Wednesday, October 24, 2012
The sentencing is today at 2:00 PM Southern District of New York Time. (And is there really any other time in the Universe?)
As I noted on Monday, Gupta's Guidelines Range, according to the Government and the Probation Office, is 97-121 months.That's a Level 30. Gupta's attorneys put Gupta's Guidelines Range at 41-51 months. That's a Level 22. The different calculations are based on different views of the gain and/or loss realized and/or caused by Gupta. Gupta's attorneys are seeking a downward variance and asking for probation, with rigorous community service in Rwanda. Serving a sentence in Rwanda is not as strange as it may sound on first hearing. After all, criminal defendants in Louisiana regularly do time in Angola.
But seriously, lawyers and germs, there is a practice pointer in here somewhere. Practitioners naturally strive to obtain the lowest possible Guidelines Range as a jumping off point for the downward variance. It is psychologically easier for a judge to impose a probationary sentence when the Guidelines Range is low to begin with. It is legally easier as well, because the greater the variance from the Guidelines, the greater the judicially articulated justification must be.
But too many lawyers push the envelope in their Guidelines arguments, thereby risking appellate reversal on procedural grounds. This is a particular danger when the judge is already favorably disposed toward the defendant and looking for ways to help him. Failure to correctly calculate the Guidelines is a clear procedural error. (Some of the federal circuits try to get around Booker, Gall, and Kimbrough by setting up rigorous procedural tests. The Fourth Circuit is the most notorious outlier in this regard.) Lawyers must be on guard against the possibly pyrrhic and costly victory of an incorrectly calculated Guideline range, followed by probation. One solution is to have the court rule on alternative theories. "This is the Guidelines Range. These are my reasons for downward variance. Even if the Guidelines Range was really at X, as the Government argues, I would still depart to Y for the same and/or these additional reasons." If the judge already likes your client, getting him or her to do this is often an easy task.
Of course, Judge Rakoff needs no instructions in this regard. One of our ablest and sharpest jurists, and a leading Guidelines critic, he will attempt to correctly calculate the Guidelines Range in an intellectually honest manner and will downwardly (or upwardly) vary as he damn well sees fit, with ample articulation.
Monday, October 22, 2012
Rajat Gupta is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Jed Rakoff on Wednesday. The Rajat Gupta Sentencing Memo filed last week by his attorneys is an outstanding work of its kind, and the Government's Sentencing Memo in U.S. v. Gupta is also quite good.
Gupta's Guidelines Range, according to the Government and the Probation Office, is 97-121 months. Gupta's attorneys, led by Gary Naftalis, put Gupta's Guidelines Range at 41-51 months. The different calculations appear to be based entirely on different views of the gain and/or loss realized and/or caused by Gupta. Key issues are whether Judge Rakoff should include the acquitted conduct in the loss calculations (which he is allowed but not required to do) and whether the gain should be confined to Gupta and his co-conspirators, as opposed to other investors. Gupta's attorneys are arguing for probation, with a condition of rigorous community service in New York or Rwanda.
My guess is that, however he gets there, Judge Rakoff will impose a prison sentence of 3 to 6 years. The judge is a well-known critic of the Guidelines and Gupta has apparently led a life of extraordinary kindness and good works. On the other hand, Gupta is an enormously wealthy member of the financial elite to whom much has been given. He stands convicted of insider trading, which everybody on Wall Street knows is illegal. This was not a case in which ambiguous admitted conduct did or did not violate the outer edges of the insider trading laws. This was a case in which Gupta either tipped clearly confidential, proprietary inside information or he didn't. The jury has ruled that he did, at least with respect to four of the six charged counts. Judge Rakoff must and will accept that verdict. I believe that Judge Rakoff will see it as his judicial duty to send, through Gupta's sentence, a message of general deterrence.
Thursday, September 6, 2012
In SEC v. Obus (2d Cir. 2012), released yesterday, the Second Circuit provides a primer on insider trading law, with particular attention paid to tipper liability, tippee liability, and scienter. The Court also seeks to reconcile the supposed conflict between Dirks and Hochfelder with respect to the level of scienter that must be proved in tipping situations. Obus is required reading for anyone working in the white collar and securities fraud fields.
