Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

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The Spriggs’ bank account was established to receive social security checks. The Spriggs’ great-grandson, Vance, filled out an application in Mr. Spriggs’s name for a debit card to draw on the checking account. Mr. Spriggs had never used a debit card. The Spriggses did not authorize Vance to do so. Bank cameras photographed Vance using the card to withdraw cash. Vance also used the card for personal expenses. At another bank, Vance used Mr. Spriggs’s social security number to establish an account and obtain a $15,000 cash advance. Vance made other, unsuccessful loan applications. Upon being notified by the banks about suspicious activities involving his identity, Mr. Spriggs filed a police report. The police arrested Vance. While searching Vance’s car, the police located a large stash of personal and financial documents belonging to the Spriggses, including bank statements, tax return forms, property-tax bills, and a car title. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Vance’s convictions for access-device fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1029(a)(5), and two counts of aggravated identity theft, 18 U.S.C. 1028A(a)(1), and his 65-month sentence. The court rejected arguments that the district court failed to make adequate findings of fact after the bench trial, improperly denied a motion for judgment of acquittal, and failed to correctly calculate the loss amount connected to Vance’s charges under Sentencing Guidelines 2B1.1. View "United States v. Vance" on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for nine counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. The court held that the district court did not plainly err by finding that defendant's consent to search the vehicle was voluntary. In this case, the district court adopted the magistrate judge's finding that although defendant was being watched by deputies while on the property, did not have access to a phone, and was told that a warrant would be sought whether or not he consented to a search of his truck, his consent was not mere acquiescence to government authority. The court rejected defendant's contention that the government failed to prove venue was proper in the District of Minnesota where a reasonable jury could find that it was more likely than not that the emails at issue were sent from or received in Minnesota. The court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in sentencing defendant, and his sentence was not substantively unreasonable. The court also held that the $2.1 million personal money judgment forfeiture did not violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against excessive fines. Finally, the court rejected defendant's arguments in two pro se appeals as without merit. View "United States v. Johnson" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed his conviction and sentence for various tax offenses, including making and subscribing to a false tax return, tax evasion, and attempting to interfere with the administration of the internal revenue laws. Defendant's charges stemmed from his efforts, over the course of 14 years, to engage in a concerted campaign to obstruct the IRS's efforts to collect his delinquent tax payments and to secure overdue tax returns. The Second Circuit held that the district court lacked authority to require restitution payments to begin immediately following defendant's sentencing. However, the court held that, in assessing tax loss under USSG 2T1.1 application note 1, the district court was permitted to rely on uncharged relevant conduct constituting "willful evasion of payment" in violation of 26 U.S.C. 7201 and "willful failure to pay" in violation of 26 U.S.C. 7203. The court held that defendant's remaining claims were unavailing and affirmed the judgment as modified. View "United States v. Adams" on Justia Law

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Torres was a long-time employee at Vitale’s Italian Restaurants located throughout Western Michigan. Although Torres and other Vitale’s employees often worked more than 40 hours per week, they allege that they were not paid overtime rates for those hours. Vitale’s required the workers to keep two separate timecards, one reflecting the first 40 hours of work, and the other, reflecting overtime hours. The employees were paid via check for the first card and via cash for the second. The pay was at a straight time rate on the second card. Torres alleged that employees were deprived of overtime pay and that Vitale’s did not pay taxes on the cash payments. Torres sought damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961. The district court dismissed, holding that the remedial scheme of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201, precluded the RICO claim. The Sixth Circuit reversed in part. The claims based on lost wages from the alleged “wage theft scheme” cannot proceed. However, the FLSA does not preclude RICO claims when a defendant commits a RICO-predicate offense giving rise to damages distinct from the lost wages available under the FLSA. The court remanded Torres’s claim that Vitale’s is liable under RICO for failure to withhold taxes. View "Torres v. Vitale" on Justia Law

