Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Trusts & Estates
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A district court dismissed Plaintiff–Appellant Lawrence Smallen and Laura Smallen Revocable Living Trust’s securities-fraud class action against Defendant–Appellee The Western Union Company and several of its current and former executive officers (collectively, “Defendants”). Following the announcements of Western Union’s settlements with regulators in January 2017 and the subsequent drop in the price of the company’s stock shares, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on behalf of itself and other similarly situated shareholders. In its complaint, Plaintiff alleged Defendants committed securities fraud by making false or materially misleading public statements between February 24, 2012, and May 2, 2017 regarding, among other things, Western Union’s compliance with anti-money laundering and anti-fraud laws. The district court dismissed the complaint because Plaintiff failed to adequately plead scienter under the heightened standard imposed by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PSLRA”). While the Tenth Circuit found the complaint may have given rise to some plausible inference of culpability on Defendants' part, the Court concurred Plaintiff failed to plead particularized facts giving rise to the strong inference of scienter required to state a claim under the PSLRA, thus affirming dismissal. View "Smallen Revocable Living Trust v. Western Union Company" on Justia Law

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McKnight, a bartender, became friends with Fewlas. McKnight rented an apartment in his duplex. For 17 years, McKnight lived in this upstairs apartment with her boyfriend, Kurt. Fewlas and McKnight did not always get along. Fewlas disliked Kurt. Fewlas died, having accumulated more than $2.2 million. McKnight went on a spending spree. She withdrew over $600,000 in 171 different transactions—all in amounts less than $10,000. This suspicious conduct got the IRS’s attention; the IRS suspected that Fewlas had not left his estate to McKnight. Kurt confessed that he had forged Fewlas’s signature on a fake will, prepared by attorney Pioch. His confession resulted in multiple convictions. The Sixth Circuit affirmed in part, rejecting a Confrontation Clause claim based on the admission of Kurt’s videotaped deposition testimony. Kurt was 76 years old, in poor health, and unable to travel at the time of trial. The court also upheld the admission of testimony concerning handwriting analysis. The court remanded for reconsideration of a motion for a new trial because the court conflated the rules, repeatedly characterizing its task as evaluating the sufficiency of the evidence, rather than weighing the evidence for itself. The court vacated the sentences: the court enhanced sentencing ranges after concluding that the defendants caused financial hardship to the putative beneficiary of Fewlas’s estate but the Guidelines did not contain that enhancement at the time of the misconduct. View "United States v. Pioch" on Justia Law

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In 2009 Betty and Wayne submitted a tax return on behalf of a Betty Phillips Trust, signed by Betty, who was listed as the trustee, claiming income of $47,997. A second return on behalf of a Wayne Phillips trust, was signed by Wayne, but Betty was listed as trustee. This return reported income of $1,057,585. Both returns claimed that all income had gone to pay fiduciary fees, so that the trusts had no taxable income. The Wayne Trust claimed a refund of $352,528. The Betty Trust claimed $15,999. The IRS issued a check for $352,528. They endorsed the check and deposited it into a joint account. The returns were fraudulent. The IRS had no record of any taxes being paid by the trusts. In December, the IRS served summonses. That month, the couple withdrew $244,137 remaining from their refund proceeds using 13 different locations. They followed the same strategy the next year, but did not receive checks. A jury convicted Betty of conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims (18 U.S.C. 286), and of knowingly making a false claim to the government (18 U.S.C. 287.1). The district court sentenced her to 41 months’ imprisonment and ordered them to pay $352,528 in restitution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting claims that the court improperly admitted evidence, and that the government constructively amended the indictment and violated Betty’s right against self‐incrimination.View "United States v. Phillips" on Justia Law

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Petitioner’s father established a trust for the benefit of petitioner and his siblings, and made petitioner the nonprofessional trustee. The trust’s sole asset was the father’s life insurance policy. Petitioner borrowed funds from the trust three times; all borrowed funds were repaid with interest. His siblings obtained a state court judgment for breach of fiduciary duty, though the court found no apparent malicious motive. The court imposed constructive trusts on petitioner’s interests, including his interest in the original trust, to secure payment of the judgment, with respondent serving as trustee for all of the trusts. Petitioner filed for bankruptcy. Respondent opposed discharge of debts to the trust. The Bankruptcy Court held that petitioner’s debts were not dischargeable under 11 U. S. C. 523(a)(4), which provides that an individual cannot obtain a bankruptcy discharge from a debt “for fraud or defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity, embezzlement, or larceny.” The district court and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated. The term “defalcation” in the Bankruptcy Code includes a culpable state of mind requirement involving knowledge of, or gross recklessness in respect to, the improper nature of the fiduciary behavior. The Court previously interpreted the term “fraud” in the exceptions to mean “positive fraud, or fraud in fact, involving moral turpitude or intentional wrong.” The term “defalcation” should be treated similarly. Where the conduct does not involve bad faith, moral turpitude, or other immoral conduct, “defalcation” requires an intentional wrong. An intentional wrong includes not only conduct that the fiduciary knows is improper but also reckless conduct of the kind that the criminal law often treats as the equivalent. Where actual knowledge of wrongdoing is lacking, conduct is considered as equivalent if, as set forth in the Model Penal Code, the fiduciary “consciously disregards,” or is willfully blind to, “a substantial and unjustifiable risk” that his conduct will violate a fiduciary duty. View "Bullock v. BankChampaign, N. A." on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. 2255 federal habeas corpus petition based upon the Supreme Court's decision in Skilling v. United States, which narrowed the scope of the honest services fraud theory. Defendant,a former attorney and trustee of private trusts, pleaded guilty to honest services fraud. The government conceded that defendant was actually innocent of honest services fraud in light of Skilling, which confined the reach of the offense to cases of bribes and kickbacks. The court vacated the district court's dismissal of defendant's honest services fraud claim where no evidence suggested that defendant either engaged in bribery or received kickbacks. View "United States v. Avery" on Justia Law

