Justia U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
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Lucas, a financial advisor, wanted to take over Burke Farm to obtain funding from a New Jersey program that paid property owners for easements to preserve farmland. Lucas submitted a fraudulent application to assume Burke Farm’s mortgage; obtained a $250,000 loan from a client under false pretenses; and forged a signature on the promissory note. The farm was owned by Diamond, LLC. Lucas, his wife, and his father used the proceeds of his fraud to acquire the LLC. Convicted of wire fraud, engaging in an illegal monetary transaction, loan application fraud, making false statements to the IRS, aggravated identity theft, obstructing a grand jury investigation, and falsifying records in a federal investigation, Lucas consented to the criminal forfeiture of Burke Farm in conjunction with his 60-month sentence. The LLC filed an unsuccessful objection, 21 U.S.C. 853(n)(6)(A),The Third Circuit reversed. The LLC acquired Burke Farm over five years before Lucas’s crimes and is a legitimate, separate legal entity from Lucas. The court noted that the government could have sought criminal forfeiture of Lucas’s interest in the LLC and civil forfeiture of his family’s interests. Although illicit proceeds were involved in the family’s acquisition of Diamond, the LLC acquired the farm legitimately years before. The government must turn square corners when it exercises its power to confiscate private property. View "United States v. Lucas" on Justia Law

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Wilmington Trust financed construction projects. Extensions were commonplace. Wilmington’s loan documents reserved its right to “renew or extend (repeatedly and for any length of time) this loan . . . without the consent of or notice to anyone.” Wilmington’s internal policy did not classify all mature loans with unpaid principals as past due if the loans were in the process of renewal and interest payments were current, Following the 2008 "Great Recession," Wilmington excluded some of the loans from those it reported as “past due” to the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Reserve. Wilmington’s executives maintained that, under a reasonable interpretation of the reporting requirements, the exclusion of the loans from the “past due” classification was proper. The district court denied their requests to introduce evidence concerning or instruct the jury about that alternative interpretation. The jury found the reporting constituted “false statements” under 18 U.S.C. 1001 and 15 U.S.C. 78m, and convicted the executives.The Third Circuit reversed in part. To prove falsity beyond a reasonable doubt in this situation, the government must prove either that its interpretation of the reporting requirement is the only objectively reasonable interpretation or that the defendant’s statement was also false under the alternative, objectively reasonable interpretation. The court vacated and remanded the conspiracy and securities fraud convictions, which were charged in the alternative on an independent theory of liability, View "United States v. Harra" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Rad and others were charged with acquiring penny stocks, “pumping” the prices of those stocks by bombarding investors with misleading spam emails, and then “dumping” their shares at a profit. Rad was convicted of conspiring to commit false header spamming and false domain name spamming under the Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing Act (CAN-SPAM), 15 U.S.C. 7701(a)(2), which addresses unsolicited commercial email. The PSR recommended raising Rad’s offense level to reflect the losses inflicted on investors, estimating that Rad realized about $2.9 million in “illicit gains” while acknowledging that because “countless victims” purchased stocks, the losses stemming from Rad’s conduct could not “reasonabl[y] be determined.” Rad emphasized the absence of evidence that any person lost anything. Rad was sentenced to 71 months’ imprisonment. The record is silent as to how the court analyzed the victim loss issue. The Third Circuit affirmed. DHS initiated removal proceedings under 8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(2)(A)(iii), which renders an alien removable for any crime that “involves fraud or deceit” “in which the loss to the victim or victims exceeds $10,000.” The IJ and the BIA found Rad removable.The Third Circuit remanded. Rad’s convictions for CAN-SPAM conspiracy necessarily entail deceit under 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(43)(M)(i). The second element, requiring victim losses over $10,000, however, was not adequately addressed. The court noted that intended losses, not just actual ones, may meet the requirement. View "Rad v. Attorney General United States" on Justia Law

