Justia White Collar Crime Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Civil Procedure
Georgelas v. Desert Hill Ventures
Consolidated cases arose from a 2015 Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) civil enforcement action against Roger Bliss, who ran a Ponzi scheme through his investment entities (collectively, “the Bliss Enterprise”). Bliss was ordered to repay millions of dollars to the victims of his fraudulent scheme, and the district court appointed Plaintiff-Appellee Tammy Georgelas as Receiver to investigate the Bliss Enterprise’s books and seek to recover its property. Defendant-Appellant David Hill was employed by the Bliss Enterprise from 2011 to 2015, providing administrative and ministerial services to the company. He received salary payments from the Bliss Enterprise both directly and through Defendant-Appellant Desert Hill Ventures, Inc. (“Desert Hill”), of which Hill was president. After the district court ordered Bliss to disgorge funds from his scheme, the Receiver brought these actions against Hill and Desert Hill. The Receiver asserted that the Bliss Enterprise estates were entitled to recover the $347,000 in wages paid to Defendants, in addition to $113,878 spent by the Bliss Enterprise on renovations to Hill’s house, under Utah’s Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act (“UFTA”). The district court granted summary judgment to the Receiver, finding that the wages received by Defendants from the Bliss Enterprise and the funds paid by the Bliss Enterprise for the renovations were recoverable by the estates under the UFTA. Defendants appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing the district court erred in denying their affirmative defense under Utah Code Ann. § 25-6-9(1) and in finding that the renovations were made for Hill’s benefit, as required under Utah Code Ann. § 25-6-9(2)(a). The Court agreed with Defendants and, accordingly, reversed the district court’s summary judgment order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Georgelas v. Desert Hill Ventures" on Justia Law
VITALY SMAGIN V. COMPAGNIE MONEGASQUE DE BANQUE
Plaintiff, a Russian citizen who resides in Russia, filed a civil RICO suit against Defendant Russian citizen who resides in California, and eleven other defendants. After securing a foreign arbitration award against Defendant. Plaintiff obtained a judgment from a United States district court confirming the award and giving Plaintiff the rights to execute that judgment in California and to pursue discovery. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants engaged in illegal activity, in violation of RICO, to thwart the execution of that California judgment. Consistent with the Second and Third Circuits, but disagreeing with the Seventh Circuit’s residency-based test for domestic injuries involving intangible property, the court held that the alleged injuries to a judgment obtained by Plaintiff from a United States district court in California were domestic injuries to property such that Plaintiff had statutory standing under RICO. The court concluded that, for purposes of standing under RICO, the California judgment existed as property in California because the rights that it provided to Plaintiff existed only in California. In addition, much of the conduct underlying the alleged injury occurred in or was targeted at California. View "VITALY SMAGIN V. COMPAGNIE MONEGASQUE DE BANQUE" on Justia Law
Williams v. Nat. W. Life Ins. Co.
National Western Life Insurance Company (NWL) appealed after it was held liable for negligence and elder abuse arising from an NWL annuity sold to Barney Williams by Victor Pantaleoni. In 2016, Williams contacted Pantaleoni to revise a living trust after the death of Williams’ wife, but Pantaleoni sold him a $100,000 NWL annuity. When Williams returned the annuity to NWL during a 30-day “free look” period, Pantaleoni wrote a letter over Williams’ signature for NWL to reissue a new annuity. In 2017, when Williams cancelled the second annuity, NWL charged a $14,949.91 surrender penalty. The jury awarded Williams damages against NWL, including punitive damages totaling almost $3 million. In the Court of Appeal's prior opinion reversing the judgment, the Court concluded Pantaleoni was an independent agent who sold annuities for multiple insurance companies and had no authority to bind NWL. The Court determined that Pantaleoni was an agent for Williams, not NWL. The California Supreme Court vacated that decision and remanded, asking the appeals court to reconsider its finding that Pantaleoni did not have an agency relationship with National Western Life Insurance Company in light of Insurance Code sections 32, 101, 1662, 1704 and 1704.5 and O’Riordan v. Federal Kemper Life Assurance Company, 36 Cal.4th 281, 288 (2005). Upon remand, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment finding NWL liable for negligence and financial elder abuse. However, punitive damages assessed against NWL were reversed. The Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s calculation of the attorney fee award, but remanded the case for the court to reconsider the award in light of the reversal of punitive damages. View "Williams v. Nat. W. Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Federal Trade Commission, et al. v. Zurixx, et al.
