Thursday, May 18, 2017
As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, the Second Global White Collar Crime Institute will be held in Sao Paulo, Brazil on June 7-8, 2017 at the Law Offices of Trench Rossi Watanabe. The program for the event is now available online. What was already shaping up to be a fascinating conference will now be even more interesting with news breaking overnight of another major Brazilian corruption scandal.
According to the New York Times, the Brazilian newspaper O Globo alleged overnight that a food company executive taped a conversation with Brazilian President Michel Temer in March that included discussions of "hush money" being paid to a jailed politician. According to the the New York Times, President Temer is also alleged to have told the food company executive to pay a lawmaker in relation to a dispute at a company facility. The President of Brazil issued a statement in response to the O Globo story denying the allegations, and the New York Times noted in its article that the paper had not yet independently confirmed the allegations.
According to The Rio Times, the food company executive in question, Joesley Batista, told federal prosecutors about the conversation as part of his cooperation pursuant to a plea bargain. Batista had been implicated in the Carwash corruption investigation in Brazil. After news of the allegations broke, lawmakers from several political parties called for an investigation. There were also calls for the President to resign. According to The Rio Times, PSB national president Carlos Siqueira told local media, "The resignation of the President has become an imperative not to aggravate the crisis further. The Temer government ended today."
This latest alleged scandal comes at a time when Brazil is still reeling from the fallout of the Petrobras scandal, a case that led to the downfall of former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff. These latest developments will certainly be ones to watch as corruption allegations continue to plague the Brazilian government.
Co-blogger Sol Wisenberg (here) called for Rod Rosenstein to "Hunker down Rod. Your country needs you." There are many who feared that the appointment of a special counsel would not be as neutral as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The appointment of special counsel/prosecutor could also delay a current investigation - after all anyone new would have to get up to speed. But the DAG outdid himself here in appointing former FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.
The real hero of the story still remains Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and hopefully history will remember this.
Wednesday, March 8, 2017
This is the first time the ABA White Collar Crime Conference had a panel focused on "Due Process on Today's Campus: Handling IX Abuse and Harassment Cases." Moderating this conference was Marcos Hasbun. Panelists were Carolina Meta, Thomas C. Shanahan, and Hon. Nancy Gertner. Many may think this is outside the scope of white collar criminal matters, but attorneys in the white collar area are often involved in the internal investigations for schools and criminal defense counsel can be called on in representation of clients - both individuals accused and victims.
Hon. Nancy Gertner noted that this was initially regulation guidance that was not issued with notice and comment. It has had earth shattering consequences, as described by Hon Nancy Gertner. The preponderance of the evidence standard being used was noted. But unlike ordinary civil cases, you don't have discovery. The panel discussed the "Dear Colleague" letter. She also noted the mandated procedures is how it has played out. Thomas Shanahan discussed the parallel proceedings that can occur with law enforcement and the university disciplinary proceeding.
It was noted that the university is under a mandate to move things along in 60 days. It was also noted that case lines are developing on two different tracks, including those arguing the denial of due process rights by the university.
Some argued that the process is focused on due process rights of the individuals making the accusation. But it was also noted that some states, like North Carolina, permits counsel during the proceedings for the respondent. It was noted it can be beneficial for counsel for the respondent to get the outside lawyer involved.
Sunday, February 5, 2017
It is always difficult to predict how someone will opine if they are on the Supreme Court. This is especially true if the prior judicial opinions do not cover a wide span on issues. In the case of the nominee, Judge Gorsuch, we do have some opinions to examine.
It is clear that he has excellent credentials from schooling and prior service on the bench. Interestingly, however, is that Judge Gorsuch's ratings are below those held by Judge Merrick Garland, who never received a hearing on his nomination. (see here) And in many ways Judge Garland had superior experience as the Chief Judge for the District of Columbia. After all, his court saw many cases that involved issues of national concern, like national security, including those dealing with Guantanamo. Further Judge Garland is neither a far liberal nor a conservative, having offered to the bench a centrist that would be more appeasing to an already split nation. Everyone seems to agree that Judge Gorsuch presents a conservative approach. (see here and here)
But looking solely at Judge Gorsuch, and not the unfortunate circumstance of the failure of Judge Garland to have the hearing that Judge Gorsuch will now receive, where does Judge Gorsuch stand on white collar matters is the question.
Typically, those on the right tend to be pro-prosecution on Fourth Amendment and drug crimes. In contrast, the same position is not taken in a white collar case. Professor Kelly Strader in his article The Judicial Politics of White Collar Crime, documents this paradox. Judge Gorsuch has a strong record of supporting the prosecution. (See, e.g., United States v. Mendivil, 208 F. App'x 647 (10th Cir. 2006)(affirming drug related conspiracy). And some of these cases might be considered white collar cases (See, e.g., United States v. Carnagie, 426 F. App'x 640 (10th Cir. 2011)(affirming a sec. 1001 HUD related case).
