Monday, May 5, 2014

Supremes Rule Unanimously: Property=Money Under MVRA

This morning in Robers v. United States (2014), the U.S. Supreme Court resolved a circuit split and unanimously affirmed the Seventh Circuit. The Mandatory Victim Restitution Act of 1996 requires offenders to pay their victims "an amount equal to...the value of the property" taken, minus "the value (as of the date the property is returned) of...the property that is returned." The Supreme Court, through Justice Breyer, held that the "property" in question is money, rather than real property. Thus, Appellant's argument that his criminal restitution judgment, payable to the bank he defrauded through his straw purchases, should have been reduced by the value of the two properties securing the two loans on the day that the bank took the properties back, was rejected. The sentencing court had determined its restitution figure by subtracting the amount of money the bank received through sale of the two houses from the original loan amount. The Court approved this approach. The Court did note that the statute has a proximate cause component and that offenders may be able to show in some instances that intervening factors broke the causal chain. But Appellant failed to make this argument at the district court level. Justice Sotomayor, joined by Justice Ginsburg, joined in the Court's opinion, but expounded upon the proximate cause issues in a separate concurrence.

(wisenberg)

May 5, 2014 in Fraud, Judicial Opinions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Cyberstalking Statute Survives First Amednment Challenges in the First Circuit

Yesterday in United States v. Shawn Sayer, the First Circuit ruled that that a portion of the federal cyberstalking statute, 18 U.S.C. Section 2261A (2) (A), is constitutional as applied to defendant Sayer's actions and is not facially overbroad. The Court held that Sayer waived his void for vagueness challenge. The facts were undisputed and the case involved a multi-year effort by Sayer to harass his ex-lover by, among other things, posting their intimate sex tapes on pornographic web sites and inviting male strangers to contact her for sexual activity. The Court also approved the trial court's upward variance/departure.

(wisenberg)

May 3, 2014 in Computer Crime, Judicial Opinions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Fourth Circuit Confirms: "I'm My Own Grandpa."

Well. It's complicated.

Can your co-conspirator also be your victim? Your darn tootin' he can, under the Hobbs Act, according to the Fourth Circuit.

In 2007, the Sixth Circuit ruled that the victim of a Hobbs Act conspiracy must be a person outside of the alleged conspiracy. The case is United States v. Brock, 501 F.3d 762 (6th Cir. 2007). This decision seems to have common sense on its side. How can your victim be your co-conspirator, unless you are the Symbionese Liberation Army?

Prior to Brock, the Fourth Circuit had taken a more nuanced and sophisticated view in United States v. Spitler, 800 F.2d 1267 (4th Cir. 1985). There the Fourth Circuit noted a difference between "mere acquiescence" by an extortion victim, which would NOT render him a Hobbs Act co-conspirator, and "active solicitation", which would. "Refusing to paint with a broad brush," the Court ruled that Spitler's conduct was closer to "active solicitation" than "mere acquiescence."

On Tuesday, in United States v. Samuel Ocasio, the Fourth Circuit refused to abandon Spitler in favor of BrockOcasio involved the notorious Baltimore City Police Department towing scandal, in which city cops steered accident victims to a particular towing service in return for kickbacks. Ocasio, a former Bawlmer cop, claimed that, as a matter of logic, he could not have conspired with the towing service owners who were his alleged victims. The Fourth Circuit disagreed, applied the Spitler test, and found the towing service owners' actions closer to "active solicitation" than "mere acquiescence." According to the Court, the plain and unambiguous text of the Hobbs Act compels the conclusion that one CAN conspire with one's victim.

Hat Tip to Lonzo and Oscar.

(wisenberg)

May 1, 2014 in Judicial Opinions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Recent and Noteworthy

The Tenth Circuit explains the rather Talmudic distinction between a material omission, which requires the government to prove the defendant's duty to disclose, and a half-truth, which imposes no such requirement on the government. The case is  U.S. v. Charles Homer Chip Sharp (10th Cir. 2014) (omission in mail fraud). I'm surprised that no academic has done a study on the number of white collar defendants named Chip and Skip.

The Third Circuit's current willful blindness instruction is a vast improvement over its old one.  It survives a valiant and brilliant attack from appellate guru Peter Goldberger in U.S. v. Abdur Razzak Tai.

Here's a novel idea. Before a defendant can be sentenced, the jury has to actually render a guilty verdict. The Fourth Circuit provides remedial instruction in U.S. v. Saul Ramirez-Castillo.

(wisenberg)

 

April 30, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

In My Expert Opinion The Defendant Is A Liar

This post isn't about a white collar case, but America is our beat. Yesterday the Tenth Circuit reversed the bank robbery conviction of Stanley Hill, because FBI Special Agent Charles Jones (qualified as an "expert" trained in "special tactics and ways to identify deception in statements and truth in statements") testified that Hill's answers during a government interrogation were "not worthy of credence and 'did not make sense.'" Jones also testified that Hill "displayed evasive behaviors 'common among the criminal element to keep law enforcement at bay'" during interrogations. When asked about Hill's purported statement that he would rather die than face charges, Jones opined that "[n]ever in my career have I seen that with an innocent person." Finally, in discussing Hill's frequent invocation of God during the interrogation, Jones told the jury "'[m]y training has shown me...when people start bringing faith into validating their statements, that they're deceptive. Those are deceptive statements.'"

