Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
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Consolidated cases arose from a 2015 Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) civil enforcement action against Roger Bliss, who ran a Ponzi scheme through his investment entities (collectively, “the Bliss Enterprise”). Bliss was ordered to repay millions of dollars to the victims of his fraudulent scheme, and the district court appointed Plaintiff-Appellee Tammy Georgelas as Receiver to investigate the Bliss Enterprise’s books and seek to recover its property. Defendant-Appellant David Hill was employed by the Bliss Enterprise from 2011 to 2015, providing administrative and ministerial services to the company. He received salary payments from the Bliss Enterprise both directly and through Defendant-Appellant Desert Hill Ventures, Inc. (“Desert Hill”), of which Hill was president. After the district court ordered Bliss to disgorge funds from his scheme, the Receiver brought these actions against Hill and Desert Hill. The Receiver asserted that the Bliss Enterprise estates were entitled to recover the $347,000 in wages paid to Defendants, in addition to $113,878 spent by the Bliss Enterprise on renovations to Hill’s house, under Utah’s Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act (“UFTA”). The district court granted summary judgment to the Receiver, finding that the wages received by Defendants from the Bliss Enterprise and the funds paid by the Bliss Enterprise for the renovations were recoverable by the estates under the UFTA. Defendants appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing the district court erred in denying their affirmative defense under Utah Code Ann. § 25-6-9(1) and in finding that the renovations were made for Hill’s benefit, as required under Utah Code Ann. § 25-6-9(2)(a). The Court agreed with Defendants and, accordingly, reversed the district court’s summary judgment order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Georgelas v. Desert Hill Ventures" on Justia Law

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David Efron and Efron Dorado SE (collectively, "Efron") appealed a civil contempt order entered by the district court for violating its preliminary injunction. This litigation began when the Federal Trade Commission and the Utah Division of Consumer Protection filed a complaint in the federal district court against Zurixx, LLC and related entities. The complaint alleged Zurixx marketed and sold deceptive real-estate investment products. The district court entered a stipulated preliminary injunction, enjoining Zurixx from continuing its business activities and freezing its assets wherever located. The injunction also directed any person or business with actual knowledge of the injunction to preserve any of Zurixx’s assets in its possession, and it prohibited any such person or business from transferring those assets. A week later, the receiver filed a copy of the complaint and injunction in federal court in Puerto Rico, where Zurixx leased office space from Efron. The office contained Zurixx’s computers, furniture, and other assets. The receiver also notified Efron of the receivership and gave him actual notice of the injunction. Although Efron at first allowed the receiver access to the office to recover computers and files, he later denied access to remove the remaining assets and initiated eviction proceedings against Zurixx in a Puerto Rico court. Given these events, the receiver moved the district court in Utah for an order holding Efron in contempt of court for violating the injunction. In response, Efron claimed the assets belonged to him under his lease agreement with Zurixx. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal determined the contempt order was a non-final decision. It therefore dismissed this appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Federal Trade Commission, et al. v. Zurixx, et al." on Justia Law

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Claud “Rick” Koerber was indicted by a grand jury for wire fraud, tax fraud, and mail fraud relating to a real estate investment scheme. A superseding indictment added to his wire fraud and tax evasion counts, charging him with additional counts for securities fraud, wire fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion. More than five years passed without a trial, resulting in the district court’s dismissing the case with prejudice under the Speedy Trial Act. On the government’s appeal of that decision, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s dismissal-with-prejudice order, identifying errors in its application of the Speedy Trial Act factors. On remand, after reapplying the factors, the district court decided to dismiss without prejudice. So in 2017 the government reindicted Koerber for the offenses earlier charged in the superseding indictment. Koerber’s first trial ended in a hung jury. His second trial ended in jury convictions on all but two counts. The court later imposed a 170-month prison sentence. On appeal, Koerber challenged his prosecution and conviction, claiming a range of errors: from evidentiary rulings, to trial-management issues, to asserted statutory and constitutional violations. After reviewing the briefing, the record, and the relevant law, the Tenth Circuit found no reversible error and affirmed. View "United States v. Koerber" on Justia Law

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Alan Williams pleaded guilty to a single count of bank fraud and stipulated to restitution tied to that count and two others that were later dismissed. The government got its conviction, and Williams limited his sentencing exposure and possible future charges. In this appeal, Williams attempted to step back from his bargain, seeking to keep the favorable plea deal, but to contest the restitution he stipulated was owed. Furthermore, he contested the district court’s apportionment of that total restitution between WebBank and Wells Fargo Bank, as recommended by the Presentence Report (PSR). The Tenth Circuit surmised Williams' first hurdle was to overcome the appeal waiver included in his Plea Agreement. To this, the Court concluded the appeal waiver did not bar his total-restitution challenge: the Plea Agreement allowed Williams to appeal the apportionment of the total restitution and the substantive reasonableness of his prison sentence as well. However, addressing the merits of Williams’s challenges, the Court no reason to disturb the order and sentence, and affirmed. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Guy Jean-Pierre, a corporate and securities attorney, aided an illegal stock trading operation. Through a series of self-dealing transactions, Jean-Pierre and his co-conspirators artificially inflated stock prices of a company they controlled. Jean- Pierre sent letters on the company’s behalf to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that contained false and misleading information and omitted material information from disclosures to potential investors. Jean-Pierre appealed his convictions for conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud as to four of the twenty-eight counts of conviction, arguing the district court erred in admitting evidence that he had previously used his niece’s signature without her permission to submit attorney letters to a stock trading website. Jean- Pierre also argued that three of the four convictions should have been reversed because the district court declined to give a requested instruction reiterating the government’s burden as to a specific factual theory. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Jean-Pierre" on Justia Law