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While working for Vanguard, Capps fraudulently caused funds from dormant accounts to be mailed to co-conspirators, one of whom then wrote checks conveying back to him some of the proceeds. Capps received at least two checks, one for $555,200 and another for $29,750, and did not report the income on his federal tax returns. Capps pled guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1349, money laundering, sections 1956(a)(1)(B)(i) and 2, and filing a false tax return, 26 U.S.C. 7206(1). At sentencing, he did not raise any objections to the PSR and the court adopted its calculation of the applicable guidelines range (63-78 months), including two separate 2-level adjustments based on abuse of trust and gross receipts. The court sentenced Capps to 48 months’ imprisonment and ordered Capps to pay $2,137,580.81 in restitution.The Third Circuit vacated, finding that the district court plainly erred in applying the abuse of trust adjustment. As to the application of the gross receipts adjustment, the court reasoned that, while the district court did not plainly err in deciding the adjustment could be applicable, it is not clear on this record whether Capps met the threshold for the adjustment to actually apply. View "United States v. Capps" on Justia Law

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In 1998, Pennsylvania and 45 other states entered into a settlement agreement with certain cigarette manufacturers, who agreed to disburse funding to the states to cover tobacco-related healthcare costs. Pennsylvania’s 2001 Tobacco Settlement Act established the "EE Program" to reimburse participating hospitals for “extraordinary expenses” incurred for treating uninsured patients according to a formula. The Department of Human Services (DHS) determines the eligibility of each hospital for EE Program payments. The Pennsylvania Auditor General reported that for Fiscal Years 2008-2012, some participating hospitals received disbursements for unqualified claims, and recommended that DHS claw back funds from overpaid hospitals and redistribute the money to hospitals that had been underpaid. DHS followed that recommendation for fiscal years prior to 2010 but discovered methodological discrepancies and discontinued the process for Fiscal Years 2010-2012.Plaintiffs, on behalf of all “underpaid” hospitals, sued an allegedly overpaid hospital, alleging conspiracy to defraud the EE Program in violation of RICO, 18 U.S.C. 1961–1964. The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants submitted fraudulent claims for reimbursement, in violation of the wire fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. 1343 (a RICO predicate offense). The Third Circuit reversed the dismissal of the claims, finding that the theory of liability adequately alleges proximate causation. No independent factors that accounted for the plaintiffs’ injury and no more immediate victim was better situated to sue. View "St. Lukes Health Network, Inc. v. Lancaster General Hospital" on Justia Law

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VOG billed itself as an advocacy group helping victims of timeshare fraud get out of their timeshare debts. A jury determined that VOG had actually defrauded its customers and that three individual defendants (including Lacerda) were each knowing participants in that fraud. Lacerda was sentenced to 324 months’ imprisonment for his leading role in the fraudulent enterprise.The Third Circuit affirmed the respective convictions and sentences. The court rejected a claim of impermissible “overview testimony” by an FBI agent; an officer who is familiar with an investigation or was personally involved may tell the story of that investigation—how the investigation began, who was involved, and what techniques were used, and, with a proper foundation, may offer lay opinion testimony and testify about matters within his personal knowledge. The district court did not abuse its discretion when it disqualified defense counsel based on a conflict of interest; when it denied replacement counsel’s motion for a continuance; when it excluded from evidence, as hearsay, an email sent by Lacerda to VOG’s former CFO; in exercising its sentencing discretion; or by ordering the forfeiture of all VOG’s gross proceeds. View "United States v. Lacerda" on Justia Law

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Fishoff began trading securities in the 1990s. By 2009, he had earned enough money to establish his own firm, with one full-time employee and several independent contractors. Fishoff had no formal training in securities markets, regulations, or compliance. Nor did he hold any professional license. He operated without expert advice. Fishoff engaged in short-selling stock in anticipation of the issuer making a secondary offering. Secondary offerings are confidential but a company, through its underwriter, may contact potential buyers to assess interest. When a salesperson provides confidential information, such as the issuer's name, the recipient is barred by SEC Rule 10b-5-2, from trading the issuer’s securities or disclosing the information before the offering is publicly announced. Fishoff’s associates opened accounts at investment banking firms in order to receive solicitations to invest in secondary offerings. They agreed to keep the information confidential but shared it with Fishoff, who would short-sell the company’s shares.Fishoff pled guilty to securities fraud (15 U.S.C. 78j(b), 78ff; 17 C.F.R. 240.10b-5 (Rule 10b-5); 18 U.S.C. 2), stipulating that he and his associates made $1.5 to $3.5 million by short-selling Synergy stock based on confidential information. Fishoff unsuccessfully claimed that he had no knowledge of Rule 10b5-2 and was entitled to the affirmative defense against imprisonment under Securities Exchange Act Section 32, as a person who violated a Rule having “no knowledge of such rule or regulation”. The Third Circuit affirmed his 30-month sentence. Fishoff adequately presented his defense. The court’s ruling was sufficient; the government never agreed that the non-imprisonment defense applied. Fishoff did not establish a lack of knowledge. His attempts to conceal his scheme suggests that he was aware that it was wrong. View "United States v. Fishoff" on Justia Law