The surprise here is not that the Tenth Circuit found plain error and reversed. The surprise is that a DOJ trained prosecutor would ever put on such testimony in the first place. The surprise is that a federally trained public defender  CJA Panel Attorney would sit like a potted plant and fail to object to such flagrantly inadmissible testimony. The surprise is that a United States District Court Judge with even a cursory understanding of the Federal Rules of Evidence and due process would allow such testimony to go forward. Of course the Tenth Circuit panel went out of its way to absolve the trial court of any responsibility: "We cast no blame on the district court for the error that occurred in this case." That's the federal judicial protection racket for you. Most traffic court judges would know better than to allow in testimony like this. Here is the opinion in United States v. Stanley Hill.

(wisenberg)

 

Update: Hat Tip to Steve Levin of Levin & Curlett LLC for pointing out that the case was tried by a CJA Panel Attorney rather than the Public Defender's Office.

April 29, 2014 in Judicial Opinions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, April 28, 2014

In the News & Around the Blogosphere

Tony Mauro, Legal Times, Ted Stevens’ Defense Lawyers Honored As ‘Constitutional Champions’ (congratulations to Brendan Sullivan Jr. & Robert Cary)

Amanda Bronstad, The National Law Journal, Ex-KPMG Partner Gets 14 Months for Insider Trading

Paul Mogin, National Law Journal, DOJ Relents on False-Statements Policy

(esp)

 

April 28, 2014 in News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wire Fraud: Lying Isn't Always Enough

Nancy and Lester Sadler ran pain clinics that sometimes serviced  more than 100 patients a day--and that didn't even include the fake ones. They were convicted of several crimes and the Sixth Circuit affirmed all but one of the counts of conviction last week. Nancy Sadler's wire fraud conviction was vacated, however. According to the Court,  "the government showed that Nancy lied to pharmaceutical distributors when she ordered pills for the clinic by using a fake name on her drug orders and by falsely telling the distributors that the drugs were being used to serve 'indigent' patients." But this did not "deprive" the distributors of their property, because Nancy paid full price. "[P]aying the going rate for a product does not square with the conventional understanding of 'deprive.'" The government argued that the distributors would not have sent the pills had Nancy told them the truth. The Sixth Circuit dubbed this a "right to accurate information" and noted that the federal mail and wire fraud statutes no longer cover this kind of intangible right in the post-McNally era. Congress' statutory fix of McNally only covers the intangible right of honest services, "which protects citizens from public-official corruption." Of course 18 U.S.C. Section 1346 does more than that, even after Skilling, as it also covers certain private deprivations of honest services. But the conduct at issue in Sadler did not involve Nancy's "honest services" to the pharmaceutical distributors. She provided no services to them--she simply fibbed, but paid full price. Here is the opinion in United States v. Nancy Sadler.

(wisenberg)

April 28, 2014 in Fraud, Judicial Opinions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Fishy SOX Case

18 U.S.C. § 1519, known as the “anti-shredding provision” of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, makes it a crime for anyone who “knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object” with the intent to impede or obstruct an investigation (emphasis added).  Congress passed this statute in the aftermath of the Enron debacle.  But did they ever envision that a prosecutor would use this statute against a commercial fisherman for allegedly having undersized grouper fish that were thrown overboard following the issuing of a civil fishing citation from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission? 

The government’s extension of this SOX statute is the subject of a Petition for Certiorari (Download Yates Pcert_Filed) before the Supreme Court. A key issue is whether “fish” are tangible objects for the purposes of this statute. And even more bizarre is that the fisherman allegedly started with 72 undersized red grouper and when he came to shore there were purportedly only 69 fish.  Could this be a federal prosecution under SOX for 3 missing fish? And is this all happening during a time of sequestration with tight funding?

Perhaps the Supreme Court will agree that in the ocean of crime, this one is a bit fishy.  Following the filing of the Petition for Certiorari and a distribution for conference, the Court requested a response from the government. Amici filed a couple of briefs and it was again distributed for conference. It is now set for distribution a third time, April 25, 2014 (see here). It's a wonderful case for the Court to examine principles of statutory interpretation and how far afield the government can go in using a statute written and intended to stop one form of criminal conduct but being used in an unintended manner. This case also provides the Court the chance to step to the plate and express a view on overcriminalization. (see NACDL amicus brief of William Shepherd here - Download NACDLYATESAMICUS).  There are many other issues in the "fish case" that may also interest the Court, such as how a civil fishing citation became a criminal case with an indictment issued 985 days after the citation. (see Petitioner's Reply Brief - Download Yates Reply to Brief in Opposition). But the real question is whether the Court will order fish this coming Friday at their conference.   

 (esp)

April 22, 2014 in Enron, Obstruction, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Extradition in an Antitrust Case

DOJ reports their first ever extradiction on an Antitrust charge. (see here).  The accused is charged with violating the Sherman Act.  The company where the excutive had worked was in Italy, but the arrest and extradition was from Germany. Obviously, the individual is presumed innocent and the Government will bear the burden of proving guilt.

