Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Contracts
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The case involves Alejandro Cortés-López, who was serving a 24-month prison term after pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Cortés-López had entered into a plea agreement with the government, admitting to a fraudulent financial scheme that solicited residents in Puerto Rico to invest in short-term, high-interest loans in the Dominican Republic. The plea agreement stipulated a total offense level (TOL) of 18, which, combined with a criminal history category of I, suggested a guidelines sentencing range (GSR) of 27-33 months' imprisonment. However, both parties agreed to jointly request a variant sentence of 24 months of probation.The Presentence Investigation Report (PSR) calculated a higher TOL due to the financial fraud scheme resulting in more than $5.4 million in losses to the investors. Cortés-López objected to these enhancements, but the probation office maintained that the higher loss amount and additional enhancement were correct. At the sentencing hearing, the government acknowledged the PSR's calculation but stated it was standing by its plea agreement recommendation of 24 months of probation. The district court, however, imposed a sentence of 24 months' imprisonment, followed by 3 years of supervised release and $5.4 million in restitution.Cortés-López appealed, arguing that the government breached the plea agreement by supporting the higher TOL calculated in the PSR and failing to advocate meaningfully for the agreed-upon 24-month probation sentence. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit agreed, finding that the government's conduct at the sentencing hearing was a breach of the plea agreement. The court vacated Cortés-López's sentence and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "United States v. Cortes-Lopez" on Justia Law

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The case involves a group of grocery store owner-operators and their related company, Anchor Mobile Food Markets, Inc. (AMFM), who sued Onex Partners IV, Onex Corporation, Anthony Munk, and Matthew Ross (collectively, Onex) for violations of Missouri common law and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The owner-operators had invested in the discount grocery chain Save-A-Lot and its independent licensee program, which turned out to be a disastrous investment. They alleged that Onex, which had acquired Save-A-Lot, had fraudulently induced them into the investment.The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri had granted summary judgment to Onex. The court found that the owner-operators had signed multiple contractual releases and anti-reliance disclaimers before opening their stores, which barred their claims. The owner-operators and AMFM argued that these releases and disclaimers were fraudulently induced.The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision. The court found that the owner-operators failed to raise a genuine dispute of material fact that they were fraudulently induced to enter the releases. The court also found that the releases were valid and barred the owner-operators' claims. The court further found that AMFM's claims against Onex failed, as neither Save-A-Lot nor Onex had contracted with AMFM. Finally, the court affirmed the district court's denial of the owner-operators and AMFM's request for leave to amend their complaint. View "SBFO Operator No. 3, LLC v. Onex Corporation" on Justia Law

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This diversity case arises out of the theft—possibly by a group of third-party contractors—of 1,380 memory cards that belonged to Global Network Management, LTD., and were stored in a data center operated by Centurylink Latin American Solutions, LLC. Global Network sued Centurylink for implied bailment, breach of contract implied in law, and breach of contract implied in fact to hold Centurylink liable for the theft of the memory cards. The district court dismissed all of the claims with prejudice, and Global Network now appeals.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part. The court held that the district court correctly dismissed the contract implied in law and contract implied in fact claims. But Global Network plausibly alleged that Centurylink possessed the memory cards at the time of the theft, and as a result, the implied bailment claim survives at the Rule 12(b)(6) stage. The court explained that according to Centurylink, Global Network’s ability to visit the servers means that it did not possess the servers exclusively, and as a result, no bailment relationship was formed. But this argument does not carry the day at this stage of the proceeding, where the standard is plausibility and not probability. The court noted that it does not hold there was an implied bailment as a matter of fact or law; it only held that Global Network plausibly alleged an implied bailment. View "Global Network Management, Ltd. v. CenturyLink Latin American Solutions, LLC" on Justia Law

