Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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The 2008 financial crisis caused GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy. In Europe, Fiat faced similar troubles. Fiat CEO Marchionne forged a relationship with the United Auto Workers (UAW). Fiat negotiated a partial purchase of Chrysler. Chrysler and the UAW agreed to Marchionne’s request to jettison certain traditional union protections. The companies emerged from bankruptcy with the UAW large percentages of their equity.GM alleges that Marchionne subsequently implemented a bribery scheme to revive Chrysler and harm GM. Fiat acquired the UAW’s stake in Chrysler. The new entity, “FCA,” allegedly “began a long-running intentional scheme of improper payments" to UAW officials … to influence the collective bargaining process, providing Chrysler with labor peace and competitive advantages. GM rejected Marchionne's proposal for a merger in 2015; although bribed UAW executives pressed GM to agree. During subsequent collective bargaining, the UAW and FCA allegedly conspired “to force enormous costs on GM.”In 2017, the Justice Department criminally charged numerous FCA executives and UAW officials. Several entered guilty pleas. FCA pleaded guilty and agreed to a $30 million fine. The UAW agreed to a consent decree, requiring federal monitoring.GM sued FCA, Fiat, and individuals, asserting RICO claims, 18 U.S.C. 1962(b), (c), and (d). The district court dismissed. Assuming that FCA committed RICO violations, they were either indirect or too remote to have proximately caused GM’s alleged injuries. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, first rejecting an argument that the NLRB had exclusive jurisdiction. The court noted the existence of a more “immediate victim,” the FCA workers, “better situated to sue.” GM has not alleged that it would have received the same benefits as FCA absent the corruption. View "General Motors, LLC v. FCA US, LLC" on Justia Law

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David Efron and Efron Dorado SE (collectively, "Efron") appealed a civil contempt order entered by the district court for violating its preliminary injunction. This litigation began when the Federal Trade Commission and the Utah Division of Consumer Protection filed a complaint in the federal district court against Zurixx, LLC and related entities. The complaint alleged Zurixx marketed and sold deceptive real-estate investment products. The district court entered a stipulated preliminary injunction, enjoining Zurixx from continuing its business activities and freezing its assets wherever located. The injunction also directed any person or business with actual knowledge of the injunction to preserve any of Zurixx’s assets in its possession, and it prohibited any such person or business from transferring those assets. A week later, the receiver filed a copy of the complaint and injunction in federal court in Puerto Rico, where Zurixx leased office space from Efron. The office contained Zurixx’s computers, furniture, and other assets. The receiver also notified Efron of the receivership and gave him actual notice of the injunction. Although Efron at first allowed the receiver access to the office to recover computers and files, he later denied access to remove the remaining assets and initiated eviction proceedings against Zurixx in a Puerto Rico court. Given these events, the receiver moved the district court in Utah for an order holding Efron in contempt of court for violating the injunction. In response, Efron claimed the assets belonged to him under his lease agreement with Zurixx. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal determined the contempt order was a non-final decision. It therefore dismissed this appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Federal Trade Commission, et al. v. Zurixx, et al." on Justia Law

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Picard was appointed as the trustee for the liquidation of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC (BLMIS) pursuant to the Securities Investor Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. 78aaa, to recover funds for victims of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. SIPA empowers trustees to recover property transferred by the debtor where the transfers are void or voidable under the Bankruptcy Code, 11 U.S.C. 548, 550, to the extent those provisions are consistent with SIPA. Under Sections 548 and 550, a transferee may retain transfers it took “for value” and “in good faith.” Picard sued to recover payments the defendants received either directly or indirectly from BLMIS. The district court held that a lack of good faith in a SIPA liquidation requires that the defendant-transferee has acted with “willful blindness” and that the trustee bears the burden of pleading the transferee’s lack of good faith. Relying on the district court’s legal conclusions, the bankruptcy court dismissed the actions, finding Picard did not plausibly allege the defendants were willfully blind to the fraud at BLMIS.The Second Circuit vacated. Nothing in SIPA compels departure from the well-established rule that the defendant bears the burden of pleading an affirmative defense. The district court erred by holding that the trustee bears the burden of pleading a lack of good faith under Sections 548(c) and 550(b)(1). View "In Re Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, LLC" on Justia Law