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
And there it is. Right on page 24 of the Second Circuit's opinion in U.S. V. Mahaffy, posted here yesterday. "None of this [the government's various rationales for withholding exculpatory and/or impeaching SEC transcripts] excuses the government's misconduct. The transcripts contained substantial Brady material, much of which was easily identified as such." In fact, an SEC attorney, cross-designated as a Special AUSA in the first squawk-box trial, identified some of the material as potential Brady to his trial team superiors before the first trial commenced.
Here are some interesting dates. Jury selection in the squawk-box retrial began on March 30, 2009. The government rested on April 14, 2009, as did the defense. The jury returned its verdict on April 22. Ted Stevens had been found guilty in Washington DC in October 2008 and, as Judge Sullivan has noted, "[d]uring the course of the five-week jury trial and for several months following the trial there were serious allegations and confirmed instances of prosecutorial misconduct that called into question the integrity of the criminal proceedings against Senator Stevens." Attorney General Holder moved to set aside the Ted Stevens verdict and dismiss the indictment with prejudice due to gross Brady-related misconduct on April 1, 2009. Judge Sullivan granted the government's motion on April 7, 2009. According to the Mahaffy opinion, the second set of squawk-box prosecutors deliberately chose not to revisit any of the disclosure decisions made by the first trial team. New York prosecutors must not read the DC papers.They did not start to sift through the SEC transcripts until after the second trial concluded.
Monday, August 6, 2012
Here is the Second Circuit's opinion (U.S. v. Mahaffy) from last Thursday in the EDNY's Squawk-Box case, vacating the convictions due to Brady violations and an untenable honest services jury charge.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
The jury deserves credit - they clearly evaluated all the counts as evidenced by their finding of guilt in some and not guilty in others. The judge deserves credit - Hon. Jed Rakoff is a leading scholar and superb jurist.
But should this be a crime? And exactly what is the crime? Should individuals who obtain little or no personal profit be subject to criminal penalties?
And what evidence should a jury hear during the trial? Should wiretaps that are select conversations of the government be allowed to be used against a defendant in a securities fraud case, when this crime is not included in the criminal activity of our wiretap laws (see here)?
There is an interesting interplay here. On one hand we have someone being convicted for using "secret" information - the insider trading. On the other hand we have the government using "secret" information to convict the individual - the wiretaps. I keep wondering if there is anything that can be "secret" anymore. In this information age it seems like information is so accessible that it is difficult to claim anything as being "insider."
Friday, June 15, 2012
Peter Lattman & Azam Ahmed, NYTimes, Rajat Gupta Convicted of Insider Trading
Patricia Hurtado & David Glovin, Bloomberg, Ex-Goldman Director Rajat Gupta Convicted of Insider Trading
Sunday, June 3, 2012
Corporate Social Responsibility and Supply Chains Practice: Proposed Dodd-Frank Conflict Minerals Rules
Sunday, April 1, 2012
We don't need new legislation insuring that defendants receive the exculpatory information they are entitled to under the U.S. Constitution, because the DOJ has learned its lesson from the Ted Stevens case and will NEVER let something like that happen again.
For example, in the high-profile insider trading case of U.S. v. Rajat Gupta, the DOJ recently argued that its prosecutors did NOT have to review 44 SEC interview memos for Brady material, even though the memos summarized interview sessions jointly conducted by SEC and DOJ attorneys. According to SDNY prosecutors, the overall DOJ and SEC investigations were not technically "joint" in nature, so SDNY AUSAs had no Brady obligations with respect to the SEC memos. The SEC attorneys were capable of conducting the Brady review on their own. Yeah, right. Just like the FBI and IRS Special Agents were capable of conducting the Brady review in U.S. v. Stevens. I completely forgot about the Brady training that SEC attorneys receive on a regular basis. DOJ's position is not only contrary to SDNY and Second Circuit case law--it also violates the letter and spirit of the Ogden Memo, promulgated after Stevens to prevent future Brady debacles. I guess SDNY didn't get the memo. (They're special you know.) Judge Jed Rakoff was having none of it. See his Gupta Brady Ruling, issued last week, for details. In truth, all of the SEC memos should be turned over in their entirety to the defense, just as all of the 302s and MOIs in Stevens should have been turned over.
