Supreme Court Rules Against Freezing "Untainted" Assets

In a ruling that could have far-reaching implications for criminal defendants’ right to counsel of their choice, the Supreme Court decided on March 30, 2016 that the government cannot freeze “untainted” assets that are not related to any alleged wrongdoing. Reaching this conclusion, the Court overturned an Eleventh Circuit decision affirming an order freezing a defendant’s assets that, while not obtained as a result of, or traceable to, the criminal conduct alleged, represented property of “equivalent value” to the illegal proceeds.

Writing for the majority in Luis v. United States, 578 U.S. ___ (2016), Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Roberts, Ginsburg and Sotomayor, drew a bright constitutional line, rooted in principles of property law, between tainted and untainted assets.  The Court stated that the latter “belongs to the defendant, pure and simple.  In this respect, it differs from a robber’s loot, a drug seller’s cocaine, a burglar’s tools, or other property associated with the planning, implementation, or concealing of a crime.”  Weighing these property rights, together with the “fundamental character” of a criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel, against the government’s stated interests, the Court reasoned that “in our view, insofar as innocent (i.e., untainted) funds are needed to obtain counsel of choice, we believe that the Sixth Amendment prohibits the court order that the Government seeks.”

The Court found further support for its decision in the fact that, absent the ability to use untainted funds to secure counsel, “[t]hese defendants, rendered indigent, would fall back upon publicly paid counsel, including overworked and underpaid public defenders” and that “increasing the government-paid-defender workload [would] render less effective the basic right the Sixth Amendment seeks to protect.”

The majority’s opinion also sought to address the concerns of the dissenting justices that, given the fungible nature of money, “sometimes it will be difficult to say whether a particular bank account contains tainted or untainted funds.”  Justice Breyer noted that “the law has tracing rules that help courts implement the kind of distinction we require in this case.”

Notably, while the petitioner’s assets in Luis had been frozen under a statute applying to violations of health care laws,” see 18 U.S.C. § 1345(a), the same statute also applies to a wide range of white collar crimes, including bank theft and bribery, as well as money laundering.

© 2016 Bracewell LLP

Supreme Court Rules Against Freezing “Untainted” Assets

In a ruling that could have far-reaching implications for criminal defendants’ right to counsel of their choice, the Supreme Court decided on March 30, 2016 that the government cannot freeze “untainted” assets that are not related to any alleged wrongdoing. Reaching this conclusion, the Court overturned an Eleventh Circuit decision affirming an order freezing a defendant’s assets that, while not obtained as a result of, or traceable to, the criminal conduct alleged, represented property of “equivalent value” to the illegal proceeds.

Writing for the majority in Luis v. United States, 578 U.S. ___ (2016), Justice Breyer, joined by Justice Roberts, Ginsburg and Sotomayor, drew a bright constitutional line, rooted in principles of property law, between tainted and untainted assets.  The Court stated that the latter “belongs to the defendant, pure and simple.  In this respect, it differs from a robber’s loot, a drug seller’s cocaine, a burglar’s tools, or other property associated with the planning, implementation, or concealing of a crime.”  Weighing these property rights, together with the “fundamental character” of a criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel, against the government’s stated interests, the Court reasoned that “in our view, insofar as innocent (i.e., untainted) funds are needed to obtain counsel of choice, we believe that the Sixth Amendment prohibits the court order that the Government seeks.”

The Court found further support for its decision in the fact that, absent the ability to use untainted funds to secure counsel, “[t]hese defendants, rendered indigent, would fall back upon publicly paid counsel, including overworked and underpaid public defenders” and that “increasing the government-paid-defender workload [would] render less effective the basic right the Sixth Amendment seeks to protect.”

The majority’s opinion also sought to address the concerns of the dissenting justices that, given the fungible nature of money, “sometimes it will be difficult to say whether a particular bank account contains tainted or untainted funds.”  Justice Breyer noted that “the law has tracing rules that help courts implement the kind of distinction we require in this case.”

Notably, while the petitioner’s assets in Luis had been frozen under a statute applying to violations of health care laws,” see 18 U.S.C. § 1345(a), the same statute also applies to a wide range of white collar crimes, including bank theft and bribery, as well as money laundering.

© 2016 Bracewell LLP

Real Estate Promoter Carlton Cabot Arrested – Is He the Worst Fraudster in Modern History?

The name Carlton Cabot was once synonymous with tenant in common (TIC) real estate projects. Cabot claimed to have raised hundreds of millions of dollars and public records show that he promoted approximately 18 large real estate projects nationwide.