But if one looks at cases beyond the Fourth Amendment, like a gun-related case - we see him emphasizing a strict statutory interpretation. (See United States v. Games-Perez (dissenting)). Justice Scalia was particularly strong in enforcing strict statutory interpretation in white collar cases (e.g., Skilling (concurring opinion), Sun-Diamond Growers, McCormick (concurring), Santos). Justice Scalia was not shy to use vagueness and the Rule of Lenity to accomplish having a white collar statute strictly construed. And in this regard there is a strong similarity seen with Judge Gorsuch. Judge Gorsuch's opinion in United States v. Renz, 777 F.3d 1105 (10th Cir. 2015) provides a glimpse of his statutory interpretation analysis. He includes in the decision a diagram as he takes apart the elements of the statute in a methodical manner. The opinion itself is well-organized, references precedent, and resorts to the Rule of Lenity when clarity is an issue. He was unwilling to accept the government's interpretation of this firearm statute.
So what can we expect if he joins the Supreme Court? It is somewhat uncertain when examining the white collar area. But it does appear that the government may have some problems if it tries to stretch statutes or if the statutes are not clear.
Friday, December 30, 2016
Each year this blog has honored individuals and organizations for their work in the white collar crime arena by bestowing "The Collar" on those who deserve praise, scorn, acknowledgment, blessing, curse, or whatever else might be appropriate. With the appropriate fanfare, and without further ado, The Collars for 2016:
The Collar for the Best Left Hand Turn – To the Supreme Court following Justice Scalia’s death in affirming both insider trading and bank fraud convictions.
The Collar for Failing to Deliver the Goods – To the government for prosecuting Fed Ex and then needing to dismiss the case following opening statements.
The Collar for Needing New Glasses – To James Comey so that he can read Agency policy to not do anything election related within 60 days of an election.
The Collar for Sports MVP – To the world of tennis, which stole some of the focus from FIFA this year with the BBC's allegations of significant match-fixing.
The Collar for Slow and Steady – To Britain's Serious Fraud Office, which, after announcing the implementation of DPAs in October 2012, entered into its first DPA in November 2015 and its second in July 2016.
The Collar for Quick and Steady – To the DOJ, which, according to Professor Brandon Garrett’s website, has entered into well over 100 DPAs and NPAs since October 2012.
The Collar for Best Reading of this Blog– To the Supreme Court in reversing Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s conviction, this blog’s 2015 case of most needing review.
The Collar for the Longest Attempt to Justify a Decision – To the 11th Circuit for its 124-page decision in United States v. Clay that attempts to justify how “deliberate indifference” meets the Global Tech standard.
The Collar for Worst Schmoozing at an Airport – To former President Bill Clinton for causing AG Loretta Lynch to accept the FBI’s decision-making after Bill Clinton came abroad her airplane.
The Collar for the Most Underreported Settlement – To Trump University’s agreement to pay $25 million settlement in the Trump University case.
The Collar for Mandating Corporate Backstabbing – To Deputy AG Sally Yates, who keeps insisting her memo that promoted a corporate divide from its constituents – widely referred to as the “Yates Memo” -- should be called the Individual Accountability Policy.
The Collar for the Pre-mature Weiner Release – To James Comey for his overly excited announcement about the former Congressman’s emails.
The Collar for Community Service to Russia – To all those who failed to investigate and release reports on computer hacking that caused the release of information during the election.
The Collar for the Quickest Backpeddling – To Rudy Giuliani for “clarifying” his statement that he knew about a confidential FBI investigation related to Hillary Clinton’s emails.
The Collar for Best Game of Hide and Seek – To Donald J. Trump for explaining that he could not release his already-filed tax returns because he was under an IRS audit.
The Collar for Best Self-Serving Confession – To the Russian Sports Federation for admitting there was systematic doping of Olympic athletes (but Putin didn't know about it).
The Collar for Quickest Recantation (aka the "Mea Culpa Collar") – To DOJ Chief Leslie Caldwell for criticizing overly aggressive AUSAs at a Federalist Society function and apologizing to DOJ attorneys a few days later.
The Collar for Best Judicial Watchdog – To Judge George Levi Russell III of the United States District Court for the District of Maryland for his post-trial decision reversing the conviction of Reddy Annappareddy and dismissing the indictment with prejudice based on prosecutorial misconduct.
The Collar for Never Giving In – To Josh Greenberg and Mark Schamel who tirelessly and brilliantly represented Reddy Annappareddy post-trial and secured his freedom.
The Collar for Best Money Laundering – To the New York City and Los Angeles real estate developers who sell eight-figure condo apartments to anonymous LLP's owned by foreign officials and their families.