It is clear that the DOJ has learned almost nothing from the Ted Stevens case. Suppression of exculpatory and/or potentially exculpatory evidence is largely not an issue at the line level. The typical AUSA knows Brady/Giglio when he sees it, and knows to disclose it. The problems tend to arise in high profile cases, particularly those captained out of DC. The sickness extends to very high levels at the DOJ. The Stevens prosecution clearly showed this. The Bill Allen-Bambi Tyree subornation of perjury allegation, reported in 2004 to a federal judge by DOJ prosecutors in a sealed pleading, was classic Giglio material. It should have instantly been recognized as such by the Chief and Deputy Chief of the Public Integrity Unit and they should have ordered it turned over immediately to the defense. It wasn't and they didn't.
The DOJ has run out of scandals and excuses. Enough already. At long last, have they no shame?
Saturday, February 4, 2012
Last week, after President Obama announced a purportedly new initiative, see here and here, to combat fraud, government law enforcement officials, criticized for their lack of activity, promised action in the very near future. It is not clear whether the indictment returned Wednesday in the Southern District of New York for crimes committed four years ago is the action referred to. It certainly is not an earth-shattering case.
On Wednesday, three former Credit Suisse traders were indicted for inflating the worth of collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) to avoid recognition of market losses and thereby increase their bonuses. See here.
The CDOs consisted of pooled, presumably at least in part subprime, mortgages that were sold to investors in packages by presumably reputable institutions with high ratings provided by presumably reputable credit agencies. The presence of large amounts of overvalued CDOs in firm inventories is considered by some a major cause of the financial crisis.
Unlike securities such as listed stocks, there was no liquid market for these mortgage securities and therefore no easily ascertainable market value. Some financial firms were hesitant to mark down these failing obligations because it would considerably decrease reported earnings. Here, it is alleged -- and two of the three indicted have pleaded guilty -- that the traders knowingly concealed the loss in value and secured a bogus evaluation from a friendly small investment bank in order to support the inflated value of the securities. The overvaluation -- or failure to recognize the loss -- resulted in increased compensation for the traders, whose year-end bonuses were based considerably on the profits of their groups.
This case is interesting for several reasons. It is one of the relatively few brought so far that concern alleged criminal wrongdoing after the financial crisis arose. Most previous criminal prosecutions involving failed mortgages have focused on the origination of mortgages and comparatively small-time people such as aggressive mortgage brokers, perjurious buyers and conniving lawyers, and not their securitization.
It is also one of the few instances in which employees of a major financial institution have been prosecuted criminally in a case related to the financial crisis. Nonetheless, it would be a stretch to say that this overvaluation, discovered and corrected by Credit Suisse in days, had a major impact.
This is one of the rare criminal accusations, to my knowledge, involving mismarking or deliberately overvaluing illiquid assets in order to inflate profits. These valuations have a major effect on the profit and loss statements of financial institutions, including hedge funds, and the consequent bonuses or incentive compensation of traders and managers. False marking, often using evaluations by supposed experts or comparable institutions of the worth of securities with no easily-defined market value, is an area which deserves more governmental scrutiny and probably more governmental legal action.
Of course, care must be taken to distinguish deliberate falsity from good faith but erroneous evaluation in this uncertain area.
Monday, January 30, 2012
Virtually every presidential State of the Union speech, or its gubernatorial equivalent, calls for tougher criminal laws and/or new investigative resources. President Obama's address last week was no exception. The President called for the establishment of a new unit "to crack down on large scale fraud and protect people's investments." As blog editor Ellen S. Podgor wondered, see here, it was unclear how this unit would differ from the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force established in 2009. I too asked whether this purportedly new unit was anything other than a repackaged version.
The announcement of a new prosecutorial unit also was perhaps an unintended implicit admission that existing federal law enforcement agencies had been less than successful in dealing with serious alleged crimes which some believed had caused the financial crisis. Both Attorney General Eric Holder and SEC Enforcement Director Robert Khuzami defended their record, stating that not every mistake is a violation of law. Holder said, "We also have learned that behavior that is reckless or unethical is not necessarily criminal," a statement which (aside from leading me to ask why it had taken him so long to realize it) should be painted on the walls of every prosecutorial office.