The entire concept of TIC financed projects began in 2002 after the IRS issued a revenue ruling allowing investors to defer capital gains from the sale of real estate involving an “exchange” of properties. (These are sometimes called 1031 exchanges because of section 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code.) For the first time, the IRS said individuals could pool their gains and invest in larger projects.

Unfortunately, along with legitimate developers came a number of scam promoters. Overnight, a new industry was born. Obviously, not all TIC projects are scams but many were.

The first few years of operations saw Cabot building his empire. A golf course in Georgia, a shopping center in Green Bay and an office park in Connecticut are but a few of Cabot’s many TIC financed projects.

The pooled money of the newly created TICs was used to make a down payment and the balance was financed. The borrowers were the TICs but most were told the loans were nonrecourse meaning the lender was only looking to the value of the property and not relying on the TIC members’ credit.

Unfortunately, stockbrokers who had no understanding of the complex loan documents and tax law behind 1031 exchanges sold many of these TIC investment interests including the TIC interests behind Carlton Cabot’s projects. The brokers relied on rosy projections and glossy brochures and other slick marketing materials. Few, if any, read the 1000+ page offering documents. Much higher than average sales commissions didn’t hurt their enthusiasm, either.

Two more factors made these TIC projects the recipe for disaster. First, Carlton Cabot was the master tenant in each of the projects. That gave him the ability to collect rents on behalf of the TICs. Cabot also set up the loan documents so that the mail addressed to the TIC investors was sent to him.

By 2012, we believe that Carlton Cabot was skimming rents. Mortgage payments therefore began being missed. Had the TIC investors known these things, they could have easily cured any default and removed Cabot as the master tenant. Many of the projects had sufficient reserves that could have been used to pay a missed mortgage payment or two.

Unfortunately, Cabot didn’t tell the TICs about his misdeeds. Nor did the lenders, loan trustees or loan servicers. Instead, the TICs often received phony financial statements from Cabot. Even though defaults were occurring everywhere, the TICs had no idea.

By the time the TICs found out, the loans had been accelerated and were in serious default. The TICs went from being investors to owing tens of millions on defaulted mortgages.

The criminal complaint against Carlton Cabot and his manager Timothy Kroll claims that $17 million was stolen from the projects. The feds say some of that money went into Carlton Cabot’s pocket while some was used to pay off and silence the few investors who were beginning to ask questions. We are sure that the money wasn’t going to the mortgage payments, however.

Theft of $17 million is already a serious charge. Because the TICs were forced into default, the problem is much larger. The TICs lost not only the rent payments but also their equity in the property and their investments. For many Cabot victims, the money they lost was their life savings. Worse, they may still be on the hook for any shortfall or deficiency upon foreclosure.

Many of the investors are also quite elderly. Some have died since the various lawsuits began. For those folks, they will never see any justice. The Justice Department says both Carlton Cabot and Timothy Kroll were arrested at their homes. Both men are charged with seven felony crimes including wire fraud, securities fraud, money laundering and conspiracy. Both men face 105 years if convicted on all counts.

We suspect that absent an immediate plea, the charges will increase as the IRS and U.S. Postal Inspection Service continues its investigation.

In announcing the arrests, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, “As alleged, Carlton Cabot and Timothy Kroll conspired to defraud investors out of millions of dollars by misappropriating investor funds, in part to pay for personal luxuries, and they falsified financial statements in an attempt to cover their tracks.  The investigative work of the Postal Inspection Service and the IRS put an end to the alleged scheme.”

Is there hope for investors? Maybe. Investors who purchased from a stockbroker or other financial professional may have a claim against the person who sold or recommended the investment.

Unfortunately, there was such a wave of TIC frauds that many of the broker dealers selling TIC investments are already out of business.

Investors facing foreclosure or the lost of their investment may have valid claims against the servicers, loan trustees, property managers and others who turned a blind eye or actively participated in the crimes. Suing Carlton Cabot is probably not a great idea. We suspect that getting money from him is nearly impossible. Any justice from Cabot will be had if he is convicted and forced to face his victims at sentencing.

In summary, what was once billed as the investment of a lifetime has turned into a life sentence for many victims.  Even if you lost everything, don’t give up. A good fraud recovery lawyer may be able to help defend you against suits from lenders and may even be able to get back some of your lost money from third parties.

ARTICLE BY Brian Mahany of Mahany Law
© Copyright 2015 Mahany Law

Criminal Defendant Required to Provide Smartphone Fingerprint, but Not Passcode

Covington BUrling Law Firm

A Virginia state judge ruled last week that law enforcement may require a criminal defendant to provide his fingerprint — but not his passcode — to unlock a smartphone that might contain evidence that would be used against him at trial.

