Thursday, September 19, 2013

Insufficient Evidence: Tom DeLay Convictions Reversed on Appeal

Political prisoner Tom DeLay had his money laundering convictions reversed today, based on insufficency of the evidence, by Texas' Third Court of Appeals sitting in Austin. The 2-1 majority opinion held that there was no underlying violation of the Texas Election Code, and hence no illegal proceeds to be laundered. Thus ends, for now, one of the most abusive and unfair political prosecutions in recent Texas history. The State can appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. The majority opinion is here.  The opinion reveals that the jury twice asked, in essence, whether DeLay could be guilty of money laundering if the "proceeds" were not originally procured in violation of law. In each instance, the trial court refused, at the State's urging, to answer the jury's question. How pathetic.  Hat tip to Dave Westheimer for bringing the decision to my attention.

(wisenberg)

September 19, 2013 in Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Qualsiasi Mezzo: Danziger Bridge

Move over, Emmet Sullivan and Carmac Carney. Add Kurt D. Engelhardt to the Honor Roll roster of federal district judges willing to speak truth to the U.S. Department of Justice. Willing to speak truth and to do something about it. Here is Judge Engelhardt's  Danziger Bridge Mistrial Order, issued yesterday in the Eastern District of Louisiana, and dismissing without prejudice all guilty verdicts obtained by the government in United States v. Kenneth Bowen, et al. This was the federal civil rights prosecution of New Orleans police officers allegedly involved in a horrific shooting of civilians in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The mistrial was granted primarily due to a secret campaign of prejudicial publicity carried out through social media by members of the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Orleans and a DOJ Civil Rights Division attorney in DC. But Judge Engelhardt's opinion raises several other troubling issues concerning the conduct of the trial, DOJ's post-trial investigation of what happened during the trial, and possible meddling by the Deputy AG's office in that investigation.

I will have more to say about these issues in the coming days. It is clear that Judge Engelhardt does not believe he has received anything like the full story from DOJ. It is clear that appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate the entire affair is in order. And it is clear, if history is any judge, that no such appointment will be forthcoming from this attorney general.

Judge Engelhardt's opinion is lengthy, but one that should be required reading for every criminal defense attorney who practices in federal court and every DOJ prosecutor throughout the land. For now, I leave you with Judge Engelhardt's stirring words, taken from some of the closing paragraphs:

    On July 12, 2010, the indictment in this case was announced with much fanfare, a major press conference provided over by  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and widespread media attention. On that occasion, a DOJ representative said that the indictments 'are a reminder that the Constitution and the rule of law do not take a holiday--even after a hurricane.' While quite true in every respect, the Court must remind the DOJ that the Code of Federal Regulations, and various Rules of Professional Responsibility, and ethics likewise do not take a holiday--even in a high-stakes criminal prosecution, and even in the anonymity of cyberspace. While fully appreciating the horrific events of September 4, 2005, and those who tragically suffered as a result, the Court simply cannot allow the integrity of the justice system to become a casualty in a mere prosecutorial game of qualsiasi mezzo.

    Some may consider the undersigned's view of the cited rules and regulations as atavistic; but courts can ignore this online 'secret' social media misconduct at their own peril. Indeed the time may soon come when, some day, some court may overlook, minimize, accept, or deem such prosecutorial misconduct harmless 'fun.' Today is not that day, and Section N of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana is not that court.

    (wisenberg)

September 18, 2013 in Obstruction, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Dickstein Lawyer Sends "Disturbing" Email Asking Client Not Be Questioned

 A so-far publicly unidentified attorney in the lobbying group at Dickstein Shapiro reportedly sent emails to members of the House Committee on Government Reform asking them not to question Jonathan Silver, a government employee and prospective witness and Dickstein client.  Specifically, the attorney requested, "If possible, please do not direct questions to Jonathan Silver.  He's a client of my firm," adding a smiley face emoticon symbol.  See here, here and here.  The emails were sharply criticized by committee chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who, displaying a copy but charitably blacking out the sender's name, demanded an explanation from Silver's counsel why "we shouldn't refer this to the American Bar Association."  (The ABA, of course, does not hear ethics complaints against individual lawyers.)  The committee's ranking Democrat, Elijah Cummings, joined in expressing his dismay, saying the requests seemed "clearly out of bounds."