The principal apparent structural difference between this unit, entitled the Unit on Mortgage Origination and Security Abuses ("UMOSA"), and the prior one is, besides its more focused jurisdiction, that this is a joint task force of both federal and state officials. One of its co-chairs -- albeit one of five, four being DOJ or SEC officials -- is New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has shown his independence and aggressiveness toward Wall Street by pushing for stronger sanctions against financial institutions for robo-signing and other improprieties committed after the crisis arose.
Generally, joint federal-state task forces are a one-way street. The feds take the best criminal cases and leave the dregs to the state. One purported justification for such selection is that federal laws and rules of evidence make it easier for federal prosecutors to bring cases and win convictions. Schneiderman has indicated somewhat to the contrary -- that New York and other state laws give state attorneys general greater means to bring both civil and criminal prosecutions.
The idea of combining federal and state resources is generally a good one. Too often law enforcement agencies refuse to share information with other agencies, if at all, until they have determined the information was insufficient for them to act on, often too late for use by the other agencies. On the other hand, I fear that some task force constituents might attempt to make an end run around constitutional and statutory laws and rules, specificially Fed.R.Crim.Pro. 6(e), which, generally, as relevant here, prohibits disclosure of grand jury information to non-federal officials. Of particular concern is whether information secured by federal grand juries, much of which is through immunized testimony, will be provided for use by the states. Both Attorneys General Holder and Schneiderman seem aware of this restriction, but both appear to view it as an obstacle to overcome rather than a right to ensure. How scrupulous they will be in upholding the rule and spirit of grand jury secrecy will be seen.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Former Denver hedge-fund operator Drew "Bo" Brownstein, about whose case we wrote (see here), was sentenced Wednesday to a prison term of one year and one day following his plea of guilty to insider trading charges. Brownstein had received confidential information from his friend Drew Peterson concerning a pending purchase of Mariner Energy by Apache Corp. and used that information to reap about $2.5 million in profits for himself and his asset management firm. Drew Peterson, who has pleaded guilty but has not yet been sentenced, received the information from his father, H. Clayton Peterson, a Mariner director, and personally netted about $150,000 from it. The older Peterson also pleaded guilty, and received a probationary sentence.
The sentence of 366 days was between the 46-month high under the applicable Sentencing Guidelines range and the probationary sentence requested by defense counsel and above the six-month sentence suggested by the probation officer. The one-year and one-day sentence will allow Brownstein to earn "good time" of 47 days. Under federal law, good time is permitted only for a sentence of more than one year. 18 U.S.C. 3624(b).
Monday, January 9, 2012
Stop the presses. Hold the back page. Saturday's New York Times reports here on the SEC's decision to end its "does not admit or deny" policy, but only for SEC civil defendants who are also pleading guilty to criminal charges or admitting wrongdoing as part of a deferred criminal adjudication. In other words, the policy is similar in its immediate effect to Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which (for the most part) merely freed slaves in rebel held territory. Why be so boastful about ending a policy that never made much sense in the first place, because it allowed individuals and entities to neither admit or deny civil allegations when they had already pled guilty to similar, and more serious, criminal charges? To hear the SEC tell it, the decision to abandon the old policy is NOT in response to Judge Rakoff's order rejecting the proposed Citigroup consent decree, as the new policy would not apply in the Citigroup case and the decision has been under consideration since Spring 2011. The decision itself may not be in response to Judge Rakoff, but it is hard to believe that its timing is not. Although Judge Rakoff should be commended for his thoughtful opinion, I am not without sympathy for Khuzami. He and the SEC are the only actors at the governmental level who appear to be systematically investigating and bringing actions against the elite financial entities largely responsible for our economic meltdown. (DOJ is on holiday.) Still, the SEC spends too much time on its public relations.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
The New York Times yesterday wrote that in the wake of a CBS 60 Minutes report which said that members of Congress bought stock in companies while considering legislation that might affect those companies, Congress is considering laws banning such trading. The CBS report said none of the trading was illegal at the time. See here.