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In 2014, after a jury found Michael Destry Williams guilty of ten counts of tax-evasion and fraud offenses, the district judge sentenced him to seventy-one months’ imprisonment and five years’ supervised release. Williams began the five-years’ supervision on August 22, 2018, and was set to end it on August 21, 2023. On August 27, 2019, a probation officer filed a Petition for Summons on Person Under Supervision, alleging three violations of Williams’s supervision. All three violations allegedly stemmed from Williams’s asserted belief that he was an American National and was not subject to the same legal system as United States citizens. The court ordered a sentence of 24 months’ imprisonment, with credit for time served. On appeal, Williams challenged this sentence as substantively unreasonable. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Williams' sentence. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant Justin Foust appealed his conviction on six counts of wire fraud, and one count each of aggravated identity theft and money laundering. He was sentenced to 121 months’ imprisonment and three years’ supervised release. Foust’s company, Platinum Express, LLC, submitted false and fraudulent invoices to its customer, Chesapeake Energy Corporation (“Chesapeake”). Chesapeake identified more than $4.5 million that it had paid out on these invoices. Foust did not deny that the invoices were improper and that Platinum Express had not performed the work. But he denied that he had forged the signatures and employee identification numbers of Chesapeake employees. A handwriting expert testified otherwise regarding invoices associated with Chesapeake employee Bobby Gene Putman. The jury convicted Foust on the wire-fraud and aggravated-identity-theft counts associated with these invoices. On appeal, Foust argued the district court abused its discretion by allowing the handwriting expert to testify at trial. He contended: (1) the government did not adequately show that the expert’s methodology was reliable; and (2) the handwriting expert used unreliable data in reaching his opinion. Finding no abuse of discretion, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court judgment. View "United States v. Foust" on Justia Law

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Prior to her arrest in May 2017, Defendant-Appellant Gladys Nkome participated in an international “advance-fee” conspiracy managed by individuals located in the Republic of Cameroon. The Cameroon-based organizers created websites that purportedly sold legal and illegal goods. They convinced prospective online buyers to wire purchase money to fictitious U.S.-based sellers. A U.S.-based individual posing as a seller (a so-called “money mule”) would retrieve the wired money, take a percentage, and send the remainder overseas to the conspiracy’s organizers. The buyers would never receive the items that they sought to purchase. For approximately thirteen months, Ms. Nkome used at least thirty-five (35) fraudulent identities to collect $357,078.74 in wire transfers connected to the conspiracy. Nkome challenged the district court’s denial of a mitigating-role adjustment under United States Sentencing Guideline section 3B1.2. After careful consideration of Ms. Nkome’s arguments, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the district court did not err. View "United States v. Nkome" on Justia Law

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Defendant Riordan Maynard, the former chief executive officer of two related companies, was convicted by a jury of twenty-six criminal counts arising out of his gross mismanagement of those companies. The district court sentenced Maynard to 78 months’ imprisonment. The district court also ordered Maynard to pay restitution to the Internal Revenue Service and to the employee-victims. On appeal, Maynard argued: argues that: (1) the district court misapplied the Sentencing Guidelines in calculating his offense level for Counts 1 and 2 (failure to pay corporate payroll taxes); (2) his convictions on Counts 14 through 26 were not supported by sufficient evidence (theft or embezzlement of employee health care contributions); (3) the district court erred in calculating the restitution award for Counts 4 through 13 (theft or embezzlement of employee benefit plan contributions); and (4) the district court plainly erred in calculating the restitution award for Counts 14 through 26. Rejecting these arguments, the Tenth Circuit affirmed Maynard's convictions and sentence. View "United States v. Maynard" on Justia Law

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The class’s version of events painted the Hutchenses as cunning con artists who "puppeteered" a advance-fee loan scam from afar. Defendants Sandy Hutchens, Tanya Hutchens, and Jennifer Hutchens, a three-member family who purportedly orchestrated a loan scam, challenged a district court’s rulings to avoid paying all or part of the judgment against them brought pursuant to a class action suit. The Tenth Circuit concluded almost all of those challenges failed, including their challenges to the jury’s verdict, class certification, proximate causation, and the application of the equitable unclean hands defense. However, the Court agreed with the Hutchenses’ position on the district court’s imposition of a constructive trust on some real property allegedly bought with the swindled fees. The Court therefore affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the district court for entry of a revised judgment. View "CGC Holding Company v. Hutchens" on Justia Law