Thursday, July 12, 2012

Lying Juror Requires New Trial in Massive Tax Fraud Case

Last month, in a thorough 64-page opinion, Southern District of New York Judge William Pauley ordered a new trial for three of four defendants convicted in what he described as "the largest tax fraud prosecution in U.S. history" because a juror, Catherine M. Conrad, had lied her way into being accepted as a juror.  United States v. Daugerdas, et al., 09 Cr. 581.

There appears to be little question Ms. Conrad, a suspended lawyer, connived to make herself in her own word "marketable" so that she could have "an interesting trial experience" as a juror.  In voir dire, she lied about her education, claiming the highest level she had reached was a B.A. when in fact she had a law degree.  She concealed not only her membership in and suspension from the bar but her own criminal convictions -- for shoplifting, DWI, contempt and aggravated harassment -- as well as her husband's extensive criminal history, which included a seven-year prison stay.  She made, according to the court, a "calculated, criminal decision to get on the jury." 

At a post-trial hearing at which she was granted use immunity, Conrad stated that if the truth were known, "defense counsel would be wild to have me on the jury."  In fact, however, Conrad turned out to be extremely biased against the defendants.  In a congratulatory letter she sent to the prosecutors after the trial, she said she was "privileged to observe la creme de la creme -- KUDOS to you and your team."  In that letter, she mentioned that she had fought against but ultimately had "thrown[n] in the towel" on a not guilty verdict on one of the counts concerning defendant David Parse.  At the hearing, she testified that "most attorneys" are "career criminals."  Two of the four convicted defendants were practicing lawyers; Parse was a non-practicing lawyer.

Judge Pauley, clearly upset by the need to retry a case which took three months, strongly urged the government to prosecute Conrad.  Perhaps concerned that the government might feel that prosecuting her would be inconsistent with its opposition to a new trial, he added, "The prospect of preserving a tainted jury verdict should not temper the Government's resolve to call Conrad to account for her egregious conduct."  Any prosecution of Conrad, however, obviously would have Kastigar obstacles because of her immunity.

The judge, following the Supreme Court's decision in McDonough Power v. Greenwood, 464 U.S. 548 (1984), found that in order to obtain a new trial, the moving party must "first demonstrate that a juror failed to answer honestly a material question on voir dire and then further show that a correct response would have provided a valid basis for a challenge for cause" (emphasis added).  Apparently, even in a criminal case, the mere existence of a juror who deliberately lied her way onto the jury may not be sufficient to require a new trial.  See United States v. Martha Stewart, 433 F.3d 273 (2d Cir. 2006).  The McDonough test appears to be "If the juror hypothetically had answered truthfully, would her truthful answers have led to a challenge for cause?"  Thus, unknown facts that might have affected her fitness to serve as a juror which would not in any case have been revealed by accurate responses to voir dire questioning presumably should not be considered.

In a lengthy analysis, mingling those hypothetical answers to questions asked during jury selection with, somewhat questionably, facts learned and impressions formed at the post-verdict hearing -- including Conrad's discovered dishonesty, bias and her animus to lawyers -- the court found that the McDonough criteria had been amply met.  Accordingly, it ordered a new trial for all the convicted defendants -- except Parse, who the court ruled had "waived" his claim for a new trial since his attorneys knew or "with a modicum of diligence would have known" that Conrad's statements in jury selection were false and misleading and failed to disclose that knowledge to the court.

Judge Pauley felt that Parse's lawyers, the firm of Brune and Richard, knew or at least suspected (or alternatively should have known) that Conrad was an imposter certainly by the start of jury deliberations, but made a decision not to reveal their belief or suspicion to the court.  The court was apparently affected by what seems to be a carefully-crafted, literally true but arguably misleading, statement in the lawyers' new trial motion that they were "prompted" by disclosure of Conrad's post-verdict letter to investigate and conduct records searches "in the wake of Conrad's . . . post-verdict letter."  The court found that the motion contained "significant factual misstatements" and that its "clear implication" was to give the false impression that Parse's lawyers had no idea of Conrad's true identity until well after the verdict.  In fact, as demonstrated in a later letter from the firm, in the firm's e-mails during trial, which were ordered by the court to be produced, and in testimony by the lawyers at a hearing, the firm apparently had concerns about and suspicion of Conrad's deception, initially at voir dire and later, after further record search revelations, during the judge's charge to the jury.  A most graphic example was one lawyer's e-mail during the charge, "Jesus, I do think it's her."

The court believed that the attorneys' submission was designed to foreclose any government claim that their pre-verdict knowledge doomed their post-verdict motion on the grounds that they failed to act with "due diligence."  The court found unconvincing the attorneys' claim that notwithstanding the similarities between the juror and the suspended lawyer discovered by electronic research -- name, home town, father's occupation, approximate age -- and the juror's use of previously unmentioned legal terms (such as respondeat superior) in jury notes she authored, the attorneys did not believe until after her letter to the government was disclosed that juror Conrad and suspended lawyer Conrad were the same person.

The court thus found that Parse's attorneys had "actionable intelligence" that Conrad was an imposter and that they had been required, but failed, to undertake "swift action" to bring the matter to the court's attention.  The court apparently felt that the attorneys had attempted to "sandbag" it by remaining silent about the defect and only raising the issue when and if the trial did not conclude favorably, in effect providing them and their client with an "insurance policy against an unfavorable verdict."  By his attorneys' conduct, the court ruled, Parse waived any error.

