Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
by
Dawson, the City Manager of Del Rey Oaks, purchased the Portola lot, “the last vacant lot” in the City. It had a water meter but no water credits and could not be built upon without water credits. The prior owner had never been able to obtain water rights or water credits. The City lacked any water credits and had no surplus water. In 2015, the City leased the Rosita property, part of Work Memorial Park, to Mori for a garden center. Dawson contracted on behalf of the City for a new well on the Rosita property and arranged for the water credit from the Rosita property to be transferred to Dawson’s Portola lot. Dawson never reported his ownership of the Portola lot on his Form 700 disclosure.Dawson was convicted of a felony count of violating Government Code section 10901 (conflict of interest as to a contract entered into in his official capacity) and a misdemeanor count of violating section 91000 (failing to report an interest in real property under the Political Reform Act). The court granted him probation. The court of appeal affirmed. The prosecution was not required to prove the inapplicability of an exception to section 1090 “for remote or minimal interests” because it was an affirmative defense; Dawson bore the burden of raising a reasonable doubt. View "People v. Dawson" on Justia Law

by
Percoco, a longtime friend and top aide to former Governor Andrew Cuomo, accepted payment in exchange for promising to use his position to perform official actions. For one scheme, Percoco promised to further the interests of an energy company, CPV; for another, Percoco agreed with Aiello to advance the interests of Aiello’s real estate development company. Aiello was convicted of conspiracy to commit honest services wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1349. Percoco was convicted of both conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud and solicitation of bribes or gratuities, 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(B). The court had instructed the jury that the quid-pro-quo element of the offenses would be satisfied if Percoco wrongfully “obtained . . . property . . . in exchange [for] official acts as the opportunities arose.”The Second Circuit affirmed. Although the as-opportunities-arise instruction fell short of a recently clarified standard, which requires that the honest-services fraud involve a commitment to take official action on a particular matter or question, that error was harmless. A person who is not technically employed by the government may nevertheless owe a fiduciary duty to the public if he dominates and controls governmental business, and is actually relied on by people in the government because of some special relationship. View "United States v. Percoco" on Justia Law

by
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

by
A felony complaint alleged that on seven different dates in 2014, Martinez committed a felony under Insurance Code section 1814 by entering into an agreement and having an understanding with a person incarcerated in jail, to inform and notify Martinez, a bail licensee, of the fact of an arrest in violation of California Code of Regulations, title 10, section 2076. Martinez was associated with Luna Bail Bonds.The court of appeal reversed her subsequent conviction, finding the regulation facially invalid. Section 2076 prohibits bail licensees from entering, indirectly or directly, any arrangement or understanding with specified types of people— including a “person incarcerated in a jail”—“or with any other persons” to inform or notify any bail licensee, directly or indirectly, of information pertaining to (1) an existing criminal complaint, (2) a prior, impending, or contemplated arrest, or (3) the persons involved therein, which impliedly includes arrestees and named criminals. The section is not unconstitutionally vague but is a content-based regulation, which unduly suppresses protected speech and fails to survive even intermediate judicial scrutiny. While section 2076 might indirectly deter unlawful solicitation of arrestees, an indirect effect is not enough to survive intermediate scrutiny. View "People v. Martinez" on Justia Law

by
The Idaho Department of Finance ("Department") filed a civil enforcement action against appellant appellant, Sean Zarinegar, Performance Realty Management LLC ("PRM") and other nominal defendants, alleging Zarinegar and PRM committed securities fraud. The Department moved for summary judgment; Zarinegar and PRM responded with their own motion for partial summary judgment and a motion to strike several documents submitted by the Department in support of its motion for summary judgment. A few days before the district court was set to hear arguments on the motions, counsel for Zarinegar and PRM moved the district court for leave to withdraw as counsel of record. At the hearing, the district court preliminary denied the motion to withdraw, entertained the parties’ arguments, and took all matters under advisement. The district court later issued a memorandum decision and order denying, in part, Zarinegar’s, and PRM’s motions to strike. The district court also denied Zarinegar’s and PRM’s motion for partial summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment for the Department after finding Zarinegar and PRM had misrepresented and omitted material facts in violation of Idaho Code section 30-14-501(2) and fraudulently diverted investor funds for personal use in violation of section 30-14-501(4). The district court then granted the motion to withdraw. The district court entered its final judgment against Zarinegar and PRM September 30, 2019. Zarinegar, representing himself pro se, appealed the judgment, arguing: (1) the district court lacked jurisdiction to enter judgment against him; (2) the district court violated his constitutional right to a jury trial and right to proceed pro se; (3) the district court’s denial of Zarinegar’s motions to strike as to certain documents was an abuse of discretion; and (4) the district court erroneously granted summary judgment for the Department. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Idaho v. Zarinegar" on Justia Law