The Collar for the Best Child – To Don Siegelman’s daughter, who continues to fight to “Free Don.”
The Collar for the Best Parent – Retired years ago and renamed the Bill Olis Best Parent Award –not awarded again this year since no one comes even close to Bill Olis, may he rest in peace.
(wisenberg), (goldman), (esp)
December 30, 2016 in About This Blog, Current Affairs, Deferred Prosecution Agreements, Government Reports, Investigations, Judicial Opinions, Money Laundering, News, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, December 2, 2016
Readers of this Blog are no doubt familiar with United States v. Reddy Annappareddy, the District of Maryland case in which a guilty verdict was overturned (and new trial granted) with the grudging, belated concurrence of government prosecutors, because the government presented false testimony to the jury. The indictment was then dismissed with prejudice, over government objection, due to the government's destruction of potentially relevant evidence and the trial court's finding of prosecutorial misconduct. All of this was the result of the tireless and brilliant work of Annappareddy's post-trial attorneys, Josh Greenberg and Mark Schamel of Womble Carlyle. See my prior posts here, here, here, here, and here. Since my last post, the government moved to withdraw its appeal, the Fourth Circuit granted the motion, and the mandate has issued.
Now, Josh Greenberg, who played a key role in devising and implementing the post-trial strategy, has decided to open his own shop, focusing on white collar criminal defense, civil litigation, and appeals. Congratulations to Josh. We wish him the best.
Tuesday, November 22, 2016
We have been critical of FBI Director Comey's comments (see here and here) during the email investigations of Hillary Clinton. On a positive note, it was good to see him pull together the FBI for a quick review of Hillary Clinton's emails after his missteps, although this should never have been necessary if commenting during the election had not initially occurred.
But one has to wonder what kind of investigation has been occurring on the overarching problem - email hacking that is reported to be coming from outside the United States that disrupts and influences a U.S. election. (see here) The integrity of elections is crucial and a failure to assure that integrity is maintained is of the utmost importance. So where is FBI Director Comey now, and why are we hearing nothing about this important investigation?
The NYMag.com is reporting here that "academics presented findings showing that in Wisconsin, Clinton received 7 percent fewer votes in counties that relied on electronic-voting machines compared with counties that used optical scanners and paper ballots." In light of prior hacking of the DNC and the release of emails of individuals associated with Hillary Clinton, one would think the FBI would be conducting an immediate investigation to assure voters of the integrity of our election process. So where is FBI Director James Comey now?
Friday, November 18, 2016
Steve Eder, Donald Trump Agrees to Pay $25 Million in Trump University Settlement, NYtimes
Harper Neidig, NY announces $25M settlement in Trump University Case, The Hill
Thursday, September 29, 2016
In white collar cases, prosecutors often stress the signs or "indicia" of fraud inherent in a given defendant's conduct. In the FBI/DOJ investigation of Secretary Clinton we have several signs of incompetence and/or highly irregular conduct on the part of those in charge. The one that stands out most clearly to anyone who practices white collar criminal defense was the decision to allow Cheryl Mills to attend Secretary Clinton's FBI interview. Competent prosecutors do not allow a key witness to participate as an attorney in an FBI interview of the main subject. It just isn't done. It isn't a close question. It is Baby Prosecution 101. Director Comey's attempt to justify this decision during yesterday's House Judiciary Committee Oversight Hearing was disingenuous and disgraceful. According to Comey, the FBI has no power to control which attorney the subject of an investigation chooses to represent her during an interview. This is literally true, but irrelevant and misleading. Prosecutors, not FBI agents, run investigations. Any competent prosecutor faced with the prospect of Ms. Mills's attendance at Secretary Clinton's interview would have informed Clinton's attorneys that this was obviously unacceptable and that, if Clinton insisted on Mills's attendance, the interview would be conducted under the auspices of the federal grand jury. At the grand jury, Secretary Clinton would not have enjoyed the right to her attorney's presence in the grand jury room during questioning. In the event Clinton brought Ms. Mills along to stand outside the grand jury room for purposes of consultation, competent prosecutors would have gone to the federal judge supervising the grand jury and attempted to disqualify Ms. Mills. In all likelihood, such an attempt would have been successful. But of course, it never would have gotten that far, because Secretary Clinton will do anything to avoid a grand jury appearance. So, Director Comey's response was a classic dodge, one of several that he perpetrated during yesterday's hearing. As noted above, the decision to allow Ms. Mills to attend Secretary Clinton's FBI interview was only the clearest example to date of irregular procedures sanctioned by the prosecutors in charge of the Clinton email investigation. More to come on that in a subsequent post.