In Commonwealth v. Baust, the police sought access to the smartphone of David Charles Baust, who was indicted in connection an alleged assault. The victim alleged that a video of the assault was stored on Baust’s phone.

Police officers obtained a warrant for the phone and other evidence from Baust’s home. Because the officers were unable to unlock Baust’s phone, the government filed a motion to compel Baust to produce either his passcode or fingerprint to unlock the phone.

Because the government had obtained a lawfully executed search warrant, Baust could not challenge the government’s request on Fourth Amendment grounds. Instead, Baust argued that the request violates the Fifth Amendment, which provides that no person “shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” Courts have long held that this privilege protects a criminal defendant from being forced to provide the government with “evidence of a testimonial or communicative nature.”

Virginia Circuit Court Judge Steven C. Frucci rejected the government’s request to compel Baust to provide his passcode, holding that providing his passcode would be testimonial because it would force Baust to “disclose the contents of his own mind.” This conclusion is in line with a 2010 ruling by a Michigan federal court that forcing the defendant to produce a passcode is “the extortion of information from the accused.”

But Judge Frucci allowed the government to compel Baust to provide his fingerprint. He concluded that the fingerprint, “like a key . . . does not require Defendant to communicate any knowledge at all.”

Employer Used As Means to Commit Crime not a Victim under Restitution Act, Fourth Circuit Court Rules

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The Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996 (“MVRA”) provides that a victim of a federal crime may be entitled to an order of restitution for certain losses suffered as a direct result of the commission of the crime for which the defendant was convicted.  A question that courts sometimes face is whether a company can be considered a “victim” under the MVRA if an employee uses that company as an instrument to defraud the federal government.

Looking at this issue, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on April 4, 2014, declined to allow a company’s bankruptcy estate to receive restitution for a large debt caused by an owner/employee’s fraud because that company was used as an instrument for that fraud.  In re Bankruptcy Estate of AGS, Inc., No. 12-cr-113 (4th Cir., April 4, 2014).

Dr. Allen G. Saoud was convicted after a June 2013 jury trial of five counts of health care fraud.  Dr. Saoud, who is a dermatologist, in 2005 was excluded from participating in Medicare and Medicaid for 10 years.  He then plotted to maintain ownership and control of his dermatology practice, AGS, Inc. in violation of the exclusion.  He founded a new dermatology practice and transferred all of his patients to this new practice.  After selling  his new practice to Dr. Fred Scott for $1.8 million,  Dr. Saoud then sold AGS, which had lost its value, for $1 million to nurse practitioner Georgia Daniel.  Despite  these sales, he continued to control and profit from both entities, partly by collecting Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement funds.

After Dr. Saoud was convicted, the estate of AGS, Inc., which had filed for bankruptcy, sought a $1 million restitution award to cover bankruptcy creditor claims that stemmed partly from the underlying fraud.   The district court declined.  The Estate of AGS, Inc. then filed a writ of mandamus with the Fourth Circuit.

The Fourth Circuit also refused  to award restitution to the Estate.  The Court held that Dr. Saoud used AGS, Inc. as an instrument in his scheme to illegally obtained Medicare and Medicaid funds, and as such, the Court declined to “also hold that AGS was one of the scheme’s victims.”

AGS, Inc. should be a source of concern to companies that have sustained losses as a result of employee fraud.  If an employee, director, officer or owner uses a company to defraud the government and that company incurs tax or other debt liability as a result of that fraud, that company may not be able to receive restitution under the MVRA.  Jackson Lewis attorneys are available to advise companies on the scope of the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act and their rights in collecting amounts lost to criminal acts.

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Alleged STOLI Producers Found Guilty of Fraud and Other Criminal Charges

DrinkerBiddle

Earlier today, a jury in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York found independent insurance producers Michael Binday, James Kergil, and Mark Resnick guilty of mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit those offenses.  The jury also convicted Kergil and Resnick of conspiracy to obstruct justice.  Sentencing has been scheduled for January 15, 2014.  The convicted defendants may face up to 80 years in prison.

During the 12 day trial, federal prosecutors argued that Binday, Kergil, and Resnick lied to insurers to perpetrate the scheme and then lied again to cover it up.  Based on the testimony of insiders and insureds, along with the defendants’ own emails and other documents, prosecutors specifically argued that the defendants:

  • recruited brokers to solicit elderly clients to serve as straw-buyers for the policies, with promises of large commissions to the brokers and payments to the clients upon the sale of the policies;
  • submitted applications to insurers for more than $100 million in life insurance, which grossly misrepresented the insureds’ income and net worth and lied about the intent to sell the policies, the fact that the premium would be financed by third-parties, and that multiple policies were being applied for or had been issued in the name of the insured;
  • recruited accountants and other professionals to submit bogus inspection reports and other documents purporting to verify the insureds’ financials;
  • conspired to thwart insurers’ attempts to investigate the representations made in the policy applications and to disguise the source of premiums paid for the policies by wiring funds into insureds’ accounts; and
  • earned millions of dollars through commissions and in some cases by arranging to cash in themselves on the death benefits upon an insured’s death.

