Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Corporate Compliance
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Armbruster, a CPA with experience working at a Big Four accounting firm, began serving as the controller for Roadrunner's predecessor in 1990 and became Roadrunner’s CFO. Roadrunner grew rapidly, acquiring transportation companies and going public in 2010. In 2014, Roadrunner’s then‐controller recognized shortcomings in a subsidiary's (Morgan) accounting and began investigating. In 2016, many deficiencies in Morgan’s accounting remained unresolved. The departing controller found that Morgan had inflated its balance sheet by at least $2 million and perhaps as much as $4–5 million. Armbruster filed Roadrunner's 2016 third quarter SEC Form 10‐Q with no adjustments of the carrying values of Morgan balance sheet items and including other misstatements. Roadrunner’s CEO learned of the misstatements and informed Roadrunner’s Board of Directors. Roadrunner informed its independent auditor. Roadrunner’s share price dropped significantly. Roadrunner filed restated financial statements, reporting a decrease of approximately $66.5 million in net income over the misstated periods.Criminal charges were brought against Armbruster and two former departmental controllers. A mixed verdict acquitted the departmental controllers on all counts but convicted Armbruster on four of 11 charges for knowingly falsifying Roadrunner‘s accounting records by materially misstating the carrying values of Morgan's receivable and prepaid taxes account, 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(2), (5), i78ff(a), 18 U.S.C. 2, fraudulently influencing Roadrunner’s external auditor, and filing fraudulent SEC financial statements, 18 U.S.C.1348. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While the case against Armbruster may not have been open‐and‐shut, a rational jury could have concluded that the government presented enough evidence to support the guilty verdicts. View "United States v. Armbruster" on Justia Law

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Four defendants, who have multiple ties to organized crime, were convicted for their roles in the unlawful takeover and looting of FirstPlus Financial, a publicly traded mortgage loan company. Their scheme began with the defendants’ and their co-conspirators’ extortion of FirstPlus’s board of directors and its chairman, using lies and threats to gain control of the company. Once they forced the old leadership out, the defendants drained the company of its value by causing it to enter into expensive consulting and legal-services agreements with themselves, causing it to acquire (at vastly inflated prices) shell companies they personally owned, and using bogus trusts to funnel FirstPlus’s assets into their own accounts. They ultimately bankrupted FirstPlus, leaving its shareholders with worthless stock.Each defendant was convicted of more than 20 counts of criminal behavior and given a substantial prison sentence. In a consolidated appeal, the Third Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the investigation, the charges and evidence against them, the pretrial process, the government’s compliance with its disclosure obligations, the trial, the forfeiture proceedings, and their sentences. The government conceded that the district court’s assessment of one defendant’s forfeiture obligations was improper under a Supreme Court decision handed down during the pendency of this appeal and remanded that assessment. View "United States v. Scarfo" on Justia Law

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Metaxas was the president and CEO of Gateway Bank in 2008, during the financial crisis. Federal regulators categorized Gateway as a “troubled institution.” Gateway tried to raise capital and deal with its troubled assets. Certain transactions resulted in a lengthy investigation. The U.S. Attorney became involved. Metaxas was indicted. In 2015, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Gateway sued Metaxas based on two transactions involving Ideal Mortgage: a March 2009 $3.65 million working capital loan and a November 2009 $757,000 wire transfer. A court-appointed referee awarded Gateway $250,000 in tort-of-another damages arising from “the fallout” from the first transaction, and $132,000 in damages for the second.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the first transaction resulted in “substantial benefit” to Gateway and that Metaxas had no alternative but to approve the wire transfer. Gateway did not ask for any purported “benefit.” The evidence showed that the Board would not have approved either the toxic asset sale or the working capital loan if Metaxas had disclosed the true facts. Metaxas damaged Gateway’s reputation. Metaxas knew that the government was trying to shut Ideal down but approved the wire transfer on the last business day before Ideal was shut down, by expressly, angrily, overruling the CFO. View "Gateway Bank, F.S.B. v. Metaxas" on Justia Law

