Justia White Collar Crime Opinion Summaries

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Lightning, a Delaware start-up company that owns intellectual property protecting designs for a pallet used for transporting cold foods, sought $26 million in outside funding to retire debt, cover operational expenses, and purchase equipment to begin production. GrowMI, an entity created by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, agreed to loan Lightning $5 million and used its relationship with Flagstar Bank to secure an additional $7 million loan. GrowMI and Flagstar conditioned their loans on Lightning’s securing the rest of the $26 million by selling equity and securing lines of credit from Lightning shareholders. Lightning’s creditor LT sent GrowMI a letter indicating that Lightning owed LT $3.3 million, secured by an interest in Lightning’s intellectual properties. GrowMI allowed Lightning to use a portion of GrowMI’s loan to repay LT, ensuring GrowMI’s first secured position on Lightning’s intellectual properties.GrowMI subsequently became aware of wrongdoing at Lightning, which defaulted on its debt to GrowMI. GrowMI sued LT and its principals, Lightning shareholders, Lightning employees, and a consulting company, alleging violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1962, by a pattern of racketeering activity that included bank fraud, transactions involving money derived from that bank fraud, trade secrets misappropriation, and wire fraud. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. GrowMI’s claims rest on its status as Lightning’s creditor, making its injury derivative of the harm incurred by Lightning. GrowMI does not plausibly allege that it was directly injured by reason of the alleged racketeering activities. View "Grow Michigan, LLC v. LT Lender, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Haistens sold discounted animal pesticides and drugs online from their South Carolina home. They operated in violation of multiple FDA and EPA regulations. They sold counterfeit DVDs of movies and television shows that they obtained from China. The Haistens ignored cease-and-desist letters from state regulators and animal pesticides companies. Department of Homeland Security agents began making undercover purchases from the Haistens. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized shipments of counterfeit DVDs. Agents then searched the Haistens’ home, which revealed unapproved animal pesticides and drugs, counterfeit DVDs, and business records. In the ensuing prosecution, Count 14 charged the Haistens with trafficking counterfeit DVDs that were seized by CBP officers in Cincinnati. Count 15 charged them with trafficking counterfeit DVDs, that were seized at their home. Defense counsel did not request a jury instruction on improper venue or move for acquittal on Counts 14 or 15 for lack of proper venue in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The Haistens appealed, challenging an evidentiary ruling and a statement the government made during its summation. The Third Circuit affirmed.The Haistens then sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that their trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge venue on Counts 14 and 15. The Third Circuit remanded the denial of that motion for the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on whether their counsel had a strategic reason for not raising a defense based on improper venue. View "United States v. Haisten" on Justia Law

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Guaranteed was a “reverse distributor,” paid by healthcare providers to return unused or expired pharmaceutical drugs to the drug manufacturers, for refunds for the healthcare-provider clients. Refunds were wired directly to Guaranteed’s general operating account; the company then issued refund checks to the relevant clients, less a service fee. In 2001, the Department of Defense contracted with Guaranteed. The government began investigating Guaranteed after the District of Columbia noticed that it did not receive the full refund on a return of some of its pharmaceuticals. The investigation uncovered a series of schemes that Guaranteed used to defraud its clients.Guaranteed, its CEO, and its CFO, were convicted of multiple counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and theft of government property. In addition to prison sentences, the court imposed more than $100 million in restitution and forfeitures. The Third Circuit reversed the money laundering convictions and remanded for resentencing. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, there is not sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the alleged complex financial transactions—after the initial receipt of “commingled” fraudulent and lawfully obtained funds—were designed for "concealment money laundering." The court otherwise affirmed, rejecting challenges to a search warrant, the sufficiency of the evidence, the jury instructions, and the court’s refusal to permit proposed expert testimony. View "United States v. Fallon" on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed their convictions and the ensuing sentences on multiple counts arising out of their conspiracy to commit access device fraud. On appeal they argued that: (1) law enforcement agents violated their Fourth Amendment rights by illegally entering their house after arresting them; (2) the district court impermissibly lowered the government’s burden of proof during voir dire; (3) the district court erred in applying two-level enhancements to their base offense levels for possessing device-making equipment; (4) the district court erred in applying two-level aggravating-role enhancements; (5) their total sentences were procedurally unreasonable; and, finally, (6) their sentences, overall, were substantively unreasonable.   The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court the record demonstrates Defendants’ deep involvement in the planning and organization of the fraudulent scheme and their vital role in the commission of the offenses, as well as their involvement in decision-making and recruitment, all of which was far more extensive than the role played by the co-conspirator. To the extent Defendants argue that they could not both receive aggravating-role enhancements since they were equally involved, a defendant eligible for an aggravating-role enhancement “does not have to be the sole leader of the conspiracy for the enhancement to apply.” The district court did not clearly err in applying the aggravating-role enhancements to the brothers’ offense levels. Further, the court wrote that the district court imposed an otherwise substantively reasonable total sentence for each defendant. View "USA v. Igor Grushko, et al." on Justia Law