Although the attorney (I suspect someone known to the Congresspersons, perhaps a former House staffer) appears to have demonstrated extraordinarily bad judgment, I question whether her conduct was unethical.  Lobbyists are allowed to privately ask Representatives to vote on matters of crucial importance, far more important often than whether a government employee will be asked questions by a committee.  I do not find an ex parte attempt to influence questioning at a hearing worse than a similar attempt to influence a vote.  Such conduct would ordinarily be unethical, however, if directed toward a judge or prosecutor or if it violated a rule governing House committee conduct.

When I last appeared with a client before a House committee hearing, the chair threatened him with contempt for having, quite appropriately, asserted his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions.  That threat, more shockingly to me, was repeated in private by Congressional staff lawyers, including the then chief counsel for the House of Representatives.  I, therefore, am somewhat amused by the self-righteousness of the Congressmen here.

(goldman)

September 11, 2013 in Congress, Legal Ethics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

18 U.S.C. Section 1014: Dick and Frank (Posner and Easterbrook to you) Duke it Out.

Yesterday the Seventh Circuit, sitting en banc, reversed and remanded (7-2) a Section 1014 (and Section 317) conviction connected to the mortgage meltdown crisis. Judge Posner wrote the majority opinion. Chief Judge Easterbrook (joined by Judge Bauer) dissented. The opinion is United States v. Lacey Phillips and Erin Hall.

Section 1014 prohibits making any false statement or report for the purpose of influencing in any way a federally insured bank. Longstanding case law requires the government to prove that the defendant knew the statement was false at the time it was made. Phillips and Hall were an unmarried couple who applied for a home loan and were rejected. Hall then contacted his friend Bowling, a mortgage broker, who began advising Hall and Phillips and ultimately led them to a different bank, Fremont Investment & Loan, which granted a home loan to Phillips. Hall was not listed as a borrower. This was a stated income loan, also known in the industry as a liar's loan.

Phillips and Hall could not keep up with the payments and lost their home. A prosecution ensued. There were several false statements on the loan application, but Phillips and Hall testified that they only were aware of one of the statements, which was as follows. Under the Borrower's Income line, Phillips put down the couple's combined income.

Phillips and Hall wanted to testify that Bowling told them: 1) Phillips should be the only applicant for the stated-income loan, because her credit history was good while Hall's was bad because of the recent bankruptcy; 2) Hall's income should be added to Phillips' on the line that asked for borrower's gross monthly income; and 3) adding the incomes together was proper in the case of a stated income loan, because the bank was actually asking for the total income from which the loan would be repaid, rather than just the borrower's income.

The government wanted to keep this testimony from the jury and U.S. District Court Barbara Crabb (I kid you not) agreed. The Seventh Circuit, per Posner, reversed, in an unnecessarily complicated opinion, but one that is nevertheless fun and instructive to read.

I see it this way. According to Phillips and Hall, Bowling told them that, to Fremont Investment & Loan, Borrower's Income meant the total income from which the loan would be repaid. They were in essence informed that Borrower's Income was a term of art for Fremont. If Phillips and Hall believed that Borrower's Income meant (to Fremont) Combined Income of the People Repaying the Loan, then Phillips and Hall were not making a statement to Fremont that they knew was false. Their state of mind on this point was directly at issue. Theirs may have been be an implausible story, but the jury was allowed to hear it. Judge Posner's opinion has some important things to say about terms of art and interpretation of seemingly simple terms.

 This case reminds me of a home loan I took out while I was an AUSA. The bulk of the down payment was being paid through my Thrift Savings Plan. That is, I was loaning myself money out of my government retirement fund. At the time, all of the standard loan applications required the borrower to state that no part of the down payment was coming from a loan. I asked my real estate agent and the mortgage broker whether that language applied to a Thrift Savings Plan Loan. They assured me that it did not. So, when I wrote down on the application that no part of my down payment came from a loan, I knew that in one sense this might be considered false, but to the bank, and presumably to any bank, it would be considered true, because the bank did not consider a Thrift Savings Plan Loan to be a loan. Had I defaulted and been prosecuted, I would have liked to present this as a defense, and it is hard to believe that any competent judge would have prevented me from doing so. But Judge Crabb did not allow this kind of evidence in, and Judge Easterbrook cheers her on.