Friday, July 15, 2016
In 2014, prosecutors proceeded with a case against fed ex. Unlike many companies in a post-Arthur Andersen world, they would not be bullied into folding and taking a non-prosecution or deferred prosecution agreement. Instead, they took the risk - and it is always a risk - of going to trial. What makes this case particularly puzzling is that the company had cooperated with the government. They hired a top-notch white collar attorney Cristina Arguedas and the government folded shortly after the trial began. Now, according to Dan Levine and David Ingram in their Reuter's story, U.S. Prosecutors Launch Review of Failed Fed Ex Drug Case, the DOJ is reviewing this matter. Some thoughts -
1. It is good to see DOJ re-examining this case. What happened here should not have happened, and learning from this case is important.
2. The review should not be limited to the fed ex case. There needs to be an examination, especially for the smaller companies that cannot afford to go to trial, of the government cooperation tactics.
3. If cooperation is going to work, then credit needs to rightfully be given.
4. The government's pitting employees (the corporate constituents) against the employers (company) needs to also be examined. This practice defeats the ability of corporations and individuals working together to root out corporate misconduct.
5. Criminal defense attorneys need to recognize that one can successfully take a corporation to trial against the government. The risk is enormous, but innocence needs to matter.
Tuesday, July 5, 2016
FBI Director James B. Comey spoke this morning regarding the FBI's investigation of Hillary Clinton's Use of a Personal E-Mail System. See his remarks (here), which are unique in many ways:
1. Most investigations do not receive a formal statement saying that no charges will be recommended. ("we don’t normally make public our recommendations to the prosecutors"). Most individuals are left hanging without receiving a statement such as this or a statement from DOJ. Often folks may go through a lengthy investigation and but for the statute of limitations, they may never know it was over.
2. By not recommending that she be charged, but by stating negative comments about her actions (calling her "careless") she is left without the opportunity to demonstrate the truth or falsity of these statements. That said, having a statement that their recommendation to DOJ is that she not be indicted, is probably appreciated.
3. It is important to remember that an investigation such as this is one-sided - that is, the government is running the show. The FBI has no obligation to review or consider exculpatory evidence and one has to wonder if they shared what they found with defense counsel and gave them the opportunity to respond after they had reviewed the specific documents in question. Government investigations typically are not a give and take with defense counsel - they are the government accumulating as much evidence as they can to indict an individual and one only hears from the defense if and when there is a trial.
4. Is it the FBI's role to speak about hypotheticals when they have no hard facts? For example, FBI Director Comey stated - "It could also be that some of the additional work-related e-mails we recovered were among those deleted as 'personal' by Secretary Clinton’s lawyers when they reviewed and sorted her e-mails for production in 2014."
5. The accusations about what her lawyers did were unnecessary statements that had no place in this FBI statement. The statement that the "lawyers cleaned their devices in such a way as to preclude complete forensic recovery," seems like a proper action on the part of counsel - especially since they are dealing with the alleged classified documents.
6. Their statement about deficiencies in the security culture of the State Department ("While not the focus of our investigation, we also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department in general, and with respect to use of unclassified e-mail systems in particular, was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.") - To rectify this problem clearly takes money - will Congress authorize money for better technology and security within the State Department?
My Conclusions - It sounds like FBI Director James Comey's office did an extensive investigation and concluded that criminal charges are not in order - as it should be when a mens rea is lacking. It would be nice if this special instance of telling the individual that they are recommending against indictment were used in all cases when they have a recommendation for no indictment. When they do provide an announced recommendation of non-indictment, the FBI should limit their statement to just that. There is no need to tarnish a person's reputation in the process - especially when there is no concrete evidence to support the hypotheticals. Finally, becoming technologically savvy is difficult as the technology is constantly changing. Perhaps we need to re-examine our technological infrastructure across the board with the government -something we should have learned post-Snowden. Perhaps this can be put on the agenda of the next President.
Monday, June 20, 2016
The Supreme Court ruled today in Taylor v. United States, examining the interstate commerce element of the Hobbs Act. Although it provided a broad interpretation, it limited the decision to "cases in which the defendant targets drug dealers for the purpose of stealing drugs or proceeds." The Court explicitly states that it "did not resolve what the Government must prove to establish Hobbs Act robbery where some other type of business or victim is targeted."
A strong dissent by Justice Thomas argued that there should be a showing that the "defendant's robbery itself affected interstates commerce."
What this opinion means for white collar cases is that a strict interpretation of interstate commerce should be argued in these cases, with a requirement that there be a showing beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused acts affected interstate commerce.
