Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

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After the United States seized millions of dollars from a Texas vocational school, the school intervened as a claimant, denied the government’s allegations, and counterclaimed for constitutional tort damages against the government for ruining its business. The Fifth Circuit declined to address the correctness of the categorical rule barring all counterclaims in civil forfeiture proceedings, and held that the school's specific counterclaims were barred by sovereign immunity. Accordingly, the court held that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction and vacated the district court's dismissal, remanding with instructions to dismiss the counterclaims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction instead. View "United States v. $4,480,466.16 in Funds Seized from Bank of America account ending in 2653" on Justia Law

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U.S. Customs Officer Parra spent December 8, 2010 “cracking open containers” at a warehouse near the Los Angeles seaport. Opening one from South Korea to inspect its freight, Parra found a fully assembled, five-foot-tall industrial turbo blower. A placard riveted to the side read, “Assembled in USA.” The discovery led to a federal investigation that traced back to Lee. Prosecutors charged Lee with executing a scheme to defraud local governments by falsely representing that his company manufactured its turbo blowers in the U.S. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his wire fraud convictions, reasoning that Lee’s misrepresentations were material under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 123 Stat. 115 (2009), which includes a “Buy American” provision. The evidence adequately supports Lee’s participation in a scheme to defraud and his intent to do so. Lee used interstate wires as a part of that scheme. The indictment afforded Lee ample notice of the case the government presented at trial and included specific details of the crimes alleged to avoid double jeopardy risk; no impermissible constructive amendment or variance occurred. The court also upheld Lee’s smuggling convictions under 18 U.S.C. 545. The mislabeling served an important function in Lee’s broader scheme to deceive customers about the origin of the turbo blowers. View "United States v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court's imposition of a condition of supervised release that required him to perform 300 hours of community service a year over his term of supervision for a total of 695 hours. Defendant's conviction stemmed from his role in two different fraud schemes. The Second Circuit vacated and remanded for resentencing, holding that the challenged condition was not reasonably related to any of the relevant sentencing factors, was inconsistent with the pertinent Guidelines policy statements, and involved a greater deprivation of liberty than was reasonably needed to achieve the purposes of sentencing. The court held that the pertinent policy statement issued by the Sentencing Commission must be read to advise that courts should generally refrain from imposing more than a total of 400 hours of community service as a condition of supervised release. View "United States v. Parkins" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of paying and conspiring to pay bribes, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 371, 666, and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), and gratuities to United Nations officials and of related money laundering. Defendant's charges stemmed from his sustained effort to bribe two U.N. officials to designate one of his properties as the permanent site of an annual U.N. convention. The court held that the word "organization" as used in section 666, and defined by 1 U.S.C. 1 and 18 U.S.C. 18, applies to all non‐government legal persons, including public international organizations such as the U.N. The court also held that the "official act" quid pro quo for bribery as proscribed by 18 U.S.C. 201(b)(1), defined by id. section 201(a)(3), and explained in McDonnell v. United States, does not delimit bribery as proscribed by section 666 and the FCPA. Thus, the district court did not err in failing to charge the McDonnell standard for the FCPA crimes of conviction. Insofar as the district court nevertheless charged an "official act" quid pro quo for the section 666 crimes, that error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Finally, the evidence was sufficient to convict defendant, and the jury did not misconstrue the "corruptly" element of section 666 and the FCPA and the "obtaining or retaining business" element of the FCPA. View "United States v. Ng Lap Seng" on Justia Law

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Bank of America advances funds whenever customers deposit checks. During this “float” period, it permits the customer to withdraw the funds while the bank confirms the check’s validity. In Michigan, Thomas would enlist BoA customers and give the customers’ information (account numbers, debit card numbers, and PINs) to Illinois conspirators led by Cobb. The Illinois conspirators would steal corporate checks, alter the checks to list the customers as payees, and deposit the checks at BoA. In Michigan, Thomas would withdraw the funds before the bank uncovered that the checks were bad. Thomas would then divvy up the funds. The fraud caused bank losses of $214,286.03. All the defendants were charged with a conspiracy to commit bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344(2) and 1349. Thomas, listed on 25 counts, pleaded guilty to a conspiracy count and to one count of bank fraud, which generated a guidelines range of 46-57 months. His probation officer found that he lied during his presentence interview. Thomas denied leading the Michigan cohort, denied recruiting others, and denied knowing of Cobb’s role. (2016). The government sought an obstruction enhancement, U.S.S.G. 3C1.1 and compiled evidence that Thomas oversaw the Michigan recruiters and facilitated the withdrawals. The court applied the obstruction enhancement and declined the acceptance-of-responsibility reduction U.S.S.G. 3E1.1, which produced a guidelines range 70-87 months; concluded that this range was insufficient under the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) sentencing factors; and imposed an above-guidelines 102-month sentence. The Sixth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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In 2003, Cordaro and his co-defendant were elected as two of three Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania county commissioners. About 30 percent of Ackers’ business was municipal engineering, mostly for Lackawanna County. McLaine, Acker’s principal, expressed concerns to Cordaro's friend, Hughes. Hughes arranged a meeting, telling McLaine to bring a list of Acker's existing work for the county. McLaine’s list included the Lackawanna Watershed 2000 Program, a multi-year project based on a $30 million congressional grant; work on the Main Street and Gilmartin Street Bridges; work for several municipal authorities; and surveying, paving, and mapping. Cordaro stated, “I think I can let you keep that, . . . if we’re having fundraisers you’re going to have to participate and support us.” McLaine agreed. After becoming aware that Acker might lose two large contracts, McLaine called Hughes, who called Cordaro. Hughes asked, “how much money ... to give for the work.” Cordaro said, “maybe $15,000.” Hughes told McLaine that if he gave him $10,000 a month for Cordaro, Hughes could guarantee that Acker would keep its contracts and that he would lose his work if he did not pay. Payments began. In 2011, Cordaro was convicted of bribery, 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(B); Hobbs Act extortion, section 1951(a); and racketeering, sections 1962(c) and (d). The court instructed the jury that those crimes required an “official act.” In 2016, the Supreme Court (McDonnell) clarified what constitutes an “official act.” The Third Circuit affirmed the rejection of Cordaro’s habeas corpus (28 U.S.C. 2241) because Cordaro cannot show that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror properly charged under McDonnell would have convicted him. View "Cordaro v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for money laundering and conducting transactions in property criminally derived through bribery in the Republic of Guinea. The court held that McDonnell v. United States, 136 S. Ct. 2355 (2016), does not apply to Articles 192 and 194 of Guinea's Penal Code, and therefore defendant's claim that the jury instructions were improper because they did not include the definition of "official act" relative to a bribery conviction necessarily failed. The court also held that the evidence was sufficient to support a finding of a quid pro quo exchange necessary for defendant's conviction and that he committed an "official act" as defined in McDonnell. Finally, the court held that defendant's remaining evidentiary challenges failed and his other arguments were without merit. View "United States v. Thiam" on Justia Law

