Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Petitioner William Avignone, at the time of this appeal, was in custody awaiting trial on charges of multiple counts of grand theft of personal property and fraud in connection with the offer, purchase, or sale of security. As part of a plea deal, Avignone pled guilty to three counts of fraud and two counts of grand theft while the prosecution dismissed the remaining counts. The trial court sentenced him to five years four months to be served in the custody of the sheriff. Before December 2017, he had been out on bail for four years. During that time, he made all court appearances and did not engage in criminal activity. Avignone appealed his sentence, arguing, among other things, the court abused its discretion in denying probation. The Court of Appeal rejected that contention, but allowed Avignone to withdraw his guilty plea. He did, and the superior court held a bail review hearing. After multiple hearings, the court increased Avignone's bail to $300,000. Avignone appealed, arguing the court abused its discretion in increasing his bail and setting it at an amount that violated In re Humphrey, 19 Cal.App.5th 1006 (2018), the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution, and article 1, section 12 of the California Constitution. To this point the Court of Appeal agreed that the sentencing court abused its discretion. As such, the court vacated the superior court's bail determination, and directed reconsideration of the amount of bail. View "In re Avignone" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Peyman Heidary (Heidary) allegedly owned and oversaw a network of medical clinics to generate fraudulent billings to workers’ compensation and insurance carriers. A non-attorney, he also allegedly controlled the day-to-day operations of various law firms, including California Injury Lawyers (collectively, the law firm.). He allegedly controlled or directed hiring and firing, legal decision making, and income flow to and from the law firm. Codefendants (and petitioners in a related writ case discussed below) Abramowitz, a lawyer, and Solis allegedly assisted Heidary in these operations. Under the alleged fraud scheme, injured workers appeared at the law firm, which would fill out boilerplate paperwork and, on Heidary’s order, direct the workers to one of his clinics to begin treatment. Each provider would fill out a “ ‘super bill,’ ” describing services rendered, which would then go to support staff to review compliance with Heidary’s orders. They would forward the superbill to a medical billing company. Those companies would generate a form to start the claim process. The billing companies contracted with each provider to bill for services, on Heidary’s order, including sometimes by forgery. Payment came from two sources: workers’ compensation insurers and third-party accounts-receivable buyers. The defendants were indicted by grand jury on conspiracy, making false or fraudulent claims for payment of health care benefits, knowingly making false and fraudulent material representations for payment of workers' compensation, money laundering, forgery, and unlicensed practice of medicine. In Petitioner challenged challenges the trial court’s denial of his motion to set aside the indictment pursuant to Penal Code section 995(a)(1)(B). Finding no reason to disturb the indictment, the Court of Appeal denied the petition. View "Heidary v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Dillard was the executive director of ACAP, an agency created by Alameda County and several cities. Daniels was the grants manager. The two married. The Agency was awarded a $500,000 Department of Health and Human Services AFI grant to fund programs for low-income people, who deposit money in an individual bank account, matched with federal AFI grant funds and equal nonfederal funds, which can be withdrawn for higher education, starting a business, or buying a house. Dillard and Daniels were charged with: Count I, conspiracy to commit grand theft by false pretenses in a letter to HHS “falsely attesting” that ACAP had more than $426,000 in non-federal match funds. Count 2: Grand theft by false pretenses by unlawfully taking grant funds exceeding $200,000. Count 3: Making a false account of public money. Count 4: Using public money for a purpose not authorized by law to fund Agency payroll and other expenses. Count 5: Dillard was charged with instructing employees to work on her residence at below-market rates and obtaining reimbursement for improper business expenses. Count 6: Preparing false documentary evidence regarding the residency status of Agency clients and a seminar agenda. They were convicted on Counts 2, 3, and 6. The court of appeal affirmed the Count 6 convictions but found the other convictions preempted by federal law. View "People v. Dillard" on Justia Law

