Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
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A group of individuals, including D&T Partners LLC and ACET Global LLC, alleged that Baymark Partners Management LLC and others attempted to steal the assets and trade secrets of their e-commerce company through shell entities, corrupt lending practices, and a fraudulent bankruptcy. The plaintiffs claimed that Baymark had purchased D&T's assets and then defaulted on its payment obligations. According to the plaintiffs, Baymark replaced the company's management, caused the company to default on its loan payments, and transferred the company's assets to another entity, Windspeed Trading LLC. The plaintiffs alleged that this scheme violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).The case was initially heard in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The district court dismissed all of the plaintiffs' claims with prejudice, finding that the plaintiffs were unable to plead a pattern of racketeering activity, a necessary element of a RICO claim.The case was then taken to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The appellate court agreed with the district court, holding that while the complaint alleges coordinated theft, it does not constitute a "pattern" of racketeering conduct sufficient to state a RICO claim. This is because the alleged victims were limited in number, and the scope and nature of the scheme was finite and focused on a singular objective. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the district court’s judgment. View "D&T Partners v. Baymark Partners" on Justia Law

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A jury convicted United Development Funding (“UDF”) executives (collectively “Appellants”) of conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting a financial institution, conspiracy to commit securities fraud, and eight counts of aiding and abetting securities fraud. Jurors heard evidence that Appellants were involved in what the Government deemed “a classic Ponzi-like scheme,” in which Appellants transferred money out of one fund to pay distributions to another fund’s investors without disclosing this information to their investors or the Securities Exchange Commission (“SEC”). Appellants each filed separate appeals, challenging their convictions on several grounds. Considered together, they argue that (1) the jury verdict should be vacated because the evidence at trial was insufficient to support their convictions or, alternatively, (2) they are entitled to a new trial because the jury instructions were improper. Appellants also argue that the district court erred in (3) limiting cross-examination regarding a non-testifying government informant; (4) allowing the Government to constructively amend the indictment and include certain improper statements in its closing argument; (5) imposing a time limit during.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the jury verdict in its entirety. The court explained that considering the evidence and drawing all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the verdict, a reasonable juror could have determined that Appellants made material misrepresentations in UDF III and UDF V’s filings that were sufficient to uphold their convictions. The court explained that multiple witnesses testified that the industry had shifted away from affiliate transactions because they were disfavored and that a no-affiliate-transaction policy in UDF V would enable it to participate in a larger network of brokers, dealers, and investors. View "USA v. Greenlaw" on Justia Law

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Seven codefendants appeal their various convictions stemming from a multi-million-dollar healthcare conspiracy involving surgery-referral kickbacks at Forest Park Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. They challenge convictions under the Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”), the Travel Act, and for money laundering. The defendants in this case are, with three exceptions, the surgeons whom Forest Park paid to direct surgeries to the hospital—Won, Rimlawi, Shah, and Henry. One exception is Forrest— she is a nurse. Another is Jacob—he ran Adelaide Business Solutions (Adelaide), a pass-through entity. The other is Burt—he was part of the hospital’s staff. Defendants raise many of the same issues on appeal, often adopting each other’s arguments.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court wrote that the state law at issue here is the Texas Commercial Bribery Statute (TCBS). Here, it does not matter if the physician was acquitted because there could still be sufficient evidence in the record that defendants “offer[ed]” a benefit in violation of the TCBS regardless of whether any physician accepted it.  Further, the court explained that even assuming no rational jury could have found a single conspiracy, the surgeons fail to show that this error “prejudiced their substantial rights.” Henry and Forrest do not raise this point at all. Won and Shah address it only briefly and fail to provide any record citations to support the proposition that “clear, specific, and compelling prejudice” resulted in an unfair trial. View "USA v. Shah" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to participate in racketeering activity. In the plea agreement, Defendant and the government agreed, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 11(c)(1)(C), that a sentence of 360 months imprisonment was appropriate. However, Defendant also filed a sentencing memorandum arguing that the district court should depart or vary downwards by 60- months from the agreed-upon 360-month sentence to account for five years that Defendant was detained in administrative segregation prior to his plea. The district court accepted Defendant’s plea, which bound the district court under Rule 11(c)(1)(C) to sentence Defendant to the agreed-upon sentence. The district court sentenced Defendant at the same hearing to the 360-month term of imprisonment specified in the plea agreement. Before doing so, the district court denied Defendant’s request for the 60-month downward variance. On appeal, Defendant argued that his 360-month sentence is unreasonable because the district court failed to properly “account for the five years of solitary confinement” that Defendant endured before his rearraignment.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that at the sentencing hearing, the district court noted Defendant’s motion for a downward variance based on his time spent in administrative segregation and denied the motion because of “the defendant’s role in the offense.” Given Defendant’s involvement in attempted and completed murders in the course of the racketeering conspiracy, the court wrote that it cannot say that the district court imposed a substantively unreasonable sentence. Moreover, Defendant’s argument on appeal ignores that he got the benefit of his bargain with the government. View "USA v. Gonzalez" on Justia Law