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Johnny Williams worked for Violeta Baker and her home healthcare services company, Last Frontier Assisted Living, LLC (Last Frontier), from 2004 to 2009. Baker hired Johnny to provide payroll, tax-preparation, bookkeeping, and bill-paying services. She authorized him to make payments from her accounts, both for tax purposes and business expenses, such as payroll. She also gave him general authority to access her checking account and to execute automated clearing house (ACH) transactions from her accounts. In addition, Baker allowed Johnny to write checks bearing her electronic signature. Johnny did not invoice Baker for his labor; rather he and Baker had a tacit understanding that he would pay himself a salary from Baker’s payroll for his services. In 2009 the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notified Baker that her third-quarter taxes had not been filed and she owed a penalty and interest. Baker contacted Johnny to find out why the taxes had not been filed. When he could not produce a confirmation that he had e-filed them, Baker contacted her son for help. Baker’s son discovered that several checks had been written from Baker’s accounts to Personalized Tax Solutions (a business he maintained) and Deverette. A CPA audited the books and found that Johnny’s services over the time period could be valued between $47,500 and $55,000. Subtracting this from the total in transfers to Johnny, Deverette, and Personalized Tax Solutions resulted in an overpayment to the Williamses of approximately $950,000. A superior court found Deverette and Johnny Williams liable for defrauding Baker, after concluding that both owed her fiduciary duties and therefore had the burden of persuasion to show the absence of fraud. The court totaled fraud damages at nearly five million dollars and trebled this amount under Alaska’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Act (UTPA). After final judgment was entered against Deverette and Johnny, Johnny died. Deverette appealed her liability for the fraud. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed Deverette’s liability for the portion of the fraud damages that the superior court otherwise identified as her unjust enrichment. But the Court reversed the superior court’s conclusion that she owed Baker a fiduciary duty, and reversed the UTPA treble damages against Deverette. The Court vacated the superior court’s fraud conclusion as to Deverette and remanded for further proceedings. View "Williams v. Baker" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions for wire fraud and money laundering, as well as his restitution order. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to convict defendant of the crimes, and the district court did not abuse its discretion by ordering defendant to pay $5,402,661 under the Mandatory Victim Restitution Act. However, the court vacated defendant's sentence, holding that the district court's Guidelines calculation was off by a single point. In this case, the district court sentenced defendant under the money laundering guideline, USSG 2S1.1(a), and imposed two adjustments under Chapter Three—the abuse-of-trust enhancement (2 points) and the leadership enhancement (4 points); but it based both on defendant's wire fraud conduct, not his money laundering conduct. Therefore, under current Supreme Court precedent and the facts of this case, the court remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Del Carpio Frescas" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions of multiple counts arising out of their roles in the operation of an illegal Bitcoin exchange and a scheme to use a federal credit union for illegal purposes. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to convict Defendant Lebedev of wire fraud, bank fraud, and conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud; the court rejected Defendant Gross' evidentiary challenges; there was no constructive amendment of the indictment; Gross' claim that his due process rights were violated based on government intimidation of witnesses was meritless; and there was no cumulative effect of the district court's errors causing Gross to be deprive of a fair trial. The court also held that the district court did not clearly err by applying a four level sentencing enhancement for Gross' role as an organizer or leader in the criminal activity under USSG 3B1.1, for commercial bribery under USSG 2B4.1, and for abuse of a position of trust by use of a special skill under USSG 3B1.3. Finally, the district court's findings as to the restitution order were not clearly erroneous. View "United States v. Lebedev" on Justia Law