Monday, June 13, 2016
When I first read the Baylor University Board of Regents FINDINGS OF FACT, it was immediately obvious that these were not factual findings at all, not in any sense that lawyers would recognize. They were normative conclusions almost completely unsupported by detailed facts, particularly with respect to the individuals who have been publicly shamed by the Board. Say what you will about Pepper Hamilton's report on the Penn State Jerry Sandusky debacle, that report at least contained a detailed, chronological factual narrative. Not so with Baylor's findings, which were promulgated by the Regents under Pepper Hamilton's guidance. Want to find out what Ken Starr did to warrant removal? His name is nowhere mentioned in the findings. Is Starr mentioned by title? Yes, the President and Chancellor are referenced exactly three times. "A Special Committee of the Board of Regents, on behalf of the University, accepted the President and Chancellor’s recommendation to engage Pepper in order to ensure objectivity, and Pepper was provided with unfettered access to personnel and data." Wow. What an indictment! It was Starr who recommended, almost immediately after learning about Baylor's problems, that Pepper Hamilton be hired in the first place. "Pepper interviewed witnesses across multiple departments, including the President’s Office..." There you go! Fire the bastard! Pepper Hamilton was given unfettered access to his office. How about Coach Art Briles? Surely his dastardly deeds would be dealt with in the findings. But Briles is not mentioned by name or by his Head Coach title. There are six references to "coaches" in the Findings, but no way of telling if Briles is one of them or even knew or approved of what the others did.
So I was all set to call for releasing the real report, the Pepper Hamilton Report of Internal Investigation. You know what I'm talking about, right? The report that law firms produce after conducting internal investigations of purported misconduct for companies and other entities? The kind of report that companies typically do NOT release except to DOJ, but that universities, such as Penn state, do? But then I read the Board of Regents' Statement posted on Baylor's website and realized that there is no report! That's right folks, the Board met with Pepper Hamilton from time to time and was "updated" with factual findings. "Over the course of the investigation, a special committee of the Board of Regents was periodically updated on Pepper's work. Additionally, in early May, Pepper presented their findings of fact and recommendations to Board leadership in Philadelphia and was onsite to brief the full Board during its May meeting in Waco. While no written report has been prepared, the Findings of Fact reflect the thorough briefings provided by Pepper and fully communicates the need for immediate action to remedy past harms, to provide accountability for University administrators and to make significant changes that can no longer wait." Translation: the Pepper Hamilton investigation was structured in such a way that no written report would be generated. This was obviously done for reasons of litigation and public relations strategy.
Now the Baylor Board can pretend that it has issued detailed findings admitting its sins in the interest of transparency. It isn't true. There is not one fact in the findings justifying the firing of Starr, or even Briles for that matter. There isn't any information about any improprieties that may or may not have been committed by Board members themselves. The conflict of interest here is palpable, as the Board is currently being sued and can probably expect more suits in the future. Do we really think that no member of the Board ever intervened in any manner in Baylor's athletic programs?
There is only one action the Baylor Board can take to assure its students and alumni that the full facts of the scandal, and the justifications for the Board's actions and inactions in the wake of its findings, are set out for all to see. Release the factual materials actually presented to the Board and/or its subcommittee by Pepper Hamilton, with appropriate redactions to protect any victims. Release all interview summaries. Release all PowerPoint presentations. In the alternative, Pepper Hamilton can be directed to draft the report it should have done in the first place. Only then can the Baylor Board say that it has come clean.
Thursday, May 5, 2016
NACDL and the US Chamber of Commerce have a Law & Policy Symposium on Thursday May 26, 2016 at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C. The title of the program is "The Enforcement Maze: Over-Criminalizing American Enterprise." The morning keynote speaker will be Chair of the House Committee on the Judiciary Bob Goodlatte, with David Ogden, former deputy AG, doing a keynote address later in the day. For the full program, see here - Download Agenda_NACDL-ILR Law Policy Symposium_External Agenda_5-5-16
Wednesday, April 20, 2016
Judge Valerie Caproni, the Southern District of New York judge presiding over the case of convicted former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, has unsealed papers submitted by United States Attorney Preet Bharara alleging that the convicted politician had affairs with two women who allegedly received favorable treatment from him in his professional capacity. The women, whose names were redacted from court papers (but identified, with accompanying photos, by the New York Daily News) were allegedly a prominent lobbyist who dealt regularly with Silver in his official capacity and a former state official whom Silver allegedly helped get a state position.
The government, whose efforts to introduce evidence of the relationships at trial were rebuffed by the judge, argued it should be able to provide such evidence at sentencing, purportedly to demonstrate that these relationships and favors provided by Silver demonstrated a pattern of abuse of power and possibly to rebut any evidence, including Silver's 50-year marriage, of Silver's good character. The judge seemed to accept the first argument, stating that she viewed this information "as a piece with the crimes for which Mr. Silver stands convicted," although "not exactly the same since no one is suggesting a quid pro quo, but of a piece of a misuse of his public office, and that's why I think it is relevant."