Judge Easterbrook points out that the jury, in finding Phillips and Hall guilty, already determined that the couple knew several statements on the loan application were false. This is back-asswards and misses the point. This is not a sufficiency of the evidence case. If the jurors had heard the excluded testimony, they may well have been more likely to believe Phillips' and Halls' testimony that the rest of the false statements were made and submitted by Bowling without their knowledge. According to Posner, there was evidence to the effect that Phillips and Hall were naive, while Bowling (who pled guilty and cooperated) and Fremont (a bank that Posner deems disreputable) were sophisticated.

Of course, it is appalling and embarrassing that any self-respecting U.S. Attorney's Office would prosecute a case like this, but it is all part of DOJ's Piker Mortgage Fraud Initiative. Even more embarrassing was the government's contention on appeal that the excluded statements were hearsay. Posner called this a "surprising mistake for a Justice Department lawyer." I'm not so sure. Maybe it wasn't a mistake.

(wisenberg)

September 5, 2013 in Fraud, Judicial Opinions, Mortgage Fraud, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Quality Control in the First Circuit: A Question of Materiality

In United States v. Russell, the First Circuit pays lip service to the materiality requirement in 18 U.S.C. Section 1035 (a) (2), prohibiting false statements in connection with the payment of health care benefits, but in reality reads this element out of the statute. After losing his job, appellant applied for and received health care benefits under a state-subsidized health care program in Maine. He was charged with making false statements/omissions to Dirigo Health Care Agency in order to obtain these benefits, by omitting the extra cash income he earned through work he performed at a friend's business. Appellant argued, to the jury and on appeal, that the government failed to prove the materiality of his statements/omissions, since he would have qualified for the subsidy even if he had accurately reported his income. In rejecting appellant's argument, the First Circuit correctly stated the standard materiality definition. But in describing the evidence presented by the government as to materiality, the Court stated the following:

"At trial, the jury heard testimony from Dirigo's director that there was a limit on the income an applicant could earn in 2008 and 2009 to be eligible for an 80% health care subsidy like the one Russell was awarded. The jury learned that Dirigo does not employ investigators to verify statements made by applicants on subsidy applications and that the agency therefore has to rely on applicants' statements in determining eligibility. The agency requires the applicant to sign a certification to help it ensure that all the representations made by the applicant are true. Russell was awarded a $7,500 subsidy in 2008, and a $4,100 subsidy in October 2009, based on his representation in his application that he was neither employed nor receiving income. He signed the accompanying certifications attesting to the truthfulness of his statements in those applications."

None of this establishes that the amount of unreported income omitted by Russell could have affected the subsidy he received. The trial judge, though rejecting appellant's Rule 29 argument, assessed zero amount of loss and refused to order restitution, because appellant's unreported cash earnings could not be determined and there was no evidence that he earned enough to be disqualified from the subsidy program. As the trial judge put it, "if he had told the truth, the result would have been the same." 

The First Circuit analyzed the issue this way:

"Whether Russell's statements were material was ultimately a question for the jury. But the record clearly supports a finding that Russell received income in the amount he reported, plus some additional sums that he did not disclose. Had he forthrightly stated on his application that he had unspecified amounts of undocumented cash income above the precise amounts he reported, it is reasonable to believe that Dirigo might well have determined that he failed to meet his burden of proving eligibility. As we said, the government need only prove that the false statement had a 'natural tendency to influence, or [is] capable of influencing, the decision.' Neder, 527 U.S. at 16 (quoting Gaudin, 515 U.S. at 509) (alteration in original). Given the evidence presented at trial, we believe that a rational fact finder could conclude that they were material."

