Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
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Defendant was convicted on all five counts of a 2011 indictment charging himself and two co-conspirators with a variety of offenses arising from a well-orchestrated scheme to circumvent American export controls designed to prevent dual-use commodities—goods with both civilian and military applications—from falling into the hands of adversaries like Iran. On appeal, Defendant seeks reversal and remand on three independent grounds.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that because of the Government’s diligence and Defendant’s evasiveness, the first two factors in the Barker balancing test weigh decidedly against Defendant’s speedy trial claim. The court wrote this is a case where a defendant who took steps to avoid being caught now faults the Government for not catching him sooner. Further, Defendant’s efforts to avoid apprehension cut against his speedy trial assertion in another way, as well—they betray a lack of diligence in asserting the right. Thus, because the Barker balancing test weighs overwhelmingly against Defendant, the district court was correct to deny his motion to dismiss for lack of speedy trial.   Finally, because the Sixth Amendment does not require a district court to render a particularized dissertation to justify a partial courtroom closure that is reasonable, neutral, and largely trivial (i.e., requiring spectators to watch and listen on live stream rather than in-person), the district court’s partial closure of Defendant’s jury trial was not unconstitutional. View "USA v. Ansari" on Justia Law

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Defendants were convicted by a jury of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) by interfering with its lawful functions and evasion of payment of taxes. On appeal, Defendants both challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting their convictions and raise challenges to a number of jury instructions.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the district court’s denial of Defendant’s last-minute continuance request was not an abuse of discretion, and Defendant was not denied the counsel of his choice. Further, because Defendant failed to meaningfully address all four prongs of plain error review either in his opening brief or in reply, his constructive amendment challenge fails.   Further, the court wrote, that viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence showed that Defendant failed to report a substantial amount of income; influenced MyMail to amend its tax return to underreport how much income it distributed to Defendant; converted at least $1 million of income into gold coins; purchased a house with gold coins and transferred it to a trust controlled by a relative; and hid his income in Co-Defendant’s trust accounts and used the concealed funds to pay his living expenses for at least a decade, including during the years that the IRS Agent was contacting Defendants, as Defendant’s IRS power-of-attorney, in an attempt to collect Defendant’s unpaid tax liabilities. Based on the foregoing evidence, a reasonable jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt both willfulness and an affirmative act of evasion. View "USA v. Selgas" on Justia Law

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Defendant owned and operated a healthcare clinic. Along with another provider, Defendant engaged in a scheme to fraudulently bill Medicare for home health services that were not properly authorized, not medically necessary, and, in some cases, not provided. Insiders testified to Defendant's role in the conspiracy, indicating she knew the home healthcare agencies were paying marketers to recruit patients. Defendant also told an undercover FBI agent she could show him how to make money by recruiting patients. Defendant was convicted and sentenced to 300 months in federal prison.Defendant appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence against her. However, the Fifth Circuit affirmed her conviction, finding that a rational jury could have concluded that Defendant knew about and willfully joined the conspiracy. Additionally, the court rejected Defendant's challenges to her sentence, finding that the district court did not commit a procedural error and that her sentence was not substantively unreasonable. View "USA v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law

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Defendant and several others were indicted on various healthcare fraud offenses stemming from a scheme in which Defendant and others would pay TRICARE beneficiaries to order certain creams and vitamins. At a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud, one count of receiving an illegal kickback payment, and six counts of making illegal kickback payments. The District Court sentenced Defendant to 240 months imprisonment.On appeal, Defendant challenged, among other things, the sufficiency of the evidence pertaining to his convictions for paying illegal kickbacks. The Fifth Circuit agreed with Defendant's reasoning that he did not "induce" TRICARE beneficiaries to order the substances by paying them because the substances were for their own use. Thus, the court reversed Defendant's convictions for paying illegal kickback payments. The court affirmed Defendant's other convictions and remanded for resentencing. View "USA v. Cooper" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions and sentences for multiple counts of health care fraud and conspiracy stemming from their involvement in a scheme to falsely certify that patients were eligible for home health or hospice services. The court concluded that sufficient evidence supports defendants' convictions for health care fraud and conspiracy to commit that fraud. The court rejected defendants' contention that the government offered no proof that they knew the patients were ineligible for home health and hospice, and that the government did not prove the ineligibility of the six patients whose claims were listed as the substantive fraud counts. Rather, the record shows that defendants were intimately involved with the fraud, and that the certifications for all six patients were either outright lies or based on fabricated medical records.The court also concluded that the district court properly calculated the loss amount when sentencing defendants. In this case, the district court found that defendants' fraud was pervasive and thus treated the entire amount that they billed to Medicare as the intended loss, enhancing defendants' offense levels by 24 points, resulting in an advisory Sentencing Guidelines range of life in prison pursuant to USSG 2B1.1. View "United States v. Mesquias" on Justia Law

