Justia Civil Procedure Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in White Collar Crime
Marion v. Bryn Mawr Trust Co.
Robert Bentley (Bentley) was a broker of certificates of deposits (CDs). He operated his business through two entities: Bentley Financial Services (BFS) and Entrust Group (Entrust). Entrust had a $2 million line of credit with Main Line Federal Savings Bank (Main Line). In 1996, Main Line terminated the line of credit after the bank discovered Bentley had forged his accountant’s signature on a document. Main Line demanded repayment of the outstanding $2 million balance. In order to pay back Main Line, Bentley sold $2 million of fake CDs. Thereafter, Bentley engaged in a Ponzi scheme in which he would sell fraudulent or fictitious CDs to new investors in order to pay off previous investors. In 1997, as he continued to defraud investors, Bentley opened deposit and wire transfer accounts with a new bank, Bryn Mawr Trust Company (BMT). Bentley became one of BMT’s largest customers. In 2001, the Securities and Exchange Commission commenced an action against Bentley for his Ponzi scheme. The federal court appointed David Marion (Marion) as a receiver for BFS and Entrust. In 2004, Marion initiated this case. Marion’s complaint, amended in 2012, raised claims of breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the Uniform Fiduciaries Act (UFA), aiding and abetting fraud, and negligence. In 2014, the trial court granted summary judgment to BMT on the claim of aiding and abetting fraud. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted limited discretionary review to consider whether to recognize a cause of action for aiding and abetting fraud and, if so, to determine the scienter requirement for this tort. The Court held aiding and abetting fraud was a cognizable claim under Pennsylvania law, and the required state of mind was actual knowledge of the fraud. Accordingly, the Superior Court’s decision was affirmed in part and reversed in part, and the case was remanded to the trial court for a new trial. View "Marion v. Bryn Mawr Trust Co." on Justia Law
FRANCINE SHULMAN, ET AL V. TODD KAPLAN, ET AL
The question presented in this case is whether Appellants, a cannabis entrepreneur and two cannabis businesses, have standing to bring claims arising pursuant to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), based on alleged harms to their cannabis business and related property. The district court granted Appellees’ motion to dismiss with prejudice, holding that Appellants lacked standing to bring their RICO claims. The court also dismissed Appellants’ Lanham Act claims on standing grounds as well as their state law claims, declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction. Appellants appealed the district court’s order only as to their RICO claims. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal. The panel held that while Appellants had Article III standing, they lacked statutory standing under RICO. As to Article III standing, the panel held that Appellants satisfied the injury requirement, which requires a showing of an invasion of a legally protected interest because cannabis-related property interests are recognized under California law. Appellees argued that Appellants’ alleged injuries were not redressable because they related to a cannabis business, which was illegal under the Controlled Substances Act. The panel held that the fact that Appellants sought damages for economic harms related to cannabis was not relevant to whether a court could, theoretically, fashion a remedy to redress their injuries. Further, the panel held that Appellants lacked statutory standing to bring their claims under RICO Section 1964(c). The panel concluded that the statutory purpose of RICO and the congressional intent animating its passage conflicted with the California laws recognizing a business and property interest in cannabis. View "FRANCINE SHULMAN, ET AL V. TODD KAPLAN, ET AL" on Justia Law
Laydon v. Coöperatieve Rabobank U.A., et al.
Plaintiff brought this putative class action against more than twenty banks and brokers, alleging a conspiracy to manipulate two benchmark rates known as Yen-LIBOR and Euroyen TIBOR. He claimed that he was injured after purchasing and trading a Euroyen TIBOR futures contract on a U.S.-based commodity exchange because the value of that contract was based on a distorted, artificial Euroyen TIBOR. Plaintiff brought claims under the Commodity Exchange Act (“CEA”), and the Sherman Antitrust Act, and sought leave to assert claims under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”). The district court dismissed the CEA and antitrust claims and denied leave to add the RICO claims. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the district court erred by holding that the CEA claims were impermissibly extraterritorial, that he lacked antitrust standing to assert a Sherman Act claim, and that he failed to allege proximate causation for his proposed RICO claims. The Second Circuit affirmed. The court explained that fraudulent submissions to an organization based in London that set a benchmark rate related to a foreign currency—occurred almost entirely overseas. Here Plaintiff failed to allege any significant acts that took place in the United States. Plaintiff’s CEA claims are based predominantly on foreign conduct and are thus impermissibly extraterritorial. As such, the district court also correctly concluded that Plaintiff lacked antitrust standing because he would not be an efficient enforcer of the antitrust laws. Finally, Plaintiff failed to allege proximate causation for his RICO claims. View "Laydon v. Coöperatieve Rabobank U.A., et al." on Justia Law
United States v. Haisten
