Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime

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Defendant was convicted of federal program bribery and extortion under color of official night. The convictions arose from charges that, while a state legislator, defendant secured state funding for a public university in exchange for employment by the university. The court held that the evidence was sufficient for the jury to convict defendant; the district court did not abuse its discretion in refusing to instruct the jury as to a gratuity; and the district court did not plainly err in its application of a fourteen-level sentencing enhancement. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

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Defendants Jacqueline, Tamatha, and Jimmy Hilton challenged their convictions on charges involving a scheme to defraud the Woodsmiths Company. The charges in this case arose from a two-year scheme in which defendants defrauded the company by stealing and cashing numerous checks written to the company by its customers. At issue was whether the statutes prohibiting identity theft and aggravated identity theft, 18 U.S.C. 1028(a)(7) and 1028A, under which Jimmy and Jacqueline were convicted, encompassed the theft of the identity of a corporation. The court held that these statutes were fairly ambiguous regarding whether corporate victims were within the class of protected victims and vacated the conviction of Jimmy and Jacqueline on these counts. The court concluded that defendants' other arguments were without merit and therefore affirmed Tamatha's convictions, affirmed the remaining convictions of Jacqueline and Jimmy, but vacated the sentences imposed and remand those convictions for resentencing. View "United States v. Hilton, Jr." on Justia Law

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Defendant-Appellant G. Martin Wynn, a professional engineer with the engineering firm of Talbert & Bright, Inc., was convicted of mail fraud and wire fraud, in violation based on his performance of services to Oconee County, South Carolina, in connection with its project to extend the runway at the Oconee County Regional Airport. Instead of procuring a required permit for the runway extension project from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control ("DHEC"), Defendant cut a valid permit off of an older set of plans prepared for a previous airport project and fraudulently attached that permit to the plans for the runway extension. He then mailed the fraudulently permitted plans to Oconee County and later emailed them to the DHEC. Following his conviction, the district court sentenced Defendant to 12 months and 1 day in prison and ordered him to pay Oconee County $118,000 in restitution. On appeal, Defendant contended that the district court erred in instructing the jury on the mail fraud and wire fraud statutes and that the evidence was insufficient to convict him on the offenses had they been properly presented to the jury. He also challenged the district court’s calculation of the amount of loss found for purposes of sentencing and ordering restitution. Finding no abuse of discretion and that the evidence presented against him was sufficient to support his conviction, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment. View "United State v. Wynn" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-Appellant Waterford Investment Services, Inc. appealed the district court’s ruling that it must arbitrate certain claims that a group of investors brought before the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA). The investors alleged in their FINRA claims that they received bad advice from their financial advisor, George Gilbert. The investors named Gilbert, his current investment firm, Waterford, and his prior firm, Community Bankers Securities, LLC (CBS), among others as parties to the arbitration. In response, Waterford filed this suit asking a federal district court to enjoin the arbitration proceedings and enter a declaratory judgment that Waterford need not arbitrate the claims. The district court, adopting the recommendations of a magistrate judge, concluded that because Gilbert was an "associated person" of Waterford during the events in question, Waterford must arbitrate the investors' claims. Upon review of the matter, the Fourth Circuit affirmed, finding that Gilbert was inextricably an "associated person" with Waterford, and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in adopting the magistrate judge's opinion. View "Waterford Investment Services v. Bosco" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of various offenses stemming from an extensive mortgage fraud conspiracy. On appeal, defendant challenged the district court's evidentiary rulings, loss calculation, and order directing him to reimburse his court-appointed attorneys' fees. The court affirmed the district court's judgment on the first two issues, but vacated the court's reimbursement order. Defendant also argued that his money laundering convictions must be reversed under United States v. Santos. Applying Santos, as interpreted by United States v. Halstead, to the facts underlying defendant's substantive money laundering convictions, the court agreed and therefore reversed those convictions. View "United States v. Cloud" on Justia Law

