Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
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Fishoff began trading securities in the 1990s. By 2009, he had earned enough money to establish his own firm, with one full-time employee and several independent contractors. Fishoff had no formal training in securities markets, regulations, or compliance. Nor did he hold any professional license. He operated without expert advice. Fishoff engaged in short-selling stock in anticipation of the issuer making a secondary offering. Secondary offerings are confidential but a company, through its underwriter, may contact potential buyers to assess interest. When a salesperson provides confidential information, such as the issuer's name, the recipient is barred by SEC Rule 10b-5-2, from trading the issuer’s securities or disclosing the information before the offering is publicly announced. Fishoff’s associates opened accounts at investment banking firms in order to receive solicitations to invest in secondary offerings. They agreed to keep the information confidential but shared it with Fishoff, who would short-sell the company’s shares. Fishoff pled guilty to securities fraud (15 U.S.C. 78j(b), 78ff; 17 C.F.R. 240.10b-5 (Rule 10b-5); 18 U.S.C. 2), stipulating that he and his associates made $1.5 to $3.5 million by short-selling Synergy stock based on confidential information. Fishoff unsuccessfully claimed that he had no knowledge of Rule 10b5-2 and was entitled to the affirmative defense against imprisonment under Securities Exchange Act Section 32, as a person who violated a Rule having “no knowledge of such rule or regulation”. The Third Circuit affirmed his 30-month sentence. Fishoff adequately presented his defense. The court’s ruling was sufficient; the government never agreed that the non-imprisonment defense applied. Fishoff did not establish a lack of knowledge. His attempts to conceal his scheme suggests that he was aware that it was wrong. View "United States v. Fishoff" on Justia Law

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During the 2009-2010 term, James was a senator in the Virgin Islands Legislature. The Legislature maintained a fund for Legislature-related expenses. James used a large portion of the checks issued to him by the fund for personal expenses and his re-election campaign. James obtained these checks by presenting invoices purportedly associated with work on a historical project. In 2015, James was charged with two counts of wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343 and one count of federal program embezzlement, 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(A). The Third Circuit affirmed his convictions, upholding a ruling that allowed the prosecution to introduce evidence of acts outside the limitations period, 18 U.S.C. 3282(a), and the substitution of an excused juror with an alternate after the jury had been polled. The court rejected a claim of prosecutorial misconduct based on the prosecution calling two witnesses concerning an eviction dispute. The court had instructed the government not to discuss the eviction case in its opening; neither witness testified about the eviction case. The Third Circuit also upheld a ruling that permitted the use of a chart as a demonstrative aid to accompany the case agent’s testimony, with an instruction that the jury that it should consider the chart as a guide for testimony, not as substantive evidence. View "United States v. James" on Justia Law

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Health benefit plans sued GSK, the manufacturer of the prescription drug Avandia, under state consumer-protection laws and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. ch. 96 (RICO), based on GSK’s marketing of Avandia as having benefits to justify its price, which was higher than the price of other drugs used to treat type-2 diabetes. The district court granted GSK summary judgment, finding that the state-law consumer-protection claims were preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), 21 U.S.C. ch. 9; the Plans had failed to identify a sufficient “enterprise” for purposes of RICO; and the Plans’ arguments related to GSK’s alleged attempts to market Avandia as providing cardiovascular “benefits” were “belated.” The Third Circuit reversed, applying the Supreme Court’s 2019 "Merck" decision. The state-law consumer-protection claims are not preempted by the FDCA. The Plans should have been given the opportunity to seek discovery before summary judgment on the RICO claims. Further, from the inception of this litigation, the Plans’ claims have centered on GSK’s marketing of Avandia as providing cardiovascular benefits as compared to other forms of treatment, so the district court’s refusal to consider the Plans’ “benefits” arguments was in error because those arguments were timely raised. View "In re: Avandia Marketing, Sales and Products Liability Litigation" on Justia Law

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Ludwikowski went to the police station to report extortionate threats. He was there for about seven hours and was questioned extensively about why he was vulnerable to extortion. He was given water and offered pizza. He went to the restroom, unaccompanied, at least three times. He was interviewed for about four hours, in three phases, punctuated by breaks. He had his phone and used it to make a call. It came to light that Ludwikowski, a pharmacist, had been filling fraudulent oxycodone prescriptions. He was later tried for distribution of a controlled substance. He moved to suppress the statements he made at the police station, arguing that they were inadmissible because no one read him his Miranda rights. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Ludwikowski was not in custody, so no Miranda warnings were needed. Much of the interview was devoted to trying to identify the extorter and the motivation; the interview would have been shorter if Ludwikowski had been more responsive. His statements at the police station were not involuntary. A reasonable person would have understood he could leave; Ludwikowski’s calm demeanor and calculated answers belie his argument that he subjectively felt his freedom was constrained. There was no plain error in the admission of expert testimony on the practice of pharmacy. . View "United States v. Ludwikowski" on Justia Law