Generally, a federal judge has a right to consider virtually any information on sentencing, but I am uneasy about the injection of information of extramarital affairs of a defendant into the sentencing decision. If "no one is suggesting a quid pro quo," as Judge Caproni said, I question its relevance. Unless there is some basis that Silver did something favorable for these women because of their alleged sexual relationships - which I would call a "quid pro quo - I wonder whether his alleged actions constitute a "misuse of public office."
There, of course, is a difference between allowing a party to present evidence or argument at sentencing and factoring that information into the sentencing decision, and, absent specific facts, I am hesitant to say the material should not be considered. I am troubled, however, by the possibility that a defendant's alleged marital infidelity will become a regular part of a prosecutor's sentencing toolbox.
I am relatively sure that my first boss, from almost fifty years ago, Frank Hogan, the legendary and exemplary longtime District Attorney of New York County, would not have proffered such evidence, but Mr. Hogan was a man with a perhaps old-fashioned notion of fair play in a perhaps gentler age in which prosecutors rarely took aggressive (or even any) positions on sentencing (and the press did not publicize the dalliances of public officials).
(I note that Mr. Silver, whom I never met or spoke with, or contributed to, appointed me three times (and failed to reappoint me a fourth) to serve on the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct).
Saturday, April 9, 2016
The New York Times reported on Tuesday, April 5 that Donald Trump, contrary to his asserted practice of refusing to settle civil cases against him, had settled a civil fraud suit brought by disgruntled purchasers of Trump SoHo (New York) condos setting forth fraud allegations that also were being investigated by the District Attorney of New York County ("Donald Trump Settled a Real Estate Lawsuit, and a Criminal Case Was Dismissed"). The suit alleged that Trump and two of his children had misrepresented the status of purchaser interest in the condos to make it appear that they were a good investment.
What made this case most interesting to me is language, no doubt inserted by Trump's lawyers, that required as a condition of settlement that the plaintiffs "who may have previously cooperated" with the District Attorney notify him that they no longer wished to "participate in any investigation or criminal prosecution" related to the subject of the lawsuit. The settlement papers did allow the plaintiffs to respond to a subpoena or court order (as they would be required by law), but required that if they did they notify the defendants.
These somewhat unusual and to an extent daring conditions were no doubt designed to impair the District Attorney's investigation and enhance the ability of the defendants to track and combat it, while skirting the New York State penal statutes relating to bribery of and tampering with a witness. The New York statute relating to bribery of a witness proscribes conferring, offering or agreeing to confer a benefit on a witness or prospective witness upon an agreement that the witness "will absent himself or otherwise avoid or seek to avoid appearing or testifying at [an] action or proceeding" (or an agreement to influence his testimony). Penal Law 215.11 (see also Penal Law 215.30, Tampering with a Witness). Denying a prosecutor the ability to speak with prospective victims outside a grand jury makes the prosecutor's job of gathering and understanding evidence difficult in any case. Here, where it is likely, primarily because of a 120-day maximum residency limit on condo purchasers, that many were foreigners or non-New York residents and thus not easily served with process, the non-cooperation clause may have impaired the investigation more than it would have in most cases.
A clause requiring a purchaser to declare a lack of desire to participate, of course, is not the same as an absolute requirement that the purchaser not participate. And, absent legal process compelling one's attendance, one has no legal duty to cooperate with a prosecutor. It is questionable that if, after one expressed a desire not to participate, his later decision to assist the prosecutor voluntarily would violate the contract (but many purchasers would not want to take a chance). The condition of the contract thus, in my view, did not violate the New York statutes, especially since the New York Court of Appeals has strictly construed their language. People v. Harper, 75 N.Y.2d 373 (1990)(paying victim to "drop" the case not violative of statute).
I have no idea whether the settlement payment to the plaintiffs would have been less without the condition they notify the District Attorney of their desire not to cooperate. And, although the non-cooperation of the alleged victims no doubt made the District Attorney's path to charges more difficult, the facts, as reported, do not seem to make out a sustainable criminal prosecution. Allegedly, the purchasers relied on deceptive statements, as quoted in newspaper articles, by Mr. Trump's daughter Ivanka and son Donald Jr. that purportedly overstated the number of apartments sold and by Mr. Trump that purportedly overstated the number of those who had applied for or expressed interest in the condos, each implying that the condos, whose sales had actually been slow, were highly sought. A threshold question for the prosecutors undoubtedly was whether the statements, if made and if inaccurate, had gone beyond acceptable (or at least non-criminal) puffing into unacceptable (and criminal) misrepresentations.