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The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court's consideration was whether claims brought under the Insurance Fraud Protection Act (IFPA) and the Workers’ Compensation Act (WCA) by plaintiffs Liberty Insurance Corp. and LM Insurance Corp. (Liberty) against defendants Techdan, LLC (Techdan), Exterior Erecting Services, Inc. (Exterior), Daniel Fisher, Robert Dunlap, and Carol Junz were subject to the apportionment procedure of the Comparative Negligence Act (CNA). Liberty issued workers’ compensation policies to Techdan from 2004 to 2007. It alleged defendants misrepresented the relationship between Techdan and Exterior and the ownership structure of the two entities and provided fraudulent payroll records to reduce the premiums for workers’ compensation insurance. Techdan was indicted for second-degree theft by deception, and Dunlap entered a guilty plea to that charge on Techdan’s behalf. The court granted partial summary judgment as to Liberty’s IFPA claim for insurance fraud against Techdan, Exterior, Dunlap, and Fisher; partial summary judgment as to Liberty’s workers’ compensation fraud claim against all defendants; and partial summary judgment as to Liberty’s breach of contract claim against Techdan and Exterior. The court denied summary judgment as to Liberty’s remaining claims. The jury found Techdan liable for $454,660 in compensatory damages and found Exterior liable for $227,330 in compensatory damages, but awarded no compensatory damages against Dunlap, Fisher, or Junz. It awarded punitive damages in the amount of $200,000 against Dunlap, $10,000 against Fisher, and $45,000 against Junz, but awarded no punitive damages against Techdan or Exterior. The trial court determined all defendants should be jointly and severally liable for the $756,990 awarded as compensatory damages. The Appellate Division held the trial court erred when it imposed joint and several liability on defendants rather than directing the jury to allocate percentages of fault to defendants in accordance with N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.2(a)(2). The Division concluded the trial court’s cumulative errors warranted a new trial, and it remanded for further proceedings. The Supreme Court concurred with the appellate court: the trial court should have charged the jury to allocate percentages of fault and should have molded the judgment based on the jury’s findings; the trial court’s failure to apply the CNA warranted a new trial on remand. The Court did not disturb the first jury’s findings on the issues of liability under the IFPA, the WCA, or Liberty’s common-law claims, or its determination of total compensatory damages. The Court found no plain error in the trial court’s failure to give the jury an ultimate outcome charge. View "Liberty Insurance Corp. v. Techdan, LLC" on Justia Law

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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

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Plaintiffs filed suit for fraud, rescission, conspiracy, aiding and abetting, fraudulent conveyance, and unjust enrichment alleging that defendants had misrepresented that collateral managers would exercise independence in selecting assets for collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants.The Second Circuit affirmed and held that plaintiffs have failed to establish, by clear and convincing evidence, reliance on defendants' representations. In this case, plaintiffs based their investment decisions solely on the investment proposals their investment advisor developed; the advisor developed these detailed investment proposals based on offering materials defendants provided and on the advisor's own due diligence; plaintiffs premised their fraud claims on the advisor's reliance on defendants' representations; but New York law does not support this theory of third-party representations. The court also held that plaintiffs have failed to establish that defendants misrepresented or omitted material information for two of the three CDO deals at issue—the Octans II CDO and the Sagittarius CDO I. The court explained that defendants' representations that the collateral managers would exercise independence in selecting assets were not misrepresentations at all, and defendants did not have a duty to disclose their knowledge of the hedge fund's investment strategy because this information could have been discovered through the exercise of due care. View "Loreley Financing (Jersey) No. 3 Ltd. v. Wells Fargo" on Justia Law