The Court's analysis seems to shift the burden of proof. The evidence, at least as specifically described in the Court's own opinion, fails to show what the unreported income was and whether it could have affected the subsidy amount. This is the government's burden to prove, not Russell's. If the unreported income did not reach a certain threshold, it simply was not capable of influencing the decision to grant Russell a subsidy. Russell is under no legal burden to prove the precise amount of unreported income he earned. If the evidence was there, the First Circuit should have clearly set it out in its opinion. The materiality element is easy enough to prove as it is. There is no reason to read it out of the statute entirely.

(wisenberg)

September 4, 2013 in Fraud, Judicial Opinions | Permalink

Monday, September 2, 2013

Second Circuit Rules 10(b) Does Not Apply Extraterritorially

In United States v. Vilar, the Second Circuit examined a post-Morrison decision with an issue of whether Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 applies to extraterritorial criminal conduct.  The government had argued that the Supreme Court's decision in Bowman allowed for an extraterritorial application and that civil and criminal conduct should be treated differently and thus Morrison should not apply. The Second Circuit  disagreed with the government saying that the Bowman decision was limited to conduct that was "aimed at protecting 'the right of the government to defend itself.'" In contrast, statutes such as 10(b) have as its "purpose [  ] to prohibit 'crimes against private individuals or their property,'"  and therefore "the presumption against extraterritoriality applies to criminal statutes, and Section 10(b) is no exception."

The court also noted that "[a] statute either applies extraterritorially or it does not, and once it is determined that a statute does not apply extraterritorially, the only question we must answer in the individual case is whether the relevant conduct occurred in the territory of a foreign sovereign." Despite this legal analysis and ruling, the court found that there was no plain error with respect to territoriality on the counts here and thus no need to reverse on this issue.

Other issues raised by the defendants, such as those relating to a search warrant, jury instructions, and the admission of statements were found not to be in error.  The court did, however, remand the sentence.

(esp) 

September 2, 2013 in International, Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions, SEC | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

DOJ Releases Statement on U.S.-Swiss Tax Evasion Investigations

The DOJ issued a press release today telling of "a program that will encourage Swiss banks to cooperate in the department's ongoing investigations of the use of foreign bank accounts to commit tax evasion."  The release also notes that "Switzerland will encourage its banks to participate in the program."  A joint statement was agreed upon by the DOJ and Swiss Federal Department of Finance." (see here). The program excludes those presently under investigation.  It offers others a non-prosecution agreement under a list of terms that include, "cooperat[ion] in treaty requests for account information," "agree to pay substantial penalties," and "make a complete disclsure of their cross-border activitites." The press release notes that

"banks seeking a non-prosecution agreement must agree to a penalty in an amount equal to 20 percent of the maximum aggregate dollar value of all non-disclosed U.S. accounts that were held by the bank on Aug.1, 2008.  The penalty amount will increase to 30 percent for secret accounts that were opened after that date but before the end of February 2009 and to 50 percent for secret accounts opened later than that."   

It will be interesting to see how many banks come forward to obtain a non-prosecution agreement. And if they do, will the disclosures result in tax prosecutions of individuals within the U.S.

(esp)

August 29, 2013 in International, Investigations, Tax | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Judicial Oversight of Corporate Pleas -Protection of the Public Interest

United States v. Orthofix, Inc was an important decision for several reasons. First, the Memorandum  Opinion issued by Judge Young (D. Mass), on July 26, 2013, takes a turn in what typically happens when there is a corporate plea arrangement.   Second, the judge explains at length policy considerations for sentencing corporations.  The case also raises questions for the future of corporate plea agreements.  

This decision involves two cases involving corporate pleas where the court rejected the pleas.  The court notes the importance of considering the "public interest" in accepting pleas. Hon. Young states:

"Just as the Court must take account of the public interest when it exercises its discretion to fashion its own sentence, so too the Court must take account of the public interest when called upon to review a sentencing recommendation attached to a plea bargain."

The court considers the history behind plea bargains and contract law and notes the problem of considering it as a prosecution-defense relationship as opposed to a triadic relationship. Hon. Young states, that "this Court makes no attempt to question the policy choices of executive administrative agencies; it merely seeks to ensure that the sentence imposed upon Orthofix fosters (1) the protection of the public, (2) specific and general deterence, and (3) respect for the law."

