Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

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Defendant Lonnie Schmidt managed a home foreclosure rescue operation, doing business as Second Opinion Services and Financial Services Bureau Limited. Following a lengthy jury trial in which he represented himself, defendant was convicted on four counts of prohibited practices by a foreclosure consultant, ten counts of filing false instruments, six counts of identity theft, and five counts of attempted grand theft. Defendant was sentenced to a total of 28 years in prison, plus one year to serve in the county jail. On appeal, defendant argued, and the State conceded: (1) insufficient evidence supported some of defendant’s convictions for grand theft; (2) the evidence did not support some of defendant’s convictions for filing false instruments; and (3) the trial court should have stayed his sentence for second degree burglary and attempted grand theft. The Court of Appeal agreed as to all these contentions and reversed judgment and sentence regarding those counts. The Court remanded the case for resentencing in light of this decision. View "California v. Schmidt" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence imposed after she was convicted of mail fraud, wire fraud, theft of public money, aggravated identity theft, and unlawful monetary transactions. The court held that the district court did not clearly err by applying a two level sentencing enhancement under USSG 3C1.1 for obstruction of justice. In light of the factual findings of this case, the district court concluded that defendant obstructed a governmental investigation that was in progress or would be coming about. View "United States v. Stubblefield" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and two counts of securities fraud. Defendant's conviction stemmed from her purchase of company stock through her boyfriend and others. The court held that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's convictions, and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in failing to grant a severance and try her separately from her co-conspirators. View "United States v. Tinghui Xie" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions for honest services fraud and honest services fraud conspiracy, conspiracy to violate the Travel Act, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. However, the court held that the district court failed to employ a sound methodology to determine the victim's actual loss for restitution; the district court erred in ordering forfeiture of an amount that exceeded the amount of the criminal proceeds; and, under the circumstances of this case, Honeycutt v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 1626 (2017), did not foreclose ordering defendants jointly and severally to forfeit the proceeds each possessed as a result of their crimes. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Tanner" on Justia Law

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Charte (relator) filed a False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3729–3733, "qui tam" suit alleging that defendants, including Wegeler, submitted false reimbursement claims to the Department of Education. Relators are entitled to part of the amount recovered. As required to allow the government to make an informed decision as to whether to intervene, Charte cooperated with the government. Her information led to Wegeler’s prosecution. Wegeler entered into a plea agreement and paid $1.5 million in restitution. The government declined to intervene in the FCA action. If the government elects to pursue an “alternate remedy,” the statute provides that the relator retains the same rights she would have had in the FCA action. Charte tried to intervene in the criminal proceeding to secure a share of the restitution. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. A criminal proceeding does not constitute an “alternate remedy” to a civil qui tam action, entitling a relator to intervene and recover a share of the proceeds. Allowing intervention would be tantamount to an interest in participating as a co-prosecutor in a criminal case. Even considering only her alleged interest in some of the restitution, nothing in the FCA suggests that a relator may intervene in the government’s alternative-remedy proceeding to assert that interest. The text and legislative history regarding the provision indicate that the court overseeing the FCA suit determines whether and to what extent a relator is entitled to an award. View "United States v. Wegeler" on Justia Law