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Brooks, Debtor's CEO, was charged with financial crimes. In class action and derivative lawsuits, Debtor proposed a global settlement that indemnified Brooks for liability under the Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX), 15 U.S.C. 7243. Cohen, Debtor’s former General Counsel and a shareholder, claimed that the indemnification was unlawful. The district court approved the settlement, Cohen, represented by CLM, appealed. The Second Circuit vacated, noting that the EDNY would determine CLM’s attorneys’ fees award. Debtor initiated Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. The Bankruptcy Court confirmed Debtor’s liquidation plan, with a trustee to pursue Debtor’s interest in recouping its losses from the ongoing actions.Brooks died in prison. Because his appeal had not concluded, some of his convictions and restitution obligations were abated. Stakeholders negotiated a second global settlement agreement, under which $142 million of Brooks’ restrained assets were to be distributed to his victims; $70 million has been remitted to Debtor. The Bankruptcy Court awarded CLM fees for the SOX 304 claim; the amount would be determined if Debtor received any funds on account of the claim. CLM’s Fee Appeal remains pending at the district court.CLM requested a $25 million reserve for payment of its fees. The Bankruptcy Court ordered Debtor to set aside $5 million. CLM’s Fee Reserve Appeal remains pending. CLM then moved, unsuccessfully, for a stay of Second Settlement Agreement distributions. In its Stay Denial Appeal, CLM’s motion requesting a stay of distributions was denied. The Third Circuit affirmed. The $5 million reserve is sufficient. A $5 million attorneys’ fees award for 1,502.2 hours of legal work totaling $549,472.61 of documented fees would yield an hourly rate of $3,328.45 and a lodestar multiplier of over nine. In common fund cases where attorneys’ fees are calculated using the lodestar method, multiples from one to four are the norm. View "SS Body Armor I, Inc. v. Carter Ledyard & Milburn, LLP" on Justia Law

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The Company was organized as a limited liability company in 2007; its sole managing member was another LLC, whose sole members were the Ngs, who controlled and managed the Company. Defendant was one of the Company’s lawyers. The Company’s stated purpose was to serve as an investment company making secured loans to real estate developers. The Managers actually created the Company to perpetrate “a fraudulent scheme” by which the Company transferred the money invested in it to another entity the Managers controlled. Defendant knew that the Managers intended to and did use the Company for this fraudulent purpose and, working with the Managers, helped the Company conceal the nature of its asset transfers. The Company was eventually rendered insolvent and its investors filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition. The bankruptcy trustee filed suit against Defendant, alleging tort claims based on Defendant’s involvement in the Company’s fraud. Defendant argued that the claims are barred by the in pari delicto doctrine. The court of appeal affirmed dismissal, finding that the in pari delicto applies to the trustee and rejecting an argument that the doctrine should not bar her claims because the wrongful acts of the Managers should not be imputed to the Company. View "Uecker v. Zentil" on Justia Law

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H & Q and the Doll Companies owned membership units of Double D Excavating, LLC. The Doll Companies opened account 121224 in the name of "Double D Excavating" and deposited a check payable to the LLC and opened account 119992 in the name of David Doll. The Doll Companies deposited into Account 121224 multiple payments that LLC customers made to the LLC and then transferred funds from Account 121224 to Account 119992, commingled funds from Account 119992 with funds belonging to the Doll Companies, and used those funds to pay Doll Companies' expenses. H&Q claims that the Doll Companies failed to give notice or obtain consent for any of those activities and represented to H&Q that the LLC was struggling financially and needed additional financial assistance. The Doll Companies contributed a portion of the funds from Account 119992 back to the LLC and, according to H&Q, represented to H&Q that these were fresh capital contributions. H&Q also invested additional capital. After discovering the Doll Companies' alleged conduct, H&Q filed suit asserting state law claims and claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1961. The Eighth Circuit affirmed dismissal, agreeing that the complaint did not sufficiently allege any racketeering activity. View "H & Q Props, Inc. v. Doll" on Justia Law

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In 1973, Doe organized his medical practice as a “professional association,” a type of corporation doctors are permitted to form under New Jersey law. Since its creation, Doe has operated his practice through that entity. As of 2011, the entity employed six people. The government alleges that Doe entered into an illicit agreement with OTE, a blood laboratory, whereby it paid him monetary bribes for referring patients to it for blood testing. A grand jury subpoena was served on the entity’s custodian of records, directing it to turn over documents, including records of patients referred to OTE, lease and consulting agreements, checks received by it for reasons other than patient treatment, correspondence regarding its use of OTE, correspondence with specified individuals and entities, and basic corporate records. The district court denied Doe’s motion to quash. Doe persistently refused to let the entity comply; the court found it in civil contempt. Meanwhile, the entity fired its employees and hired independent contractors, tasked with “[m]aint[aining] accurate and complete medical records, kept in accordance with HIPAA and Patient Privacy standards,” and assisting with billing practices. The Third Circuit affirmed, agreeing that Supreme Court precedent indicated that corporations may not assert a Fifth Amendment privilege, and that the subpoena was not overbroad in violation of the Fourth Amendment. View "In Re: The Matter Of The Grand Jury" on Justia Law