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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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Appellants were charged with conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) statute and various other crimes. After a three-week trial, the jury returned guilty verdicts as to all three Appellants. Appellants now challenge their convictions and sentences on various grounds.   The DC Circuit affirmed the district court’s rulings finding none of Appellants’ challenges persuasive. The court explained that because “the factors upon which the probative value/prejudice evaluations were made are readily apparent from the record, and there is no substantial uncertainty about the correctness of the ruling,” reversal is not required. Further, the court found that the district court abused its discretion by allowing the Agent to testify regarding specific distances and ranges of distances because such testimony was neither disclosed pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16 nor vetted as required by Federal Rules of Evidence 702 and 403. Nevertheless, because the error was harmless, reversal is not warranted. View "USA v. Noe Machado-Erazo (AMENDED)" on Justia Law

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Armbruster, a CPA with experience working at a Big Four accounting firm, began serving as the controller for Roadrunner's predecessor in 1990 and became Roadrunner’s CFO. Roadrunner grew rapidly, acquiring transportation companies and going public in 2010. In 2014, Roadrunner’s then‐controller recognized shortcomings in a subsidiary's (Morgan) accounting and began investigating. In 2016, many deficiencies in Morgan’s accounting remained unresolved. The departing controller found that Morgan had inflated its balance sheet by at least $2 million and perhaps as much as $4–5 million. Armbruster filed Roadrunner's 2016 third quarter SEC Form 10‐Q with no adjustments of the carrying values of Morgan balance sheet items and including other misstatements. Roadrunner’s CEO learned of the misstatements and informed Roadrunner’s Board of Directors. Roadrunner informed its independent auditor. Roadrunner’s share price dropped significantly. Roadrunner filed restated financial statements, reporting a decrease of approximately $66.5 million in net income over the misstated periods.Criminal charges were brought against Armbruster and two former departmental controllers. A mixed verdict acquitted the departmental controllers on all counts but convicted Armbruster on four of 11 charges for knowingly falsifying Roadrunner‘s accounting records by materially misstating the carrying values of Morgan's receivable and prepaid taxes account, 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(2), (5), i78ff(a), 18 U.S.C. 2, fraudulently influencing Roadrunner’s external auditor, and filing fraudulent SEC financial statements, 18 U.S.C.1348. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While the case against Armbruster may not have been open‐and‐shut, a rational jury could have concluded that the government presented enough evidence to support the guilty verdicts. View "United States v. Armbruster" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted on all five counts of a 2011 indictment charging himself and two co-conspirators with a variety of offenses arising from a well-orchestrated scheme to circumvent American export controls designed to prevent dual-use commodities—goods with both civilian and military applications—from falling into the hands of adversaries like Iran. On appeal, Defendant seeks reversal and remand on three independent grounds.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that because of the Government’s diligence and Defendant’s evasiveness, the first two factors in the Barker balancing test weigh decidedly against Defendant’s speedy trial claim. The court wrote this is a case where a defendant who took steps to avoid being caught now faults the Government for not catching him sooner. Further, Defendant’s efforts to avoid apprehension cut against his speedy trial assertion in another way, as well—they betray a lack of diligence in asserting the right. Thus, because the Barker balancing test weighs overwhelmingly against Defendant, the district court was correct to deny his motion to dismiss for lack of speedy trial.   Finally, because the Sixth Amendment does not require a district court to render a particularized dissertation to justify a partial courtroom closure that is reasonable, neutral, and largely trivial (i.e., requiring spectators to watch and listen on live stream rather than in-person), the district court’s partial closure of Defendant’s jury trial was not unconstitutional. View "USA v. Ansari" on Justia Law

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Defendants 1 and 2 are siblings and were indicted on substantive counts of health care fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering related to their activities running a "pill mill." The District Court precluded evidence that Defendant 1 provided good care to his patients. The court also precluded evidence proffered by Defendant 2 (the younger sibling) that it is part of the Nigerian culture to defer to older siblings' decisions. Following their convictions, Defendant's challenged the court's evidentiary rulings as well as the sufficiency of the evidence.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions, rejecting all claims of error. The court also determined that the evidence was sufficient to support their convictions. View "USA v. Patrick Emeka Ifediba, et al" on Justia Law

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Defendants were convicted by a jury of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) by interfering with its lawful functions and evasion of payment of taxes. On appeal, Defendants both challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting their convictions and raise challenges to a number of jury instructions.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the district court’s denial of Defendant’s last-minute continuance request was not an abuse of discretion, and Defendant was not denied the counsel of his choice. Further, because Defendant failed to meaningfully address all four prongs of plain error review either in his opening brief or in reply, his constructive amendment challenge fails.   Further, the court wrote, that viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence showed that Defendant failed to report a substantial amount of income; influenced MyMail to amend its tax return to underreport how much income it distributed to Defendant; converted at least $1 million of income into gold coins; purchased a house with gold coins and transferred it to a trust controlled by a relative; and hid his income in Co-Defendant’s trust accounts and used the concealed funds to pay his living expenses for at least a decade, including during the years that the IRS Agent was contacting Defendants, as Defendant’s IRS power-of-attorney, in an attempt to collect Defendant’s unpaid tax liabilities. Based on the foregoing evidence, a reasonable jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt both willfulness and an affirmative act of evasion. View "USA v. Selgas" on Justia Law