The Haistens sold discounted animal pesticides and drugs online from their South Carolina home. They operated in violation of multiple FDA and EPA regulations. They sold counterfeit DVDs of movies and television shows that they obtained from China. The Haistens ignored cease-and-desist letters from state regulators and animal pesticides companies. Department of Homeland Security agents began making undercover purchases from the Haistens. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized shipments of counterfeit DVDs. Agents then searched the Haistens’ home, which revealed unapproved animal pesticides and drugs, counterfeit DVDs, and business records. In the ensuing prosecution, Count 14 charged the Haistens with trafficking counterfeit DVDs that were seized by CBP officers in Cincinnati. Count 15 charged them with trafficking counterfeit DVDs, that were seized at their home. Defense counsel did not request a jury instruction on improper venue or move for acquittal on Counts 14 or 15 for lack of proper venue in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The Haistens appealed, challenging an evidentiary ruling and a statement the government made during its summation. The Third Circuit affirmed.The Haistens then sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that their trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge venue on Counts 14 and 15. The Third Circuit remanded the denial of that motion for the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on whether their counsel had a strategic reason for not raising a defense based on improper venue. View "United States v. Haisten" on Justia Law
Georgelas v. Desert Hill Ventures
Consolidated cases arose from a 2015 Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) civil enforcement action against Roger Bliss, who ran a Ponzi scheme through his investment entities (collectively, “the Bliss Enterprise”). Bliss was ordered to repay millions of dollars to the victims of his fraudulent scheme, and the district court appointed Plaintiff-Appellee Tammy Georgelas as Receiver to investigate the Bliss Enterprise’s books and seek to recover its property. Defendant-Appellant David Hill was employed by the Bliss Enterprise from 2011 to 2015, providing administrative and ministerial services to the company. He received salary payments from the Bliss Enterprise both directly and through Defendant-Appellant Desert Hill Ventures, Inc. (“Desert Hill”), of which Hill was president. After the district court ordered Bliss to disgorge funds from his scheme, the Receiver brought these actions against Hill and Desert Hill. The Receiver asserted that the Bliss Enterprise estates were entitled to recover the $347,000 in wages paid to Defendants, in addition to $113,878 spent by the Bliss Enterprise on renovations to Hill’s house, under Utah’s Uniform Fraudulent Transfers Act (“UFTA”). The district court granted summary judgment to the Receiver, finding that the wages received by Defendants from the Bliss Enterprise and the funds paid by the Bliss Enterprise for the renovations were recoverable by the estates under the UFTA. Defendants appealed to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing the district court erred in denying their affirmative defense under Utah Code Ann. § 25-6-9(1) and in finding that the renovations were made for Hill’s benefit, as required under Utah Code Ann. § 25-6-9(2)(a). The Court agreed with Defendants and, accordingly, reversed the district court’s summary judgment order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Georgelas v. Desert Hill Ventures" on Justia Law
VITALY SMAGIN V. COMPAGNIE MONEGASQUE DE BANQUE
Plaintiff, a Russian citizen who resides in Russia, filed a civil RICO suit against Defendant Russian citizen who resides in California, and eleven other defendants. After securing a foreign arbitration award against Defendant. Plaintiff obtained a judgment from a United States district court confirming the award and giving Plaintiff the rights to execute that judgment in California and to pursue discovery. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants engaged in illegal activity, in violation of RICO, to thwart the execution of that California judgment. Consistent with the Second and Third Circuits, but disagreeing with the Seventh Circuit’s residency-based test for domestic injuries involving intangible property, the court held that the alleged injuries to a judgment obtained by Plaintiff from a United States district court in California were domestic injuries to property such that Plaintiff had statutory standing under RICO. The court concluded that, for purposes of standing under RICO, the California judgment existed as property in California because the rights that it provided to Plaintiff existed only in California. In addition, much of the conduct underlying the alleged injury occurred in or was targeted at California. View "VITALY SMAGIN V. COMPAGNIE MONEGASQUE DE BANQUE" on Justia Law
Williams v. Nat. W. Life Ins. Co.
National Western Life Insurance Company (NWL) appealed after it was held liable for negligence and elder abuse arising from an NWL annuity sold to Barney Williams by Victor Pantaleoni. In 2016, Williams contacted Pantaleoni to revise a living trust after the death of Williams’ wife, but Pantaleoni sold him a $100,000 NWL annuity. When Williams returned the annuity to NWL during a 30-day “free look” period, Pantaleoni wrote a letter over Williams’ signature for NWL to reissue a new annuity. In 2017, when Williams cancelled the second annuity, NWL charged a $14,949.91 surrender penalty. The jury awarded Williams damages against NWL, including punitive damages totaling almost $3 million. In the Court of Appeal's prior opinion reversing the judgment, the Court concluded Pantaleoni was an independent agent who sold annuities for multiple insurance companies and had no authority to bind NWL. The Court determined that Pantaleoni was an agent for Williams, not NWL. The California Supreme Court vacated that decision and remanded, asking the appeals court to reconsider its finding that Pantaleoni did not have an agency relationship with National Western Life Insurance Company in light of Insurance Code sections 32, 101, 1662, 1704 and 1704.5 and O’Riordan v. Federal Kemper Life Assurance Company, 36 Cal.4th 281, 288 (2005). Upon remand, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment finding NWL liable for negligence and financial elder abuse. However, punitive damages assessed against NWL were reversed. The Court found no abuse of discretion in the trial court’s calculation of the attorney fee award, but remanded the case for the court to reconsider the award in light of the reversal of punitive damages. View "Williams v. Nat. W. Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Federal Trade Commission, et al. v. Zurixx, et al.
