Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
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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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Nine Illinois energy consumers sued their electricity provider, ComEd, and its parent, Exelon, on behalf of themselves and those similarly situated for damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) alleging injury from increased electricity rates. These rates increased, they allege, because ComEd bribed former Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan to shepherd three bills through the state’s legislature: the Energy Infrastructure and Modernization Act of 2011 (EIMA); 2013 amendments to that legislation; and the Future Energy Jobs Act of 2016. Although Illinois law still required public utilities to file rates with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC), EIMA implemented statutorily prescribed, performance-based rate increases that limited ICC discretion in reviewing rates and authorized at least $2.6 billion in ComEd spending on smart meters and smart grid infrastructure, costs that were required to be passed on to customers. In 2016, FEJA provided $2.35 billion in funding for nuclear power plants operated, paid for through a new fee for utility customers, and allowed ComEd to charge ratepayers for all energy efficiency programs and for some expenses relating to employee incentive compensation, pensions, and other post-employment benefits.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Paying a state’s required filed utility rate is not a cognizable injury for a RICO damages claim. View "Brooks v. Commonwealth Edison Co." on Justia Law

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Defendant Brim Bell was convicted by jury on four class A felony counts of theft by deception. Defendant ran a business at several New Hampshire locations restoring primarily Volkswagen vehicles. Between January 1, 2011 and November 17, 2015, each of the victims, A.M., J.M., J.K., and J.T., hired defendant to restore a vehicle. During the time defendant had their vehicles, he repeatedly asked each of the victims to send him more money, ostensibly for parts or other expenses related to the restoration of their vehicles. Each victim made a series of payments to defendant, but none of the victims received a restored car back from defendant. Defendant testified to a series of events that negatively affected his business during 2010 and 2011 and increased his debt. As a result, at the end of 2011, defendant started gambling at casinos. He testified that his “plan was to save the business.” Defendant admitted that he gambled with some of his customers’ money and that none of them gave him permission to do so. Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted on four counts and acquitted on two. He argued on appeal that the evidence was insufficient to convict him and that the trial court erred in granting the State’s motion for joinder. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed defendant's convictions. View "New Hampshire v. Bell" on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the court of special appeals affirming the judgment of the circuit court denying Petitioner's petition for a writ of error coram nobis, holding that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying Petitioner's coram nobis petition.Petitioner had twenty-year old convictions for forgery and fraud/identity theft, which rendered her ineligible to receive the license required to work as a mortgage loan originator under Maryland law. After three appeals, the intermediate appellate court affirmed. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that, considering the legislative purpose of the Maryland mortgage loan originator license statute and the circumstances of this case, the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying Petitioner's petition for a writ of coram nobis. View "Smith v. State" on Justia Law

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A Romanian organization, the Alexandria Online Auction Fraud Network (AOAF), used fraudulent online advertisements on websites like eBay, Craigslist, and Amazon to convince unknowing U.S. purchasers to send payments for high-value items that did not actually exist. After receiving the payments through vehicles like gift cards and prepaid debit cards, AOAF money launderers in the U.S., including Brown, converted the payments into Bitcoin currency, which was then transferred back to Romania. Foreign Bitcoin exchange businesses including RG, Iossifov’s Bulgaria-based business, then transferred the Bitcoin balances to cash on behalf of AOAF fraudsters. About 900 victims never received the items for which they paid. The government learned about the scheme in 2014 when it discovered that an American citizen living in Kentucky was laundering funds on behalf of an online fraud organization; the individual became a confidential source.The Sixth Circuit affirmed Iossifov and Brown’s convictions and sentences under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1962(d), and Iossifov’s additional conviction for conspiring to launder money 18 U.S.C. 1956(h). The court rejected venue, jurisdiction, and Due Process claims, a contention that Bitcoin does not fall under the money laundering statute, and challenges to sentencing enhancements and evidentiary rulings. View "United States v. Iossifov" on Justia Law

