Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Business Law
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Palma worked for FCA starting in 2013 and allegedly participated in a scheme that manipulated FCA's new diesel engine’s function during testing to produce artificially impressive results with respect to features that FCA was targeting to customers, including fuel economy greater than 30 mpg and a frequency of fluid changes similar to that of gasoline-powered cars. When the vehicles were tested for emissions, the program activated Exhaust Gas Recirculation, sacrificing fuel economy. When the vehicles were tested for fuel economy, Recirculation was lowered, increasing emissions. Palma knew that these results were critical to receiving the “best-in-class” fuel economy ratings and that the vehicles did not meet EPA requirements. A sticker affixed to the cars stated they complied with regulations and provided detailed emissions information, as influenced by Palma's scheme. FCA sold more than 100,000 of these vehicles. Customers who purchased the vehicles said that the misleading representations were material to their purchase decisions.Palma was charged with 13 counts, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1349. The district court held that there was an insufficient causal nexus between Palma’s conduct and customers being induced to purchase vehicles and that Palma’s conduct was less a deprivation of consumer property and more a deception of regulators. The Seventh Circuit reversed the dismissal of that count, reasoning that Palma was only charged with conspiracy, not wire fraud itself, and the indictment alleges adequate facts tying Palma to a fraudulent scheme. View "United States v. Palma" on Justia Law

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Barsanti was delinquent on $1.1 million of senior secured debt it owed to BMO Harris Bank. Barsanti’s owner, Kelly, hired attorney Filer and Gereg, a financing consultant. After negotiations with BMO failed, Filer introduced Gereg to BMO as a person interested in purchasing Barsanti’s debt. Filer created a new company, BWC, to purchase the loans. BWC purchased the loans from BMO for $575,000, paid primarily with Barsanti’s accounts receivable. Barsanti also owed $370,000 in delinquent benefit payments to the Union Trust Fund. Filer, Kelly, and Gereg used BWC’s senior lien to obtain a state court judgment against Barsanti that allowed them to transfer Barsanti’s assets beyond the reach of the Union Fund, using backdated documents to put confession-of-judgment clauses into the loan documents and incorrectly claiming that Barsanti owed BWC $1.58 million. Filer then obtained a court order transferring Barsanti’s assets to BWC, which then transferred the assets to Millwork, another new entity, which continued Barsanti’s business after the Illinois Secretary of State dissolved Barsanti for unpaid taxes. Gereg was Millwork's nominal owner in filings with the Indiana Secretary of State. Barsanti filed for bankruptcy. Filer instructed others not to produce certain documents to the bankruptcy trustee.After a jury convicted Filer of wire fraud 18 U.S.C. 1343., the district court granted his motions for a judgment of acquittal. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded. The evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s verdicts. View "United States v. Filer" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff brought this putative class action against more than twenty banks and brokers, alleging a conspiracy to manipulate two benchmark rates known as Yen-LIBOR and Euroyen TIBOR. Plaintiff brought claims under the Commodity Exchange Act (“CEA”), and the Sherman Antitrust Act, and sought leave to assert claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). The district court dismissed the CEA and antitrust claims and denied leave to add the RICO claims. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the district court erred by holding that the CEA claims were impermissibly extraterritorial, that he lacked antitrust standing to assert a Sherman Act claim, and that he failed to allege proximate causation for his proposed RICO claims.   The Second Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the conduct—i.e., that the bank defendants presented fraudulent submissions to an organization based in London that set a benchmark rate related to a foreign currency—occurred almost entirely overseas. Indeed, Plaintiff fails to allege any significant acts that took place in the United States. Plaintiff’s CEA claims are based predominantly on foreign conduct and are thus impermissibly extraterritorial. Further, the court wrote that the district court also correctly concluded that Plaintiff lacked antitrust standing because he would not be an efficient enforcer of the antitrust laws. Lastly, the court agreed that Plaintiff failed to allege proximate causation for his RICO claims. View "Laydon v. Coöperatieve Rabobank U.A., et al." on Justia Law

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Lightning, a Delaware start-up company that owns intellectual property protecting designs for a pallet used for transporting cold foods, sought $26 million in outside funding to retire debt, cover operational expenses, and purchase equipment to begin production. GrowMI, an entity created by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, agreed to loan Lightning $5 million and used its relationship with Flagstar Bank to secure an additional $7 million loan. GrowMI and Flagstar conditioned their loans on Lightning’s securing the rest of the $26 million by selling equity and securing lines of credit from Lightning shareholders. Lightning’s creditor LT sent GrowMI a letter indicating that Lightning owed LT $3.3 million, secured by an interest in Lightning’s intellectual properties. GrowMI allowed Lightning to use a portion of GrowMI’s loan to repay LT, ensuring GrowMI’s first secured position on Lightning’s intellectual properties.GrowMI subsequently became aware of wrongdoing at Lightning, which defaulted on its debt to GrowMI. GrowMI sued LT and its principals, Lightning shareholders, Lightning employees, and a consulting company, alleging violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1962, by a pattern of racketeering activity that included bank fraud, transactions involving money derived from that bank fraud, trade secrets misappropriation, and wire fraud. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. GrowMI’s claims rest on its status as Lightning’s creditor, making its injury derivative of the harm incurred by Lightning. GrowMI does not plausibly allege that it was directly injured by reason of the alleged racketeering activities. View "Grow Michigan, LLC v. LT Lender, LLC" on Justia 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