Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional Law
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Defendant Brim Bell was convicted by jury on four class A felony counts of theft by deception. Defendant ran a business at several New Hampshire locations restoring primarily Volkswagen vehicles. Between January 1, 2011 and November 17, 2015, each of the victims, A.M., J.M., J.K., and J.T., hired defendant to restore a vehicle. During the time defendant had their vehicles, he repeatedly asked each of the victims to send him more money, ostensibly for parts or other expenses related to the restoration of their vehicles. Each victim made a series of payments to defendant, but none of the victims received a restored car back from defendant. Defendant testified to a series of events that negatively affected his business during 2010 and 2011 and increased his debt. As a result, at the end of 2011, defendant started gambling at casinos. He testified that his “plan was to save the business.” Defendant admitted that he gambled with some of his customers’ money and that none of them gave him permission to do so. Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted on four counts and acquitted on two. He argued on appeal that the evidence was insufficient to convict him and that the trial court erred in granting the State’s motion for joinder. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed defendant's convictions. View "New Hampshire v. Bell" on Justia Law

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The American subsidiary of Alstom Power, Inc. (“API”), a global power and transportation services company, hired two consultants to bribe Indonesian officials to help secure a $118 million power contract. Defendant, who worked in Paris for API’s United Kingdom subsidiary, was allegedly responsible for approving the selection of the consultants and authorizing payments to them. For his role in the alleged bribery scheme, Defendant was charged in an American court with (among other things) violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act  (“FCPA”), which makes it unlawful for officers, directors, and agents “of a domestic concern” to use interstate commerce corruptly to bribe or attempt to bribe foreign officials. Defendant appealed. Defendant moved for acquittal, arguing he was not an agent within the meaning of the FCPA. The district court granted that motion; the government appealed and Defendant cross-appealed.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling holding that the district court properly acquitted Defendant under Rule 29 because there was no agency or employee relationship between Defendant and API. The court also affirmed on the cross‐appeal, finding no error in either the district court’s speedy trial analysis or its jury instructions.     The court explained that while there is some evidence that Defendant supported API in his working relationship with the corporation, it is not sufficient to establish that API exercised control over the scope and duration of its relationship with Defendant. Further, the district court’s analysis of the Barker factors and dismissal of Defendant’s Sixth Amendment claim falls “within the range of permissible decisions. View "United States v. Hoskins" on Justia Law

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Defendant Laura Shelly pled no contest to one count of embezzlement by an employee. Pursuant to the negotiated plea, the trial court imposed a five-year term of felony probation. The court also ordered defendant to pay $72,972.47 in restitution. Shelly argued on appeal the length of her probation had to be reduced in light of Assembly Bill No. 1950 (2019-2020 Reg. Sess.) which reduced the maximum length of felony probation to two or three years. She also argued the amount of restitution had to be reduced by $5,816.25. The Court of Appeal agreed, and the State conceded, that Assembly Bill 1950 applied retroactively and entitled defendant to have the length of her probation reduced. The question remaining was whether the State was then entitled to withdraw from the plea agreement. To this, the Court held it was not. The Court also reduced the restitution order by $1,000. View "California v. Shelly" on Justia Law

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Zheng became a permanent U.S. resident in 2004. He was a professor at the University of Southern California, Pennsylvania State University, and The Ohio State University and performed research under National Institute of Health (NIH) grants. Zheng had financial and information-sharing ties to Chinese organizations and received grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China. Including that information on NIH applications would have derailed Zheng’s funding prospects, so Zheng clouded his ties to China. By 2019, the FBI began investigating Zheng. Zheng left for China but federal agents apprehended him in Anchorage.Zheng pleaded guilty to making false statements, 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(3). Rejecting an argument that the research Zheng completed offset the amount of money lost, the district court calculated a Guidelines range of 37-46 months and sentenced Zheng to 37 months. On appeal, Zheng argued that his counsel was ineffective by not seeking a downward variance based on Zheng’s immigration status as a deportable alien, which would have an impact on the execution of his sentence. The Sixth Circuit dismissed, noting that the record was inadequate to establish ineffective assistance for the first time on direct appeal. Nothing in the record shows counsel’s reasons for making certain strategic decisions or why he advanced one argument over another. View "United States v. Zheng" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Appellant's plea of guilty to one count of investment adviser fraud, four counts of wire fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below.On appeal, Appellant argued that her plea was not knowing and voluntary, that the evidence was insufficient to convict her of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, that several sentencing enhancements were improperly applied, and that her counsel was ineffective. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) there was no error in the district court's acceptance of Appellant's guilty plea; (2) Appellant's conduct clearly satisfied the statutory requirements for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft; and (3) Appellant's challenges to several aspects of her sentence were unavailing. View "United States v. Kitts" on Justia Law