The court states that "[o]rganizational criminals pose greater concerns than natural persons for two important reasons."  One of the concerns raised in the case of Orthofix, by the court, was that the plea of five years failed to impose the Corporate Integrity Agreement as part of the probation.

This Memorandum decision raises other interesting questions that were not discussed here, and perhaps not relevant to these matters. But one has to wonder whether courts should also be examining plea agreements that place undue pressure on corporations and individuals to plea because the risk of going to trial is too severe? In a post-Arthur Andersen world do corporations have the choice of risking a trial or is the necessity  of entering a plea too great to avoid the repercussions of an indictment and possible conviction? Should oversight of pleas go beyond the sentencing aspect to also scrutinze the bargaining position of the parties and the fairness of the general bargain?

See also Doug Berman's Sentencing Law & Policy Blog here, Jef Feeley & Janelle Lawrence, Bloomberg's,  Orthofix’s Settlement of Medicare Probe Rejected by Judge

(esp)

August 28, 2013 in Arthur Andersen, Deferred Prosecution Agreements, Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions, Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Rare Rebuke.

The Fourth Circuit has issued a rare and stern rebuke to the Eastern District of North Carolina U.S. Attorney's Office, for what the panel describes as repeated failures to disclose exculpatory evidence on the part of some of the office's prosecutors. Judge Floyd also directed that the opinion be sent to AG Holder and DOJ's OPR. This is remarkable. EDVA District Court Judge Henry Hudson was on the panel, sitting by designation, and concurred in the opinion. The Raleigh News & Observor has the story here. The opinion, U.S. v. Bartko, is here. The pertinent pages are 24-30.

(wisenberg)

August 27, 2013 in Judicial Opinions, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Financial Meltdown Prosecutions Against Elite Actors? File Them Under "I'll Believe It When I See It."

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, reported here, Attorney General Holder promises that "he plans to announce new cases stemming from the economic meltdown in the coming months." Some media outlets have interpreted this as a harbinger of criminal prosecutions, but Holder did not indicate whether the cases would be civil or criminal. Any civil case against the likes of a major bank or investment house can be filed under "Costs of Doing Business." In addition to the civil-criminal wiggle room Holder allowed himself, the definition of "cases stemming from the economic meltdown" is broad enough to cover a multitude of alleged malfeasance.  Is DOJ going to prosecute people who purportedly contributed to the meltdown through fraudulent omissions and commissions? Or will it bring desultory civil cases based on conduct that occurred in the wake of the meltdown? According to the article, Professor John Coffee "expected the five-year statute of limitations on many white-collar crimes may bar a successful prosecution of a number of pre-crash abuses." But virtually any federal criminal financial institution fraud case can be brought within 10 years, thanks to FIRREA. Criminally fraudulent activity involving a financial institution that occurred in May 2006 could be charged as late as 2016.

(wisenberg)

August 22, 2013 in Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

11th Circuit Reverses Health Care Fraud Conviction

In an unpublished opinion by the 11th Circuit, the court  in United States v. Reddy reversed and remanded a conviction coming out of a 7 day trial that started with a 37 count Indictment and had convictions for all but five wire fraud counts.  This health care case included counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, health care fraud, and falsifying records in a federal investigation.  At the heart of the reversal is a Daubert claim. Looking at the proposed expert's qualifications, reliability of the methodology, and relevance, the cout found that the error was not harmless in that what the expert "had to say about his peer review and accuracy of the work performed by" the accused "was highly probative and would have likely been helpful to the jury."

The court did note that the Indictment should not have been dismissed premised upon another argument made by the defendant. The court said that Section 1347 is a federal offense and "the underlying conduct must have an interstate nexus or other 'jurisdictional hook.'"  But the court noted that the "Indictment's language generally tracks the statutory language" and therefore "is sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss."

The defense in this case was handled by the Altanta, Georgia law firm of Kish and Lietz.

(esp)

August 21, 2013 in Judicial Opinions | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, August 16, 2013

Upcoming Conferences

ABA Sixth Annual Foreign Corrupt Practices Act National Institute, Sept. 18-19, 2013, Washington, D.C. - here

NACDL's 9th Annual Conference - Defending the White Collar Case: In and Our of Court, Oct. 24-25, Washington, D.C. - here

(esp)

August 16, 2013 in Conferences | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lion Fraud?