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Orie, a former state senator, used her government-funded legislative staff to do fundraising and campaigning for her reelection. When the Commonwealth investigated, she tried to hide and destroy documents. Orie's sisters, including a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, were also charged. At trial, Orie introduced exhibits with directives to her chief of staff, not to do political work on legislative time. The prosecution determined that these exhibits had forged signatures. The court found that the forged documents were “a fraud on the Court,” and declared a mistrial. The Secret Service subsequently found that many of the exhibits were forged. During Orie’s second trial, the prosecution's expert testified that Orie’s office lease barred her staff from using that office for anything besides legislative work. Orie unsuccessfully sought to call an expert to testify that the senate rules let staff do political work from legislative offices on comp time. Orie was convicted of theft of services, conspiracy, evidence tampering, forgery, and of using her political position for personal gain, in violation of the Pennsylvania Ethics Act. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of her federal habeas petition, first finding that it lacked jurisdiction to consider her Ethics Act challenge because she is not in custody for those convictions. The court rejected a double jeopardy argument. The state court reasonably found that a mistrial was manifestly necessary because the forged documents could have tainted the jury’s verdict. Orie did not show that her senate-rules expert’s testimony would have been material, so she had no constitutional right to call that witness. View "Orie v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit vacated defendant's conviction for honest-services fraud through bribery for undertaking an "official act" in his capacity as a police officer. The court remanded for a new trial and held that it could not be sure beyond a reasonable doubt that the jury convicted defendant of the offenses that Congress criminalized when it enacted the honest-services fraud and bribery statutes. In this case, the jury was not instructed with the crucial analogy limiting the definition of "question" or "matter" in this context as comparable in scope to a lawsuit, hearing, or administrative determination, and the government itself did not otherwise do so. The court also affirmed defendant's conviction of computer fraud. View "United States v. Van Buren" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court's restitution order after she pleaded guilty to numerous criminal charges related to her involvement in a fraudulent tax credit scheme. The Eleventh Circuit set aside the restitution order and held that the refunds issued by the IRS due to the fraudulent tax credit scheme were all for the same exact amount — $1,000 — and the evidence the government submitted in support of its restitution request was admittedly and demonstrably inaccurate. In this case, where the appropriate restitution amount is definite and easy to calculate, the government cannot satisfy its burden of proof by relying on the oft-stated (but not always applicable) principle that restitution can be based on a reasonable estimate of loss. View "United States v. Sheffield" on Justia Law

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Beane, formerly an Air Force electrical engineer, became involved in a conspiracy theory that the government creates for each citizen a "straw man" and that the Federal Reserve holds in trust that citizen’s inherent “unlimited value.” Proponents believe that by filing the correct paperwork, they can use those funds. Beane, deeply in debt, became involved with Tucci-Jarraf, a former attorney who ran a website, contributed to talk shows, and produced faux-legal documents that purported to allow individuals to access their secret accounts. Beane found a Facebook video that purported to teach viewers how to access their accounts; it actually taught them how to commit wire fraud by exploiting a deficiency in the “Automated Clearing House” bank network. With Tucci-Jarraf's support, Beane logged onto his bank’s website, followed those instructions, and made fraudulent payments on his debts and bought $31 million in certificates of deposit with Federal Reserve funds. He started cashing the certificates and spending money. A bank froze his account. Tucci-Jarraf advised Beane to place his new assets in trust; she prepared pseudo-legal documents and made calls. Agents arrested Beane as he was driving off the dealership lot in a new motor home. Officers arrested Tucci-Jarraf in Washington, D.C., where she was requesting a meeting with the President. Beane and Tucci-Jarraf filed multiple frivolous motions and asked to represent themselves. The judge concluded that they had knowingly and intelligently waived their right to counsel but appointed standby counsel. A jury convicted Beane of bank and wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, and both of conspiracy to commit money laundering, section 1956(h). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the court should have forced them to accept counsel. They knowingly and intelligently made their choice; self-lawyering does not require the individual to subscribe to conventional legal strategies or orthodox behavior. View "United States v. Beane" on Justia Law

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Defendant Karen McClaflin pled guilty to two counts stemming from the operation of a “fix and flip” real estate Ponzi scheme which defrauded investors of more than $14.5 million dollars. At sentencing, the district court calculated the advisory sentencing guidelines at 135 to 168 months’ imprisonment, applied a 6-level enhancement for substantial financial hardship to more than twenty-five victims, and then determined a downward variant sentence of 96 months was appropriate. On appeal, McClaflin argued the district court: (1) abused its discretion by denying her motion for an additional continuance of the sentencing hearing; (2) procedurally erred by imposing the 6-level enhancement based upon victim impact statements; and (3) failed to consider all of the requisite 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors. The Tenth Circuit determined the district court did not plainly err when it sentenced McClaflin, therefore it affirmed the judgment and sentence. View "United States v. McClaflin" on Justia Law