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Charte (relator) filed a False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3729–3733, "qui tam" suit alleging that defendants, including Wegeler, submitted false reimbursement claims to the Department of Education. Relators are entitled to part of the amount recovered. As required to allow the government to make an informed decision as to whether to intervene, Charte cooperated with the government. Her information led to Wegeler’s prosecution. Wegeler entered into a plea agreement and paid $1.5 million in restitution. The government declined to intervene in the FCA action. If the government elects to pursue an “alternate remedy,” the statute provides that the relator retains the same rights she would have had in the FCA action. Charte tried to intervene in the criminal proceeding to secure a share of the restitution. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. A criminal proceeding does not constitute an “alternate remedy” to a civil qui tam action, entitling a relator to intervene and recover a share of the proceeds. Allowing intervention would be tantamount to an interest in participating as a co-prosecutor in a criminal case. Even considering only her alleged interest in some of the restitution, nothing in the FCA suggests that a relator may intervene in the government’s alternative-remedy proceeding to assert that interest. The text and legislative history regarding the provision indicate that the court overseeing the FCA suit determines whether and to what extent a relator is entitled to an award. View "United States v. Wegeler" on Justia Law

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Orie, a former state senator, used her government-funded legislative staff to do fundraising and campaigning for her reelection. When the Commonwealth investigated, she tried to hide and destroy documents. Orie's sisters, including a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, were also charged. At trial, Orie introduced exhibits with directives to her chief of staff, not to do political work on legislative time. The prosecution determined that these exhibits had forged signatures. The court found that the forged documents were “a fraud on the Court,” and declared a mistrial. The Secret Service subsequently found that many of the exhibits were forged. During Orie’s second trial, the prosecution's expert testified that Orie’s office lease barred her staff from using that office for anything besides legislative work. Orie unsuccessfully sought to call an expert to testify that the senate rules let staff do political work from legislative offices on comp time. Orie was convicted of theft of services, conspiracy, evidence tampering, forgery, and of using her political position for personal gain, in violation of the Pennsylvania Ethics Act. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of her federal habeas petition, first finding that it lacked jurisdiction to consider her Ethics Act challenge because she is not in custody for those convictions. The court rejected a double jeopardy argument. The state court reasonably found that a mistrial was manifestly necessary because the forged documents could have tainted the jury’s verdict. Orie did not show that her senate-rules expert’s testimony would have been material, so she had no constitutional right to call that witness. View "Orie v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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In 2003, Cordaro and his co-defendant were elected as two of three Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania county commissioners. About 30 percent of Ackers’ business was municipal engineering, mostly for Lackawanna County. McLaine, Acker’s principal, expressed concerns to Cordaro's friend, Hughes. Hughes arranged a meeting, telling McLaine to bring a list of Acker's existing work for the county. McLaine’s list included the Lackawanna Watershed 2000 Program, a multi-year project based on a $30 million congressional grant; work on the Main Street and Gilmartin Street Bridges; work for several municipal authorities; and surveying, paving, and mapping. Cordaro stated, “I think I can let you keep that, . . . if we’re having fundraisers you’re going to have to participate and support us.” McLaine agreed. After becoming aware that Acker might lose two large contracts, McLaine called Hughes, who called Cordaro. Hughes asked, “how much money ... to give for the work.” Cordaro said, “maybe $15,000.” Hughes told McLaine that if he gave him $10,000 a month for Cordaro, Hughes could guarantee that Acker would keep its contracts and that he would lose his work if he did not pay. Payments began. In 2011, Cordaro was convicted of bribery, 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(B); Hobbs Act extortion, section 1951(a); and racketeering, sections 1962(c) and (d). The court instructed the jury that those crimes required an “official act.” In 2016, the Supreme Court (McDonnell) clarified what constitutes an “official act.” The Third Circuit affirmed the rejection of Cordaro’s habeas corpus (28 U.S.C. 2241) because Cordaro cannot show that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror properly charged under McDonnell would have convicted him. View "Cordaro v. United States" on Justia Law

