Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
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Defendants appealed their convictions and the ensuing sentences on multiple counts arising out of their conspiracy to commit access device fraud. On appeal they argued that: (1) law enforcement agents violated their Fourth Amendment rights by illegally entering their house after arresting them; (2) the district court impermissibly lowered the government’s burden of proof during voir dire; (3) the district court erred in applying two-level enhancements to their base offense levels for possessing device-making equipment; (4) the district court erred in applying two-level aggravating-role enhancements; (5) their total sentences were procedurally unreasonable; and, finally, (6) their sentences, overall, were substantively unreasonable.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court the record demonstrates Defendants’ deep involvement in the planning and organization of the fraudulent scheme and their vital role in the commission of the offenses, as well as their involvement in decision-making and recruitment, all of which was far more extensive than the role played by the co-conspirator. To the extent Defendants argue that they could not both receive aggravating-role enhancements since they were equally involved, a defendant eligible for an aggravating-role enhancement “does not have to be the sole leader of the conspiracy for the enhancement to apply.” The district court did not clearly err in applying the aggravating-role enhancements to the brothers’ offense levels. Further, the court wrote that the district court imposed an otherwise substantively reasonable total sentence for each defendant. View "USA v. Igor Grushko, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendants 1 and 2 are siblings and were indicted on substantive counts of health care fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering related to their activities running a "pill mill." The District Court precluded evidence that Defendant 1 provided good care to his patients. The court also precluded evidence proffered by Defendant 2 (the younger sibling) that it is part of the Nigerian culture to defer to older siblings' decisions. Following their convictions, Defendant's challenged the court's evidentiary rulings as well as the sufficiency of the evidence.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions, rejecting all claims of error. The court also determined that the evidence was sufficient to support their convictions. View "USA v. Patrick Emeka Ifediba, et al" on Justia Law

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Following proceedings in district court, the trial court t entered a final judgment, finding Defendant liable, ordering him to disgorge over $4,000,000 in funds, and placing two of his entities under receivership in order to sell and reorganize assets to repay investors. Later, a federal grand jury sitting in Miami returned a superseding indictment that described consistent with the district court’s findings of fact.   After an extradition request was filed by the United States, the Supreme Court of Brazil allowed him to be extradited. He returned to the United States, and on the eve of trial, following over a year of pretrial proceedings, Defendant entered into a plea agreement, agreeing to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud. The district court later sentenced Defendant to 220 months’ imprisonment and ordered him to pay $169,177,338 in restitution.   On appeal, Defendant broadly argues: (1) that the custodial sentence imposed and the order of restitution violate the extradition treaty; and (2) that his guilty plea was not made freely and voluntarily. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court fully satisfied the core concerns of Rule 11, and the court could discern no reason to conclude that the district court plainly erred in finding that Defendant’s guilty plea was entered knowingly and voluntarily. The court explained that in this case, the record fully reflects that Defendant agreed to be sentenced subject to a 20-year maximum term, and his 220-month sentence is near the low end of his agreed-upon 210-to-240-month range. View "USA v. John J. Utsick" on Justia Law

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Defendant filed various false liens against John Koskinen, the former Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, and Jacob Lew, the former Secretary of the Treasury. There is no dispute that Pate filed the false liens to retaliate against Lew and Koskinen for acts they performed as part of their official duties. Defendant filed the false liens after Lew and Koskinen had left their positions with the federal government.The Eleventh Circuit was therefore presented d with the following question: Does Section 1521 apply to false liens filed against former federal officers and employees for official actions they performed while in service with the federal government? The court concluded that the answer to this question is yes—the plain language of Section 1521 covers both current and former federal officers and employees. The court explained that a reading of the statute’s plain language—“any person assisting such an officer or employee in the performance of such duties or on account of that assistance”—does not suggest that its protection ends at some ascertainable point in time. Like the language regarding a federal officer or employee, the language regarding a person who lends assistance to a federal officer or employee has both a temporal qualification on liability. Thus, the court affirmed Defendant’s convictions predicated on violations of Section 1521. View "USA v. Timothy Jermaine Pate" on Justia Law

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Defendant was indicted tried, convicted, and sentenced to 28 months imprisonment for her part in a broader scheme to defraud the federal government out of relief funds intended for farmers affected by drought and fire. She challenged both her conviction and her sentence. As to her conviction, she contends that the evidence preponderated against a guilty verdict such that the district court abused its discretion when it denied her motion for a new trial. As to her sentence, she asserts that her bottom-of-the-Guidelines term of imprisonment is substantively unreasonable.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant’s motion for a new trial. Neither did it abuse its discretion when it imposed a bottom-of-the-Guidelines sentence of 28 months’ imprisonment. The court explained that allowing the verdict to stand in the face of an arguable inconsistency—of which the jury was made aware, and which doesn’t bear on an element of the conviction—is not a miscarriage of justice. Further, the court reasoned that the weight of the evidence does not preponderate against a guilty verdict in this case. Finally, the court explained that Defendant never mentioned the Section 3553(a) factors or explains how the court committed reversible error when it considered them. Accordingly, she has failed to carry her burden of establishing that the sentence is unreasonable in the light of both the record and the factors in Section 3553(a). View "USA v. Danyel Michelle Witt" on Justia Law