(esp)

April 17, 2014 in Antitrust | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Lois Lerner Held in Contempt

Last week, as reported in the New York Times (see here), the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee voted to hold in contempt Lois Lerner, the Internal Revenue Service official who after making a brief statement declaring her innocence invoked her Fifth Amendment privilege and refused to answer questions from the Committee members.  The Committee action will be referred to the entire House of Representatives for its consideration.  If the House votes to hold Ms. Lerner in contempt, it would refer the matter to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia, Ronald C. Machen, Jr., a Democrat who in my view is unlikely to pursue this politically-charged case.

The Committee vote was based on party lines, with the Republican majority voting against Ms. Lerner.  A vote of the entire Congress, if it occurs, will most likely similarly be so based.  Indeed, Representatives on the Committee took exaggerated and hyperbolic positions.  Republican John J. Duncan claimed if Ms. Lerner's position were accepted, "every defendant . . . would testify and plead the Fifth so they couldn't be cross-examined . . . ."  Democrat Elijah Cummings said if he were to vote to hold Ms. Lerner in contempt, it would "place him on the same page of the history books as Senator Joseph McCarthy."

As I said before (see here), I believe that Ms. Lerner's general declaration of innocence, before she invoked the Fifth, does not constitute a waiver, but I do not believe the issue is crystal-clear.  Lawyers who represent witnesses before legislative committees (or in other matters) should be cautious about taking such positions.

(goldman)

April 15, 2014 in Contempt, Current Affairs, Investigations, News, Privileges, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

NYU Conference - Deterring Corporate Crime: Effective Principles for Corporate Enforcement

I had the privilege of being at an NYU Conference titled, Deterring Corporate Crime: Effective Principles for Corporate Enforcement.  Hats off to Professor Jennifer Arlen for bringing together folks with some different perspectives on corporate crime. Individuals presented data, and I heard different positions presented (corporate, government, industry, judicial) on a host of topics.  The individual constituent (CEO, CFO, employee) within the corporation was not a key focus, unless it was a discussion of their wrongdoing or prosecution.   

From this conversation it was clear that deterring corporate wrongdoing is not easy.  Penalties have increased, yet we continute to see corporate criminality.  So the question is, how do we encourage corporations not to engage in corporate wrongdoing?

This is my top ten list of what I think exists and what needs to be changed -

1. Most companies try to abide by the law.

2.  Complying with the law is not always easy for corporations. In some instances the law and regulations are unclear, making it difficult to discern what is legal.  The array of different laws and regulations (e.g., state, federal, and international), as well as their complexity  makes corporate compliance problematic.

3.  Companies resort to internal investigations to get information of wrongdoing within the company. In some instances companies will threaten individuals with the possible loss of their jobs if they fail to cooperate with a corporate internal investigation. Individuals who provide information to their employers sometimes do not realize that the company may provide that information to the government and the information may then be used against them.

4.  If a company is criminally charged, it typically is financially beneficial for the company to fold, work with the government, and provide information to the government of alleged individual wrongdoing within the company.

5. DOJ's incentives to a corporation that causes it to fold and provide evidence to the government against alleged individual wrongdoers may be causing more harm because it pits corporations against its individual constituents.

6. We need a stronger regulatory system.  Our system is broken and one just can't blame agencies like the SEC.

7. If we expect agencies like the SEC to work, Congress needs to provide them with more money to engage in real regulatory enforcement.

8. There are many good folks in DOJ, including AG Holder, who look longterm at stopping corporate wrongdoing. But there are also individuals in DOJ who fail to see the ramifications of what may seem like short-term benefits.   

9. Corporate crime can be reduced if everyone - the corporation, government, and also the individual constituents would work together.

10. It would be beneficial in reducing corporate crime if there was more transparency.  We all need to hear what works - when there are declinations of prosecutions, or when an agency decides not to fine a company. We can learn from the good things companies do (anonymously) and when DOJ declines to proceed against the company.   

(esp)

April 8, 2014 in Conferences, FCPA, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Qui Tam, SEC, Settlement | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Gupta Conviction Affirmed by Second Circuit

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Rajat Gupta's convictions for securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud. (See here).  The decision should be a hit for future evidence casebooks as it provides detailed analysis of a host of different evidence rules - Rules 403, 801, 802, 803, and 804. 

But what the decision summarily denies is the argument that the "wiretap authorizations were obtained in violation of Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, ... and the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution."  The Second Circuit notes that since Rajaratnam's challenges were rejected, "Gupta's Title III and constitutional challenges are thus foreclosed."  Hopefully a higher Court will examine the use of wiretaps in such white collar cases.

(esp)

March 25, 2014 in Insider Trading, Judicial Opinions, Securities | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Keker and Little Receive White Collar Criminal Defense Award at NACDL White Collar Criminal Defense College at Stetson

On Saturday, March 22, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers presented both John Keker and Jan Nielsen Little with the 2014 White Collar Criminal Defense Award at Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Fla. Keker and Little received their awards during NACDL’s White Collar Criminal Defense College at Stetson. The White Collar Criminal Defense Award is presented annually to individuals who have made a profound impact on the field of white collar criminal defense advocacy.

Keker and Little are partners at the San Francisco, Calif., law firm of Keker & Van Nest LLP. They have worked together on numerous high-profile white collar criminal cases, including former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow who was charged with over 100 counts of securities fraud and other crimes. The pair has also represented Mississippi plaintiffs’ attorney Dickie Scruggs and investment banker Frank Quattrone. In 1995, they obtained an acquittal at trial for San Francisco attorney Patrick Hallinan, charged with RICO and drug conspiracy offenses.