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Appellant Rainforest Chocolate, LLC appealed the grant of summary judgment motion in favor of appellee Sentinel Insurance Company, Ltd. Rainforest was insured under a business-owner policy offered by Sentinel. In May 2016, Rainforest’s employee received an email purporting to be from his manager. The email directed the employee to transfer $19,875 to a specified outside bank account through an electronic-funds transfer. Unbeknownst to the employee, an unknown individual had gained control of the manager’s email account and sent the email. The employee electronically transferred the money. Shortly thereafter when Rainforest learned that the manager had not sent the email, it contacted its bank, which froze its account and limited the loss to $10,261.36. Rainforest reported the loss to Sentinel. In a series of letters exchanged concerning coverage for the loss, Rainforest claimed the loss should be covered under provisions of the policy covering losses due to Forgery, for Forged or Altered Instruments, and for losses resulting from Computer Fraud. Sentinel denied coverage. In a continuing attempt to obtain coverage for the loss, Rainforest also claimed coverage under a provision of the policy for the loss of Money or Securities by theft. Sentinel again denied coverage, primarily relying on an exclusion for physical loss or physical damage caused by or resulting from False Pretense that concerned “voluntary parting” of the property—the False Pretense Exclusion. Finding certain terms in the policy at issue were ambiguous, the Vermont Supreme Court reversed summary judgment and remanded for the trial court to consider in the first instance whether other provisions in the policy could provide coverage for Rainforest's loss. View "Rainforest Chocolate, LLC v. Sentinel Insurance Company, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Baek purchased property through his LLC and obtained financing from Labe Bank; Frank was the loan officer. Frank later moved to NCB and asked Baek to move his business, representing that NCB would provide a larger construction loan at a lower rate. In 2006, Baek entered a construction loan with NCB for $11,750,000. Baek executed a loan agreement, mortgage, promissory note, and commercial guaranty. Baek’s wife did not sign the guaranty at closing. NCB maintains that, 18 months after closing, she signed a guaranty. One loan modification agreement bears her signature but Baek‐Lee contends that it was forged and that she was out of the country on the signing date. NCB repeatedly demanded additional collateral and refused to disburse funds to contractors. The Baeks claim that NCB frustrated Baek’s efforts to comply with its demands. In 2010, NCB filed state suits for foreclosure and on the guaranty. The Baeks filed affirmative defenses and a counterclaim, then filed a breach of contract and fraud suit against NCB. The Baeks later filed a federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1964(c), suit alleging fraud. The state court granted NCB summary judgment. The federal district court dismissed, citing res judicata. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. There has been a final judgment on the merits with the same parties, in state court, on claims arising from a single group of operative facts. View "Baek v. Clausen" on Justia Law

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In 2003, the government awarded Laguna a contract for Worldwide Environmental Remediation and Construction (WERC). Under the contract, Laguna received 16 cost-reimbursable task orders to perform work in Iraq, and awarded subcontracts to several subcontractors. The physical work under the contract was completed by 2010. Laguna sought reimbursement of past costs, a portion of which the government refused to pay after an audit by the Defense Contract Audit Agency. Before the Armed Services Board of Contract Appeals, the government alleged that it was not liable because Laguna had committed a prior material breach by accepting subcontractor kickbacks (18 U.S.C. 371, 41 U.S.C. 53), excusing the government’s nonperformance. Three of Laguna’s officers were ultimately indicted for kickbacks. The Board granted the government summary judgment on that ground, The Federal Circuit affirmed. Laguna committed the first material breach by violating the contract’s Allowable Cost and Payment clause because its vouchers were improperly inflated to include the payment, Federal Acquisition Regulation 52.216-7. View "Laguna Constr. Co. v. Carter" on Justia Law

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Segal, a lawyer, CPA, and insurance broker, and his company, were indicted for racketeering, mail and wire fraud, making false statements, embezzlement, and conspiring to interfere with operations of the IRS. Convicted in 2004, Segal was sentenced to 121 months in prison. After further proceedings, in 2011, he was resentenced to time served and ordered to pay $842,000 in restitution and to forfeit to the government his interest in the company and $15 million. In 2013, the parties entered a binding settlement that specified the final disposition of Segal’s assets. After the district judge approved the settlement the parties disagreed and returned to court. The agreement gave Segal two of eight insurance policies on his life outright and an option to purchase the others, but required that he exercise the option within six months of approval of the settlement. He opted to purchase one policy before the deadline and asked for an extension, claiming that the government had not promptly released money owed to him and had delayed his efforts to obtain information from the insurance companies. The Seventh Circuit affirmed refusal to extend the deadline, but reversed with respect to claims relating to Segal’s right to repurchase his shares of the Chicago Bulls basketball team. View "United States v. Segal" on Justia Law