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Plaintiff challenged the dismissal of his Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and state law claims against the principals of a Venezuelan energy company. The Second Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the RICO claims because plaintiff failed to allege that defendants engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity. Plaintiff's first theory failed because the predicate acts posed no continuing threat of racketeering. Plaintiff's second theory failed because the predicate acts he chose were insufficiently related to each other. The court also affirmed the dismissal of the state law claims because plaintiff failed to establish personal jurisdiction over either defendant. View "Reich v. Betancourt Lopez" on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed a civil enforcement action against them for violation of the unfair competition laws (UCL) arising out of their involvement in a complex real estate scam. The Court of Appeal affirmed and held that defendants' unlawful scheme was not entitled to immunity under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine; the evidence supported the trial court's findings regarding the wild deeds; adverse possession was not a defense to UCL liability; the restitution award was supported by the evidence and the law; the civil penalties awarded were within the trial court's discretion; and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in imposing the permanent injunction. View "People ex rel. Harris v. Aguayo" on Justia Law

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Defendant, operator of a tax preparation business, was convicted of corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the administration of the tax code and of three counts of filing fraudulent tax returns. The Fifth Circuit upheld the convictions and amount of the restitution award, but modified the judgment so the restitution obligation was limited to the supervised release term that was the only period during which restitution can be imposed for a tax offense. View "United States v. Westbrooks" on Justia Law

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Sixth Circuit upholds allowing jury questions in online extortion case. Using the pseudonym “Dr. Evil,” an extortionist demanded $1 million in Bitcoin in exchange for an encryption key to Mitt Romney’s unreleased tax returns, which he claimed to have stolen from an accounting firm. He posted an image of Mike Myers’s Dr. Evil, from an Austin Powers movie, in the accounting firm’s Franklin, Tennessee office lobby. Agents traced the scheme to Brown, who had not actually stolen Romney’s returns. With 12 convictions for wire fraud and extortion, Brown was given a four-year prison sentence, and ordered to pay restitution. The Sixth Circuit affirmed his conviction, rejecting arguments that the search warrant lacked probable cause and that Brown was prejudiced by the judge allowing questions from the jury. The affidavit offered “a fair probability” that Brown’s home would contain evidence of the crime. Understanding the evidence required the jury to grasp the Secret Service’s forensic analysis of thumb drives, online posts, and Brown’s computers, Bitcoin, fingerprint matching, and digital photo manipulation-- enough complexity for a court to believe that permitting questions might aid jurors. The court vacated the sentence. Brown’s statements to prosecutors did not significantly impede the investigation, to justify the obstruction of justice enhancement. View "United States v. Brown" on Justia Law

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When the five defendants in this case failed to pass the required exams to obtain their medical licenses, they gained certification by obtaining falsified scores. All five defendants were indicted for conspiracy to commit honest-services mail fraud, money or property mail fraud, and aggravated identity theft. The First Circuit affirmed Defendants’ convictions for honest-services mail fraud conspiracy but reversed the convictions for money or property mail fraud and aggravated identity theft, holding that there was sufficient evidence to support the convictions for conspiracy to commit honest-services mail fraud but insufficient evidence to support both Defendants’ convictions for money or property mail fraud and the identity theft convictions. View "United States v. Berroa" on Justia Law

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Walter Liew and his company, USAPTI, challenged eight counts of conviction under the Economic Espionage Act of 1996 (EEA), 18 U.S.C. 1831(a), for charges related to their unauthorized use of DuPont chloride-route technology for producing titanium dioxide. Defendants also appealed their convictions for conspiracy to tamper with witnesses and evidence. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not err by giving a jury instruction regarding compilations; by rejecting a public-disclosure instruction; and by rejecting the reverse engineering and general knowledge instructions. The Ninth Circuit also held that defendants waived their right to have their argument related to the conspiracy and attempt instructions reviewed; even if this issue were reviewable, an intervening Ninth Circuit decision resolved it (United States v. Nosal). The Ninth Circuit rejected challenges to the sufficiency of trade secret evidence regarding substantive trade secret counts. However, the Ninth Circuit reversed defendants' convictions as to conspiracy to obstruct justice where the statement at issue tacked too close to a general denial to constitute obstruction of justice, and as to witness tampering where the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Liew intimidated, threatened or corruptly persuaded a witness. Finally, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court did not err by not requiring the prosecution to disclose rough notes of the FBI's interviews with a deceased coconspirator. Accordingly, the Ninth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "United States v. Liew" on Justia Law