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Over the course of a few years, an employee of Severin Mobile Towing Inc. (Severin) took about $157,000 in checks made payable to Severin’s d/b/a, endorsed them with what appears to be his own name or initials, and deposited them into his personal account at JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A. (Chase). Because the employee deposited all the checks at automated teller machines (ATM’s), and because each check was under $1,500, Chase accepted each check without “human review.” When Severin eventually discovered the embezzlement, it sued Chase for negligence and conversion under California’s version of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), and for violating the unfair competition law. Severin moved for summary judgment on its conversion cause of action, and Chase moved for summary judgment of all of Severin’s claims, asserting affirmative defenses under the UCC, and that claims as to 34 of the 211 stolen checks were time- barred. The trial court granted Chase’s motion on statute of limitations and California Uniform Commercial Law section 3405 grounds; the court did not reach UCL section 3406. The court denied Severin’s motion as moot, and entered judgment for Chase. On appeal, Severin argued only that the court erred in granting summary judgment to Chase on Severin’s conversion cause of action (and, by extension, the derivative UCL cause of action). Specifically, Severin argued the court erroneously granted summary judgment under section 3405 because Chase failed to meet its burden of establishing that Severin’s employee fraudulently indorsed the stolen checks in a manner “purporting to be that of [his] employer.” Severin further argued factual disputes about its reasonableness in supervising its employee precluded summary judgment under section 3406. The Court of Appeal agreed with Severin in both respects, and therefore did not reach the merits of Chase’s claim that its automated deposit procedures satisfied the applicable ordinary care standard. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Severin Mobile Towing, Inc. v. JPMorgan Chase etc." on Justia Law

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In 2005-2007, Merchant purchased Michigan hotel properties from NRB and financed the purchases through NRB, using corporate entities as the buyers. Merchant sold interests in those entities to investors. The hotels had been appraised at inflated amounts and sold for about twice their fair values. When the corporate entities defaulted on their loan payments, NRB foreclosed in 2009. Merchant claimed that NRB’s executives colluded with an appraiser to sell overvalued real estate to unsuspecting purchasers, wait for default, foreclose, and then repeat the process.In 2010, an investor sued Merchant, Merchant’s companies, NRB, and 12 others for investor fraud. In 2014 the FDIC took NRB into receivership and substituted for NRB as a defendant. Merchant and his companies brought a cross-complaint, alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and state laws. A Fifth Amended Cross-Complaint raised 14 counts against 10 defendants, including two law firms that provided NRB’s legal work. The district court dismissed several counts; others remain active.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of claims against the law firms. The counts under state law are untimely under Illinois’s statute of repose. The cross-complaint effectively admits that one firm played no role in NRB’s alleged fraud perpetrated against Merchant in 2005-2007. The cross-complaint failed to allege that either law firm conducted or participated in the activities of a RICO enterprise; neither firm could be liable under 18 U.S.C. 1962(c). View "Muskegan Hotels, LLC v. Patel" on Justia Law

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After a bench trial, a district court decided that Defendants RaPower-3, LLC, International Automated Systems, Inc. (IAS), LTB1, LLC, Neldon Johnson, and R. Gregory Shepard had promoted an unlawful tax scheme. Defendants’ scheme was based on a supposed project to utilize a purportedly new, commercially viable way of converting solar radiation into electricity. There was no “third party verification of any of Johnson’s designs.” Nor did he have any “record that his system ha[d] produced energy,” and “[t]here [were] no witnesses to his production of a useful product from solar energy,” a fact that he attributed to his decision to do his testing “on the weekends when no one was around because he didn’t want people to see what he was doing.” Defendants never secured a purchase agreement for the sale of electricity to an end user. The district court found that Johnson’s purported solar energy technology was not a commercial-grade solar energy system that converts sunlight into electrical power or other useful energy. Despite this, Defendants’ project generated tens of millions of dollars between 2005 and 2018. Beginning in 2006, buyers would purchase lenses from IAS or RaPower-3 for a down payment of about one-third of the purchase price. The entity would “finance” the remaining two-thirds of the purchase price with a zero- or nominal- interest, nonrecourse loan. No further payments would be due from the customer until the system had been generating revenue from electricity sales for five years. The customer would agree to lease the lens back to LTB1 for installation at a “Power Plant”; but LTB1 would not be obligated to make any rental payments until the system had begun generating revenue. The district court found that each plastic sheet for the lenses was sold to Defendants for between $52 and $70, yet the purchase price of a lens was between $3,500 and $30,000. Although Defendants sold between 45,000 and 50,000 lenses, fewer than 5% of them were ever installed. Customers were told that buying a lens would have very favorable income-tax consequences. Johnson and Shepard sold the lenses by advertising that customers could “zero out” federal income-tax liability by taking advantage of depreciation deductions and solar-energy tax credits. To remedy Defendants' misconduct, the district court enjoined Defendants from continuing to promote their scheme and ordered disgorgement of their gross receipts from the scheme. Defendants appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "United States v. RaPower-3" on Justia Law

