Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

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The case involves Alejandro Cortés-López, who was serving a 24-month prison term after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Cortés-López had entered into a plea agreement with the government, admitting to a fraudulent financial scheme that solicited residents in Puerto Rico to invest in short-term, high-interest loans in the Dominican Republic. The plea agreement stipulated a total offense level (TOL) of 18, which, combined with a criminal history category of I, suggested a guidelines sentencing range (GSR) of 27-33 months' imprisonment. However, both parties agreed to jointly request a variant sentence of 24 months of probation.The Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) calculated a higher TOL due to the financial fraud scheme resulting in more than $5.4 million in losses to the investors. Cortés-López objected to these enhancements, but the probation office maintained that the higher loss amount and additional enhancement were correct. At the sentencing hearing, the government acknowledged the PSR's calculation but stated it was standing by its plea agreement recommendation of 24 months of probation. The district court, however, imposed a sentence of 24 months' imprisonment, followed by 3 years of supervised release and $5.4 million in restitution.Cortés-López appealed, arguing that the government breached the plea agreement by supporting the higher TOL calculated in the PSR and failing to advocate meaningfully for the agreed-upon 24-month probation sentence. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit agreed, finding that the government's conduct at the sentencing hearing was a breach of the plea agreement. The court vacated Cortés-López's sentence and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "United States v. Cortes-Lopez" on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of grocery store owner-operators and their related company, Anchor Mobile Food Markets, Inc. (AMFM), who sued Onex Partners IV, Onex Corporation, Anthony Munk, and Matthew Ross (collectively, Onex) for violations of Missouri common law and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The owner-operators had invested in the discount grocery chain Save-A-Lot and its independent licensee program, which turned out to be a disastrous investment. They alleged that Onex, which had acquired Save-A-Lot, had fraudulently induced them into the investment.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri had granted summary judgment to Onex. The court found that the owner-operators had signed multiple contractual releases and anti-reliance disclaimers before opening their stores, which barred their claims. The owner-operators and AMFM argued that these releases and disclaimers were fraudulently induced.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the owner-operators failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact that they were fraudulently induced to enter the releases. The court also found that the releases were valid and barred the owner-operators' claims. The court further found that AMFM's claims against Onex failed, as neither Save-A-Lot nor Onex had contracted with AMFM. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's denial of the owner-operators and AMFM's request for leave to amend their complaint. View "SBFO Operator No. 3, LLC v. Onex Corporation" on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of Ghanaian investors who placed their funds with a Ghanaian private investment firm, Gold Coast, owned by the Nduom family, who are domiciled in Virginia. The Nduom family allegedly used a network of shell companies in Ghana and the United States to illicitly transfer the investors' funds out of their reach. The investors sued in a federal district court in Virginia, invoking a provision of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) that authorizes a private cause of action for any person injured in his business or property by a violation of RICO’s substantive prohibitions.The district court dismissed the action, ruling that the plaintiffs had not alleged a domestic injury, which is a requirement for a private RICO plaintiff. The court considered the residency of the plaintiffs and the location of the money when it was misappropriated, both of which were in Ghana. The court also dismissed the plaintiffs’ state law claims for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, as there was no diversity jurisdiction over the claims and the court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state claims after dismissing the only federal claim in the case.On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court agreed that the plaintiffs had not alleged a domestic injury, which is a requirement for a private RICO plaintiff. The court noted that the case involved Ghanaian victims who entrusted Ghanaian funds to a Ghanaian entity, with no expectation that their money would end up in the United States. The defendants’ unilateral use of American entities to complete their scheme did not domesticate an otherwise foreign injury. View "Percival Partners Limited v. Paa Nduom" on Justia Law

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The case involves Maria E. Garcia and Liang Guo Yu, who were convicted for money laundering. The charges stemmed from their involvement with the Villalobos drug trafficking organization (DTO) in Houston, Texas. The DTO was known for moving hundreds of kilograms of cocaine and making yearly profits in the millions. Garcia and Yu were implicated in the seizure of large sums of cash during two separate searches. They were charged with conspiring to launder monetary instruments and aiding and abetting money laundering. Both defendants appealed their convictions, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they committed the offenses.Prior to their trial, the defendants had their motions for a new trial and to suppress denied by the district court. At trial, the government presented testimony from ten witnesses and introduced dozens of exhibits. The jury found Garcia and Yu guilty of both charges. Post-trial, the district court denied all three motions for a new trial and for a judgment of acquittal. Garcia was sentenced to two concurrent 78-month terms of imprisonment and two concurrent 3-year terms of supervised release. Yu was sentenced to two concurrent 151-month terms of imprisonment and two concurrent 3-year terms of supervised release.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgments of the district court. The court found that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient to prove the defendants' guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The court also held that the district court did not err in assessing a sentencing enhancement for Garcia and in denying Yu's motion to suppress without conducting an evidentiary hearing. The court further held that the district court did not err in denying Yu's motion for a new trial as untimely. View "USA v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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Six defendants were convicted of mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud for their sales companies' tactics in selling printer toner. The government's case was based on the argument that a representative from the sales company would call a business, falsely imply that the sales company was the business's regular supplier of toner, and falsely state that the price of toner had increased. The representative would then state that the business could lock in the old price by purchasing more toner that day. The defendants argued that this theory of fraud was overbroad because it permitted the jury to convict even though all of the businesses received the toner they ordered at the agreed price.The case was heard in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, where the defendants were found guilty on all counts. The defendants appealed their convictions, arguing that the government's theory of fraud was overbroad.The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit agreed with the defendants, holding that the government's theory of fraud was overbroad because it did not require the jury to find that the defendants deceived customers about the nature of the bargain. The court vacated the defendants' convictions and remanded the case back to the lower court. View "United States v. Milheiser" on Justia Law

