Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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In a case in which the Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s decision filed April 7, 2020, and reported at 954 F.3d 1251 (9th Cir. 2020), the panel filed an amended order granting the government’s motion to reinstate portions of April 7, 2020, opinion, to the following extent:   The panel reversed the district court’s judgment on Counts Four (money laundering) and Ten (possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence). The panel affirmed—for the reasons explained in April 7, 2020, opinion—on all remaining Counts: One, Eight (conspiracy to commit Hobbs Act robbery); Two (Hobbs Act robbery); Three (possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence); and Nine (attempt to commit Hobbs Act robbery). The panel remanded to the district court for resentencing consistent with United States v. Taylor, 596 U.S. —, 2022 WL 2203334 (June 21, 2022), which held that attempted Hobbs Act robbery does not qualify as a “crime of violence” under 18 U.S.C. Section 924(c)(3)(A) because no element of the offense requires proof that the defendant used, attempted to use, or threatened to use force. View "USA V. MONICO DOMINGUEZ" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his convictions for conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, money laundering conspiracy, and conspiracy under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970 (RICO).   The Ninth Circuit affirmed Defendant’s convictions. The panel held that sufficient evidence supported Defendant’s conviction for money laundering conspiracy, which required the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was an agreement to commit money laundering, Defendant knew the objective of the agreement, and Defendant joined the agreement with the intent to further its unlawful purpose. Defendant did not dispute that the CRO conspired to launder money by transferring extortionate “taxes” collected by foot soldiers to incarcerated gang leaders.   The panel concluded that there was sufficient evidence that Defendant himself knew of and intended to support the CRO’s money laundering, and that he was not convicted solely on the basis of his CRO membership. The panel held that, as related to the money laundering conspiracy charge, the district court did not plainly err in instructing the jury, in the course of generally defining the term “knowingly,” that the government was “not required to prove that the defendant knew that his acts or omissions were unlawful.”   The panel held that a conspiracy conviction can stand if one of the objects is only factually, but not legally, insufficient. Thus, even if there had been insufficient evidence for money laundering conspiracy, the RICO conviction would still stand because there was sufficient evidence for the other two valid predicate activities, drug distribution conspiracy and extortion. View "USA V. ALEXIS JAIMEZ" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff alleged that Defendants Kinetic Concepts, Inc., and its indirect subsidiary KCI USA, Inc. (collectively, “KCI”) submitted claims to Medicare in which KCI falsely certified compliance with certain criteria governing Medicare payment for the use of KCI’s medical device for treating wounds. The district court granted summary judgment to KCI, concluding that Plaintiff failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to the False Claims Act elements of materiality and scienter.   The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s summary judgment. The court agreed that compliance with the specific criterion that there be no stalled cycle would not be material if, upon case-specific review, the Government routinely paid stalled-cycle claims. In other words, if stalled-cycle claims were consistently paid when subject to case-specific scrutiny, then a false statement that avoided that scrutiny and instead resulted in automatic payment would not be material to the payment decision. The court concluded, however, that the record did not show this to be the case. The court considered administrative rulings concerning claims that were initially denied, post-payment and pre-payment audits of particular claims, and a 2007 report by the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The court concluded that none of these forms of evidence supported the district court’s summary judgment ruling.   The court held that the district court further erred in ruling that there was insufficient evidence that KCI acted with the requisite scienter and that the remainder of the district court’s reasoning concerning scienter rested on a clear failure to view the evidence in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. View "STEVEN HARTPENCE V. KINETIC CONCEPTS, INC." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a Russian citizen who resides in Russia, filed a civil RICO suit against Defendant Russian citizen who resides in California, and eleven other defendants. After securing a foreign arbitration award against Defendant. Plaintiff obtained a judgment from a United States district court confirming the award and giving Plaintiff the rights to execute that judgment in California and to pursue discovery. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants engaged in illegal activity, in violation of RICO, to thwart the execution of that California judgment.   Consistent with the Second and Third Circuits, but disagreeing with the Seventh Circuit’s residency-based test for domestic injuries involving intangible property, the court held that the alleged injuries to a judgment obtained by Plaintiff from a United States district court in California were domestic injuries to property such that Plaintiff had statutory standing under RICO. The court concluded that, for purposes of standing under RICO, the California judgment existed as property in California because the rights that it provided to Plaintiff existed only in California. In addition, much of the conduct underlying the alleged injury occurred in or was targeted at California. View "VITALY SMAGIN V. COMPAGNIE MONEGASQUE DE BANQUE" on Justia Law