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Former Louisiana congressman, William J. Jefferson (defendant), was convicted of eleven offenses - including conspiracy, wire fraud, bribery, money laundering, and racketeering - arising from his involvement in multiple bribery and fraud schemes. Defendant appealed his convictions on several grounds: (1) that an erroneous instruction was given to the jury with respect to the bribery statute's definition of an "official act"; (2) that another erroneous instruction was given with respect to the "quid pro quo" element of the bribery-related offenses; (3) that defendant's schemes to deprive citizens of honest services did not constitute federal crimes; and (4) that venue was improper on one of his wire fraud offenses. The court affirmed each of defendant's conviction except his Count 10 wire fraud conviction and sentence, which the court vacated and remanded for such further proceedings as may be appropriate. View "United States v. Jefferson" on Justia Law

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Defendant, the CEO of Maryland's Prince George's County Public Schools (PGCS), was convicted of several counts of honest-services fraud, tampering with evidence, and obstruction of justice. Defendant's convictions involved securing two public contracts for school products and services. On appeal, defendant raised several claims of error. The court held that, in light of the evidence and the general verdict, it could not conclude that the erroneous jury instruction at issue was harmless. Accordingly, the court reversed defendant's convictions of honest-services fraud (counts 6, 7, and 10). The court addressed each of defendant's challenges to his tampering and obstruction convictions, affirming convictions of evidence and witness tampering (counts 19 and 20) and obstruction of justice (count 22). The court vacated the sentences and remanded for resentencing on counts 19, 20, and 22. View "United States v. Hornsby" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of producing a false identification document that appeared to be issued by or under the authority of the United States government in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1028(a)(1). Defendant subsequently appealed. The court concluded that: (1) as applied to defendant, section 1028(a)(1) was not unconstitutionally vague; (2) the district court properly instructed the jury to use a "reasonable person standard" to determine whether defendant's ID "appeared to be" government-issued; (3) the Government produced sufficient evidence that defendant produced the ID, and that venue was proper, such that the district court properly denied defendant's motion for judgment of acquittal; and (4) it was not necessary to charge defendant with "aiding and abetting" in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2(b). Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed. View "United States v. Jaensch" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit securities registration violations, securities fraud, and wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 371, and nine counts of wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1343. Defendant raised several issues on appeal. The court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its ruling on defendant's motion in limine and when regulating the testimony of two expert witnesses during trial. Because the relevant legal regimes were complex, it assisted the jury to have them explained. The court also concluded that the district court acted well within its broad discretion in admitting lay opinion testimony of two co-conspirators under Rule 701. Defendant's challenges to two other rulings by the district court made during trial did not merit extensive discussion and were rejected. The court further concluded that defendant's sentence was reasonable. Accordingly, the court affirmed defendant's conviction and sentence.

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Defendant appealed from a judgment in which the district court found him guilty of four counts of aiding in the preparation of false tax returns in violation of 26 U.S.C. 7206(2). At issue was whether the district court unlawfully based its verdict on the guilty pleas of co-defendants, which were not evidence in the case, thereby depriving defendant of his due process right to a fair trial; whether the district court improperly credited testimony by the government's key witness that defendant contended was false; and whether the evidence was insufficient to prove that defendant knew that the tax returns he prepared were fraudulent and that he willfully violated section 7206(2). The court held that the district court's erroneous references to the unadmitted guilty pleas of his co-defendants constituted harmless error where the evidence overwhelmingly supported the conclusion that defendant deliberately avoided learning of materially false representations on the tax returns at issue. The court also held that the district court did not err in its consideration of a key witness' testimony where the the testimony was the product of reliable principles and methods. The court further held that the evidence was sufficient to support defendant's conviction where a reasonable trier of fact could conclude the defendant purposefully "closed his eyes" to large accounting discrepancies, which strongly indicated that the tax forms he prepared during the years in question contained materially false financial information.