Theresa Van Vliet:
A Diligent Investigator
Camilla Broe was the first Danish citizen to be extradited to the United States when she was handed over to U.S. authorities in Miami in 2009 on drug trafficking charges dating back to 2003. In the early 2000s she had attempted to cooperate with the U.S. government through her prior lawyer. When they heard nothing in response to the attempts, Broe flew back to her homeland and her family. Years later she learned she had been indicted and was extradited to face the old charges. When she arrived in Miami in 2009 she hired Theresa Van Vliet to represent her. Van Vliet argued that Broe’s rights had been violated and eventually the federal court in Miami ordered that all charges against her be dropped. In fact, she was recently awarded compensation by the Danish Government for her time spent in Danish jails awaiting extradition.
“When we investigated the facts of the case, the timing of the alleged activities and her indictment seemed to be wrong,” said Van Vliet, a partner in the Fort Lauderdale office of Genovese Joblove & Battista. “We found a number of those old pink phone messages, and we put together a timeline that convinced the judge that her Constitutional and statutory rights to a speedy trial had been violated.”
Whether defending clients in white-collar fraud cases or advising individuals when a case is still in the investigation stage, Van Vliet brings more than 30 years of experience — including a long stint as a federal prosecutor — to every matter. “As a defense attorney, you have to rely on your ability to investigate the case ahead of time, because the rules relating to discovery are more limited than in state courts.” Van Vliet adds that she enjoys the challenge of learning the facts, finding out what really happened and building a solid case for her client. “I am very picky about the cases I take,” she adds. “I handle matters where there is a good shot at a successful outcome.”
As a criminal defense attorney, Van Vliet’s practice areas include Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, Compliance violations, Healthcare fraud, International fraud, Money laundering investigations, Mortgage fraud, White collar litigation, Sanctions by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
“I focus my practice on federal courts, and I am lucky to go up against skilled opponents and great lawyers,” she says. “You can’t present your client well in court if you haven’t done the preparation work. You also have to be able to react on your feet, so you have to know everything about the case, inside and out.”
Making Her Mark
Van Vliet was born in Massachusetts and moved to South Florida with her family in the 1970s. “I went to high school here, and my mother Elizabeth still lives in the house I grew up in with my brothers and sister,” she says. After earning a bachelor’s degree majoring in English at Trinity College in Washington, DC, Van Vliet returned to South Florida, earning her law degree, magna cum laude, at Nova Southeastern Law University in 1982. “My father Charles had encouraged all four of us to go to graduate school,” she recalls. “I had applied to Georgetown and Nova for law school, and came back after I had been laid off from my post college job during the recession of the 1980s. It turned out to be great decision.”
At first, Van Vliet thought she might teach rather than practice law. But after a clerkship with Federal Judge James C. Paine, she found she enjoyed trial work. He encouraged her to apply to the United States Attorney’s Office in Miami. With her diligence and legal skills, she quickly made her mark as a prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice. As Chief of Narcotics for Main Justice during the Clinton Administrations and a Senior Litigation Counsel in South Forida, she successfully tried more than 40 federal jury trials including a 14-month long Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) trial that resulted in convictions for all defendants. She also oversaw national and international drug and drug money laundering policy, investigations and prosecutions, and dealt with national security classified information.
Attorney General Janet Reno recognized Van Vliet for her outstanding performance and at the turn of the Millennium selected her to assist on a special project involving a terrorist plot against the Los Angeles airport. Additionally, she spearheaded an international investigation and prosecution of the highest echelons of Colombian-based money launderers and drug traffickers and received the Distinguished Service Medal for her work from the government of Colombia. She also received the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service and the Drug Enforcement Administrator’s Award for Exceptional Service.
And Van Vliet still enjoys being a teacher. She has lectured frequently on anti-money laundering compliance matters and has published an analysis of the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and its anti-money laundering provisions. She has also published updates to Moore’s Federal Practice on matters involving charging documents in criminal cases and asset forfeitures.
Building Her Practice
Van Vliet says her current criminal law practice includes a wide range of cases. She works closely with the bankruptcy attorneys at her firm in investigating potential criminal activities, such as Ponzi schemes or bank fraud. “We work to marshal assets and sources of recovery for the creditors and victims. I dig into the facts as in any case, and try to make sure that we work cooperatively with the law enforcement authorities,” she says. “Sometimes, that can lead to a faster recovery.”
Since the victims in a criminal fraud and bankruptcy proceedings are often one and the same, Van Vliet says that trustee is often in the best position to quickly monetize assets and secure the funds for the eventual distribution to creditors and victims. “When that process goes well, there can be less upkeep and maintenance associated with the bankruptcy filing, resulting in more money for the victims and creditors,” she says.
Van Vliet also draws on her experience as a trial attorney and federal prosecutor to advise clients on the best strategy when facing criminal charges. “Many times people want to work things out with the government before charges are actually filed,” she says. “Unless there is something seriously wrong with the government’s case, I will often tell them their best chance to put the past behind them and move forward is to cooperate.”
In those matters, Van Vliet starts a dialogue with federal prosecutors in hopes of achieving a win-win result. “A client can turn his life around, while providing the government with good leads or information that we make sure is verified,” she says. “At the end of the day, I can go to sleep knowing I did my job and lived up to my own code of ethics.”
On the personal side, Van Vliet recently married Dave Wolfe, a USAir employee whose family lives in Hawaii. “We enjoy flying to Hawaii to see my in-laws, as well as bicycling along S.R. A1A,” she says. With no children, the couple cares for Molly, a golden retriever whose father won “best in breed” award at the 2013 Westminster Dog Show.
Reflecting on her career, Van Vliet says, “I really enjoy helping people who are in difficult positions and get them out of trouble so they can move forward,” she says. “I want to keep on building my practice and keep my life rolling forward.”
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