by
In 1998-2010, Dimora served as one of three Cuyahoga County Commissioners. An FBI investigation revealed that Dimora had received over $250,000 in gifts from individuals with business before the County, including home renovations, trips to Las Vegas, and encounters with prostitutes. Dimora had used his position to help with the awarding of County contracts, hiring, the results of at least one County election, and civil litigation outcomes. Dimora’s “influence” ranged from casting formal votes as Commissioner to pressuring other officials.Dimora was charged with Hobbs Act offenses, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, making false statements on tax returns, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud, RICO conspiracy, mail fraud, conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstructing a federal investigation. A jury convicted Dimora on 33 counts. The Sixth Circuit upheld the jury instructions defining “official acts” as having “fairly trace[d] the line between permissible gifts and impermissible bribes.” A ruling that state ethics reports were inadmissible hearsay was harmless in light of “overwhelming evidence.”In its 2016 “McDonnell” decision, the Supreme Court gave a narrow construction to a key element included within several of Dimora’s offenses. The term “official acts” does not include “setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event.” Official acts are limited to “formal exercise[s] of governmental power.” Dimora petitioned to vacate his convictions under 28 U.S.C. 2255. The Sixth Circuit vacated a denial of relief. The court declined to decide whether the instructional error was harmless with respect to most of the counts or whether the “cumulative effect” of instructional and evidentiary errors entitles Dimora to relief. View "Dimora v. United States" on Justia Law

by
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

by
The DC Circuit granted the petition for writ of mandamus in part and ordered the district court to grant the government's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 48 motion to dismiss the charges against Michael Flynn, former National Security Advisor to President Donald J. Trump, who pleaded guilty to making false statements under 18 U.S.C. 1001. The court held that the district court's orders appointing an amicus and scheduling a proposed hearing constitute legal error. The court also held that this is not the unusual case where a more searching inquiry is justified, and there is no adequate remedy for the intrusion on "the Executive's long-settled primacy over charging decisions."The court stated that, although Rule 48 requires "leave of court" before dismissing charges, "decisions to dismiss pending criminal charges—no less than decisions to initiate charges and to identify which charges to bring—lie squarely within the ken of prosecutorial discretion." The court reasoned that, whatever the precise scope of Rule 48's "leave of court" requirement, this is plainly not the rare case where further judicial inquiry is warranted. The court explained that Flynn agrees with the government's motion to dismiss and there has been no allegation that the motion reflects prosecutorial harassment, and the government's motion includes an extensive discussion of newly discovered evidence casting Flynn's guilt into doubt. The court stated that the government specifically points to evidence that the FBI interview at which Flynn allegedly made false statements was "untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn." In light of this evidence, the government maintains that it cannot "prove either the relevant false statements or their materiality beyond a reasonable doubt." The court also stated that the government's representations about the insufficiency of the evidence are entitled to a "presumption of regularity," and, on the record before the district court, there is no clear evidence contrary to the government’s representations. Therefore, the court held that these clearly established legal principles and the Executive's "long-settled primacy over charging decisions" foreclose the district court's proposed scrutiny of the government's motion.The court also held that the district court's appointment of the amicus and demonstrated intent to scrutinize the reasoning and motives of the Department of Justice constitute irreparable harms that cannot be remedied on appeal. The court stated that the district court's actions will result in specific harms to the exercise of the Executive Branch's exclusive prosecutorial power, and the contemplated proceedings would likely require the Executive to reveal the internal deliberative process behind its exercise of prosecutorial discretion, interfering with the Article II charging authority. Furthermore, circumstances of this case demonstrate that mandamus is appropriate to prevent the judicial usurpation of executive power.The court denied Flynn's petition to the extent that he seeks reassignment of the district judge where the district judge's conduct did not indicate a clear inability to decide this case fairly. The court vacated the district court's order appointing an amicus as moot. View "In re: Michael Flynn" on Justia Law