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The government accused Orrock of tax evasion for concealing income he received from the sale of a vacant lot that he controlled. Rather than report the sale proceeds on his personal tax return, Orrock belatedly disclosed the sale in the tax return for a partnership that he also controlled. In that return, he significantly underreported the sale proceeds.The Ninth Circuit affirmed his conviction for evading the assessment of taxes, 26 U.S.C. 7201, rejecting Orrock’s argument that the statute of limitations barred his conviction because it ran from the date he filed his false personal tax return, not from the later act of filing the partnership return. Acknowledging that some language in precedent may seemingly support that argument, the court clarified that the statute of limitations for evasion of assessment cases under section 7201 runs from the last act necessary to complete the offense, either a tax deficiency or the last affirmative act of evasion, whichever is later. The court aligned evasion of assessment cases with evasion of payment cases and joined all the other circuit courts that have addressed the issue. The indictment was filed within six years of Orrock’s last affirmative act of evasion, the filing of the partnership tax return, and was timely. View "United States v. Orrock" on Justia Law

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In schemes involving Sonoma County, California real estate, attorney Lonich conspired with Sonoma Valley Bank (SVB) officers Melland and Cutting to obtain fraudulent loans. The Ninth Circuit affirmed their convictions but vacated their sentences.The Sixth Amendment’s Speedy Trial Clause was not violated with respect to charges first brought in a superseding indictment. Even assuming the clock started with the original indictment, the delay caused no relevant prejudice. With respect to money laundering (18 U.S.C. 1957) and misapplication of bank funds (18 U.S.C. 656) charges, the district court’s general “knowingly” jury instruction was permissible. Sufficient evidence supported Melland’s conviction for bribery by a bank employee (18 U.S.C. 215(a)(2)). The district court appropriately instructed the jury that, to find Melland “acted corruptly,” the jury must determine he “intend[ed] to be influenced or rewarded in connection with any business or transaction of” a financial institution. Sufficient evidence also supported Lonich’s conviction for attempted obstruction of justice (18 U.S.C. 1512(c)(2)) by encouraging a straw buyer to mislead the grand jury about his role in the scheme.The district court applied several enhancements that dramatically increased the recommended Guidelines sentencing ranges, premised on a finding that defendants caused SVB to fail, making them responsible for associated losses. The court applied a “clear and convincing evidence” standard and noted the district court made no independent findings about the cause of the bank’s collapse. Restitution orders ($20 million) were premised on the same theory. View "United States v. Lonich" on Justia Law

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In 2004-2005, the government filed forfeiture actions against a Credit Suisse account, owned by a corporation organized by Kim’s sister . The government alleged the $15 million account included proceeds of fraudulent activities involving Kim’s control of Optional. The district court ordered the seizure of the Account. The putative owners (Kim Claimants) contested the forfeiture. Optional, no longer under Kim's control, and DAS, an alleged victim of Kim's fraud, filed competing claims.In 2011, after years of parallel litigation, the Swiss Attorney General’s Office unfroze the Account and ordered the bank to wire $12.6 million to DAS, which filed a “Notice of Withdrawal of Claims” in the forfeiture proceeding. The court ordered that no party disturb money remaining in the Credit Suisse accounts and requested that the government investigate how the transfer to DAS was accomplished. The court declined to hold DAS in contempt, concluded that it “cannot compel DAS to surrender the funds,” then granted DAS’s opposed motion to be dismissed from the forfeiture proceedings.Optional, the sole remaining claimant, submitted a 2013 proposed final judgment, which the district court adopted. Five years later, Optional sought to hold DAS in contempt for allegedly violating that judgment because DAS failed to surrender the money transferred in 2011; the 2013 judgment had awarded Optional all funds in the Account as of August 2005. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of the contempt motion. The 2013 judgment did not require DAS to turn over $12.6 million to Optional. At the 2013 trial, the court did not have before it, and did not undertake to decide, the competing claims to the transferred money. In awarding Optional “all funds” the district court unmistakably was referring only to the remaining funds. View "Optional Capital, Inc. v. DAS Corp." on Justia Law