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Unreliable corporate meeting minutes were properly excluded in tax fraud trial. Petrunak was the sole proprietor of Abyss, a fireworks business regulated by ATF. In 2001, ATF inspectors inspected Abyss and reported violations. An ALJ revoked Abyss’s explosives license. Abyss went out of business. Five years later, Petrunak mailed the inspectors IRS W-9 forms requesting identifying information and then sent them 1099s, alleging that Abyss had paid each of them $250,000. Because the inspector’s tax return did not include the fictional $250,000, the IRS audited her and informed her that she owed $101,114 in taxes; she spent significant time and energy unraveling the situation. Petrunak submitted those sham “payments” as business expenses; he reported a loss exceeding $500,000 in his personal taxes. Petrunak admitted to filing the forms and was charged with making and subscribing false and fraudulent IRS forms, 26 U.S.C. 7206(1). He sought to introduce corporate meeting minutes under the business records exception, claiming that the records would have demonstrated his state of mind in preparing the forms. The minutes included statements bemoaning that the IRS was not more helpful, and declarations that the ATF agents perjured themselves. The Seventh Circuit upheld exclusion of the records, noting that the records contained multiple instances of hearsay and had no indicia of reliability. View "United States v. Petrunak" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of numerous charges stemming from her submission of fraudulent immigration and tax filings, concluding that the district court correctly admitted evidence obtained following a search of defendant's home pursuant to a validly issued warrant. In this case, the seizure of over $41,000 in cash did not exceed the scope of the warrant where the warrant and supporting affidavit made clear that investigators were authorized to seize evidence of perjury and marriage or immigration fraud during their search, and the seizure of the cash did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Defendant's contention that the government failed to meet its burden of proving the tax and wire fraud charges against defendant beyond a reasonable doubt lacked merit because defendant's argument misunderstands the nature of the government's charges and the evidence presented against her at trial. View "United States v. Kimble" on Justia Law

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Lee, who has a degree in business administration, began a tax consulting business in 1974. Starting in the 1990s, Lee convinced clients to invest significant amounts of money with him, telling them their funds would either be part of an “investment club” or used to purchase shares in a company called China EC Net. Instead, Lee used the money for personal needs, including payment of mortgage obligations, living expenses, and his daughter’s medical costs. When San Mateo police arrested Lee in 2012, Lee said “you have no idea how big this is” and admitted “I know I was wrong.” Lee was convicted of 77 felonies, including multiple counts of grand theft, elder theft, identity theft, and money laundering, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay over $1.3 million in victim restitution. The court of appeal reversed four of the money laundering convictions based on insufficient evidence; the identity theft convictions because there was no evidence Lee used his victims’ personal identifying information for an unlawful purpose without their consent; and two elder theft convictions because the Attorney General conceded there was insufficient evidence. View "People v. Lee" on Justia Law

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Social security survivors' benefits are a thing of value of the United States that can support a conviction under 18 U.S.C. 641. Viewed in the light most favorable to the government, the Fourth Circuit concluded that substantial evidence supported defendant's conviction for theft of government property beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, the jury could reasonably infer from two denied benefits applications that defendant had a motive to file under a different benefits program to again attempt to obtain benefits to which he was not entitled. Finally, the district court's trial management was reasonable and far from an abuse of discretion. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Kiza" on Justia Law