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Petitioner’s father established a trust for the benefit of petitioner and his siblings, and made petitioner the nonprofessional trustee. The trust’s sole asset was the father’s life insurance policy. Petitioner borrowed funds from the trust three times; all borrowed funds were repaid with interest. His siblings obtained a state court judgment for breach of fiduciary duty, though the court found no apparent malicious motive. The court imposed constructive trusts on petitioner’s interests, including his interest in the original trust, to secure payment of the judgment, with respondent serving as trustee for all of the trusts. Petitioner filed for bankruptcy. Respondent opposed discharge of debts to the trust. The Bankruptcy Court held that petitioner’s debts were not dischargeable under 11 U. S. C. 523(a)(4), which provides that an individual cannot obtain a bankruptcy discharge from a debt “for fraud or defalcation while acting in a fiduciary capacity, embezzlement, or larceny.” The district court and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The Supreme Court vacated. The term “defalcation” in the Bankruptcy Code includes a culpable state of mind requirement involving knowledge of, or gross recklessness in respect to, the improper nature of the fiduciary behavior. The Court previously interpreted the term “fraud” in the exceptions to mean “positive fraud, or fraud in fact, involving moral turpitude or intentional wrong.” The term “defalcation” should be treated similarly. Where the conduct does not involve bad faith, moral turpitude, or other immoral conduct, “defalcation” requires an intentional wrong. An intentional wrong includes not only conduct that the fiduciary knows is improper but also reckless conduct of the kind that the criminal law often treats as the equivalent. Where actual knowledge of wrongdoing is lacking, conduct is considered as equivalent if, as set forth in the Model Penal Code, the fiduciary “consciously disregards,” or is willfully blind to, “a substantial and unjustifiable risk” that his conduct will violate a fiduciary duty. View "Bullock v. BankChampaign, N. A." on Justia Law

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Four defendants were convicted of conspiring to defraud the U.S. by impeding the functions of the IRS and of related fraud and tax offenses in connection with abusive trusts promoted by two Illinois companies. Although the system of trusts was portrayed as a legitimate, sophisticated means of tax minimization grounded in the common law, the system was in essence a sham, designed solely to conceal a trust purchaser’s assets and income from the IRS. It was promoted through a network of corrupt promoters, managers, attorneys, and accountants, but prospective customers who sought independent advice were routinely warned of its flaws. Defendants were sentenced to prison terms of 120 to 223 months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Vallone" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Waterford Investment Services, Inc. appealed the district court’s ruling that it must arbitrate certain claims that a group of investors brought before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). The investors alleged in their FINRA claims that they received bad advice from their financial advisor, George Gilbert. The investors named Gilbert, his current investment firm, Waterford, and his prior firm, Community Bankers Securities, LLC (CBS), among others as parties to the arbitration. In response, Waterford filed this suit asking a federal district court to enjoin the arbitration proceedings and enter a declaratory judgment that Waterford need not arbitrate the claims. The district court, adopting the recommendations of a magistrate judge, concluded that because Gilbert was an "associated person" of Waterford during the events in question, Waterford must arbitrate the investors' claims. Upon review of the matter, the Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding that Gilbert was inextricably an "associated person" with Waterford, and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in adopting the magistrate judge's opinion. View "Waterford Investment Services v. Bosco" on Justia Law

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Petitioners appealed from a Memorandum and Order and Final Order of Forfeiture entered by the district court dismissing their petition for an ancillary hearing and rejecting their claim as beneficiaries of a putative constructive trust in defendant's forfeiture assets. At issue was whether the remission provision of 21 U.S.C. 853(i) precluded the imposition of a constructive trust in petitioners' favor and whether imposing a constructive trust would be consistent with a forfeiture statutory scheme provided by section 853. Because the court concluded that section 853(i) did not preclude, as a matter of law, recognizing a constructive trust and because a constructive trust was not inconsistent with the forfeiture statute, the court vacated the Final Order of Forfeiture and remanded the case to the district court to consider whether, pursuant to Vermont law, a constructive trust should be recognized in favor of petitioners.