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Prasad owned and operated Maremarks, through which he filed petitions seeking H-1B status for nonimmigrant, foreign workers in specialty occupations to come to the U.S. as Maremarks’ employees performing work for Maremarks’ clients. Prasad falsely represented in the H-1B petitions that there were specific, bona fide positions available for the H-1B beneficiaries. Prasad was convicted of 21 counts of visa fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1546(a), and two counts of aggravated identity theft, 18 U.S.C. 1028A(a)(1). The district court ordered forfeiture under 18 U.S.C. 982(a)(6)(A)(ii): $1,193,440.87.The Ninth Circuit affirmed, rejecting Prasad’s argument that he did not “obtain” the entire $1,193,440.87 because he eventually paid portions of the money to the H1B beneficiaries. Prasad possessed the full $1,193,440.87 paid by the end-clients and had control over the money before he paid a percentage of it to employees. Considering the term “proceeds” in the context of the forfeiture statute, the statute’s punitive purpose, and its prior construction of virtually identical criminal forfeiture provisions, the court concluded that the term extends to receipts and is not limited to profit. Although the H-1B beneficiary employees performed legitimate work for end-clients, the portions of the money that Maremarks received for that work and subsequently paid to the beneficiary employees was, nonetheless, “obtained directly or indirectly from” Prasad’s unlawful conduct. View "United States v. Prasad" on Justia Law

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Tat aided a money-laundering scheme involving cashier’s checks while she managed a bank in San Gabriel, California. She was convicted of conspiring to launder money, 18 U.S.C. 1956(h), and two counts of making false entries in the bank’s records, 18 U.S.C. 1005.The Ninth Circuit reversed her conviction on one count of making a false entry, affirmed her conviction on a second count of the same offense, and remanded for resentencing. The reversed conviction was premised on a bank log record stating that Tat’s customer purchased and then returned three cashier’s checks for a sum of $25,000. The record did not contain a literal falsehood and did not contain an omission such that the bank’s records would not indicate the true nature of the transaction; it could not be said that the bank would not have a picture of the bank’s true condition. Accurate records reflecting a customer’s purchase of a cashier’s check from her bank account are not false entries under section 1005 solely because that check has a nexus to money laundering. As to the second count, a reasonable juror could find beyond a reasonable doubt that Tat knew the log record on which it was based contained a false entry because it listed a fictitious payee. The panel affirmed Tat’s convictions for conspiring to launder money. View "United States v. Tat" on Justia Law

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Heine and Yates, bank executives, were convicted of conspiracy to commit bank fraud (18 U.S.C. 1349) and 12 counts of making a false bank entry (18 U.S.C. 1005). The government told the jury that the two conspired to deprive the bank of accurate financial information in its records, the defendants’ salaries, and the use of bank funds.The Ninth Circuit vacated. There is no cognizable property interest in the ethereal right to accurate information. Distinguishing between a scheme to obtain a new or higher salary and a scheme to deceive an employer while continuing to draw an existing salary, the court held that the salary-maintenance theory was also legally insufficient. Even assuming the bank-funds theory was valid, the government’s reliance on those theories was not harmless. The court instructed the jury that it could find the defendants guilty of making false entries as co-conspirators, so the court also vacated the false-entry convictions. The court noted that insufficient evidence supported certain false entry convictions. View "United States v. Yates" on Justia Law