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
United States v. Smith
Smith, a software engineer, obtained the coordinates of artificial fishing reefs in the Gulf of Mexico from a website owned by StrikeLines, a Florida business. Smith remained in Mobile, Alabama while posting information about the reef coordinates on Facebook. Smith initially agreed to remove the posts and to assist Strikelines with its security issues in exchange for additional coordinates but communications broke down. StrikeLines contacted law enforcement. Officers executed a search warrant and found StrikeLines’s coordinates and other customer and sales data on Smith’s devices. Smith was charged in the Northern District of Florida with violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2)(C), (c)(2)(B)(iii), theft of trade secrets, and transmitting a threat through interstate commerce with intent to extort. Smith argued that venue was improper because all the prohibited conduct occurred in the Alabama and the data that was accessed and obtained was in the Middle District of Florida.Smith was convicted on the trade secrets and extortion counts in the Northern District of Florida. The Eleventh Circuit vacated Smith’s trade secrets conviction and related sentencing enhancements for lack of venue, affirmed the extortion conviction and related sentencing enhancements, and remanded. Smith never committed any essential conduct for the trade secrets conviction in the Northern District of Florida. Sufficient evidence supported the extortion conviction. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law
Optional Capital, Inc. v. DAS Corp.
In 2004-2005, the government filed forfeiture actions against a Credit Suisse account, owned by a corporation organized by Kim’s sister . The government alleged the $15 million account included proceeds of fraudulent activities involving Kim’s control of Optional. The district court ordered the seizure of the Account. The putative owners (Kim Claimants) contested the forfeiture. Optional, no longer under Kim's control, and DAS, an alleged victim of Kim's fraud, filed competing claims.In 2011, after years of parallel litigation, the Swiss Attorney General’s Office unfroze the Account and ordered the bank to wire $12.6 million to DAS, which filed a “Notice of Withdrawal of Claims” in the forfeiture proceeding. The court ordered that no party disturb money remaining in the Credit Suisse accounts and requested that the government investigate how the transfer to DAS was accomplished. The court declined to hold DAS in contempt, concluded that it “cannot compel DAS to surrender the funds,” then granted DAS’s opposed motion to be dismissed from the forfeiture proceedings.Optional, the sole remaining claimant, submitted a 2013 proposed final judgment, which the district court adopted. Five years later, Optional sought to hold DAS in contempt for allegedly violating that judgment because DAS failed to surrender the money transferred in 2011; the 2013 judgment had awarded Optional all funds in the Account as of August 2005. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of the contempt motion. The 2013 judgment did not require DAS to turn over $12.6 million to Optional. At the 2013 trial, the court did not have before it, and did not undertake to decide, the competing claims to the transferred money. In awarding Optional “all funds” the district court unmistakably was referring only to the remaining funds. View "Optional Capital, Inc. v. DAS Corp." on Justia Law
PADRM Gold Mine, LLC v. Perkumpulan Investor Crisis Center Dressel – WBG
A group of defrauded investors brought a lawsuit in Washington State seeking to recover assets they alleged had been fraudulently conveyed to perpetrators of the fraud. The investors discovered that the alleged perpetrators owned land in Alaska in the name of a mining company. They filed an action in Alaska superior court for fraudulent conveyance and to quiet title to the property. The Washington case was later dismissed; the Alaska superior court then granted summary judgment against the investors, concluding that as a result of the dismissal of the Washington case they lacked the creditor status necessary to give them standing to pursue their Alaska claims. The court awarded attorney’s fees to the mining company as the prevailing party. The investors had only one apparent asset: a potential legal malpractice claim against their Alaska attorneys for having filed a fatally defective claim. The investors disavowed any intention of pursuing such a claim, but the mining company moved for a writ of execution, seeking the involuntary assignment of the potential claim to itself. The superior court denied the mining company’s motion, concluding that Alaska law, for public policy reasons, did not allow the involuntary assignment of legal malpractice claims. The mining company appeals. Because the Alaska Supreme Court agreed with the superior court’s conclusion that legal malpractice claims could not be involuntarily assigned, it affirmed the order denying the writ of execution. View "PADRM Gold Mine, LLC v. Perkumpulan Investor Crisis Center Dressel - WBG" on Justia Law
Banerjee v. Super. Ct.