Presenting the award, NACDL Executive Director Norman Reimer said, “This year’s recipients of NACDL's White Collar Criminal Defense Award, John Keker and Jan Nielsen Little, partners at Keker & Van Nest LLP, are truly a dynamic duo. They are two lawyers of extraordinary talent and tenacious resolve who not only excel in advocacy for their clients, but excel also in setting the highest standards of professionalism and service to their colleagues in the defense bar and society at large.”

Keker co-founded Keker & Van Nest LLP in 1978. He represented cyclist Lance Armstrong in a case in which the Department of Justice terminated its investigation of Armstrong without filing any criminal charges. Keker is a graduate of Yale Law School and received his B.A. from Princeton University. He clerked with U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren and served as a Marine infantry platoon leader during the Vietnam War.

Little has been a practicing criminal defense lawyer for more than 25 years. She represented a Silicon Valley executive in the country’s first stock options backdating prosecution, obtaining a dismissal of six of eight counts and a 60-day sentence on the remaining counts. Little earned her J.D. at Yale Law School and her B.A. at the University of California, Berkeley, completed a clerkship with Judge William W. Schwarzer of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, and worked with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Criminal Division before becoming a defense attorney.

The NACDL White Collar Criminal Defense College at Stetson is an educational “boot-camp” program for legal practitioners from across the country wishing to gain key advocacy skills and learn substantive white collar law from masters in the field.

(esp)

March 24, 2014 in Conferences, Defense Counsel | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dewey & LeBoeuf Indictment is Announced

 The big news on the white-collar crime front in New York last week was the long-expected indictment of persons involved in the defuct law firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf.  Charged were its chairman, executive director and chief financial officer, as well as a low-level client relations manager.  Seven not-yet-identified others have pleaded guilty.  Only two of the eleven criminally charged appear to be lawyers, and the cases against them may be the weakest.  See James B. Stewart, "In Dewey's Wreckage, Indictments," New Yorker Blog, March 7, 2014, see here.

The charges essentially are that the defendants cooked the books in order to keep the failing firm alive with institutional financing.  More specifically, it is charged, they falsified financial records submitted to banks and investors to demonstrate that the firm had complied with existing loan covenants and were worthy of further investor loans, and made fraudulent accounting entries to support their false representations.  The top charge is grand larceny in the first degree, theft in excess of $1 million, a Class B felony with a potential sentence of 25 years, and a minimum sentence of one to three years.

In many ways, as the facts are alleged, this is a not untypical case, where businesspeople -- ordinarily law-abiding -- fall into financial situations where they desperately need to borrow money to keep their businesses going and falsify income, receivables, expenses and the like in order to get it.  Such chicanery is far from rare and is often undetected or overlooked, particularly if the borrower improves its financial position and pays off all or a substantial part of the amount owed.  And,  if detected, such wrongdoing is often made public only in private civil litigation and without criminal prosecution.  Generally, the borrowers have an expectation and/or hope, often unreasonable, that they will ultimately be able to pay off the loan and thus arguably lack the intent to permanently deprive (an element of larceny) the lenders.

There are several interesting aspects of the case.  It is being brought by a state prosecutor -- the District Attorney of New York County -- rather than the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, the predominant prosecutor of white-collar crime in Manhattan.  The District Attorney, like most state and local prosecutors forced to deal with every police street arrest, whether for murder or disorderly conduct, and lacking sufficient available personnel and resources to conduct many complicated and lengthy white-collar investigations, generally has a far less significant presence in white-collar prosecution than his federal counterpart.

More unusual, in this case, much of the legwork for the state prosecution apparently was done by the FBI (and not a state or city police agency).  Almost always, when the FBI does the investigative work on a white-collar case (or even when the work is done jointly by federal and state investigators), that case is prosecuted by federal authorities.  I do not know why this case is an exception.  Perhaps the United States Attorney declined the case because he questioned its strength or jurisdictional basis, or, even less likely, felt his resources were better used on other goals.  My best guess is that the case was prosecuted by the District Attorney because he jumped on it first, and/or was first provided evidence of alleged wrongdoing by some of the firm's unhappy partners.  In any case, if this joint effort between federal investigators and New York State prosecutors is a harbinger of further cooperative efforts, it will be a significant step forward for white-collar prosecution in New York City, the financial (and probably white-collar crime) capital of the country.  Far too often, federal authorities let significant matters brought to their attention go by the wayside because of jurisdictional problems or federal lack of interest rather than turn them over to state prosecutors.  And, far too often, state prosecutors let significant matters go by the wayside because of their lack of resources and expertise rather than turn them over to federal prosecutors.

The New York County District Attorney, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., in a press statement, claimed that the victims were not just the lending financial institutions but also the thousands of people who lost their jobs when the firm failed.  I strongly disagree.   The firm's employees actually were for the most part beneficiaries of the loan proceeds, and therefore if the allegations are true, unknowing beneficiaries of the criminality that enabled that borrowing, which kept the firm alive and staved off bankruptcy for a time.  Those who lost their jobs when the firm ultimately failed and went into bankruptcy most likely kept those jobs much longer than they would have had the law firm not been able to secure the funding.  Dewey & LeBoeuf failed not because of criminal acts, but, if criminal acts did occur, in spite of them.