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During the 2009-2010 term, James was a senator in the Virgin Islands Legislature. The Legislature maintained a fund for Legislature-related expenses. James used a large portion of the checks issued to him by the fund for personal expenses and his re-election campaign. James obtained these checks by presenting invoices purportedly associated with work on a historical project. In 2015, James was charged with two counts of wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343 and one count of federal program embezzlement, 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(A). The Third Circuit affirmed his convictions, upholding a ruling that allowed the prosecution to introduce evidence of acts outside the limitations period, 18 U.S.C. 3282(a), and the substitution of an excused juror with an alternate after the jury had been polled. The court rejected a claim of prosecutorial misconduct based on the prosecution calling two witnesses concerning an eviction dispute. The court had instructed the government not to discuss the eviction case in its opening; neither witness testified about the eviction case. The Third Circuit also upheld a ruling that permitted the use of a chart as a demonstrative aid to accompany the case agent’s testimony, with an instruction that the jury that it should consider the chart as a guide for testimony, not as substantive evidence. View "United States v. James" on Justia Law

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Health benefit plans sued GSK, the manufacturer of the prescription drug Avandia, under state consumer-protection laws and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. ch. 96 (RICO), based on GSK’s marketing of Avandia as having benefits to justify its price, which was higher than the price of other drugs used to treat type-2 diabetes. The district court granted GSK summary judgment, finding that the state-law consumer-protection claims were preempted by the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA), 21 U.S.C. ch. 9; the Plans had failed to identify a sufficient “enterprise” for purposes of RICO; and the Plans’ arguments related to GSK’s alleged attempts to market Avandia as providing cardiovascular “benefits” were “belated.” The Third Circuit reversed, applying the Supreme Court’s 2019 "Merck" decision. The state-law consumer-protection claims are not preempted by the FDCA. The Plans should have been given the opportunity to seek discovery before summary judgment on the RICO claims. Further, from the inception of this litigation, the Plans’ claims have centered on GSK’s marketing of Avandia as providing cardiovascular benefits as compared to other forms of treatment, so the district court’s refusal to consider the Plans’ “benefits” arguments was in error because those arguments were timely raised. View "In re: Avandia Marketing, Sales and Products Liability Litigation" on Justia Law

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Ludwikowski went to the police station to report extortionate threats. He was there for about seven hours and was questioned extensively about why he was vulnerable to extortion. He was given water and offered pizza. He went to the restroom, unaccompanied, at least three times. He was interviewed for about four hours, in three phases, punctuated by breaks. He had his phone and used it to make a call. It came to light that Ludwikowski, a pharmacist, had been filling fraudulent oxycodone prescriptions. He was later tried for distribution of a controlled substance. He moved to suppress the statements he made at the police station, arguing that they were inadmissible because no one read him his Miranda rights. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Ludwikowski was not in custody, so no Miranda warnings were needed. Much of the interview was devoted to trying to identify the extorter and the motivation; the interview would have been shorter if Ludwikowski had been more responsive. His statements at the police station were not involuntary. A reasonable person would have understood he could leave; Ludwikowski’s calm demeanor and calculated answers belie his argument that he subjectively felt his freedom was constrained. There was no plain error in the admission of expert testimony on the practice of pharmacy. . View "United States v. Ludwikowski" on Justia Law