Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of a motion brought by plaintiffs, four affiliated Chinese companies, seeking to dismiss an indictment charging violations of the criminal provisions of the Economic Espionage Act. The Pangang Companies moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that they are "instrumentalities" of the government of the People's Republic of China (PRC) and are therefore entitled to sovereign immunity under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (FSIA).After determining that it had appellate jurisdiction, the panel concluded that, in moving to dismiss the indictment, the Pangang Companies failed to carry their burden to make a prima facie showing that they are instrumentalities of a foreign sovereign within the meaning of the FSIA. In this case, the allegations of the indictment, standing alone, are insufficient to establish that the Pangang Companies were instrumentalities of the PRC on the date they were indicted. The panel explained that, because the Pangang Companies relied solely upon the indictment’s allegations, and presented no evidence to support their motion to dismiss, they necessarily failed to establish a prima facie case that they were foreign states entitled to immunity under section 1604 of the FSIA. Therefore, the motion to dismiss was properly denied. View "United States v. Pangang Group Co." on Justia Law

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Attia developed architecture technology called “Engineered Architecture” (EA). Google and Attia worked together on “Project Genie” to implement EA. Attia disclosed his EA trade secrets with the understanding that he would be compensated if the program were successful. After Attia executed patent assignments Google filed patent applications relating to the EA trade secrets and showed a prototype of the EA technology to investors. The patents were published in 2012. Google then allegedly excluded Attia from the project and used Attia’s EA technology to create a new venture. Attia sued Google for state law trade secret and contract claims. After Congress enacted the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA), 130 Stat. 376, making criminal misappropriation of a trade secret a predicate act under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), Attia added RICO claims, 18 U.S.C. 1962(c). The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the RICO and DTSA claims. The misappropriation of a trade secret before the enactment of the DTSA does not preclude a claim arising from post-enactment misappropriation or continued use of the same trade secret but Attia lacked standing to assert a DTSA claim. Google’s 2012 patent applications placed the information in the public domain and extinguished its trade secret status. The court rejected an argument that Google was equitably estopped from using the publication of its patent applications to defend against the DTSA claim. View "Attia v. Google, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's sentence for mail fraud stemming from his involvement in a lucrative unemployment-fraud scheme. The panel held that the evidence supported the district court's finding that the losses exceeded $3.5 million and losses exceeding $3.5 million merit an 18-level enhancement under USSG 2B1.1(b)(1)(J). In this case, although the district court cited the correct sentencing provision, it incorrectly stated that it was imposing a 16-level enhancement. However, despite this misstatement, the panel held that it was not error for the district court to apply the 18-level enhancement. The panel also held that the evidence supports the district court's imposition of a leadership-role enhancement under USSG 3B1.1(b) where defendant was a leader within the unemployment-fraud scheme, and he was properly treated as such at sentencing.Finally, the panel held that state government agencies who suffer losses that are included in the actual loss calculation under USSG 2B1.1(b)(1) are properly counted as victims for purposes of the number-of-victims enhancement in USSG 2B1.1(b)(2)(A)(I). Therefore, the panel held that the district court did not err in applying an enhancement for 10 or more victims because there can be no doubt that EDD suffered losses and because EDD is properly considered a victim under section 2B1.1(b)(2)(A)(i). View "United States v. Herrera" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions and sentence for wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and securities fraud. Defendant, who served as Chief Financial Officer of Autonomy Corporation, a U.K. technology company that Hewlett-Packard acquired in 2011, and others fraudulently inflated revenue through a series of elaborate accounting schemes.The Ninth Circuit held that defendant's wire fraud convictions did not involve an impermissible extraterritorial application of United States law to foreign conduct because the "focus" of the wire fraud statute is the use of the wires in furtherance of a scheme to defraud, and defendant used domestic wires to perpetrate his fraud. The panel also held that there was sufficient evidence to support defendant's conviction for securities fraud because a reasonable jury could conclude that defendant's approval of false and misleading financial information in an HP press release distributed to the investing public reflected a fraudulent scheme "in connection with" U.S. securities. The panel concurrently filed a memorandum disposition holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in certain evidentiary rulings or err in ordering money forfeiture. View "United States v. Hussain" on Justia Law