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Applicant Ray Hicks pled guilty to attempted forgery of a government instrument in 2013 and was sentenced, under a plea agreement, to 180 days of confinement in a state jail facility. Applicant filed this application for a writ of habeas corpus, contending he was actually innocent because subsequent analysis showed the $100 bill he possessed was genuine. Applicant was charged with forgery but ultimately pled guilty to attempted forgery. More than five years later, the United States Secret Service notified the Webster Police Department by letter that Applicant’s $100 bill was genuine. The habeas court found Applicant was actually innocent of the charged offense and any possible lesser included offenses based on newly discovered evidence neither introduced nor available to the defense at trial. Specifically, the habeas court found the State could not have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the Applicant had intent to defraud because the bill was not actually forged. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals did not find Applicant was actually innocent, but instead, granted relief on the ground of an involuntary plea. View "Ex parte Ray Hicks" on Justia Law

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After an explosion at Massey’s West Virginia coal mine killed 29 miners, Blankenship, then Massey’s Chairman of the Board and CEO, was convicted of conspiring to willfully violate federal mine safety and health standards, 30 U.S.C. 820(d) and 18 U.S.C. 371. The evidence indicated that Blankenship had willfully failed to address numerous notices of mine safety violations that Massey had received, favoring production and profits over safety. Following the trial and in response to Blankenship’s ongoing requests, the government produced documents to Blankenship that it had not produced before trial and that it should have produced under applicable Department of Justice policies. The suppressed documents fell broadly into two categories: memoranda of interviews conducted of seven Massey employees and internal emails and documents of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) showing, among other things, some MSHA employees’ hostility to Massey and Blankenship.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of Blankenship’s 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate his conviction. While the documents were improperly suppressed, they were not material in that there was not a reasonable probability that they would have produced a different result had they been disclosed before trial. The verdict that Blankenship conspired to willfully violate mandatory mine standards was supported by ample evidence. View "United States v. Blankenship" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions connected with the murder of Steven DiSarro, holding that Defendants were not entitled to relief on their allegations of error.Defendants, Francis Salemme and Paul Weadick, were convicted of the 1993 murder of DiSarro. At the time of the murder, Salemme was the boss of a criminal organization known as the New England La Cosa Nostra. Defendants murdered DiSarro to prevent him from talking with federal agents about his activities with Salemme, Weadick and Salemme's son. On appeal, Defendants challenged the trial court's admission of a significant amount of evidence concerning the prior criminal activities of Salemme and several witnesses. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in admitting the evidence. View "United States v. Weadick" on Justia Law

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Claud “Rick” Koerber was indicted by a grand jury for wire fraud, tax fraud, and mail fraud relating to a real estate investment scheme. A superseding indictment added to his wire fraud and tax evasion counts, charging him with additional counts for securities fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion. More than five years passed without a trial, resulting in the district court’s dismissing the case with prejudice under the Speedy Trial Act. On the government’s appeal of that decision, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s dismissal-with-prejudice order, identifying errors in its application of the Speedy Trial Act factors. On remand, after reapplying the factors, the district court decided to dismiss without prejudice. So in 2017 the government reindicted Koerber for the offenses earlier charged in the superseding indictment. Koerber’s first trial ended in a hung jury. His second trial ended in jury convictions on all but two counts. The court later imposed a 170-month prison sentence. On appeal, Koerber challenged his prosecution and conviction, claiming a range of errors: from evidentiary rulings, to trial-management issues, to asserted statutory and constitutional violations. After reviewing the briefing, the record, and the relevant law, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed. View "United States v. Koerber" on Justia Law

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Alan Williams pleaded guilty to a single count of bank fraud and stipulated to restitution tied to that count and two others that were later dismissed. The government got its conviction, and Williams limited his sentencing exposure and possible future charges. In this appeal, Williams attempted to step back from his bargain, seeking to keep the favorable plea deal, but to contest the restitution he stipulated was owed. Furthermore, he contested the district court’s apportionment of that total restitution between WebBank and Wells Fargo Bank, as recommended by the Presentence Report (PSR). The Tenth Circuit surmised Williams' first hurdle was to overcome the appeal waiver included in his Plea Agreement. To this, the Court concluded the appeal waiver did not bar his total-restitution challenge: the Plea Agreement allowed Williams to appeal the apportionment of the total restitution and the substantive reasonableness of his prison sentence as well. However, addressing the merits of Williams’s challenges, the Court no reason to disturb the order and sentence, and affirmed. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law