by
After a bench trial, a district court decided that Defendants RaPower-3, LLC, International Automated Systems, Inc. (IAS), LTB1, LLC, Neldon Johnson, and R. Gregory Shepard had promoted an unlawful tax scheme. Defendants’ scheme was based on a supposed project to utilize a purportedly new, commercially viable way of converting solar radiation into electricity. There was no “third party verification of any of Johnson’s designs.” Nor did he have any “record that his system ha[d] produced energy,” and “[t]here [were] no witnesses to his production of a useful product from solar energy,” a fact that he attributed to his decision to do his testing “on the weekends when no one was around because he didn’t want people to see what he was doing.” Defendants never secured a purchase agreement for the sale of electricity to an end user. The district court found that Johnson’s purported solar energy technology was not a commercial-grade solar energy system that converts sunlight into electrical power or other useful energy. Despite this, Defendants’ project generated tens of millions of dollars between 2005 and 2018. Beginning in 2006, buyers would purchase lenses from IAS or RaPower-3 for a down payment of about one-third of the purchase price. The entity would “finance” the remaining two-thirds of the purchase price with a zero- or nominal- interest, nonrecourse loan. No further payments would be due from the customer until the system had been generating revenue from electricity sales for five years. The customer would agree to lease the lens back to LTB1 for installation at a “Power Plant”; but LTB1 would not be obligated to make any rental payments until the system had begun generating revenue. The district court found that each plastic sheet for the lenses was sold to Defendants for between $52 and $70, yet the purchase price of a lens was between $3,500 and $30,000. Although Defendants sold between 45,000 and 50,000 lenses, fewer than 5% of them were ever installed. Customers were told that buying a lens would have very favorable income-tax consequences. Johnson and Shepard sold the lenses by advertising that customers could “zero out” federal income-tax liability by taking advantage of depreciation deductions and solar-energy tax credits. To remedy Defendants' misconduct, the district court enjoined Defendants from continuing to promote their scheme and ordered disgorgement of their gross receipts from the scheme. Defendants appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court. View "United States v. RaPower-3" on Justia Law

by
During former New Jersey Governor Christie’s 2013 reelection campaign, Fort Lee’s mayor refused to endorse Christie. Kelly, Christie's Deputy Chief of Staff, Port Authority Deputy Executive Director, Baroni, and another official decided to reduce from three to one the number of lanes reserved at the George Washington Bridge’s toll plaza for Fort Lee’s commuters. To disguise the political retribution, the lane realignment was said to be for a traffic study. Port Authority traffic engineers were asked to collect some numbers. An extra toll collector was paid overtime. The lane realignment caused four days of gridlock, ending only when the Port Authority’s Executive Director learned of the scheme. The Third Circuit affirmed the convictions of Baroni and Kelly for wire fraud, fraud on a federally funded program, and conspiracy to commit those crimes. The Supreme Court reversed. The scheme did not aim to obtain money or property. The wire fraud statute refers to “any scheme or artifice to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretenses,” 18 U.S.C. 1343. The federal-program fraud statute bars “obtain[ing] by fraud” the “property” (including money) of a federally funded program or entity, section 666(a)(1)(A). The statutes are limited to the protection of property rights and do not authorize federal prosecutors to set standards of good government.The Court rejected arguments that the defendants sought to take control of the Bridge’s physical lanes or to deprive the Port Authority of the costs of compensating employees. Their realignment of the access lanes was an exercise of regulatory power; a scheme to alter a regulatory choice is not one to take government property. The time and labor of the employees were an incidental byproduct of that regulatory object. Neither defendant sought to obtain the services that the employees provided. View "Kelly v. United States" on Justia Law