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After defendant pleaded guilty to honest services wire fraud, he claimed that the district court should have dismissed the indictment against him after alleged government misconduct came to light. Defendant was a college president involved in a bribery-and-kickback scheme with three main participants, including a state senator and a business consultant. The Eighth Circuit affirmed, holding that defendant lacked standing to assert a violation of his Sixth Amendment right to counsel and he failed to show the constitutional violation that the senator allegedly suffered specifically affected his right to a fair trial. In this case, the senator's attorney had previously represented a law enforcement agent, who was present at an interview between the senator and government agents, in a divorce proceeding. The court also held that a co-defendant's decision to record numerous conversations was made on his own and there was no government action involved that violated defendant's constitutional rights. Finally, the court held that the agent's decision to erase his laptop's hard drive did not entitle defendant to dismissal. View "United States v. Paris" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's convictions of three counts of securities fraud for insider trading, holding that Defendant was not entitled to relief on any of his claims. Specifically, the First Circuit held (1) the district court did not err in admitting into evidence a redacted recording and transcript of Defendant's Securities and Exchange Commission deposition; (2) the district court did not abuse its discretion in placing limits on Defendant's ability to cross-examine a witness; (3) Defendant waived his challenge to the district court's decision prohibiting Defendant from entering into evidence a certain email exchange; and (4) any prejudice resulting from the admission of the testimony of Defendant's ex-wife did not affect the outcome of the trial. View "United States v. Altvater" 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 Eleventh Circuit affirmed defendants' sentence for defrauding hundreds of undocumented aliens into paying about $740,000 for falsified federal immigration forms. The court held that the district court committed no plain error in holding defendant jointly and severally liable for repaying the proceeds of their illegal conduct. In this case, defendants failed to establish that they did not mutually obtain, possess, and benefit from their criminal proceeds. The court also held that defendants' sentences were not procedurally unreasonable and that the Sentencing Guidelines direct that they be sentenced for fraud and deceit. The court wrote that United States v. Baldwin, 774 F.3d 711, 733 (11th Cir. 2014), was controlling here. In Baldwin, the court upheld the district court's application of USSG 2B1.1 on facts comparable to those in this case. View "United States v. Pazos Cingari" on Justia Law

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William Lindsey persuaded six investors to advance roughly $3 million toward a new technology that he claimed would harness the energy of bioluminescent algae to light signs and panels. In soliciting these funds, Lindsey told his investors that he had already secured contracts to sell his lighting products to several large clients. As it turned out, neither the technology nor the contracts existed; Lindsey diverted the funds he collected to his own personal use. Trial setting was continued at least seven times in three years. David Tyler was Lindsey’s fourth attorney in this case, and judges had admonished Tyler and Lindsey there would be no more continuances. A month before trial, Tyler moved to withdraw from the case, but his motion was denied after a hearing in front of a different judge who found no irreconcilable conflict. On the eve of trial, Tyler filed another motion, this one challenging Lindsey’s competency. The factual assertions in this motion were the same factual assertions on which Tyler relied during the hearing on the motion to withdraw ten days earlier: Lindsey had failed to be completely forthright with him, to keep promises to furnish information and funds for an effective defense, and to diligently work and communicate with him. In all the years the case had been pending, this was the first time anyone had ever raised a question about Lindsey’s competency. During the hearing on the competency motion, just as during previous hearings, Lindsey was lucid and coherent, showing no signs of incompetency. Tyler believed that Colorado's competency statutes required the trial court to either make a preliminary finding regarding competency or indicate that there was insufficient evidence to do so. But the trial judge found the motion’s factual assertions had nothing to do with competency and did not support a good-faith doubt about Lindsey’s competency. Accordingly, the judge refused to postpone the trial. The case thus proceeded to a jury trial, where Lindsey was convicted of securities fraud and theft. Lindsey then appealed, and a division of the court of appeals vacated his convictions. Because the Colorado Supreme Court found no abuse of discretion by the trial court, it reversed the appeals court's judgment. View "Colorado v. Lindsey" on Justia Law

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O’Brien was convicted of mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341, and bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344, based on a 2004-to-2007 scheme in which O’Brien misrepresented her income and liabilities to cause lenders to issue and refinance loans related to two Chicago investment properties O’Brien owned., O’Brien was a licensed attorney with a background and experience in the real estate industry, including as a registered loan originator, mortgage consultant, and licensed real estate broker. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting O’Brien’s arguments that the charges against her were duplicitous and that under a properly pled indictment the statute of limitations would have barred three of the four alleged offenses. She also argued that the district court should not have admitted evidence offered to prove those time-barred offenses and that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s guilty verdict. The government appropriately acted within its discretion to allege an overarching scheme to commit both bank fraud and mail fraud affecting a financial institution. Each count included an execution of the fraudulent scheme within the applicable 10-year statute of limitations, and the jury’s guilty verdict rested upon properly admitted and sufficient evidence. View "United States v. O'Brien" on Justia Law