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Bittner non-willfully failed to report his interests in foreign bank accounts on annual FBAR forms, as required by the Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 (BSA), 31 U.S.C. 5314. The Act imposes no penalty for a non-willful violation if “such violation was due to reasonable cause.”The government assessed $2.72 million in civil penalties against him—$10,000 for each unreported account each year from 2007 to 2011. The district court found Bittner liable and denied his reasonable-cause defense but reduced the assessment to $50,000, holding that the $10,000 maximum penalty attaches to each failure to file an annual FBAR, not to each failure to report an account.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the denial of Bittner’s reasonable-cause defense. Bittner did not exercise ordinary business care and prudence in failing to fulfill his reporting obligations. In assessing reasonable cause, the most important factor is the extent of the taxpayer’s effort to assess his proper liability. The court reversed with respect to the application of the $10,000 penalty. Each failure to report a qualifying foreign account constitutes a separate reporting violation subject to penalty. The penalty applies on a per-account, not a per-form, basis. View "United States v. Bittner" on Justia Law

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Dr. Narang and Moparty were convicted of Conspiracy to Commit Health Care Fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1349; Health Care Fraud, section 1347, and Engaging in Monetary Transactions in Property Derived from Specified Unlawful Activity, section 1957. Narang is an internist who practiced at his Texas self-owned clinic, North Cypress. Moparty co-owned Red Oak Hospital and served as an administrator for Trinity Health Network, which provided staffing and administrative services to health care entities. Narang ordered unnecessary medical tests for patients and then authorized Moparty to bill for these tests at the higher hospital rate even though these patients were seen and treated at Narang’s North Cypress office. The indictment alleged that this scheme resulted in fraudulent billing of over $20 million to Blue Cross Blue Shield, Aetna, and Cigna. Those companies paid Moparty at least $3.2 million in reimbursement for those claims which he allegedly split with Narang through a series of financial transactions.The court sentenced Moparty to 108 months and Narang to 121 months of imprisonment, with joint and several liability for $2,621,999.04 in restitution. The Fifth Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and finding that, although the government made repeated errors, those errors did not warrant reversal. View "United States v. Moparty" on Justia Law

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In a previous lawsuit, HCB won a $2 million judgment against Lee McPherson for a defaulted loan. After unsuccessful attempts to collect, HCB filed suit against McPherson, seeking treble damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). One month after HCB filed suit, McPherson registered the $2 million judgment plus interest with the first court. The district court dismissed the suit with prejudice, concluding that McPherson satisfied the underlying judgment and thus HCB suffered no injury.The Fifth Circuit joined its sister circuit and held that a plaintiff may not recover treble damages sustained in a RICO action after the underlying debt is satisfied. In this case, because HCB recovered its lost debt shortly after filing suit, the court concluded that the debt is no longer lost. The court explained that HCB points to a speculative investment return even though it received post-judgment interest, and thus it has no legal claim to lost investment opportunity. Therefore, HCB cannot plead an essential statutory element of a RICO offense. Because no amendment can cure that pleading defect, the district court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing the federal claims with prejudice or declining supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law claims. View "HCB Financial Corp. v. McPherson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against Lexington Law and its vendor, Progrexion, for purportedly perpetrating a fraud in which the firm failed to disclose that it was sending letters to the companies in its clients' names and on their behalves. After a jury agreed that defendants violated Texas law in committing fraud and fraud by non-disclosure, the district court set aside the verdict and issued judgment in favor of defendants as a matter of law.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, concluding that plaintiffs have not shown that defendants committed fraud. In this case, the district court concluded that defendants did not make any false representations (material or otherwise) when signing and sending the dispute letters because Lexington Law had the legal right to sign its clients' names on the correspondence it sent on their behalf to data furnishers who reported inaccurate information about the clients' credit. Furthermore, Progrexion cannot be liable for fraud since it, like Lexington Law, did not make any material misrepresentations. The court also concluded that plaintiffs' fraud by non-disclosure claim must be dismissed because they did not justifiably rely on any failure of defendants to disclose material facts, and plaintiffs have not shown that defendants had a duty to disclose that they were the ones actually sending the dispute letters. Additionally, plaintiffs have not shown that Progrexion disclosed any facts—material or otherwise—and so cannot be liable for fraud by nondisclosure. The court explained that the fact that Lexington Law had the legal right to send dispute letters on their clients behalves and in their names suggests that the firm did not make any false representations, and thus the firm did not create any false impressions requiring disclosure. Finally, plaintiffs waived their conspiracy claim by failing to move for judgment as a matter of law on the claim before and after the case was submitted to the jury or for a new trial. View "The CBE Group, Inc. v. Lexington Law Firm" on Justia Law

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Defendant was indicted in a second superseding indictment on eight charges of false use of a passport in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1543, and eight charges of misuse of a passport in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1544. The Government now agrees that the convictions under section 1544 must be vacated based on insufficient evidence.The Fifth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for false use of a passport and held that there was ample evidence, both direct and circumstantial, to conclude that defendant used fraudulent passports to open accounts at various banks in the Houston area. Because the court has determined that there is insufficient evidence to support defendant's section 1544 convictions for misuse of a passport, the court need not address defendant's argument that the district court erred in denying his motion to dismiss the indictment as to those charges. Finally, the court also held that defendant failed to show that the district court plainly erred in allowing certain lay opinion testimony and failed to demonstrate that the district court clearly erred in its loss calculation. Accordingly, the court vacated the section 1544 convictions and affirmed the section 1543 convictions. View "United States v. Masha" on Justia Law