The 60 Minutes report said that the current chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), then the ranking Republican on the committee, bet stock prices would fall at the time he was being briefed privately that a global financial crisis might be imminent. According to the Times, at that time Congressman Bachus' office denied he had used nonpublic information as a basis for trading.
I do not venture to assess whether any Congressperson traded on inside information. I am also generally opposed to "new laws" since most are unnecessary and duplicative. Nonetheless, I see no reason that Congress should not be held to the same standard as private businesses or citizens. I also suggest consideration that a new statute, a mirror image to 18 U.S.C. 1001, which criminalizes a false statement to a government official, be enacted prohibiting false statements by a government official to the public.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Here is Judge Rakoff's Order Rejecting Proposed SEC-CITIGROUP GLOBAL MARKETS INC.Settlement. Here is the New York Times story. Judge Rakoff's Order repeatedly refers to Citigroup as a "recidivist." It is difficult to believe this Order would have ever seen the light of day had the Court truly believed that a comprehensive law enforcement effort was underway to investigate and hold accountable the persons and institutions whose actions "depressed our economy and debilitated our lives."
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
The Justice Department has decided -- properly, I believe -- not to file criminal charges against former SEC general counsel David M. Becker for participating in SEC policymaking relating to the distribution of funds from the Madoff estate when he had a personal stake in the outcome, a matter we discussed over five weeks ago. See here. Although I believe Becker's failure to recuse himself on his own was an exercise in poor judgment, he did report the potential conflict to his ethics officer, who approved his participation, and SEC chairwoman Mary L. Schapiro, who apparently failed to question it. Hopefully, the SEC will not forget that errors in judgment should rarely, if ever, be actionable.
Friday, November 4, 2011
The Sixth Annual ABA National Institute on Securities Fraud is taking place in New Orleans, and a topic this morning was social media. Yes, social media is a compenent even of securities cases.
Philip Hilder is moderating a panel of Robert B. Hirschhorn, Eric Dezenhall, Carrie Johnson, and Kara Scannell. Robert Hirschhorn noted how we now have information savvy jurors. Eric Dezenhall noted that "if you put a freelance writer on the jury, you should expect them to blog." Carrie Johnson noted how facebook may be used by reporters, and she gave the example of how it was used for a story following events at Virginia Tech. The panel stressed the speed of communication today and how one can receive information quicker than previously, for example via Twitter.
(esp)(blogging from New Orleans)
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Here is the Reuters story. Nothing posted yet on PACER. WSJ Law Blog also has coverage. This will be a much tougher case than Rajaratnam was for the government to prove. This morning's WSJ has a decent background piece (subscription required) on the case.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
One would expect that the SEC, which brings actions against individuals or corporations based on their failure to disclose a material conflict of interest to the public, would be sensitive to conflicts of interest of its own employees. Nonetheless, as a report released last week by SEC Inspector General H. David Kotz reveals, former SEC general counsel David M. Becker participated significantly in decisions relating to the distribution of SIPC funds relating to the Bernard Madoff case although he had a significant personal financial interest in the decisions.
Becker and two brothers in 2004 inherited and in 2009 liquidated $2 million in Madoff investment funds, $1.5 million of which were purported profits from the original investment. Later in 2009, Becker was prominently involved in two substantial questions in which the SEC recommendations to the bankruptcy court, while not conclusive, would be expected to carry significant weight in the court, given the deference courts pay to administrative agency decisions.
One issue concerned what position the SEC would take as to what should be considered "net equity," the amount that customers can claim in a brokerage liquidation. That question was essentially the same as what should be considered the "net equity" figure in a "clawback" action by the bankruptcy trustee, a decision in which Becker had a significant potential personal monetary interest, even though he and his family had not yet been sued (they were later). Becker initially argued against the "money-in/money-out method" under which an investor could recover only the amount he invested and for the "last account statement method" under which an investor could recover the amount of the last - and fictitious - statement from Madoff. The "last account statement method" would obviously have been beneficial to Becker in that it would have protected him in a "clawback" action by the Madoff bankruptcy trustee for the $1.5 million he and his brothers had received in Madoff "profits."