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According to the indictment, Defendant, a citizen of Switzerland and a partner in a Swiss wealth-management firm, and co-Defendant, a citizen of Portugal and Switzerland and an employee of a different Swiss wealth-management firm (together, “Defendants”), engaged in an international bribery scheme wherein U.S.-based businesses paid bribes to Venezuelan officials for priority payment of invoices and other favorable treatment from Venezuela’s state-owned energy company. A grand jury returned a nineteen-count indictment charging Defendants with various offenses stemming from their alleged international bribery scheme. The district court granted Defendants’ motions to dismiss.   The Fifth Circuit reversed and remanded. The court held that the district court’s grant of Defendants’ motions to dismiss was improper because the indictment adequately conforms to minimal constitutional standards. Further, the indictment did not violate co-Defendant’s due process rights. Moreover, the court wrote the district court’s conclusion that Section 3292 failed to toll the statute of limitations is erroneous. The court explained that the totality of the circumstances indicates that a reasonable person in co-Defendant’s position would not have equated the restraint on his freedom of movement with formal arrest. View "USA v. Murta" on Justia Law

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The Hagens (Leah and Michael) were convicted by a jury of conspiring to defraud the United States and to pay and receive health care kickbacks. Each was sentenced to 151 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, plus restitution. Both Hagens appealed, arguing that the district court erred in excluding evidence, refusing to instruct the jury on an affirmative defense, and imposing a sentencing enhancement and restitution.The Fifth Circuit affirmed the Hagens' convictions and sentences. The court found that the excluded evidence, which consisted of witness testimony, was irrelevant and cumulative. Thus, the district court did not err in excluding it. Even if the exclusion of the evidence wasn't warranted, the court determined that any error below was harmless.The court also held that the Hagans failed to put sufficient evidence forward justifying their requested jury charge on the safe-harbor affirmative defense. Finally, the court rejected the Hagens' claim that the lower court erred in applying a sentencing enhancement for the couple's "sophisticated money laundering scheme." The court explained that evidence suggested the Hagens manipulated their wire transfer payments to conceal the kickback scheme, which justified the enhancement. View "USA v. Hagen" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of numerous wire fraud and money-laundering charges arising from a fraudulent scheme to cause the Department of Veterans Affairs to pay over $71 million in GI-Bill funding to his trade school. Defendant raised several challenges to his convictions and his sentence.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed in nearly all respects, except that it vacated the forfeiture order and remanded it for further proceedings. The court held that Defendant fails to show the evidence was insufficient to allow a rational jury to convict him on the money-laundering counts. Further, the court concluded that conclude that the indictment was not faulty and the district court did not err in declining to order a bill of particulars.   Moreover, the court explained that illegally provided services that could have “hypothetically” been provided in a “legal manner”—like Defendant’s operation of the school—implicate the second definition of proceeds under Section 981(a)(2)(B), under which a defendant may deduct “the direct costs incurred in providing the goods or services.” The focus of any Section 981(a)(2) analysis is the underlying criminal conduct, not the crime itself.   