Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

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Five members of the Baltimore-based gang, Murdaland Mafia Piru (MMP), appealed their convictions and sentences. The defendants were convicted of various crimes, including conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), conspiracy to distribute controlled substances, and possession of a firearm and ammunition as convicted felons. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed most of the convictions and sentences, but reversed two convictions for Shakeen Davis due to a violation of Rehaif v. United States, which requires the government to prove that a defendant knew he was a felon at the time he possessed a firearm. The court remanded the case for entry of a corrected judgment. The court rejected the other defendants' arguments, including claims of evidentiary errors, failure to enforce a plea agreement, and challenges to the reasonableness of their sentences. View "US v. Banks" on Justia Law

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The case involves Robert James McCabe, a former sheriff of the City of Norfolk, Virginia, who was convicted of carrying out fraud and bribery schemes with contractors concerning medical and food services for prisoners in the Norfolk Jail. Over 20 years, McCabe provided favored contractors with inside information about competing bids for the Jail’s contracts, altered and extended contracts for their benefit, and received various things of substantial value in return. McCabe was convicted of 11 federal offenses, including charges of conspiracy, honest services mail fraud, Hobbs Act extortion, and money laundering. He was sentenced to 144 months in prison, plus supervised release.McCabe appealed his convictions and sentences, raising four contentions of error. He argued that his trial was unfairly conducted before a trial of a co-defendant, that the trial court erred by admitting hearsay statements, that the jury instructions were incorrect, and that the court wrongly applied an 18-level sentencing enhancement. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit rejected all of McCabe’s contentions and affirmed his convictions and sentences. View "US v. McCabe" on Justia Law

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Patrick Sutherland was convicted of three counts of filing false tax returns and one count of obstructing an official proceeding. He managed several insurance businesses and routed his international transactions through a Bermuda company, Stewart Technology Services (STS), which he claimed was owned and controlled by his sister. However, evidence showed that Sutherland managed all its day-to-day affairs. Between 2007 and 2011, STS sent Sutherland, his wife, or companies that he owned more than $2.1 million in wire transfers. Sutherland treated these transfers as loans or capital contributions, which are not taxable income, while STS treated them as expenses paid to Sutherland. Sutherland did not report the $2.1 million as income on his tax returns. In 2015, a federal grand jury indicted Sutherland for filing false returns and for obstructing the 2012 grand jury investigation. The jury found Sutherland guilty on all charges.Sutherland appealed his convictions, but the Court of Appeals affirmed them. He then filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2255 petition to vacate his obstruction conviction and a petition for a writ of error coram nobis to vacate his tax fraud convictions. The district court denied both petitions without holding an evidentiary hearing. Sutherland appealed this decision.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that Sutherland failed to show how the proffered testimony from his brother and a tax expert would have undermined his obstruction conviction. The court also found that Sutherland had not demonstrated ineffective assistance of counsel and thus could not show an error of the most fundamental character warranting coram nobis relief. View "United States v. Sutherland" on Justia Law

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The case involves Neldia Marie Puccinelli, who was accused of embezzling funds from her employer, ProMark, between 2006 and 2009. After her employment was terminated, ProMark filed a civil suit against her, which was settled with an agreement that Puccinelli would transfer certain personal property to ProMark and make 84 monthly payments of $350. In 2011, the State filed criminal charges against Puccinelli for theft by embezzlement. She entered a plea agreement, which consolidated the three counts into one and recommended a fully suspended sentence with restitution consistent with the civil settlement agreement.The District Court rejected the plea agreement, speculating that Puccinelli would stop paying restitution if given a probationary sentence. The court imposed a 10-year commitment to the Montana Women’s Prison, with 5 years suspended, and ordered Puccinelli to pay $67,235 in restitution. Puccinelli's disability payments were suspended during her incarceration, which led to financial instability for her household. Upon release, Puccinelli resumed making regular payments towards restitution.In 2022, five months before Puccinelli was set to discharge her probation, the State filed a Petition for Revocation of Suspended Sentence, alleging Puccinelli violated the restitution conditions of her sentence. The District Court determined Puccinelli had violated the terms and conditions of her suspended sentence as she had not “completely paid restitution.” The court revoked her suspended sentence and committed her to the Department of Corrections for five years, all suspended, with “the same conditions and restitution requirements as was in the original Judgment with no credit for street time.”The Supreme Court of the State of Montana reversed the District Court's decision, finding that the lower court had abused its discretion when it revoked Puccinelli’s suspended sentence based on her failure to pay full restitution. The Supreme Court concluded that the violation should have been characterized as a compliance violation, which should have been excused pursuant to § 46-18-203(6)(b), MCA. The case was remanded to the District Court to vacate the August 25, 2022 Judgment on Revocation of Suspended Sentence and dismiss the petition for revocation. View "State v. Puccinelli" on Justia Law

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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