After consideration, Becker concluded that the last account statement method was unsupportable. His position was in accord with that of the SEC, SIPC, the bankruptcy trustee, and ultimately the Second Circuit, In re Bernard Madoff Investment Securities, LLC, ___ F.3d ___ (2d Cir., August 16, 2011). Becker argued, however, contrary to the position of SIPC, for the "constant dollar approach" in which the recovery under the money-in/money-out method would be adjusted upward for inflation and lost real economic gain. Under this approach, the bankruptcy trustee's potential clawback recovery from the Beckers would have been reduced by $138,500.
It is apparent, as any law student who has taken an ethics course would realize, and as the Inspector General determined, that Becker had a conflict of interest in the resolution of these questions. Yet, the SEC's "ethics" officer, who reported to and was evaluated by Becker, saw no conflict. The ethics officer, revealing a narrow view of conflict of interest, and an apparent misunderstanding of relevant securities law, found no conflict in part because there was "no direct and predictable effect" between the SEC's position and the trustee's clawback decision.
SEC Chairwoman Mary L. Schapiro was aware, to some extent, of Becker's Madoff financial interest, but she did not suggest he recuse himself. She and Becker both contended before Congress last week that he had acted properly by reporting the conflict to her and others. That defense, however, is limited and misplaced.
Reporting a conflict - especially if only to underlings and colleagues - is not sufficient. Even public disclosure of Becker's personal interest - and it was not disclosed to the public, Congress, the courts, or four of the SEC's five commissioners - would not have cured the conflict. Becker simply should have recused himself and not have participated at all in decisions as to the formulation of SEC policy relating to recovery of Madoff assets.
Schapiro was no doubt swayed by her respect for Becker's legal ability and integrity. Becker, who has written that he did "not remember giving any consideration to how the various proposed outcomes would affect me," may well have believed that his personal interest would not affect his professional judgment. In any case, his decision not to recuse himself and Schapiro's at least implicit condonation of this decision, demonstrate that the agency which polices conflicts of interest in the marketplace fails to appreciate them when they occur in its own house.
The Inspector General referred this matter to DOJ for consideration for criminal prosecution. I do not suggest that Becker acted criminally with respect to 18 U.S.C. 208, the statute proscribing acts affecting a personal financial interest, or any other law. He may well have lacked whatever scienter is required under the law based on his reporting to others or other acts or circumstances. Not every improper act is criminal.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
UBS is having another "ouch" moment as the media is reporting on a rogue trader. The typical questions are - how could this have happened; why was it not discovered sooner; who should be held liable; and should there be criminal liability? It is too soon to answer many of these questions. But here are some points of interest -
UBS has a corporate responsibility policy that states:
"UBS is firmly committed to corporate responsibility and actively strives to understand, assess, weigh and address the concerns and expectations of the firm's stakeholders. This process supports UBS in its efforts to safeguard and advance the firm’s reputation for responsible corporate conduct. In very direct ways, responsible corporate conduct helps create sustainable value for the company."
Its policies include a host of different preventative measures, such as money laundering prevention here. It takes pride in employees and notes that "[o]ur employees have the breadth of our businesses, global career opportunities and a collaborative, performance-oriented culture as a platform for individual success."
Rogue employees are not a new development for the corporate arena. No matter how many controls are in place and no matter how much oversight there might be, it is a problem to have full compliance. Knowing this, it seems important to provide companies with a "good faith" defense when a rogue employee commits acts that might be considered criminal. Unfortunately, to date, courts have only seen fit to insert such as defense in the civil area and not the criminal sphere. (See Podgor, A New Corporate World Mandates a Good Faith Affirmative Defense) But corporate criminality in the federal system is premised on respondeat superior and the acts of a rogue employee are hardly for the benefit of the company.
See also -
Frank Jordans & Paisley Dodds, Houston Chronicle, Rogue trader suspected in $2 billion UBS loss
Nathan Vardi, Forbes, Rogue Trader Deals Big Blow To UBS
Victoria Howley & Emma Thomasson, Reuters, UBS $2 billion rogue trade suspect held in London
The Telepgraph, UBS rogue trader: statement to employees in full