Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
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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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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

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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

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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

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Bowling worked for the City of Gary, Indiana for 25 years, eventually becoming a network administrator, with access to the email system. Her responsibilities included ordering the city's computer equipment. Bowling ordered 1,517 Apple products, totaling $1,337,114.06. She sold iPads and MacBooks for cash. To conceal her scheme, Bowling submitted duplicate invoices from legitimate purchases. Eventually, the fraudulent purchases outstripped the duplicate invoices she could process and one vendor, CDW, turned the city’s account over to a senior recovery analyst, Krug. Krug contacted Green, the city’s controller and sent Green invoices via FedEx. Bowling intercepted the package, accessed Green’s email account, and sent a fabricated message to Krug to reassure CDW but her scheme unraveled.The Seventh Circuit affirmed her conviction for theft from a local government that received federal funds, 18 U.S.C. 666, and her 63-month sentence. The federal funds element was satisfied; the parties stipulated that Gary as a whole received more than $10,000 in federal benefits in a one-year period. Krug’s testimony about the email was direct evidence of Bowling’s attempt to stall the city’s ultimate discovery of her fraud; there was no error in admitting the testimony under Rule 404(b). A two-level obstruction of justice sentencing enhancement was justified because Bowling faked mutism, causing a one-year delay in the proceedings. View "United States v. Bowling" 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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Charte (relator) filed a False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C. 3729–3733, "qui tam" suit alleging that defendants, including Wegeler, submitted false reimbursement claims to the Department of Education. Relators are entitled to part of the amount recovered. As required to allow the government to make an informed decision as to whether to intervene, Charte cooperated with the government. Her information led to Wegeler’s prosecution. Wegeler entered into a plea agreement and paid $1.5 million in restitution. The government declined to intervene in the FCA action. If the government elects to pursue an “alternate remedy,” the statute provides that the relator retains the same rights she would have had in the FCA action. Charte tried to intervene in the criminal proceeding to secure a share of the restitution. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. A criminal proceeding does not constitute an “alternate remedy” to a civil qui tam action, entitling a relator to intervene and recover a share of the proceeds. Allowing intervention would be tantamount to an interest in participating as a co-prosecutor in a criminal case. Even considering only her alleged interest in some of the restitution, nothing in the FCA suggests that a relator may intervene in the government’s alternative-remedy proceeding to assert that interest. The text and legislative history regarding the provision indicate that the court overseeing the FCA suit determines whether and to what extent a relator is entitled to an award. View "United States v. Wegeler" on Justia Law

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Orie, a former state senator, used her government-funded legislative staff to do fundraising and campaigning for her reelection. When the Commonwealth investigated, she tried to hide and destroy documents. Orie's sisters, including a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, were also charged. At trial, Orie introduced exhibits with directives to her chief of staff, not to do political work on legislative time. The prosecution determined that these exhibits had forged signatures. The court found that the forged documents were “a fraud on the Court,” and declared a mistrial. The Secret Service subsequently found that many of the exhibits were forged. During Orie’s second trial, the prosecution's expert testified that Orie’s office lease barred her staff from using that office for anything besides legislative work. Orie unsuccessfully sought to call an expert to testify that the senate rules let staff do political work from legislative offices on comp time. Orie was convicted of theft of services, conspiracy, evidence tampering, forgery, and of using her political position for personal gain, in violation of the Pennsylvania Ethics Act. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of her federal habeas petition, first finding that it lacked jurisdiction to consider her Ethics Act challenge because she is not in custody for those convictions. The court rejected a double jeopardy argument. The state court reasonably found that a mistrial was manifestly necessary because the forged documents could have tainted the jury’s verdict. Orie did not show that her senate-rules expert’s testimony would have been material, so she had no constitutional right to call that witness. View "Orie v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Curtis Ridlon was formerly employed as an investment adviser. In April 2017, the New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation (Bureau) brought an administrative enforcement action against Ridlon, alleging that he charged clients approximately $2.8 million in improper fees. The relief sought by the Bureau included civil penalties of up to $3,235,000, restitution in the amount of $1,343,427.20, and disgorgement of up to $1,513,711.09. By agreement of the parties, Ridlon filed a declaratory judgment petition in the trial court asserting that he was constitutionally entitled to a jury trial and seeking to enjoin the administrative proceedings from continuing. In response, the Bureau filed a motion to dismiss. The trial court denied the Bureau’s motion, ruling that Part I, Article 20 of the State Constitution afforded Ridlon the right to a jury trial, and enjoining any further administrative proceedings by the Bureau. The New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed with the superior court’s judgment: “the cases cited by the trial court, and relied upon by Ridlon on appeal for the proposition that claims involving statutory penalties above the constitutional limit obligate a trial by jury, do not address the applicability of the jury trial right under the State Constitution to what we have described as “purely statutory” causes of action. When assessing the right to a jury trial in such circumstances, we have explained that we must “consider the comprehensive nature of the statutory framework to determine whether the jury trial right extends to the action. . . . the statutory procedures established by the legislature for the regulation of securities ‘militate[ ] against any implication of a trial by jury.’” The trial court’s judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Ridlon v. New Hampshire Bureau of Securities Regulation" on Justia Law

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Lee was a member of the Summit County Council. The FBI obtained wiretaps and investigated the relationship between Lee and Abdelqader, a store owner, after complaints that Abdelqader “was insisting on monthly cash payments from other local businesses” that he would give to Lee in exchange for political favors. Abdelqader’s nephews were arrested for felonious assault. Abdelqader called Lee for help; they discussed Lee’s financial problems. Abdelqader promised that they would “work it out.” Lee placed calls to the juvenile court bailiff and the judicial assistant; Lee subsequently deposited 200 dollars in her bank account and placed calls to the judge who was handling the case. Lee also took payment for attempting to intervene in an IRS investigation. The Sixth Circuit affirmed Lee’s convictions on four counts of conspiracy to commit honest services mail and wire fraud, honest services mail fraud, Hobbs Act conspiracy, and Hobbs Act extortion, 18 U.S.C. 1341, 1343, 1346, 1349, and 1951 and two counts concerning obstruction of justice and false statements to law enforcement, 18 U.S.C. 1512(c)(2); 18 U.S.C. 1001 and her 60-month sentence. The court rejected challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence and to the sufficiency of her indictment in light of the Supreme Court’s 2016 “McDonnell” decision. At a minimum, the indictment supports an inference that Lee agreed to perform an official act or pressure or advise other officials to perform official acts in exchange for gifts or loans from Abdelqader. View "United States v. Lee" on Justia Law