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The American subsidiary of Alstom Power, Inc. (“API”), a global power and transportation services company, hired two consultants to bribe Indonesian officials to help secure a $118 million power contract. Defendant, who worked in Paris for API’s United Kingdom subsidiary, was allegedly responsible for approving the selection of the consultants and authorizing payments to them. For his role in the alleged bribery scheme, Defendant was charged in an American court with (among other things) violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act  (“FCPA”), which makes it unlawful for officers, directors, and agents “of a domestic concern” to use interstate commerce corruptly to bribe or attempt to bribe foreign officials. Defendant appealed. Defendant moved for acquittal, arguing he was not an agent within the meaning of the FCPA. The district court granted that motion; the government appealed and Defendant cross-appealed.The Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling holding that the district court properly acquitted Defendant under Rule 29 because there was no agency or employee relationship between Defendant and API. The court also affirmed on the cross‐appeal, finding no error in either the district court’s speedy trial analysis or its jury instructions.     The court explained that while there is some evidence that Defendant supported API in his working relationship with the corporation, it is not sufficient to establish that API exercised control over the scope and duration of its relationship with Defendant. Further, the district court’s analysis of the Barker factors and dismissal of Defendant’s Sixth Amendment claim falls “within the range of permissible decisions. View "United States v. Hoskins" on Justia Law

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The 2008 financial crisis caused GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy. In Europe, Fiat faced similar troubles. Fiat CEO Marchionne forged a relationship with the United Auto Workers (UAW). Fiat negotiated a partial purchase of Chrysler. Chrysler and the UAW agreed to Marchionne’s request to jettison certain traditional union protections. The companies emerged from bankruptcy with the UAW large percentages of their equity.GM alleges that Marchionne subsequently implemented a bribery scheme to revive Chrysler and harm GM. Fiat acquired the UAW’s stake in Chrysler. The new entity, “FCA,” allegedly “began a long-running intentional scheme of improper payments" to UAW officials … to influence the collective bargaining process, providing Chrysler with labor peace and competitive advantages. GM rejected Marchionne's proposal for a merger in 2015; although bribed UAW executives pressed GM to agree. During subsequent collective bargaining, the UAW and FCA allegedly conspired “to force enormous costs on GM.”In 2017, the Justice Department criminally charged numerous FCA executives and UAW officials. Several entered guilty pleas. FCA pleaded guilty and agreed to a $30 million fine. The UAW agreed to a consent decree, requiring federal monitoring.GM sued FCA, Fiat, and individuals, asserting RICO claims, 18 U.S.C. 1962(b), (c), and (d). The district court dismissed. Assuming that FCA committed RICO violations, they were either indirect or too remote to have proximately caused GM’s alleged injuries. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, first rejecting an argument that the NLRB had exclusive jurisdiction. The court noted the existence of a more “immediate victim,” the FCA workers, “better situated to sue.” GM has not alleged that it would have received the same benefits as FCA absent the corruption. View "General Motors, LLC v. FCA US, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendant filed various false liens against John Koskinen, the former Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service, and Jacob Lew, the former Secretary of the Treasury. There is no dispute that Pate filed the false liens to retaliate against Lew and Koskinen for acts they performed as part of their official duties. Defendant filed the false liens after Lew and Koskinen had left their positions with the federal government.The Eleventh Circuit was therefore presented d with the following question: Does Section 1521 apply to false liens filed against former federal officers and employees for official actions they performed while in service with the federal government? The court concluded that the answer to this question is yes—the plain language of Section 1521 covers both current and former federal officers and employees. The court explained that a reading of the statute’s plain language—“any person assisting such an officer or employee in the performance of such duties or on account of that assistance”—does not suggest that its protection ends at some ascertainable point in time. Like the language regarding a federal officer or employee, the language regarding a person who lends assistance to a federal officer or employee has both a temporal qualification on liability. Thus, the court affirmed Defendant’s convictions predicated on violations of Section 1521. View "USA v. Timothy Jermaine Pate" 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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Defendant was indicted tried, convicted, and sentenced to 28 months imprisonment for her part in a broader scheme to defraud the federal government out of relief funds intended for farmers affected by drought and fire. She challenged both her conviction and her sentence. As to her conviction, she contends that the evidence preponderated against a guilty verdict such that the district court abused its discretion when it denied her motion for a new trial. As to her sentence, she asserts that her bottom-of-the-Guidelines term of imprisonment is substantively unreasonable.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it denied Defendant’s motion for a new trial. Neither did it abuse its discretion when it imposed a bottom-of-the-Guidelines sentence of 28 months’ imprisonment. The court explained that allowing the verdict to stand in the face of an arguable inconsistency—of which the jury was made aware, and which doesn’t bear on an element of the conviction—is not a miscarriage of justice. Further, the court reasoned that the weight of the evidence does not preponderate against a guilty verdict in this case. Finally, the court explained that Defendant never mentioned the Section 3553(a) factors or explains how the court committed reversible error when it considered them. Accordingly, she has failed to carry her burden of establishing that the sentence is unreasonable in the light of both the record and the factors in Section 3553(a). View "USA v. Danyel Michelle Witt" on Justia Law