ABC News, Chinese zoo's 'African lion' exposed when dog substitute barks here

(esp)(hat tip Tunde Akinyele)

August 15, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Sentencing - Sandi Jackson and Jesse Jackson Jr.

The BLT Blog provides background here.

The government asked for 4 years and the defense wanted a much lower amount for Jesse Jackson Jr. The court entered a sentence of 2 1/2 years (30 months) for Jesse Jackson Jr. and 1 year (12 months) for his wife, Sandi Jackson.  See Ann E. Marimow and Rachel Weiner, Washington Post, Jesse L. Jackson Jr. sentenced to 30 months in prison 

The Chicago Tribune reports (here) that Jesse Jackson Jr. will serve his sentence first, followed by Sandi Jackson.  

It is good to see courts accommodating the sentences of a husband and wife to account for what may be best for their children.  We have seen this done in the past, for example in the case of Lea and Andy Fastow (see here).  

 (esp)

August 15, 2013 in Sentencing | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy - Call for Papers

Call for Papers from the Notre Dame Jrl of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy -

The Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy is currently accepting articles and essays from professors, practitioners, and public officials for publication in its symposium issue, which will focus on the legal, moral, and ethical considerations of white-collar crime in the twenty-first century, which will be published early next year.  Articles should be approximately 9,000 to 15,000 words and in Bluebook Citation format. Additionally, symposium authors will be among those selected to participate in our symposium event, which will be scheduled during the Spring 2014 semester.  

The law student-edited Journal is unique among legal periodicals because it examines public policy and legal questions within the framework of the Judeo-Christian intellectual and moral tradition.  The Journal has a national audience of persons actively involved in the formulation of public policy, and often includes timely pieces from a broad spectrum of prominent scholars and officials.  The Journal’s unique focus is widely recognized, as demonstrated in citations to the Journal by various state and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court.  More information on the Journal is available at https://law.nd.edu/publications/journals/notre-dame-journal-of-law-ethics-public-policy/.

If you are interested in submitting a piece, please contact the Journal’s Executive Articles Editor, Angela Johnson at ajohns23@nd.edu or (574) 238-9225.  Please submit by November 1, 2013.  The Executive Board will consider submissions for publication immediately and would appreciate hearing of an author’s intent to submit as soon as possible.

(esp)

August 14, 2013 in Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Hats Off to AG Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder's talk (see here) at the American Bar Association Conference should be applauded. To have an Attorney General say that "our criminal justice system is in too many respects broken"  is a huge step in us moving ahead to change.  His recognition "that 20th Century criminal justice solutions are not adequate to overcome our 21st century challenges" is a high point of this speech.  

Addressing issues relevant to the white collar world, he said that his administration had a "strong commitment to common sense criminal justice reform." To have the Attorney General tell the ABA and public "federal prosecutors cannot - and should not - bring every case or charge every defendant who stands accused of violating federal law" is a huge step in correcting injustice in the criminal process. Recognizing the importance of state and local law enforcement is a step in the direction of reigning in federal overcriminalization. He even uses the "smarter" on crime terminology that many have been emphasizing across the country.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this speech is his statement regarding this being the 50th anniversary of the Gideon decision and how our public defender system needs increased funding.  These are the words that reflect him as a true "minister of justice."

He also spoke about problems related to collateral consquences, something that has been most bothersome in the white collar world.

This was an uplifting speech and it is wonderful to see this coming from the Attorney General.  Hats off to AG Holder.

(esp)  