The real victims in this case, the only direct victims, are the banks and other financial institutions which loaned the firm unrecovered money.  Sometimes, in cases of this kind, the bankers are negligent in their due diligence and occasionally actually compliant with the borrowers in order to achieve short-term profits for their institutions and immediate benefits for themselves in bonuses and salary increases.  I have no knowledge that either negligence or complicity happened here.

(goldman)

 

March 12, 2014 in Current Affairs, Fraud, News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Kaley Opinion, Based on Legal Fiction, is Harmful to Defendants and Lawyers

In Kaley v. United States (12-464, decided February 25, 2014) (see here), the Supreme Court by a 6-3 vote extended the rulings of United States v. Monsanto, 491 U.S. 600 (1989) and Caplin & Drysdale v. United States, 491 U.S. 617 (1989) by determining that a grand jury finding of probable cause that a federal defendant committed a crime was conclusive in any effort by that defendant to secure funds out of temporarily restrained assets to hire a private attorney of his choice.  A defendant seeking release of funds may still be able to challenge the grand jury determination that there was probable cause that the assets seized resulted from or were involved in the purported criminal activity, but not that the activity was criminal.

The opinion, written by Justice Kagan, exalts the inviolability of the grand jury and demonstrates a naive misunderstanding of (or lack of concern about) the reality of its role in the determination of probable cause, ignores the presumption of innocence, and denigrates the importance of independent defense counsel in the criminal justice system.  It tilts the playing field of justice in the government's favor by giving the government, in some cases, the option to deprive the defendant of the counsel he has selected or intends to select.

Essentially, the premise of the opinion is that since grand juries historically have the unreviewable power to determine probable cause to indict and require a person to stand trial and thus derivatively to deprive him of pre-trial liberty, they similarly have the power derivatively to deprive him of his right to counsel of choice.  Justice Kagan, worrying that a different decision would be incongruous and unsymmetrical, seems more concerned with the effect of the decision on the pillars of architecture of the criminal justice system than the pillars of justice and fairness. 

The underlying (but unspoken) foundation of the opinion is essentially fraudulent:  the legal fiction that federal grand juries actually make independent, considered determinations of probable cause necessary to indict.  Every experienced federal prosecutor, defense attorney, or judge knows otherwise; grand juries, especially federal ones, are virtually invariably merely "rubber stamps" for the prosecution.  The government -- not the grand juries -- makes the actual decision who and for what to indict.

Former New York Court of Appeals Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously said, "A grand jury would indict a ham sandwich" -- referring to a grand jury in a state where prosecutors are constrained because they know that judges are mandated by law upon defense motion to review the grand jury minutes to determine whether the evidence presented was legally sufficient and to dismiss the indictment if not, and where hearsay evidence is not admissible.  In contrast, in federal courts, as stated in Kaley (quoting United States v. Williams, 504 U.S. 36, 54 (1992)), "a challenge to the reliability or competence of the evidence supporting a grand jury's finding of probable cause will not be heard" (and an indictment may be, and sometimes is, based wholly on hearsay, often from a single government agent).  A federal prosecutor thus has no such constraint as his New York State counterpart; he knows that no matter how flimsy or inadmissible the evidentiary basis for an indictment may be, that basis is unchallengeable.  Thus, if a New York State grand jury would indict a ham sandwich, a federal grand jury would indict a slice of bread.

 *               *               *

Chief Justice Roberts, to my knowledge the only current justice who had a significant career representing paying clients and thus may have greater empathy for the private bar than most of  his colleagues, wrote a powerful dissent noting the basic lack of fairness allowing the prosecution essentially to disqualify an accused's counsel of choice without even a hearing.  He wrote:

[F]ew things could do more to undermine the criminal justice system's integrity than to allow the Government to initiate a prosecution and, then, at its option, disarm its presumptively innocent opponent by depriving him of his counsel of choice -- without even an opportunity to be heard. . . .  [I]t is fundamentally at odds with our constitutional tradition and basic notices of fair play. . . .

The issues presented here implicate some of the most fundamental precepts underlying the American criminal justice system.  A person accused by the United States of committing a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  But he faces a foe of powerful might and vast resources, intent on seeing him behind bars.  That individual has the right to choose the advocate he believes will most ably defend his liberty at trial. . . .

In my view, the Court's opinion pays insufficient respect to the importance of an independent bar as a check on prosecutorial abuse and government overreaching.  Granting the Government the power to take away a defendant's chosen advocate strikes at the heart of that significant role.

 *               *               *

Following Monsanto, which explicitly left open the question as to whether a hearing on the provenance of seized funds was required, the federal courts divided on the issue.  Some prosecutors had chosen to allow defendants to pay from restrained funds reasonable and legitimate fees to counsel of choice.  Most had done so in order to avoid giving the defendant a preview of their case; others had done so out of respect for the constitutional right to counsel and a robust adversary system -- a right apparently not as much respected by the Court majority -- and a preference for a fair fight where the accused  is not hampered by denial of his choice of counsel.