Following a preliminary hearing, petitioner Dr. Sanjoy Banerjee was charged in an information with two counts of presenting a false or fraudulent health care claim to an insurer (a form of insurance fraud, counts 1-2), and three counts of perjury (counts 3-5). The superior court denied Banerjee’s motion to dismiss the information as unsupported by reasonable or probable cause. Banerjee petitioned for a writ of prohibition to direct the superior court to vacate its order denying his Penal Code section 995 motion and to issue an order setting aside the information. The Court of Appeal issued an order to show cause and an order staying further proceedings on the information, pending the Court's resolution of the merits of Banerjee’s petition. The State filed a return, and Banerjee filed a traverse. The State argued the evidence supported a strong suspicion that Banerjee committed two counts of insurance fraud and three counts of perjury, based on his violations of Labor Code section 139.3(a) between 2014 and 2016. During that period, Banerjee billed a workers’ compensation insurer for services he rendered to patients through his professional corporation and through two other legal entities he owned and controlled. The insurance fraud charges are based on Banerjee’s 2014-2016 billings to the insurer through the two other entities. The perjury charges were based on three instances in which Banerjee signed doctor’s reports, certifying under penalty of perjury that he had not violated “section 139.3.” Banerjee argued: (1) the evidence showed he did not violate the statute's referral prohibition; (2) even if he did not comply with section 139.3(e), the “physician’s office” exception to the referral prohibition applied to all of his referrals to his two other legal entities; and (3) the patient disclosure requirement of section 139.3(e), the referral prohibition of section 139.3(a), and the physician’s office exception to the referral prohibition were unconstitutionally vague. The Court of Appeal concluded: (1) Banerjee did not violate section 139.3(a) by referring his patients to his two other legal entities; and (2) the evidence supported a strong suspicion that Banerjee specifically intended to present false and fraudulent claims for health care benefits, in violation of Penal Code section 550(a)(6), by billing the workers’ compensation insurer substantially higher amounts through his two other legal entities than he previously and customarily billed the insurer for the same services he formerly rendered through his professional corporation and his former group practice. Thus, the Court granted the writ as to the perjury charges but denied it as to the insurance fraud charges. View "Banerjee v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law
Meridian Financial etc. v. Phan
Mark Yazdani was the president and sole owner of Meridian Financial Services, Inc. (Meridian). Over the span of a year, Yazdani made a series of investments totaling $5,079,000 in an international gold-trading scheme run by a loan broker, Lananh Phan, who promised him “guaranteed” returns of 5 or 6 percent per month. It turned out to be a Ponzi scheme and when it collapsed, Yazdani lost most of his money. In exchange for some of his investments, Yazdani demanded “collateral” from Phan, in the form of "loans" or promissory notes secured by deeds of trust in favor of Meridian on Phan's residence, and the residences of unwitting third parties ensared in Phan's scheme. The loans were facilitated through escrow at Chicago Title Company. The purported borrowers never knew of these transactions; their signatures on the Meridian deeds of trusts were forged or obtained by Phan under false pretenses. After the Ponzi scheme collapsed and unable to recover his investment, Yazdani moved to foreclose on the purported borrowers. In one of two lawsuits, two of the purported borrowers sued Yazdani and Meridian (collectively, Appellants) to prevent foreclosure of and quiet title to their home. A judge cancelled the Meridian deeds of trust, finding that they were “forged” and that Appellants had acted with unclean hands in procuring them (the Orange County decision). In this, the second lawsuit, Appellants sued Chicago Title, among others, alleging they were induced to invest with Phan because Chicago Title’s involvement in the transactions reassured them that Phan’s investment scheme was legitimate. Appellants also sued more than 50 individuals who allegedly received payments from Phan, asserting they were Phan’s creditors, and the transfers of money to the individuals should have been set aside. Summary judgment was entered in favor of Chicago Title and the individuals. Appellants appealed both judgments, contending the trial court erred in giving preclusive effect to the Orange County decision. They also argued the award of attorney fees was grossly excessive and an abuse of discretion. Finding no merit to these contentions, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgments and the fee award. View "Meridian Financial etc. v. Phan" on Justia Law
Meridian Financial etc. v. Phan
Mark Yazdani was the president and sole owner of Meridian Financial Services, Inc. (Meridian). Over the span of a year, Yazdani made a series of investments in an international gold-trading scheme run by a loan broker, Lananh Phan, who promised him “guaranteed” returns of 5 or 6 percent per month. It turned out to be a Ponzi scheme and when it collapsed, Yazdani lost most of his money. In exchange for some of his investments, Yazdani demanded “collateral” from Phan, in the form of "loans" or promissory notes secured by deeds of trust in favor of Meridian on Phan's residence, and the residences of unwitting third parties ensared in Phan's scheme. The loans were facilitated through escrow at Chicago Title Company. The purported borrowers never knew of these transactions; their signatures on the Meridian deeds of trusts were forged or obtained by Phan under false pretenses. Yazdani had been made aware of “irregularities” with the execution and notarization of the Meridian deeds of trust. Yazdani moved to foreclose on the purported borrowers. In one of two lawsuits, two of the purported borrowers sued Yazdani and Meridian (collectively, Appellants) to prevent foreclosure of and quiet title to their home. A judge cancelled the Meridian deeds of trust, finding that they were “forged” and that Appellants had acted with unclean hands in procuring them (the Orange County decision). However, the parties later settled and, as a condition of settlement, obtained a stipulated order from a different judge vacating most of the trial judge’s decision. In this, the second lawsuit, Appellants sued Chicago Title, among others, alleging they were induced to invest with Phan because Chicago Title’s involvement in the transactions reassured them that Phan’s investment scheme was legitimate. Appellants also sued more than 50 individuals who allegedly received payments from Phan, asserting they were Phan’s creditors and the transfers of money to the individuals should be set aside. Summary judgment was entered in favor of Chicago Title and the individuals. Appellants appealed both judgments, contending the trial court erred in giving preclusive effect to the Orange County decision. They also argued the award of attorney fees was an abuse of discretion. Finding no merit to these contentions, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgments and the fee award. View "Meridian Financial etc. v. Phan" on Justia Law