August 13, 2013 in Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

DOJ's Admission: Our Mortgage Fraud Numbers Were Phony

by: Soloman L. Wisenberg

Well, DOJ didn't admit it in those exact words. The tone and content were more Ziegleresque: "[T]he announcement overstated the number of defendants that should have been included as part of the Distressed Homeowner Initiative, as well as the corresponding estimated loss amount and number of victims." The original press release and press conference in October 2012 touted "the results of the Distressed Homeowner Initiative, the first-ever nationwide effort to target fraud schemes that prey upon suffering homeowners. The yearlong initiative, launched by the FBI, a co-chair of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force’s Mortgage Fraud Working Group, resulted in 107 criminal defendants charged in U.S. District Courts across the country. These cases involved more than 17,185 homeowner victims and total losses by those victims estimated by law enforcement at more than $95 million." It turns out the numbers given for people arrested, victims affected, and losses incurred were grossly inflated. Jonathan Weil's blistering Bloomberg.com column discussing the rigged numbers is here. The original press release and Newspeak retraction are here. No doubt DOJ is working up a Section 1001 case right now against the folks who gave out these numbers. I don't usually quote socialists, but I.F. Stone's favorite saying now comes to mind: "All governments are run by liars." Hat Tip to Professor William Black for bringing this story to my attention.

(wisenberg)

August 13, 2013 in Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, August 12, 2013

An Enormously Important Ethics Opinion From the DC Bar

by: Solomon L. Wisenberg

I posted here last October on Guts and the DC Bar Counsel: The Case of Andrew J. Klineand asked:

"What is the solution to the persistent blight of jaw-droppingly obvious Brady/Giglio violations? One solution is to bring ethical complaints against purportedly miscreant prosecutors in appropriate instances. Which brings us to the case of former DC AUSA Andrew J. Kline, currently making its way through the bar disciplinary process . . . DC Bar Counsel wants Kline censured for an alleged Brady/Giglio violation that also runs afoul, according to Bar Counsel, of the arguably broader Rule 3.8(e) of the DC Rules of Professional Conduct . Rule 3.8(e) states in pertinent part that: 'The prosecutor in a criminal case shall not . . . intentionally fail to disclose to the defense, upon request and at a time when use by the defense is reasonably feasible, any evidence or information that the prosecutor knows or reasonably should know tends to negate the guilt of the accused . . . .'

The defense bar often talks about using various state versions of Rule 3.8(e) in tandem with Brady/Giglio, in part to get around the Brady/Giglio materiality problem. Here is a Bar Counsel actually doing something about it. Kline vigorously denies that the withheld information was material or that he intentionally engaged in any wrongdoing.

What information did Kline actually withhold? He was prosecuting Arnell Shelton for the shooting of Christopher Boyd. Shelton had filed an alibi notice and 'the reliability of the government's identification witnesses' was the principal issue at the 2002 trial, according to the Report and Recommendation of Hearing Committee Number Nine ("Report and Recommendation"). Kline spoke with Metropolitan Police Department Officer Edward Woodward in preparation for trial. Kline took contemporaneous notes. Woodward was the first officer at the scene of the crime and spoke to victim Boyd at the hospital shortly after the shooting.

According to the Report and Recommendation, Kline's notes of his conversation with Woodward were, in pertinent part, as follows: 'Boyd told officer at hospital that he did not know who shot him–appeared maybe to not want to cooperate at the time. He was in pain and this officer had arrested him for possession of a machine gun …'

At trial Boyd identified Shelton as the shooter. According to Bar Counsel, Kline never disclosed Boyd's hospital statement to the defense despite a specific Brady/Giglio request for impeachment material. The other identification witnesses were weak and/or impeachable.

The case ended in a hung jury mistrial and the alleged Brady material (that is, Boyd's hospital statement to Woodward) was not revealed to the defense until literally the eve of the second trial, even though DC-OUSA prosecutors and supervisors had known about it for some time. When the trial court found out about the hospital statement and that it had not been disclosed before the first trial because Kline did not consider it exculpatory, the court was thunderstruck: 'I don’t see how any prosecutor could take that position. . . I don’t see how any prosecutor anywhere in any state in the country, could say I don’t have to turn that over because I think I know why he said that.' See DC Bar Counsel's corrected Brief at 8.

The court offered defense counsel a continuance, but she elected to go to trial as her client was then in jail. The second trial ended in Shelton's conviction.

Kline's position now is that the hospital statement was not material, hence not Brady, because Boyd was in pain and being treated for a gunshot wound at the time and because Shelton was ultimately convicted upon retrial.

Bar Counsel's position is that the withheld hospital statement was material and exculpatory and therefore Brady material, but that even if it was not Brady material, the failure to turn it over violated Rule 3.8(e). Bar Counsel seeks a public censure of Mr. Kline."