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Defendants Bramwell, Howard, and Stone were convicted of crimes involving the millions of dollars that Tricare paid Howard for filling compounded cream prescriptions for patients. Bramwell wrote the vast majority of those prescriptions, and Stone helped in recruiting some of the patients for whom Howard filled prescriptions. Defendants were convicted for paying or receiving kickbacks and conspiring to do it. Howard was also convicted of laundering some of the proceeds.The Eleventh Circuit concluded that the evidence was sufficient to support defendants' convictions. In this case, the evidence was sufficient to prove that Howard paid, and Bramwell received kickbacks and that they conspired to do so; that Howard paid, and Stone received, kickbacks and that they conspired to do so; and that Howard laundered money. The court also concluded that there was no constructive amendment to the indictment. However, the court concluded that Bramwell's sentence of probation is substantively unreasonable where the district court clearly erred in weighing the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors. Accordingly, the court vacated Bramwell's sentence and remanded for further proceedings. The court otherwise affirmed the judgments. View "United States v. Howard" on Justia Law

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Hardwick helped found a law firm, MHS. MHS later sold part of its foreclosure operation. Hardwick received $14-$15 million in compensation. Hardwick lost the money and owed millions in loans, many for gambling debts. When a bank and a casino sued him, Hardwick lied to a different bank in a line-of-credit application. In addition, in 2011-2014, Hardwick siphoned off about $26.5 million from MHS; $19 million came from trust accounts. Hardwick relied heavily on Maurya, who initially worked as an MHS controller. Hardwick promoted Maurya to CFO, giving her broad authority over the trust accounts. At Hardwick’s request, she repeatedly sent money from MHS to Hardwick or his creditors and significantly underreported the distributions. After a 2014 internal audit, Hardwick was convicted of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and making false statements to a federally insured financial institution and was sentenced to 180 months’ imprisonment—an upward variance from the Guidelines range of 108-135 months. Maurya received a sentence of 84 months. A restitution order required Maurya and Hardwick to pay, jointly and severally, $40,307,431.00.The Eleventh Circuit vacated the restitution order as not supported by the reasoning required by law; affirmed Hardwick’s convictions and sentence; and vacated Maurya’s sentence. The district court violated the Ex Post Facto Clause by applying the 2018 Guidelines, which included a two-level substantial financial hardship enhancement added in 2015, after Maurya’s offense. View "United States v. Maurya" on Justia Law

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Smith, a software engineer, obtained the coordinates of artificial fishing reefs in the Gulf of Mexico from a website owned by StrikeLines, a Florida business. Smith remained in Mobile, Alabama while posting information about the reef coordinates on Facebook. Smith initially agreed to remove the posts and to assist Strikelines with its security issues in exchange for additional coordinates but communications broke down. StrikeLines contacted law enforcement. Officers executed a search warrant and found StrikeLines’s coordinates and other customer and sales data on Smith’s devices. Smith was charged in the Northern District of Florida with violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2)(C), (c)(2)(B)(iii), theft of trade secrets, and transmitting a threat through interstate commerce with intent to extort. Smith argued that venue was improper because all the prohibited conduct occurred in the Alabama and the data that was accessed and obtained was in the Middle District of Florida.Smith was convicted on the trade secrets and extortion counts in the Northern District of Florida. The Eleventh Circuit vacated Smith’s trade secrets conviction and related sentencing enhancements for lack of venue, affirmed the extortion conviction and related sentencing enhancements, and remanded. Smith never committed any essential conduct for the trade secrets conviction in the Northern District of Florida. Sufficient evidence supported the extortion conviction. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Five co-defendants were charged with wire fraud, mail fraud, and conspiracy for their involvement in a telemarketing scheme to defraud stock investors. After an eight-week trial, during which the defendants made several motions for mistrial, the jury found each defendant guilty on all counts. At a post-trial hearing, the district court found that the prosecution had acted improperly in closing arguments but denied the defendants’ motions for mistrial. The court then granted judgments of acquittal based on insufficient evidence as to two defendants.The Eleventh Circuit reversed the judgments of acquittal granted to Wheeler and Long because there is a reasonable construction of the evidence that supports the jury’s verdicts. Sufficient evidence also supported the convictions of Sgarro, Smigrod, and Topping. The prosecution’s behavior did not rise to the level of misconduct. The theory-of-defense instruction explained that there is a “difference between deceiving and defrauding.” It is "cause for concern: that the prosecutor told the jury that this instruction was “not the law.” When considered in context, however, the prosecutor’s remarks were not -improper. The district judge repeatedly emphasized to the lawyers that the theory-of-defense instruction was not an instruction about the law and did not affect the legal elements for mail and wire fraud. Nor did any of the evidentiary rulings or the jury instructions warrant reversal. View "United States v. Wheeler" on Justia Law

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The Eleventh Circuit affirmed Defendants Goldstein and Bercoon's convictions for charges related to their involvement in a market-manipulation scheme involving shares of MedCareers Group, Inc. (MCGI) and a scheme to defraud investors in Find.com Acquisition, Inc. (Find.com).The court concluded that the magistrate judge did not err in concluding that there was probable cause to support the wiretap affidavit and satisfied the necessity requirement. Furthermore, defendants have not shown that the district court erred in concluding that the wiretap evidence was admissible under the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule, even assuming there was some deficiency in the necessity or probable cause showing. The court also concluded that, because defendants did not make a substantial preliminary showing that the law enforcement agent deliberately or recklessly omitted material information from his wiretap affidavit, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying their motions for a Franks hearing; any variance in the indictment did not cause prejudice warranting relief; defendants' claims of prosecutorial misconduct failed; the district court did not err in suppressing Goldstein's statements to an SEC attorney; the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Goldstein's request for an evidentiary hearing; the district court did not err in imposing joint and several liability; and the court found no basis to dismiss Bercoon's indictment. View "United States v. Goldstein" on Justia Law