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A group of individuals, including D&T Partners LLC and ACET Global LLC, alleged that Baymark Partners Management LLC and others attempted to steal the assets and trade secrets of their e-commerce company through shell entities, corrupt lending practices, and a fraudulent bankruptcy. The plaintiffs claimed that Baymark had purchased D&T's assets and then defaulted on its payment obligations. According to the plaintiffs, Baymark replaced the company's management, caused the company to default on its loan payments, and transferred the company's assets to another entity, Windspeed Trading LLC. The plaintiffs alleged that this scheme violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The district court dismissed all of the plaintiffs' claims with prejudice, finding that the plaintiffs were unable to plead a pattern of racketeering activity, a necessary element of a RICO claim.The case was then taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The appellate court agreed with the district court, holding that while the complaint alleges coordinated theft, it does not constitute a "pattern" of racketeering conduct sufficient to state a RICO claim. This is because the alleged victims were limited in number, and the scope and nature of the scheme was finite and focused on a singular objective. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "D&T Partners v. Baymark Partners" on Justia Law

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The case involves Gail Dee Lew-Williams, as the surviving spouse and successor in interest of Wilbur Williams, Jr., M.D., and Wilbur Williams, M.D., Inc. (collectively, the Williams plaintiffs) and Sevana Petrosian and her associates Salina Ranjbar, Vana Mehrabian, and Staforde Palmer (collectively, the Petrosian defendants). The Williams plaintiffs accused the Petrosian defendants of embezzling approximately $11.5 million from the Corporation’s bank accounts. The trial court compelled the case to arbitration, but the Williams plaintiffs failed to initiate arbitration proceedings. As a result, the trial court dismissed the Williams plaintiffs’ claims against the Petrosian defendants.The Williams plaintiffs appealed, arguing that they did not have the funds to initiate the arbitration and that the trial court erred in compelling arbitration. The Petrosian defendants argued that the claims were properly dismissed because the Williams plaintiffs had the funds to arbitrate and should not be allowed on appeal to challenge the trial court’s order compelling arbitration before first arbitrating their claims.The Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division Seven, concluded that once a trial court has compelled claims to contractual arbitration, the court has “very limited authority with respect to [the] pending arbitration.” If a party fails to diligently prosecute an arbitration, the appropriate remedy is for the opposing party to seek relief in the arbitration proceeding. Therefore, the Court of Appeal held that the trial court exceeded its jurisdiction when it dismissed the Williams plaintiffs’ claims against the Petrosian defendants for failure to prosecute. The court reversed the trial court's dismissal of the case. View "Lew-Williams v. Petrosian" on Justia Law

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LaTonya Foxx, along with two others, was charged and convicted for engaging in a fraudulent tax scheme. Foxx pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment, one year of supervised release, and ordered to pay $1,261,903 in restitution. The scheme involved filing fraudulent tax returns to generate improper refunds for clients and the defendants. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit heard Foxx's appeal of the restitution order.The court noted that any power to award restitution must come from a statute. In this case, the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act authorizes restitution for wire fraud offenses. The court noted that restitution is limited to the actual losses caused by the specific conduct underlying the offense, and the government must establish those losses by a preponderance of the evidence.Foxx argued that the district court failed to adequately delineate the scheme and make specific findings that the losses included in the restitution derived from the same scheme for which she was convicted. The court found no fatal deficiency in the district court's findings and concluded that Foxx failed to demonstrate a plain error. The court held that Foxx could be ordered to pay restitution for all the losses she caused during the scheme, not just those relating to the specific wire transactions to which she pleaded guilty. The court affirmed the restitution order. View "United States v. Foxx" on Justia Law

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In this case heard by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, the plaintiff-appellant, David Efron, filed a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) claim and various Puerto Rico law claims against UBS Financial Services and other defendants. Efron alleged that the defendants had illegally disclosed his private bank account information to his ex-wife, triggering litigation and a subsequent indemnification claim from UBS. The district court dismissed Efron's case after denying him leave to file a second amended complaint.On appeal, the Court of Appeals found that the district court had not abused its discretion by limiting Efron to deposing only two UBS employees before filing his proposed second amended complaint. The court also agreed that permitting Efron to amend his complaint would be futile, affirming the dismissal of his RICO claim. The court declined to impose sanctions against Efron, despite arguments from UBS that the appeal was frivolous. The court concluded that while Efron's case was weak, it was not so squarely resolved in his prior appeal on a different RICO claim that it could be deemed frivolous. View "Efron v. UBS Financial Services Incorporated of Puerto Rico" on Justia Law

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The case pertains to Ariel Jimenez, who owned and operated a tax preparation business in Bronx, New York. Between 2009 and 2015, Jimenez led a large-scale tax fraud and identity theft scheme, purchasing stolen identities of children to falsely claim them as dependents on clients' tax returns. Through this scheme, Jimenez obtained millions of dollars, which he laundered by structuring bank deposits, investing in real estate properties, and transferring the properties to his parents and limited liability companies. Following a jury trial, Jimenez was convicted of conspiracy to defraud the United States with respect to tax-return claims, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering.On appeal, Jimenez raised two issues. First, he claimed that the district court’s jury instruction regarding withdrawal from a conspiracy was erroneous. Second, he alleged that the evidence supporting his conspiracy convictions was insufficient. The United States Court of Appeals For the Second Circuit affirmed the conviction. The court held that the district court’s jury instruction on withdrawal from a conspiracy was a correct statement of the law and that the evidence supporting Jimenez's conspiracy convictions was sufficient. The court found that Jimenez had failed to effectively withdraw from the conspiracy as he continued to benefit from it. View "United States v. Jimenez" on Justia Law