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Petters purported to purchase and resell electronics. His operations were a Ponzi scheme. In 2005, Petters purchased Polaroid and become Chairman of Polaroid’s board of directors. Polaroid continued to engage in legitimate business. Petters took several million dollars from Polaroid. In 2007-2008, Petters’s companies, including Polaroid, experienced major financial difficulty. Ritchie made short term loans of more than $150 million, with annual interest rates of 80 to 362.1%. Polaroid was not a signatory, although some proceeds were used to repay a Polaroid debt. When the loans were past due, Ritchie demanded collateral. Petters executed a Trademark Security Agreement (TSA) giving Ritchie liens on Polaroid trademarks. Polaroid’s CEO objected to the TSA as impeding Polaroid’s ability to raise needed capital. The TSA did allow Polaroid to grant first-priority trademark liens to secure $75 million in working capital. After the FBI raid, which resulted in Petters’s convictions for mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering, and sentence of 50 years in prison, Ritchie accelerated all of the loans. Polaroid filed for bankruptcy and challenged the TSA as an actual fraudulent transfer under federal and Minnesota bankruptcy law, citing the “Ponzi scheme presumption.” The bankruptcy court presumed Petters executed the liens with fraudulent intent, found Ritchie had not received them in good faith and for value, and granted summary judgment. The district court upheld the admission of expert testimony and application of the Ponzi scheme presumption. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. View "Ritchie Capital Mgmt., LLC v. Stoebner" on Justia Law

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While inspecting a commercial fishing vessel in the Gulf of Mexico, a federal agent found that the catch contained undersized red grouper, in violation of conservation regulations, and instructed the captain, Yates, to keep the undersized fish segregated from the rest of the catch until the ship returned to port. After the officer departed, Yates told the crew to throw the undersized fish overboard. Yates was convicted of destroying, concealing, and covering up undersized fish to impede a federal investigation under 18 U. S. C. 519, which applies when a person “knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence” a federal investigation. Yates argued that section 1519 originated in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, to protect investors, and that its reference to “tangible object” includes objects used to store information, such as computer hard drives. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that “tangible object” refers to one used to record or preserve information. Section 1519’s position within Title 18, Chapter 73 and its title, “Destruction, alteration, or falsification of records in Federal investigations and bankruptcy,” signal that it was not intended to serve as a cross-the-board ban on the destruction of physical evidence. The words immediately surrounding “tangible object,” “falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record [or] document,” also indicate the contextual meaning of that term. Even if traditional tools of statutory construction leave any doubt about the meaning of the term, it would be appropriate to invoke the rule of lenity. View "Yates v. United States" on Justia Law

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Aleynikov is a computer programmer who worked as a vice president at GSCo in 2007 through 2009. After accepting an employment offer from another company, Aleynikov copied source code developed at GSCo into computer files and transferred them out of GSCo. He was convicted of violations of the National Stolen Property Act, 18 U.S.C. 2314, and the Economic Espionage Act, 18 U.S.C. 1832. The Second Circuit reversed the conviction. He was then indicted by a New York grand jury and that case remains pending. Aleynikov filed a federal suit, seeking indemnification and advancement for his attorney’s fees from Goldman Sachs. He claims his right to indemnification and advancement under a portion of Goldman Sachs Group’s By-Laws that applies to non-corporate subsidiaries like GSCo, providing for indemnification and advancement to, among others, officers of GSCo. The district court granted summary judgment in Aleynikov’s favor on his claim for advancement but denied it on his claim for indemnification. The Third Circuit vacated with respect to advancement. The meaning of the term “officer" in GS Group’s By-Laws is ambiguous and the relevant extrinsic evidence raises genuine issues of material fact precluding summary judgment. The court otherwise affirmed. View "Aleynikov v. Goldman Sachs Grp., Inc" on Justia Law