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Susan and William Avignone defrauded five investors out of more than $700,000 in a real estate scheme. In exchange for dismissal of some of the charges, the Avignones pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud in connection with the offer, sale, and purchase of a security and two counts of grand theft of personal property with a value of more than $950. Susan admitted a Penal Code section 186.11 (a)(2) allegation attached to count 10, and a section 12022.6 (a)(1) allegation attached to count 5. William admitted a section 186.11 (a)(2) allegation attached to count 2, a section 12022.6 (a)(2) allegation attached to count 3, and a section 12022.6 (a)(1) allegation attached to count 5. At sentencing, the trial court struck the section 186.11 enhancements and denied probation. It sentenced the Avignones to an aggregate term of five years four months to be served in the custody of the sheriff. The court imposed a split sentence, ordering that one year four months of the imposed sentence would be served in the community under mandatory supervision. The Avignones separately appealed, contending the trial court abused its discretion in denying probation. William also contended: (1) an electronic search condition was unreasonable and unconstitutionally overbroad; and (2) the trial court improperly calculated a restitution order as to one of the victims. The State conceded the trial court improperly calculated the restitution for one of the victims, but asserted the Avignones' sentences were unauthorized because the trial court did not have discretion to sentence them to county jail, rather than prison. The Court of Appeal rejected the Avignones' argument that the trial court abused its discretion in denying probation, and agreed the trial court imposed an unauthorized sentence. This conclusion rendered William's argument regarding the electronic search condition moot. The Court reversed and remanded with directions to allow the Avignones an opportunity to withdraw their guilty pleas. View "California v. Avignone" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of 11 counts related to a corruption scandal involving the City of Bell. The Court of Appeals held that the jury could reasonably have concluded that defendant was criminally negligent by failing to take steps to determine whether the loans at issue were authorized. However, the court reversed the five convictions for misappropriation of public funds because the jury instructions were erroneous in light of People v. Hubbard, (2016) 63 Cal.4th 378. Hubbard was issued after defendant's trial and clarified the scope of Penal Code section 424. Furthermore, the error was not harmless. The court affirmed the conflict of interest conviction based on her involvement in changing Bell's pension plan because amendments to the pension plan effectively modified the terms of defendant's employment with Bell, and constituted the making of a contract within the meaning of Government Code section 1090. The court remanded for further proceedings, including correction of the abstract of judgment to delete references to defendant's current or prior serious or violent felony convictions. View "People v. Spaccia" on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed a civil enforcement action against them for violation of the unfair competition laws (UCL) arising out of their involvement in a complex real estate scam. The Court of Appeal affirmed and held that defendants' unlawful scheme was not entitled to immunity under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine; the evidence supported the trial court's findings regarding the wild deeds; adverse possession was not a defense to UCL liability; the restitution award was supported by the evidence and the law; the civil penalties awarded were within the trial court's discretion; and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in imposing the permanent injunction. View "People ex rel. Harris v. Aguayo" on Justia Law

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Lee, who has a degree in business administration, began a tax consulting business in 1974. Starting in the 1990s, Lee convinced clients to invest significant amounts of money with him, telling them their funds would either be part of an “investment club” or used to purchase shares in a company called China EC Net. Instead, Lee used the money for personal needs, including payment of mortgage obligations, living expenses, and his daughter’s medical costs. When San Mateo police arrested Lee in 2012, Lee said “you have no idea how big this is” and admitted “I know I was wrong.” Lee was convicted of 77 felonies, including multiple counts of grand theft, elder theft, identity theft, and money laundering, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay over $1.3 million in victim restitution. The court of appeal reversed four of the money laundering convictions based on insufficient evidence; the identity theft convictions because there was no evidence Lee used his victims’ personal identifying information for an unlawful purpose without their consent; and two elder theft convictions because the Attorney General conceded there was insufficient evidence. View "People v. Lee" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the parties asked the Court of Appeal to determine the value of a blank check for the purpose of distinguishing between misdemeanor and felony receiving stolen property after passage of the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act (Proposition 47). Respondent Angela Vandiver pled guilty in 2012 to a single felony count of receiving stolen property based on her possession of blank checks she knew had been stolen. She later petitioned to have the conviction redesignated a misdemeanor under the new provisions of Proposition 47 on the ground the checks were worth $950 or less. The State opposed, arguing the balance of the victim’s checking account was greater than $950. The trial court found the value of the blank checks to be de minimis and granted the petition. The State argued on appeal the court erred by: (1) reaching the merits because Vandiver did not attach evidence of value to her petition; and (2) determining the checks’ value was de minimis. The State contended the court should have dismissed the petition as unsupported or found the checks were worth the full amount in the linked checking account and denied the petition on the merits. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Vandiver" on Justia Law