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Brooks, Debtor's CEO, was charged with financial crimes. In class action and derivative lawsuits, Debtor proposed a global settlement that indemnified Brooks for liability under the Sarbanes Oxley Act (SOX), 15 U.S.C. 7243. Cohen, Debtor’s former General Counsel and a shareholder, claimed that the indemnification was unlawful. The district court approved the settlement, Cohen, represented by CLM, appealed. The Second Circuit vacated, noting that the EDNY would determine CLM’s attorneys’ fees award. Debtor initiated Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. The Bankruptcy Court confirmed Debtor’s liquidation plan, with a trustee to pursue Debtor’s interest in recouping its losses from the ongoing actions. Brooks died in prison. Because his appeal had not concluded, some of his convictions and restitution obligations were abated. Stakeholders negotiated a second global settlement agreement, under which $142 million of Brooks’ restrained assets were to be distributed to his victims; $70 million has been remitted to Debtor. The Bankruptcy Court awarded CLM fees for the SOX 304 claim; the amount would be determined if Debtor received any funds on account of the claim. CLM’s Fee Appeal remains pending at the district court. CLM requested a $25 million reserve for payment of its fees. The Bankruptcy Court ordered Debtor to set aside $5 million. CLM’s Fee Reserve Appeal remains pending. CLM then moved, unsuccessfully, for a stay of Second Settlement Agreement distributions. In its Stay Denial Appeal, CLM’s motion requesting a stay of distributions was denied. The Third Circuit affirmed. The $5 million reserve is sufficient. A $5 million attorneys’ fees award for 1,502.2 hours of legal work totaling $549,472.61 of documented fees would yield an hourly rate of $3,328.45 and a lodestar multiplier of over nine. In common fund cases where attorneys’ fees are calculated using the lodestar method, multiples from one to four are the norm. View "SS Body Armor I, Inc. v. Carter Ledyard & Milburn, LLP" on Justia Law

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Over seven years, Dr. Greenspan referred more than 100,000 blood tests to Biodiagnostic Laboratory, which made more than $3 million off these tests. In exchange, the Lab gave Greenspan and his associates more than $200,000 in cash, gifts, and other benefits. A jury convicted Greenspan of accepting kickbacks, 42 U.S.C. 1320a-7(b)(1)(A); using interstate facilities with the intent to commit commercial bribery, 18 U.S.C. 1952(a)(1), (3); honest-services wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, 1346; and conspiracy to do all of those things. The Third Circuit affirmed, characterizing the evidence of his guilt as overwhelming. The district court erred in instructing the jury that Greenspan had to “demonstrate” the prerequisites for an advice-of-counsel defense; in excluding as hearsay some of his testimony about that legal advice; in asking only Greenspan’s counsel, not Greenspan personally, whether he wished to speak at sentencing; and in limiting the scope of the defense to five particular agreements rather than all eight, but all of those errors were harmless. The court properly excluded evidence that the blood tests were medically necessary. That evidence was only marginally relevant and risked misleading the jury. View "United States v. Greenspan" on Justia Law

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Nita and her husband, Kirtish, pled guilty to defrauding Medicare (18 U.S.C. 1347), based on having forged physicians’ signatures on diagnostic reports and having conducted diagnostic testing without the required physician supervision. The government then brought this civil action for the same fraudulent schemes against Nita, Nita’s healthcare company (Heart Solution), Kirtish, and Kirtish’s healthcare company (Biosound). The district court granted the government summary judgment, relying on the convictions and plea colloquies in the criminal case, essentially concluding that Nita had admitted to all elements and issues relevant to her civil liability. Nita and Heart Solution appealed. The Third Circuit affirmed Nita’s liability under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729(a)(1)(A) and for common law fraud but vacated findings that Heart Solution is estopped from contesting liability and damages for all claims and Nita is estopped from contesting liability and damages for the remaining common law claims. The district court failed to dissect the issues that were determined in the criminal case from those that were not, lumping together Nita and Heart Solution, even though Heart Solution was not involved in the criminal case. It also failed to disaggregate claims Medicare paid to Nita and Heart Solution from those paid to Kirtish and Biosound. The plea colloquy did not clarify ownership interests in the companies; who, specifically, made certain misrepresentations; nor whether one company was paid the entire amount or whether the payments were divided between the companies. View "Doe v. Heart Solution PC" on Justia Law