It may well be that during the trial the attorneys chose not to report their suspicions because they felt that Conrad, who appeared from web research to be potentially anti-government, would be a favorable juror for the defense, and they did not want to lose her.  It may also be that, whatever the objective evidence that the juror and the suspended lawyer were one and the same might look like with hindsight, they actually thought that the juror and the suspended lawyer were different people since, as they claimed, they could not believe that the juror -- a lawyer -- would blatantly lie.  Under either alternative, the court found, they had an obligation to share their knowledge with the court.

Some may argue that an attorney, in her duty of zealous representation of a client, may remain silent if she learns during jury selection that a juror misrepresented herself.  Judge Pauley's contrary view is clear:  "An attorney's duty to inform the court about suggested juror misconduct trumps all other professional obligations, including those owed a client."  I agree.  See New York Rules of Professional Conduct 3.3(b).

Some may also question whether Parse, the client, should suffer from his lawyer's purported misconduct or lack of diligence (of which he had no apparent knowledge).  While generally a client is bound by a lawyer's strategic decision, and cannot cry foul if it backfires, Parse did suffer the same denial of a fair jury as the other defendants.  Nonetheless, the court held that his attorneys' failure to report waived any objection by Parse, but granted new trials to the other three convicted defendants (whose lawyers apparently had no knowledge of Conrad's deception).

There are several ironies in this case:  Parse, about whom, according to Conrad's letter to the prosecutors, the jurors "had qualms," is the only one whose conviction stands.  Further, his attorneys were the ones responsible for investigating and presenting the motions which succeeded in a new trial for the others (who joined the motion), but not for him.  And, lastly, if Conrad had told the truth at voir dire and revealed her suspension from the bar and her and her husband's criminal record, she undoubtedly would have been successfully challenged -- whether by cause or peremptory -- on the motion of the prosecution she so strongly favored, and not be the defense she despised.

 (goldman)

July 12, 2012 in Defense Counsel, Fraud, Judicial Opinions, Legal Ethics, Martha Stewart, Perjury, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Libor: The Regulatory Mind And the Prosecutorial Mind

The news that Barclays officials told the New York Fed in 2007 about potential problems with Libor highlights key differences between the regulatory mind and the prosecutorial mind. It also shows the difficulty in successfully prosecuting white collar fraud in the wake of regulatory incompetence.

When the typical federal prosecutor learns that a financial institution or corporation has lied, his instinct is to prove and charge a crime against the individuals responsible for the falsehood. Virtually any material lie in the context of publicly traded or federally insured entities constitutes a federal crime.

When a regulator learns that he has been lied to, the response is not necessarily the same. A famous example of this occurred during one of the SEC’s many examinations of Bernie Madoff’s shop. Madoff was caught flat out lying to SEC examiners. Did the scope of the examination expand? No. Were prosecutors immediately informed? No. Madoff was given a slap on the wrist. His massive Ponzi scheme continued for several years, claiming thousands of new victims.

While prosecuting S&L fraud twenty years ago, I was appalled to discover repeated instances in which the very fraud I was investigating had been contemporaneously revealed in some format to federal banking regulators and/or examiners who had often done nothing in response. This put putative defendants in the position of arguing that their frauds really weren’t frauds at all, because they had not deceived anyone. They argued that the regulators knew all about their conduct and failed to act, so: 1) it wasn’t deceptive conduct; and 2) they thought they had a green light going forward. Sometimes our targets and subjects were right. Sometimes they had only disclosed the tip of the iceberg.

By ignoring material financial falsehoods, the regulators and examiners allow frauds to continue and decrease the likelihood of future accountability through the criminal process.

But sophisticated fraudsters often reveal their conduct to regulators through a glass darkly. They are hoping that overworked regulators, with whom they are friendly, will miss, or misunderstand, the half-assed disclosures being made. The trick is to disclose just enough, but not too much. The typical regulator, unlike the typical prosecutor, does not distrust mankind or see a fraudster around every corner. The typical regulator has known the institution and executives he is currently monitoring for years. Often his ass has been kissed during that period in perfectly appropriate ways. He has been respected and deferred to. These intangibles, and his workload, may prevent him from noticing or following up on potential red flags.

We don’t have the full story yet on what the New York Fed knew about Barclay’s Libor problems, but the alacrity of the New York Fed’s acknowledgement that it knew something is striking. Timothy Geithner ran the New York Fed at the time, and we know that he has never met a wrist that couldn’t be slapped or a falsehood that couldn’t be excused.

The question remains—how can we bridge the regulatory/prosecutorial mental divide in order to punish real corporate fraud? Here is one answer—by training regulators and examiners to have zero tolerance for misleading or obstructionist behavior. The discovery of any lie or intentionally misleading conduct by a publicly traded or federally insured institution in any context should result in immediate fast-tracking to appropriate civil and/or criminal enforcement officials and/or federal prosecutorial authorities. This does not mean that prosecution should automatically or even usually ensue. It does mean that individuals who actually know something about fraud can take a critical and timely look at red flag behavior.

Once this process is in place, it may create a business climate in which elite corporate and financial institutions, and their officers, directors, and employees, will know that lying in any form will not be tolerated. The success of such a structure depends on the DOJ green-lighting prosecutors fearless enough to investigate and charge the flesh and blood financial elites who commit fraud. Almost every indication to date (outside of the insider trading context) is that current DOJ leadership is not up to the task.

(wisenberg)

July 11, 2012 in Civil Enforcement, Current Affairs, Fraud, Insider Trading, Investigations, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)