Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Constitutional 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

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Defendant Bennie Anderson was employed by Jersey City in the Tax Assessor’s office. His position gave him the opportunity to alter property tax descriptions without the property owner filing a formal application with the Zoning Board. In December 2012, defendant accepted a $300 bribe in exchange for altering the tax description of a property from a two-unit dwelling to a three-unit dwelling. Defendant retired from his position in March 2017 and was granted an early service retirement pension. In November 2017, defendant pled guilty in federal court to violating 18 U.S.C. 1951(a), interference with commerce by extortion under color of official right. Defendant was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay a fine. Based on defendant’s conviction, the Employees’ Retirement System of Jersey City reduced his pension. The State filed an action in state court to compel the total forfeiture of defendant’s pension pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:1-3.1. The trial court entered summary judgment for the State, finding that the forfeiture of defendant’s pension did not implicate the constitutional prohibitions against excessive fines because the forfeiture of pension benefits did not constitute a fine. The Appellate Division affirmed the grant of summary judgment to the State, but on different grounds, concluding the forfeiture of defendant’s pension was a fine, but that requiring defendant to forfeit his pension was not excessive. The New Jersey Supreme Court concluded forfeiture of defendant’s pension under N.J.S.A. 43:1-3.1 did not constitute a fine for purposes of an excessive-fine analysis under the Federal or New Jersey State Constitutions. Because the forfeiture was not a fine, the Court did not reach the constitutional analysis for excessiveness. View "New Jersey v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Jereno Kinslow's felony conviction for computer trespass was premised on evidence that Kinslow altered his employer’s computer network settings so that e-mail messages meant for Kinslow’s boss would also be copied and forwarded to Kinslow’s personal e-mail account. The Court of Appeals affirmed Kinslow’s conviction, and the Georgia Supreme Court granted Kinslow’s petition for certiorari, posing the question of whether Kinslow’s conduct constituted a violation of OCGA 16-9-93 (b)(2). The Court found that although the statute in general was extremely broad, the portion of (b)(2) on which the State exclusively relied did not reach Kinslow’s conduct. Accordingly, the Supreme Court concluded the evidence presented at Kinslow’s trial was insufficient to support his conviction under Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979), and thus reversed. View "Kinslow v. Georgia" on Justia Law

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Guy Jean-Pierre, a corporate and securities attorney, aided an illegal stock trading operation. Through a series of self-dealing transactions, Jean-Pierre and his co-conspirators artificially inflated stock prices of a company they controlled. Jean- Pierre sent letters on the company’s behalf to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that contained false and misleading information and omitted material information from disclosures to potential investors. Jean-Pierre appealed his convictions for conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud as to four of the twenty-eight counts of conviction, arguing the district court erred in admitting evidence that he had previously used his niece’s signature without her permission to submit attorney letters to a stock trading website. Jean- Pierre also argued that three of the four convictions should have been reversed because the district court declined to give a requested instruction reiterating the government’s burden as to a specific factual theory. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Jean-Pierre" on Justia Law

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Bochenek was convicted of identity theft for the knowingly unauthorized use of another person’s credit card information to purchase cigarettes. Before trial, Bochenek argued that the venue provision pertaining to identity theft, 720 ILCS 5/1-6(t)(3), which allows for proper venue in the county in which the victim resides, was unconstitutional. Bochenek maintained that the acts constituting the offenses occurred at a gas station in Lake County and not where the victim resides, in Du Page County.The circuit and appellate courts and the Illinois Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the provision. Based on the nature of the crime, the constitutional mandate that criminal trials occur in the county in which the offense is alleged to have been committed is satisfied. The offense of identity theft may be deemed to have been committed where the physical acts occurred as well as where the intangible identifying information is “located,” namely the victim’s residence. View "People v. Bochenek" on Justia Law

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Elgin met Garbutt at an international convention. Garbutt, who holds dual citizenship, moved from Belize into Elgin’s Gary, Indiana home and worked on her successful campaign to become Trustee of Calumet Township. Elgin hired Garbutt to work at the Trustee’s Office as her “executive aide” at a salary of $60,000 per year. Garbutt’s unofficial duties included Elgin’s political campaign work. He understood that he should not perform political work at the Township Office but began to do so. Elgin also hired her friend Shelton, who also worked on Elgin’s campaign. Elgin and Garbutt had a falling out. Elgin demoted Garbutt, docked his salary barred him from attending meetings, and took away his government car. Garbutt eventually began a partnership with an FBI agent who directed him to conduct warrantless searches of his co‐workers’ offices.Elgin took a plea deal, Shelton was convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, after learning, mid‐trial, about the warrantless searches. The district court denied Shelton's post‐trial motion for relief. The Sixth Circuit reversed. The district court erred in finding that Shelton lacked any reasonable expectation of privacy in her office. Garbutt’s document collection, undertaken at the direction of the FBI, violated her Fourth Amendment rights. No warrant would have issued without the information gathered as a result of the unlawful searches; the evidence obtained from the search authorized by that warrant should have been suppressed. View "United States v. Shelton" on Justia Law

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In 2014, after a jury found Michael Destry Williams guilty of ten counts of tax-evasion and fraud offenses, the district judge sentenced him to seventy-one months’ imprisonment and five years’ supervised release. Williams began the five-years’ supervision on August 22, 2018, and was set to end it on August 21, 2023. On August 27, 2019, a probation officer filed a Petition for Summons on Person Under Supervision, alleging three violations of Williams’s supervision. All three violations allegedly stemmed from Williams’s asserted belief that he was an American National and was not subject to the same legal system as United States citizens. The court ordered a sentence of 24 months’ imprisonment, with credit for time served. On appeal, Williams challenged this sentence as substantively unreasonable. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Williams' sentence. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law