Houston attorney Jeffrey Stern held on no bail

HOUSTON – A federal magistrate denied bail Thursday for Bellaire attorney Jeffrey Stern.

Stern was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of tax fraud, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

The charges stem from an alleged criminal conspiracy that government investigators say went on for more than a decade.

During Thursday's 3 1/2-hour hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Johnson argued that Stern shouldn't be allowed bail, laying out the government's case for the magistrate, Peter Bray

Johnson said Stern engaged in barratry, the illegal practice of paying runners to recruit defendants for personal injury lawsuits. He said Stern tried to cover it up through tax fraud, hiding or destroying documents and pressuring potential witnesses not to cooperate.

The government went through the 187-paragraph indictment to show where Stern allegedly tampered with witnesses and tried to obstruct the government's investigation by hiding or destroying documents, destroying evidence or creating false evidence to short-circuit the government's investigation.

Stern's lawyers argued that the government's case has yet to be proven and that Stern has roots in the community that ensure he's not a flight risk.

One example presented to the judge was that Stern notified the government before leaving for Europe earlier this month for a vacation with his wife and stepson. He was arrested Saturday at Bush Intercontinental Airport when he returned.

After hearing the arguments, Bray declared Stern a flight risk.

"There are no conditions, by clear and convincing evidence, no condition I could set that would ensure the safety of the community," Bray said.

With that, the judge remanded Stern to custody to await trial.

Stern will have another chance to argue for bail to be set when his case goes before Judge Lee Rosenthal.