The elimination of the requirement in many courts for what was called "a Monsanto hearing" (a term likely to be soon forgotten) will undoubtedly eliminate, or at the very least severely limit, the opportunity for defendants in federal courts to pay counsel of choice from seized funds.  Prosecutors who had chosen to allow defendants to pay counsel from restrained assets in order to avoid discovery of their cases will no longer have that reason to do so.  Those who used the avoidance of discovery as a cover out of respect for the constitutional right to counsel of choice or the adversary system will no longer be able to do so.  Pre-trial forfeiture claims will now in some cases offer a prosecutor a potential bonus beyond the stated goals of depriving a defendant of wrongfully-gained assets and using them for governmental purposes -- the elimination of a top-notch adversary.  Thus, there is now a tactical trial benefit to the prosecutor to institute pre-trial asset restraint.  In white-collar cases, where the prosecutor often knows who will probably represent the defendant from pre-indictment discussions, his determination to seek pre-trial restraint may be affected by whether he likes or dislikes the attorney, whether the attorney is dogged and aggressive, or whether the attorney is likely to give the defendant a better chance of success than a replacement.

The Kaley decision will also have a severe harmful effect on the finances of an already financially-distressed private middle-class (other than big-firm) criminal defense bar, which will (as will large firms) be deprived of a considerable number of well-paying clients because of lack of available assets outside of those seized.  Defendants -- generally either drug or white-collar defendants, those who had a considerable amount of money prior to pre-trial seizure -- will be deprived of representation by the most experienced and successful criminal defense lawyers.  They will be represented by court-appointed public defenders, institutional or private appointed attorneys, or less expensive private attorneys -- often, but not always, experienced, dedicated and able, but generally less so than high-profile, high-paid private attorneys, and almost always with more cases and clients and less time and resources to devote to them than well-compensated private attorneys (and it is unlikely that government funding will be increased to provide public defenders those resources).  The ability, energy and knowledge of who represents them will often depend on the luck of the draw from assigned counsel lists, rather than their considered choice.  The gulf between counsel of choice and public defenders is greatest in white-collar cases since few public defenders have experience in these cases, or ample resources to defend them.

In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts alluded to, but failed to state explicitly, the general disparity between the selected best of the private bar and the average (and an assignment-by-rotation system necessarily leads to the mean or average) public defender or assigned attorney.  It is unfashionable (and politically incorrect) for judges (and bar leaders) to say or write anything that might be construed to disparage public defenders (and perhaps provide ammunition to ineffective assistance claimants).  Rather, they, as did Chief Justice Roberts, often speak of "counsel of choice" when they mean "the private bar."  Lawyers -- whether chosen or assigned -- are not fungible.  Just as there is a difference in quality between a $300,000 Bentley and a $15,000 Toyota Corolla, there is usually a difference in quality between an attorney who commands large fees because of her reputation and stature and the average assigned attorney.  (To be sure, like automobiles, there are lemons and diamonds among both the expensive and the inexpensive.)

As Chief Justice Roberts said, "The possibility that a prosecutor could elect to hamstring his target by preventing him from paying his counsel of choice raises substantial concerns about the fairness of the entire proceeding."  Just as a basketball team opposing the Miami Heat might choose, if it could, that LeBron James sit out the game, so too a prosecutor, if he could, might now choose to seek pre-trial restraint to keep a first-rate private lawyer on the bench.

 (goldman)

March 5, 2014 in Attorney Fees, Defense Counsel, Forfeiture, Grand Jury, Judicial Opinions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Unwarranted Sentencing Disparities Among Defendants With Similar Records Who Have Been Found Guilty Of Similar Conduct

Juan Prado was a mildly corrupt Chicago cop who pled guilty to taking bribes from tow truck operators in order to funnel business their way. At sentencing he argued for a downward variance based on several factors, including the downward variance received by James Wodnicki, an allegedly similarly situated Chicago cop who was sentenced in a related case. The sentencing court ruled, incorrectly, that Seventh Circuit precedent only allowed it to consider nationwide sentencing disparities under 18 U.S.C. Section 3553 (a)(6). It refused to consider any arguments, from either the prosecution or defense, based on Wodnicki's downward variance, and sentenced Prado to a within-Guidelines prison term of 42 months. Last week, in United States v. Prado, the Seventh Circuit reversed, since the sentencing court was unaware that it could consider Wodnicki's sentence in applying 3553 (a)(6), and since the Seventh Circuit thought this may have affected Prado's sentence. The opinion reaffirms two important points, to wit--that sentencing disparities can be considered on both individual and global levels, and that within-Guidelines sentences can be reversed when based on erroneous assumptions. Interestingly, Prado did not raise this specific ground of error until the case reached the appellate court, but the government failed to argue Prado's waiver on appeal. Ergo, the waived waiver doctrine applied.

(wisenberg)

February 26, 2014 in Judicial Opinions, Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Denied Three Times (by Moses--not Peter) While Trying to Make a Record