Lawyers settling civil cases where there are ongoing or potential parallel criminal investigations are concerned whether payments to alleged victims may be construed by aggressive prosecutors as bribes, and often shy away from inserting restrictions on the victims cooperating with prosecutors. On the other hand, those lawyers (and their clients) want some protection against a criminal prosecution based on the same allegations as the civil suit. Here, Trump's lawyers boldly inserted a clause that likely hampered the prosecutors' case and did so within the law. Nonetheless, lawyers seeking to emulate the Trump lawyers should be extremely cautious and be aware of the specific legal (and ethical) limits in their jurisdictions. For instance, I personally would be extremely hesitant to condition a settlement of a civil case on an alleged victim's notifying a federal prosecutor he does not want to participate in a parallel federal investigation. The federal statutes concerning obstruction of justice and witness tampering are broader and more liberally construed than the corresponding New York statutes.
Monday, March 7, 2016
What do Bill Cosby and Whitey Bulger have in common? Both have lost challenges to criminal accusations based on the claim that their prosecutions were barred because they received oral, informal grants of immunity from prosecutors.
Last week, the First Circuit denied the appeal of Joseph (Whitey) Bulger, the notorious Boston mobster who was on the lam for 17 years until his 2011 arrest in California. Bulger was convicted after trial in 2013 for racketeering for participating in eleven murders and other crimes, and was sentenced to two life sentences plus five years. He is now 86.
Bulger's primary claim on appeal was that he was denied his constitutional rights to testify and to present an effective defense by the refusal of the trial judge to allow him to testify before the jury that he was granted immunity for both past and future crimes by a now-deceased high-ranking DOJ prosecutor. Interestingly, Bulger claimed that that the purported immunity grant was not in exchange, as one might suppose, for his providing information to or testifying for the prosecutor, but for his protecting the prosecutor's life. He insisted, contrary to widely-accepted reports, that he was not an informant.
The Court of Appeals upheld the district court's rulings that whether the prosecution was barred because of immunity was to be determined prior to trial by the judge, and not by the jury, and thus Burger could not present to the jury testimony about the purported immunity promise . Although the appeals court ruled that Burger had waived consideration of the issue on the merits by his failure to present the trial judge with any evidence, but only with a "broad, bald assertion from defense counsel lacking any particularized details," it reviewed the judge's merits determination on a "plain error" standard, and found that the judge was not "clearly wrong" in deciding that Bulger had failed to demonstrate either that the promise had been made, or, that if it had been made, that the promising prosecutor had authority to make it..
The government described Bulger's claim that the prosecutor promised him immunity "frivolous and absurd." What did give Bulger's contention an infinitesimally slight possibility of credibility, however, was that there was a demonstrated history (although not presented at the trial) that the Boston FBI had for years ignored Bulger's criminal acts when he served as an informant for them.
To be sure, the similarities between the Cosby and Bulger situations are limited. In the Cosby case the then District Attorney, the prosecutor who, if anyone, had authority to grant immunity, testified that he did promise not to prosecute Cosby. Here, there was no corroboration whatsoever of the purported promise by a now-dead prosecutor, and the Department of Justice strongly contended that even had such a promise been made, the prosecutor had no authority to make it. However, the decision, made by a respected appellate court (although under a different set of procedural rules and no binding or other authority over a Pennsylvania state trial court) does squarely hold that whether a prosecutor has granted immunity is not a jury question. And, should Cosby try to re-litigate the immunity issue before his jury, the decision will likely be cited by the District Attorney.
Friday, March 4, 2016
New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady did not get the reception he wanted at the oral argument of the appeal of the National Football League (NFL) of a district court decision overturning his four-game suspension in the so-called Deflategate case. Brady has been accused of conspiring with Patriot employees to deflate footballs so that they were easier for him to throw in a game in cold weather. The appellate court spent a considerable amount of time questioning Brady's counsel about Brady's destruction of his cellphone shortly before he was to appear before NFL investigator Ted Wells.
In my view the evidence concerning whether the footballs were deflated was equivocal and, even if they were deflated, the evidence that Brady was knowingly involved was largely speculative, and in total, absent an inference of wrongdoing from the unjustified destruction of evidence, probably not sufficient to meet even the minimal 51-49 "more probable than not" standard used in the NFL and most other arbitrations. Evidence of the suspiciously timed destruction of the cellphone, and the lack of a convincing justification for it, however, for me pushes the ball over the 50-yard line and may be the linchpin of an appellate decision upholding the suspension. As Judge Barrington Parker stated at oral argument, "The cellphone issue raised the stakes. Took it from air in a football to compromising a procedure that the commissioner convened." He asked Brady's counsel,"Why couldn't an adjudicator take an inference from destroying a cellphone?," then stated that Brady's explanation - that he regularly destroyed cellphones for privacy reasons - "made no sense whatsoever."