David Efron and Efron Dorado SE (collectively, "Efron") appealed a civil contempt order entered by the district court for violating its preliminary injunction. This litigation began when the Federal Trade Commission and the Utah Division of Consumer Protection filed a complaint in the federal district court against Zurixx, LLC and related entities. The complaint alleged Zurixx marketed and sold deceptive real-estate investment products. The district court entered a stipulated preliminary injunction, enjoining Zurixx from continuing its business activities and freezing its assets wherever located. The injunction also directed any person or business with actual knowledge of the injunction to preserve any of Zurixx’s assets in its possession, and it prohibited any such person or business from transferring those assets. A week later, the receiver filed a copy of the complaint and injunction in federal court in Puerto Rico, where Zurixx leased office space from Efron. The office contained Zurixx’s computers, furniture, and other assets. The receiver also notified Efron of the receivership and gave him actual notice of the injunction. Although Efron at first allowed the receiver access to the office to recover computers and files, he later denied access to remove the remaining assets and initiated eviction proceedings against Zurixx in a Puerto Rico court. Given these events, the receiver moved the district court in Utah for an order holding Efron in contempt of court for violating the injunction. In response, Efron claimed the assets belonged to him under his lease agreement with Zurixx. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeal determined the contempt order was a non-final decision. It therefore dismissed this appeal for lack of jurisdiction. View "Federal Trade Commission, et al. v. Zurixx, et al." on Justia Law
United States v. Smith
Smith, a software engineer, obtained the coordinates of artificial fishing reefs in the Gulf of Mexico from a website owned by StrikeLines, a Florida business. Smith remained in Mobile, Alabama while posting information about the reef coordinates on Facebook. Smith initially agreed to remove the posts and to assist Strikelines with its security issues in exchange for additional coordinates but communications broke down. StrikeLines contacted law enforcement. Officers executed a search warrant and found StrikeLines’s coordinates and other customer and sales data on Smith’s devices. Smith was charged in the Northern District of Florida with violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. 1030(a)(2)(C), (c)(2)(B)(iii), theft of trade secrets, and transmitting a threat through interstate commerce with intent to extort. Smith argued that venue was improper because all the prohibited conduct occurred in the Alabama and the data that was accessed and obtained was in the Middle District of Florida.Smith was convicted on the trade secrets and extortion counts in the Northern District of Florida. The Eleventh Circuit vacated Smith’s trade secrets conviction and related sentencing enhancements for lack of venue, affirmed the extortion conviction and related sentencing enhancements, and remanded. Smith never committed any essential conduct for the trade secrets conviction in the Northern District of Florida. Sufficient evidence supported the extortion conviction. View "United States v. Smith" on Justia Law
Optional Capital, Inc. v. DAS Corp.
In 2004-2005, the government filed forfeiture actions against a Credit Suisse account, owned by a corporation organized by Kim’s sister . The government alleged the $15 million account included proceeds of fraudulent activities involving Kim’s control of Optional. The district court ordered the seizure of the Account. The putative owners (Kim Claimants) contested the forfeiture. Optional, no longer under Kim's control, and DAS, an alleged victim of Kim's fraud, filed competing claims.In 2011, after years of parallel litigation, the Swiss Attorney General’s Office unfroze the Account and ordered the bank to wire $12.6 million to DAS, which filed a “Notice of Withdrawal of Claims” in the forfeiture proceeding. The court ordered that no party disturb money remaining in the Credit Suisse accounts and requested that the government investigate how the transfer to DAS was accomplished. The court declined to hold DAS in contempt, concluded that it “cannot compel DAS to surrender the funds,” then granted DAS’s opposed motion to be dismissed from the forfeiture proceedings.Optional, the sole remaining claimant, submitted a 2013 proposed final judgment, which the district court adopted. Five years later, Optional sought to hold DAS in contempt for allegedly violating that judgment because DAS failed to surrender the money transferred in 2011; the 2013 judgment had awarded Optional all funds in the Account as of August 2005. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of the contempt motion. The 2013 judgment did not require DAS to turn over $12.6 million to Optional. At the 2013 trial, the court did not have before it, and did not undertake to decide, the competing claims to the transferred money. In awarding Optional “all funds” the district court unmistakably was referring only to the remaining funds. View "Optional Capital, Inc. v. DAS Corp." on Justia Law