This isn't exactly a white collar case, but America is our beat. Few things are more frustrating to a competent criminal defense attorney than a judge who won't allow her to make an adequate record. This problem seems to be getting worse in the federal system. What a nice surprise then that the Fifth Circuit, through Judge Ed Prado, is not having any of it.  In United States v. Salazar, the district court revoked defendant's supervised release, sentenced him to a prison term, and imposed an additional supervised release term with new conditions. The new supervised release conditions were not announced by the trial court until near the end of the sentencing hearing. When defense attorney Angela Saad tried to object, the judge (Alia Moses) cut her off three times. On appeal, Salazar challenged Supervised Release Condition 6. The government argued for plain error review because Saad's objections to the new conditions were global and not specific. Salazar urged that abuse of discretion was the appropriate standard, as the judge had cut off counsel's attempts to object in more detail. The Court sided with Salazar. "Salazar had no reason to object to the conditions prior to sentencing, as they were not announced until that time." Moreover, "[c]ounsel...initially objected broadly to the conditions on account of their overly burdensome nature, but before counsel had an opportunity to finish her sentence, the court overruled her objection three times. Salazar's counsel reasonably believed that the district court would not have welcomed or entertained any further discussion of the issue." The Court ultimately vacated Condition 6, because the trial court had not adequately explained why it was reasonably related to statutory supervised release factors. This is a good case for a criminal appellate attorney to keep in his back pocket. It is altogether fitting that Prado wrote it. He was an outstanding trial judge who was always respectful to attorneys on both sides, and let them try their cases.

(wisenberg)

February 25, 2014 in Judicial Opinions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Cotton Comes To Foley Square

In United States v. Rubin, appellant maintained that his conviction for conspiracy to violate the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006 ("UIGEA") was invalid, despite his unconditional guilty plea, because the indictment against him alleged conduct exempt from prosecution under UIGEA, and therefore deprived the district court of subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants who voluntarily plead guilty generally waive all non-jurisdictional defects in prior proceedings. (Conditional guilty pleas require the agreement of the government and the trial court.) Applying the U.S. Supreme Court's unfortunate decision in United States v. Cotton, 535 U.S. 625 (2002), the Second Circuit squarely rejected Rubin's contention. Could Rubin have successfully argued, for the first time on appeal, pursuant to Fed. R.Crim.P. 12 (b)(3)(B), that his unconditional guilty plea was invalid because the indictment simply failed to allege an offense, irrespective of any jurisdictional issues? We do not know. According to the Second Circuit, his attorney failed to raise that point.

(wisenberg)

February 24, 2014 in Judicial Opinions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why Didn't Martoma Cooperate? And Is It Too Late?

To the surprise of nobody I know, Mathew Martoma, the former SAC Capital portfolio manager, was convicted of insider trading last Thursday by a Southern District of New York jury.  The evidence at trial was very strong.  It demonstrated that Martoma had befriended two doctors advising two drug companies on the trial of an experimental drug, received confidential information from them about the disappointing result of the drug trial prior to the public announcement, and then had a 20-minute telephone conversation with Steven A. Cohen, the SAC chair, a day or so before Cohen ordered that SAC's positions in these companies be sold off.  The purported monetary benefit to SAC, in gains and avoidance of loss, of the trades resulting from the inside information is about $275 million, suggesting that Martoma receive a sentence of over 15 years under the primarily amount-driven Sentencing Guidelines (although I expect the actual sentence will be considerably less).

Cohen is white-collar Public Enemy No. 1 to the Department of Justice, at least in its most productive white-collar office, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District.  That office has already brought monumental parallel criminal and civil cases against SAC, receiving a settlement of $1.8 billion, about a fifth of Cohen's reported personal net worth, but it has apparently not garnered sufficient evidence against Cohen to give it confidence that an indictment will lead to his conviction.  It had granted a total "walk" -- a non-prosecution agreement -- to the two doctors whose testimony it felt it needed to convict Martoma, unusually lenient concessions by an office that almost always requires substantial (and often insubstantial) white-collar wrongdoers seeking a cooperation deal to plead to a felony.  As an FBI agent told one of the doctor/co-conspirators, the doctors and Martoma were "grains of sand;" the government was after Cohen.

In an article in the New York Times last Friday, James B. Stewart, an excellent writer whose analyses I almost always agree with, asked a question many lawyers, including myself, have asked:  why didn't Martoma cooperate with the government and give up Cohen in exchange for leniency?  Mr. Stewart's answer was essentially that Martoma was unmarketable to the government because he would have been destroyed on cross-examination by revelation of his years-ago doctoring his Harvard Law School grades to attempt to secure a federal judicial clerkship and covering up that falsification by other document tampering and lying.  Mr. Stewart quotes one lawyer as saying Martoma would be made "mincemeat" after defense cross-examination, another as saying he would be "toast," and a third as saying that without solid corroborating evidence, "his testimony would be of little use."  See here

I strongly disagree with Mr. Stewart and his three sources.  The prosecution, I believe, would have welcomed Mr. Martoma to the government team in a New York minute -- assuming Martoma would have been able to provide believable testimony that Mr. Cohen was made aware of the inside information in that 20-minute conversation.  When one is really hungry -- and the Department of Justice is really hungry for Steven A. Cohen -- one will eat the only food available, even if it's "mincemeat" and "toast."  And there is certainly no moral question here; the government gave Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, a multiple murderer, a virtual pass to induce him to testify against John Gotti.  Given the seemingly irrefutable direct, circumstantial and background evidence (including, specifically, the phone call, the fact that Cohen ordered the trades and reaped the benefit, and generally, whatever evidence from the civil and criminal cases against SAC is admissible against Cohen), testimony by Martoma to the effect he told Cohen, even indirectly or unspecifically, about the information he received from the doctors would, I believe, have most likely led to Cohen's indictment.