Courts are understandably especially sensitive (sometimes too sensitive and too punitive, in my view) to acts like perjury or destruction of evidence which obstruct investigations or prosecutions. Our justice system relies, at least theoretically, on the basic (although somewhat erroneous) principle that, at least generally, witnesses will not violate the oath to tell the truth. It is therefore no great surprise that the court focussed on Brady's destruction of evidence and his purportedly lying about it. Indeed, Judge Parker appeared to accept that even if Brady had not been involved in tampering with the footballs, his destruction of evidence would justify Goodell's decision. "Let's suppose a mistake was made and the footballs weren't deflated, and then a star player lies in his testimony and destroyed his phone. An adjudicator might conclude the phone had incriminating evidence. Why couldn't the commissioner suspend Brady for that conduct alone?"
Of course, it would be rather perverse if Brady's suspension were upheld when in fact he had actually not been involved in deflating footballs and had destroyed his cellphone as an excuse for not producing it and lied about it for reasons unrelated to the deflating issue, such as that the phone contained wholly unrelated embarrassing information or that he possesses an Apple-like principled view of privacy rights. It calls to mind Martha Stewart, who was convicted and jailed for lying to federal agents and prosecutors in a proffer session even though the underlying insider trading allegation about which she was questioned, was not prosecuted. On the other hand, it would not be perverse if in fact the destroyed cellphone did contain incriminating conversations.
Sometimes a client under investigation asks his lawyer what the client should do with incriminating evidence he possesses. As much as the lawyer in his heart may want the evidence to disappear, he cannot ethically or legally advise the client to conceal the evidence. (The specific advice will vary depending on the facts and circumstances.) The lawyer should frankly explain his ethical and legal obligations. However, generally the client doesn't give a hoot about them. The lawyer should explain that destruction, tampering and concealment of evidence, if discovered by the prosecutor, will undoubtedly eliminate the possibility of non-prosecution, lessen the possibility of a favorable plea deal, strengthen the prosecution's case at trial, and, if there is a conviction, undoubtedly cause a more severe sentence. Just as lawyers sometimes invoke the Stewart case to caution about the danger of voluntary interviews with prosecutors, so might they invoke the Brady case to caution about the danger of destruction of evidence.
The Brady case highlights the danger of destruction of evidence and lying to investigators.
Tuesday, January 19, 2016
White collar crime in sports has been a topic of much discussion over the last year, including the widespread coverage of corruption allegations against high ranking officials with FIFA (discussed here). Now it appears that the tennis word is coming under greater scrutiny as a BuzzFeed and BBC article is released discussing what they describe as "widespread match-fixing by players at the upper level of world tennis."
The article, entitled The Tennis Racket, was released over the weekend and immediately provoked much discussion. The story details evidence of match-fixing, including the involvement of Russian and Italian gambling syndicates. According to the authors, tennis's governing body has been repeatedly warned about the activities of a core group of sixteen players, each of whom has ranked in the top 50 and some of whom are winners of singles and doubles at Grand Slam tournaments. According to the report, none of the sixteen have been sanctioned and more than half will be playing in the Australian Open, which started today. Included in the article is a fascinating discussion of a 2007 match in which the betting was so suspicious, Betfair (the world's largest internet betting exchange) suspended the market and announced for the first time in its history that all bets on the match were void.
After the release of this article, it appears all eyes over the next couple of weeks will be on both the matches at the Australian Open and these serious allegations of misconduct. The question now is whether this story will mark the beginning of a journey for the tennis world similar to the one the soccer world has experienced over the last year.
Tuesday, December 8, 2015
Not surprisingly, New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance's office has announced it will after a hung jury retry, albeit in slimmed-down form with fewer defendants and counts, the criminal case involving the defunct firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf's alleged misrepresentations in seeking financing during its desperate dying days. Prosecutors rarely admit defeat in big cases after a single hung jury. Double jeopardy does not apply.
The major defendant, against whom (as often happens with the highest-ranking officer) there is the least evidence, Steven H. Davis, its former chair, has been pared from the case and apparently will receive a deferred prosecution. "Deferred prosecutions" are rarely, if ever previously, given to individuals by New York state prosecutors, at least by that name. Although the terms have not been announced, this disposition, I suspect will essentially be just a dismissal dressed up so that the prosecutor can save some face and not admit a total loss.
The prosecutor, as is a custom in New York County, announced publicly on the record his plea offers to the three defendants remaining. I find this custom repugnant and sometimes in return I announce the defendant's terms for a final disposition - such as, a dismissal, an apology by the prosecutor and a testimonial dinner in the defendant's honor.
The plea offers here were a felony plea with a one-to-three year jail term to Joel Sanders, a felony plea with 500 hours of community service to Stephen DiCarmine, both of whom spent six months at the trial that ended in a hung jury, and a misdemeanor plea with 200 hours of community service, to Zachary Warren, who was severed and has not yet gone to trial. I would not be surprised if these cases were settled before trial, not necessarily at the offered price.