That subsection further provides that Defendant “shall have the burden of proof with respect to the issue of direct costs” and also that those costs “shall not include any part of the overhead expenses of the entity providing the goods and services, or any part of the income taxes paid by the entity.” Therefore the court remanded for determining whether Defendant can prove any offset under the terms of Section 981(a)(2)(B). View "USA v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted on all five counts of a 2011 indictment charging himself and two co-conspirators with a variety of offenses arising from a well-orchestrated scheme to circumvent American export controls designed to prevent dual-use commodities—goods with both civilian and military applications—from falling into the hands of adversaries like Iran. On appeal, Defendant seeks reversal and remand on three independent grounds.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that because of the Government’s diligence and Defendant’s evasiveness, the first two factors in the Barker balancing test weigh decidedly against Defendant’s speedy trial claim. The court wrote this is a case where a defendant who took steps to avoid being caught now faults the Government for not catching him sooner. Further, Defendant’s efforts to avoid apprehension cut against his speedy trial assertion in another way, as well—they betray a lack of diligence in asserting the right. Thus, because the Barker balancing test weighs overwhelmingly against Defendant, the district court was correct to deny his motion to dismiss for lack of speedy trial.   Finally, because the Sixth Amendment does not require a district court to render a particularized dissertation to justify a partial courtroom closure that is reasonable, neutral, and largely trivial (i.e., requiring spectators to watch and listen on live stream rather than in-person), the district court’s partial closure of Defendant’s jury trial was not unconstitutional. View "USA v. Ansari" on Justia Law

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Defendants were convicted by a jury of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) by interfering with its lawful functions and evasion of payment of taxes. On appeal, Defendants both challenge the sufficiency of the evidence supporting their convictions and raise challenges to a number of jury instructions.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed. The court held that the district court’s denial of Defendant’s last-minute continuance request was not an abuse of discretion, and Defendant was not denied the counsel of his choice. Further, because Defendant failed to meaningfully address all four prongs of plain error review either in his opening brief or in reply, his constructive amendment challenge fails.   Further, the court wrote, that viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence showed that Defendant failed to report a substantial amount of income; influenced MyMail to amend its tax return to underreport how much income it distributed to Defendant; converted at least $1 million of income into gold coins; purchased a house with gold coins and transferred it to a trust controlled by a relative; and hid his income in Co-Defendant’s trust accounts and used the concealed funds to pay his living expenses for at least a decade, including during the years that the IRS Agent was contacting Defendants, as Defendant’s IRS power-of-attorney, in an attempt to collect Defendant’s unpaid tax liabilities. Based on the foregoing evidence, a reasonable jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt both willfulness and an affirmative act of evasion. View "USA v. Selgas" on Justia Law

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Defendant owned and operated a healthcare clinic. Along with another provider, Defendant engaged in a scheme to fraudulently bill Medicare for home health services that were not properly authorized, not medically necessary, and, in some cases, not provided. Insiders testified to Defendant's role in the conspiracy, indicating she knew the home healthcare agencies were paying marketers to recruit patients. Defendant also told an undercover FBI agent she could show him how to make money by recruiting patients. Defendant was convicted and sentenced to 300 months in federal prison.Defendant appealed, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence against her. However, the Fifth Circuit affirmed her conviction, finding that a rational jury could have concluded that Defendant knew about and willfully joined the conspiracy. Additionally, the court rejected Defendant's challenges to her sentence, finding that the district court did not commit a procedural error and that her sentence was not substantively unreasonable. View "USA v. Rodriguez" on Justia Law