I have no idea why Martoma did not choose to cooperate, if, as I believe, he had the opportunity.  "Cooperation," as it is euphemistically called, would require from Martoma a plea of guilty and, very likely in view of the amount of money involved, a not insubstantial prison term (although many years less than he will likely receive after his conviction by trial).  Perhaps Martoma, who put on a spirited if unconvincing defense after being caught altering his law school transcript, is just a fighter who does not easily surrender or, some would say, "face reality," even if the result of such surrender would be a comparatively short jail sentence.  (In a way, that choice is refreshing, reminding me of the days defense lawyers defended more than pleaded and/or cooperated.)  Perhaps Martoma felt cooperation, a condition of which is generally full admission of all prior crimes and bad acts, would reveal other wrongs and lead to financial losses by him and his family beyond those he faces in this case.  Perhaps he felt loyalty -- which it has been demonstrated is a somewhat uncommon trait among those charged with insider trading -- to Cohen, who has reportedly paid his legal fees and treated him well financially (and perhaps Martoma hopes will continue to do so), or perhaps to others he would have to implicate.

And perhaps -- perhaps -- the truth is that in his conversation with Cohen, he did not tell Cohen either because of caution while talking on a telephone, a deliberate effort to conceal  from Cohen direct inside information, or another reason, and he is honest enough not to fudge the truth to please the eager prosecutors, as some cooperators do.  In such a case his truthful testimony would have been unhelpful to prosecutors bent on charging Cohen.  That neutral testimony or information, if proffered, which the skeptical prosecutors would find difficult to believe, would at best get him ice in this very cold wintertime.  Lastly, however unlikely, perhaps Martoma believed or still believes he is, or conceivably actually is, innocent.

In any case, it is not necessarily too late for Martoma to change his mind and get a benefit from cooperation.  The government would, I believe, be willing to alter favorably its sentencing recommendation if Martoma provides information or testimony leading to or supporting the prosecution of Cohen.  Indeed, I believe the government would ordinarily jump at a trade of evidence against Cohen for a recommendation of leniency (or less harshness), even if Martoma is now even less attractive as a witness than before he was convicted (although far more attractive than if he had testified as to his innocence).  However, the five-year statute of limitations for the July 2008 criminal activity in this matter has apparently run, and an indictment for substantive insider trading against Cohen for these trades is very probably time-barred. 

To be sure, federal prosecutors have attempted -- not always successfully (see United States v. Grimm; see here) -- imaginative solutions to statute of limitations problems.  And, if the government can prove that Cohen had committed even a minor insider trading conspiratorial act within the past five years (and there are other potential cooperators, like recently-convicted SAC manager Michael Steinberg, out there), the broad conspiracy statutes might well allow Martoma's potential testimony, however dated, to support a far-ranging conspiracy charge (since the statute of limitations for conspiracy is satisfied by a single overt act within the statutory period).  In such a case, Martoma may yet get some considerable benefit from cooperating, however belatedly it came about.

 (goldman)

February 11, 2014 in Current Affairs, Defense Counsel, Fraud, Insider Trading, News, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Securities, Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Supreme Court Narrowly Defines Term "Result From"

The degree of causation necessary to impose legal blame is an interesting philosophical, policy and, of course, legal issue.  It is an issue that probably arises more often in tort than criminal cases, but is nonetheless important in criminal law in several areas, including sentencing considerations.

In Burrage v. United States, ___ U.S. ___ (12-7515, January 27, 2014), the Supreme Court considered the meaning of the term "result from" in a case where the district court imposed a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence upon a defendant for the sale of one gram of heroin since a buyer's death had "result[ed] from" the use of the heroin as one of several drugs he consumed that contributed to the death.

Burrage was convicted of distribution of narcotics to Banka, who died after imbibing the heroin and several other drugs.  Medical experts at trial could not rule out that Banka might have died from using the other drugs even if he had not taken the heroin, but opined that the heroin use was a contributing factor to his death.

The district court declined to accept the defense contention that the statutory term "result from" required a "but-for" standard.  Instead, it construed the phrase to mean that the drug sold had only to be a "contributing cause" of the death and so charged the jury.  The Eighth Circuit affirmed.

In a unanimous opinion, written by Justice Scalia (who has authored some of the most innovative and pro-defense decisions by the Court in recent years), the Court reversed, ruling that the term "result from" should be construed in its "ordinary meaning" to require a "but-for" standard of causation -- that the harm would not have resulted "but for" the defendant's conduct.  It was, therefore, the Court found, not enough for the trier of fact to find that the drug transfer was merely a "contributing factor" to the death.  The opinion discussed the Model Penal Code, the Restatement of Torts, baseball, and the rule of lenity, as well as the Court's recent restrictive reading of the term "because of" in discrimination cases, a discussion which triggered a special concurrence by Justice Ginsberg (which she apparently would not have felt the need to write "but for" that discussion).

The government, not untypically, made a doomsday argument that defining "result from" as the Court did would "unduly limit criminal liability" and "cannot be reconciled with sound policy."  The Court disagreed, doubting that the opinion would prove to be a "policy disaster."

Although very unlikely to be a "disaster," the opinion may have ramifications beyond drug cases.  The issue of what consequences resulted from the defendant's conduct arises frequently in homicide and assault cases, and also occasionally in white-collar cases, for instance in determining the amount of loss or harm for sentencing purposes.  At the least, it appears that in federal criminal law the term "result from" now will have a more narrow meaning than previously.

 (goldman)

January 28, 2014 in Judicial Opinions, Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)