That was back in October 2012. At the time of the original post, Kline was in the process of contesting Hearing Committee Number Nine's Report and Recommendation to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals Board on Professional Responsibility (Board). The Board issued its own Report and Recommendation on July 31, 2013, upholding the Hearing Committee, but changing the recommended sanction from public censure to 30 days suspension.

The Board accepted the Hearing Committee's factual and legal conclusions and found that: 1) the withheld statement was material; and 2) even if it had not been material, Rule 3.8(e) required its disclosure, because Rule 3.8(e) does not contain a materiality element. The Board also agreed that: 1) Kline knew or should have known that the information tended to negate the guilt of the accused; 2) the defense requested the exculpatory information at a time when its use was reasonably feasible; and 3) the failure to turn over the statement was intentional.

BLT has a story here, stating that the matter is likely headed to the DC Court of Appeals. Here is the Board's opinion, styled In the Matter of Andrew J. Kline.

The DOJ, which says it cares so much about respecting the constitutional rule announced 50 years ago in Brady v. Maryland, came in with an amicus brief arguing that the withheld statement was not material. How appalling.

(wisenberg) 

August 12, 2013 in Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Ten Things To Know About The SAC Case

by: Solomon L. Wisenberg

1. Barring a miracle, the government will win.

2. The law on corporate criminal liability may be unfair, but it has been around since 1909.

3. The government has to prove that: a) at least one SAC employee committed securities/wire fraud (several have already pled guilty); b) the employee was acting within the actual or apparent scope of his/her authority/employment at the time; and c) the employee intended, even in part, to benefit the corporation.

4. If the government can prove the above elements it will win, even if the employees who engaged in securities fraud/insider trading violated SAC's insider trading compliance policies or Steven Cohen's direct orders.

5. Give credit where credit is due. This is a well-crafted speaking indictment. Preet Bharara alleged more than he will technically need to prove at trial. He charged that SAC created an atmosphere in which insider trading was bound to flourish. Why did he do this? First, to make his case in the court of public opinion. Second, to help prevent jury nullification. Third, to rebut a defense that the guilty employees were acting against the interests of the company. Here is the SAC Indictment.

6. The attempt to obtain all of SAC's profits through criminal forfeiture allegations is, to put it mildly, a stretch. Significantly, the government did not try to seize funds through civil forfeiture in conjunction with the indictment. This was only partly to protect innocent third parties. The government also did not want to see its resources diverted, give up unnecessary discovery, or embarrass itself.

7. Like John Dowd in the Rajaratnam case, Ted Wells is in the catbird seat. No one in the criminal defense bar expects him to win. If he loses it will in no way dim his reputation. If he wins, he achieves true legendary status. Conversely, no AUSA worth his/her salt can afford to lose this case.

8. How to defend this case? By arguing that all the employees who pled guilty were greedy sorts who were in it 100% for themselves. They could not have intended to benefit the company, because the company made it so clear, time and again, that insider trading actually was bad for the company. Hence the key importance of the indictment's allegations that SAC's compliance policy was essentially a sham.

9. Insider trading law may be stupid, but, contrary to popular myth, is not for the most part vague or confusing to the professionals who have spent their careers in the securities industry.

10. When an employee vocalizes his reluctance to say more over the telephone, concomitantly referencing his "compliance" training, it's a pretty safe bet he knows insider trading is illegal.

(wisenberg)

July 30, 2013 in Insider Trading, Prosecutions, Prosecutors, Securities | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Five Years Later, Almost No Charges

by: Solomon L. Wisenberg

Yet another story from NPR, with the obligatory quotes from Bill Black and Neil Barofsky, about DOJ's abject failure to properly investigate and prosecute high-ranking corporate insiders for fraud-related activity in connection with the financial crisis. This is the major criminal justice story, and scandal, of the Obama-Holder Administration. From the standpoint of elite corporate fraudsters, the Republicans could not have fashioned a better Dream Team at DOJ. The glaring exception here appears to be Preet Bharera. But it's  easier to go after insider trading than control fraud.

(wisenberg)

July 27, 2013 in Fraud, Prosecutions, Prosecutors | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)