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After defendant was indicted on healthcare fraud and money laundering charges, he challenged a pre-trial repatriation order entered by the district court as a violation of his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The order requires defendant to repatriate any proceeds of the fraudulent scheme that he may have transferred to any African bank during a three-year period, up to $7,287,000, despite the indictment alleging that he transferred only $760,000 to two specific banks in Uganda and Kenya.The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's order, holding that the challenged order compels defendant to incriminate himself by personally identifying, and demonstrating his control over, untold amounts of money located in places the government may not presently know about. The panel also held that the district court failed to apply the proper "foregone conclusion" exception test, relieving the government of its obligation to prove its prior knowledge of the incriminating information that may be implicitly communicated by repatriation. The panel explained that the order allows the government to shirk its responsibility to discover its own evidence, and the government's narrow promise of limited use immunity is insufficient to counterbalance these harms. Accordingly, the panel remanded with instructions to conduct an evidentiary hearing. View "United States v. Oriho" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed defendants' conviction for federal mortgage fraud. In this case, the government disclosed after the close of evidence information impeaching a government witness in violation of Brady v. Maryland.The panel held that there is a reasonable likelihood that the undisclosed evidence impeaching the government witness could have affected the judgment of the jury. The panel explained that the impeachment substantially weakened the credibility of the government's cooperating witnesses and the strength of its case, and the panel could not conclude that the district court's instruction fully cured the prejudice. Furthermore, given the difficulty the jury faced in reaching a verdict, the panel could not say with confidence that the undisclosed impeachment did not affect the jury's judgment. Accordingly, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Obagi" on Justia Law

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The City of Almaty, in Kazakhstan, filed suit against defendant and his family under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), alleging that they engaged in a scheme to defraud the city of millions of dollars. The City claimed that it was forced to spend money and resources in the United States to trace where its money was laundered. The district court dismissed the City's claim on the basis that it failed to state a domestic injury pursuant to the Supreme Court's recent decision in RJR Nabisco, Inc. v. European Community, 136 S. Ct. 2090 (2016).The Ninth Circuit held that the City failed to state any cognizable injury other than the foreign theft of its funds, and its voluntary expenditures were not proximately caused by defendants' acts of money laundering. In this case, the City's expenditure of funds to trace its allegedly stolen funds is a consequential damage of the initial theft suffered in Kazakhstan and is not causally connected to the predicate act of money laundering. View "City of Almaty v. Khrapunov" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of wire fraud and filing false tax returns. The jury found that defendant embezzled over $300,000 from the company for which he served as managing member and president.The panel overruled its prior decisions in light of the Supreme Court's intervening decision in Shaw v. United States, 137 S. Ct. 462 (2016), and held that wire fraud under 18 U.S.C. 1343 requires the intent to deceive and cheat, and that the jury charge instructing that wire fraud requires the intent to "deceive or cheat" was therefore erroneous. However, in this case, the panel held that the erroneous instruction was harmless. The panel noted that it was deeply troubled by an Assistant U.S. Attorney's disregard for elementary prosecutorial ethics, but that the misconduct did not entitle defendant to any relief. The attorney here had a personal and financial interest in the outcome of the case. The panel wrote that as soon as the Department of Justice became aware of the impropriety, it took every necessary step to cure any resulting taint, including turning over the entire prosecution of the case to disinterested prosecutors from the Southern District of California. Finally, the panel found defendant's remaining arguments to be without merit. View "United States v. Miller" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's convictions for health care fraud where the evidence of actual knowledge was overwhelming, and thus the court did not need to determinate whether the district court erred in giving a deliberate ignorance instruction on the knowledge element of health care fraud. Furthermore, the panel rejected defendant's arguments regarding the sufficiency of the illegal remunerations convictions.However, the panel reversed the aggravated identity theft convictions, because defendant did not "use" the patients' identities within the meaning of 18 U.S.C. 1028A. The panel also held that United States v. Osuna-Alvarez, 788 F.3d 1183 (9th Cir. 2015), foreclosed defendant's claim that the "without lawful authority" element of aggravated identity theft was not satisfied because the patients voluntarily provided their information. Finally, the panel held that the district court did not err in applying sentencing enhancements for obstruction of justice and aggravating role in the offense. The panel remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Hong" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for engaging in a monetary transaction of over $10,000 derived from a specified unlawful activity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1956. In this case, defendant, a citizen of South Korea employed at a government-funded research institute, solicited and received payments from two seismometer manufacturers in exchange for ensuring that the research institute purchased their products, and gave the companies inside information about their competitors.The panel held that "bribery of a public official" in section 1956 is defined by that phrase's ordinary, contemporary, common meaning and is not constrained by 18 U.S.C. 201, a statute to which section 1956 makes no reference. Because the panel found the crime described in Article 129 of the South Korean Criminal Code fits comfortably within the ordinary meaning of "bribery of a public official" as used in section 1956, the panel held that the indictment was sufficient and that there was no instructional error. View "United States v. Heon-Cheol Chi" on Justia Law