knew, were tried together as members of the biggest drug conspiracy in Lansing history at that time ended in guilty verdicts on federal marijuana trafficking charges.
Nichols explains that Shank was originally charged after her then-boyfriend Alex Humphrey was murdered in a shooting over his drug territory and the tens of thousands of dollars in drugs, property and drugs in his home. “She was first charged in state court,” Nichols says. “However, charges were dismissed when prosecutors could not make out a case at the preliminary examination and Cindy refused to cooperate.”
Years later, after she thought the years of her life with Humphrey as his girlfriend and as she described it, property, were behind her the United States Attorney’s office for the Western District of Michigan brought a multi-count indictment charging Shank and others as co-conspirators in the Humphrey gang. She was arrested and faced minimum penalties of 10-40 years and 5-20 years respectively.
“The government’s entire case was based on cops and snitches who got reduced sentences or charges dismissed. You could read in most of them who testified that they were wrought with guilt over pointing the finger at Cindy. We managed to get one witness to testify that he never saw Cyndy do anything and that she tried to stay out of Alex’s business affairs in the drug trade.” Nichols adds a chilling observation: “the government attorneys were furious with him. They almost literally had federal agents lead him from the witness stand to an interrogation room. I am sure he suffered recriminations. It would be shocking to everyday people what the government did to put people in cages in the name of the drug war,” Nichols says.
Shank was sentenced to consecutive terms of 10 plus 5 years for the 2 counts on which she was convicted and ordered to report to prison in February, 2008. Since then, her husband divorced her and she watched her kids grow up on video. She reformed her life since the days of the Humphrey conspiracy. She had a family at the time she was indicted, became a general manager at an East Lansing restaurant and was working and raising her kids when government agents came looking for her in the winter of 2006-2007. "It just seemed so twisted to me," says Nichols "that the government no doubt charged her with the most serious crimes possible with the maximum possible penalty. At most, she was a courier and a money-counter for him and the only question was whether she did it voluntarily or at the threat of his violence."
She argued “duress” at trial – which is an affirmative defense that literally excuses the criminal conduct of a person who committed the crimes with which she is charged only to avoid imminent harm to herself. Nichols reflects that “the judge let us argue the defense but did not make it easy. It seemed as if it was more about a game to intimidate us and browbeat us because we refused to join ‘team USA’ – I will never forget the conduct of the government lawyers and law enforcement, who targeted Cindy with a vengeance because she refused to ‘play ball.’ It was almost as if the point was to convict and not to seek justice because she refused to own up to criminal conduct and testify or at least agree to testify against others.”

Ms. Shank is scheduled to be released March 22, 2017 according to a press release from the White House announcing 79 new commutations including hers. A full text of the White House release is here:

https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2016/11/22/president-obama-grants-commutations

According to her sister Virginia Valdez, who also testified at trial about her sister's fear of Alex, Cindy is ecstatic. She will be moved to a halfway house likely soon to start transitioning to society and hold the 9 year old daughter to whom she gave birth just before going into prison. Her family members are working on a documentary-style video to tell her story. As for her trial lawyer: "this was a classic example of your government flexing its muscle if for no other reason than to set an example of what happens if you fail to say 'uncle' in a wrestling match with it," Nichols says. "The number of cops; the amount of tax dollars and the time, energy and resources that went into this 8 day trial that probably had a result that was written in stone before it even started is terribly unsettling. We should all think of Ms. Shank over the holidays and remember the maxim: whatever is taken from one of us - is taken from us all." Nichols can be reached at 517.432.9000





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Peer Recognition

Mike Nichols is a national leader in drunk driving defense. He is a member of the Forensic Committee and Michigan delegate to the National College for DUI Defense. He is also a Sustaining Member of the College. Nichols is also a founding member of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys; a member of the American Chemical Society; an associate member of he American Academy of Forensic Science, Adjunct Professor of Forensic Evidence in Criminal Law and OWI Law and Practice at Cooley Law School. He is also author of the West OWI Practice book and several chapters in other books on science and the law.

Mike Nichols is recognized by his peers in Michigan as a “SuperLawyer” in DUI/Criminal Defense. Nichols has also been asked to speak at conferences by groups such as the NCDD; Various Bar Associations in other states.