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InComm Financial Services issued pre-paid debit and credit cards under the “Vanilla VISA” brand to cardholders who use the cards to buy goods and services. Global Payments, Inc. was a financial data payment processor. Thieves purchased Vanilla VISA pre-paid debit and credit cards and used them to buy goods and services. Then, using certain merchants that were not the merchants who originally sold the goods and services, the thieves initiated counterfeit electronic “reversal transactions” – basically requests for refunds on behalf of the cardholders. Upon receiving the reversal transaction data from the merchants, Global relayed the data to the VISA network. The VISA network then submitted the reversal transaction data to InComm. InComm received the data, posted the reversal transactions to the cardholder accounts, and then issued credits to the merchants who, in turn, passed the credits on to the thieves holding the Vanilla VISA cards. The thieves then converted those credits (in excess of $1.5 million made over 3,600 transactions) to their use. InComm did not allege that Global participated in creating the counterfeit reversal transactions. InComm asserted that Global was liable for the losses InComm suffered as a consequence of those transactions because Global negligently supplied to the VISA network the data created by the reversal merchants. In support of its claim, InComm asserted that Global, as a payment processor, “had a duty to exercise reasonable care in supplying the VISA Network and its participants with the transactions initiated by the Reversal Merchants.” The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's order dismissing InComm's negligent misrepresentation claim against Global. Global's petition for certiorari review was granted, and the Georgia Supreme Court concluded that because the allegations of the complaint showed that Global merely transmitted data concerning debit and credit card transactions without representing that the transactions were legitimate, the Court of Appeals erred, and the Supreme Court therefore reversed. View "Global Payments, Inc. v. InComm Financial Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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Freelance bookkeeper Elizabeth Mulder perpetrated a nearly five-year fraud against her client, plaintiff Kurtz-Ahlers. Both Kurtz-Ahlers and Mulder coincidentally had their checking accounts at defendant Bank of America (the Bank). Mulder ran her scam through her account at the Bank. After discovering the fraud, Kurtz-Ahlers notified the Bank and made a claim for its losses. The Bank denied the claim and Kurtz-Ahlers sued the Bank for negligence. After a two-week jury trial, the trial court granted the Bank’s motion for nonsuit, essentially holding the Bank owed Kurtz-Ahlers no duty to investigate or monitor Mulder’s account. Finding no reversible error in that conclusion, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Kurtz-Ahlers, LLC v. Bank of America N.A." on Justia Law

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Grayson does business under the name Gire Roofing. Grayson and Edwin Gire were indicted for visa fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1546 and harboring and employing unauthorized aliens, 8 U.S.C. 1324(a)(1)(A)(iii). On paper, Gire had no relationship to Grayson as a corporate entity. He was not a stockholder, officer, or an employee. He managed the roofing (Grayson’s sole business), as he had under the Gire Roofing name for more than 20 years. The corporate papers identified Grayson’s president and sole stockholder as Young, Gire’s girlfriend. Gire, his attorney, and the government all represented to the district court that Gire was Grayson’s president. The court permitted Gire to plead guilty on his and Grayson’s behalf. Joint counsel represented both defendants during a trial that resulted in their convictions and a finding that Grayson’s headquarters was forfeitable. Despite obtaining separate counsel before sentencing, neither Grayson nor Young ever complained about Gire’s or prior counsel’s representations. Neither did Grayson object to the indictment, the plea colloquy, or the finding that Grayson had used its headquarters for harboring unauthorized aliens.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Although Grayson identified numerous potential errors in the proceedings none are cause for reversal. Grayson has not shown that it was deprived of any right to effective assistance of counsel that it may have had and has not demonstrated that the court plainly erred in accepting the guilty plea. The evidence is sufficient to hold Grayson vicariously liable for Gire’s crimes. View "United States v. Grayson Enterprises, Inc." 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