Insurance industry leaders Jim Avery, the former Vice Chairman and President of Individual Life Insurance for Prudential, and Mike Burns, a Senior Vice President at Lincoln Financial Group, also testified during the government’s case in chief.  Both testified about their companies’ anti-STOLI policies, the harm to insurers that STOLI caused, and the measures the companies took to try to screen it out.

The evidence relating to the conspiracy to obstruct justice charges against Kergil and Resnick included alleged recorded calls that a scheme insider, who testified under a plea agreement, had with Kergil and Resnick, and testimony from an employee of the Apple computer store where Resnick allegedly had taken his computer to have the hard drive wiped clean.  The alleged calls, which were recorded in cooperation with the FBI, involved discussions about Kergil’s instruction to Resnick and the insider to destroy all records with Binday’s name on them and to wipe their computer hard drives clean.

Each of the defendants was separately represented by his own counsel, and none of the defendants took the stand in his defense.  Instead, the defendants presented excerpts from approximately a dozen files for policies that the defendants submitted to the insurers and that supposedly contained STOLI red flags.  Based on these documents, the defendants argued that the insurers were not deceived by the defendants’ lies and that the scheme was profitable for all involved and not criminal activity.  On rebuttal, the prosecutors introduced additional evidence from the insurer files showing that the insurers’ attempts to investigate the STOLI red flags were met with more lies on the part of the defendants and their associates.

This criminal prosecution has already spawned at least one civil action by an insurer seeking to have a STOLI policy allegedly involving Resnick and Binday declared null and void.

The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in the News: Big Scoops, Real Fallout

Sheppard Mullin 2012

In early August, the New York Times reported that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating JPMorgan Chase related to alleged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in China.  According to the article, the press had not previously reported on the investigation, and the Times knowledge of it was based on a “confidential United States government document.”  The article generated a number of similar news reports.

This is not the first time the media has hopped on the FCPA bandwagon following a juicy story about alleged bribery.  For example, in 2012 and again this year, the New Yorker ran feature articles on alleged corruption in the Macau gambling industry and the Guinean mining industry.  And reports by the Wall Street Journal and other sources, both inside and outside the United States, brought into focus the alleged bribery payments arising from the News Corp phone hacking scandal in the United Kingdom.

The increase in feature reporting on the FCPA makes some sense: stories typically involve racy factual underpinnings, exotic locations, multi-national companies and crooked governments.   Nonetheless, the FCPA may have been underreported in the mainstream press, even as it was being vigorously enforced by the SEC and Department of Justice.

As the press catches up to enforcement, it appears that the stories themselves may in turn have ramifications for the enforcement environment.  One result of more prominent news coverage may be increased pressure on the U.S. government to prosecute alleged FCPA violations.  While it is possible that a news story could trigger a new investigation, coverage of an ongoing investigation would seem to increase scrutiny on it, thereby inciting the government to investigate more thoroughly than might otherwise be the case, or to push harder against potential procedural hurdles like jurisdiction or the statute of limitations.  Given the high cost that has come to be associated with defending against enforcement actions, this type of pressure could lead to major expenditures by companies.  Indeed, some FCPA investigations have reportedly led to $100 million or more in attorneys’ fees.

The FCPA’s heightened visibility in the mainstream press thus brings into relief an issue with which companies need to be particularly aware: bad press.  In fact, the more negative press that accumulates with respect to a particular company and/or allegation, the worse the ramifications for the company.  Investors may start to abandon the company, management changes or other dramatic action may be taken to demonstrate the company’s commitment to addressing perceived problems, and the company may ultimately be more willing to settle the matter on the government’s terms to make the issue go away.

Companies can help protect against violations – and the adverse PR that may come with violations or even allegations of violations – by implementing comprehensive anti-corruption programs.  In addition, companies must foster a “tone from the top” that stresses compliance with anti-corruption laws and open communication about suspected violations.  Potential whistleblowers must feel secure and appreciated for coming forward to report allegations internally, so they are less inclined to report the allegations externally.  In other words, companies that do not want to air their dirty laundry had better keep a clean house.