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

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
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Defendant and others came upon a start-up airline called People Express, but People Express had trouble securing funding. Defendant spearheaded an effort to use restricted state and federal funds as collateral to secure a bank loan for People Express. After People Express defaulted on the loan, Defendant was indicted, tried, and convicted of federal program fraud, money laundering, and perjury.   On appeal, Defendant maintained that there was insufficient evidence to support conviction on some counts, as well as that the district court erred by refusing to give a particular jury instruction, excluding a certain piece of evidence, and entering a forfeiture money judgment without notice.   The Fourth Circuit found one of Defendant’s arguments persuasive and reversed the conviction on Count 19, and affirmed the district court’s judgment of convictions and sentences as to the other counts. In regards to Defendant’s federal program fraud conviction, as charged in Count 19, the question presented was whether Section 666(a)(1)(A)(i) criminalizes multiple conversions of less than $5,000, if the government must point to conversions that took place over more than one year to reach the $5,000 statutory minimum. The court concluded that Section 666 requires each transaction used to reach the aggregate $5,000 requirement to occur within the same one-year period aligns with the conclusions of other circuit courts that have considered the issue. Thus, the court reversed finding that the government failed to present evidence showing that, within a one-year period, Defendant committed one or more acts of conversion with an aggregate value of $5,000 or more. View "US v. Kenneth Spirito" on Justia Law

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Barringer was the Executive Vice President and a Board member of J&R, a Virginia manufacturing company. By 2014, J&R was delinquent on filing and paying its 941 (employee withholding) taxes. Fearing personal liability, Barringer submitted a Hardship Withdrawal Form requesting $311,859.04 from her 401(k) account “[t]o prevent eviction or ... foreclosure of the mortgage on [her] principal residence.” Barringer deposited the funds into J&R's account to pay the delinquent taxes. Barringer’s mortgage balance was approximately $200,000 at the time; her payments were not delinquent. In 2016, J&R was again behind on its 941 taxes. Barringer requested a final distribution from her 401(k) account, falsely citing the end of her employment with J&R. Barringer again deposited the funds, plus some of her personal savings, into the J&R account. Instead of paying delinquent taxes, Barringer paid herself and vendors. After providing misinformation to federal agents, Barringer was convicted of willfully failing to collect and truthfully account for and pay taxes, 26 U.S.C. 7202, and making materially false statements to federal agents, 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(2).The Fourth Circuit affirmed the convictions and 36-month sentence. Any error in the denial of Barringer’s pretrial motion to dismiss the wire fraud counts was harmless because the court subsequently granted her motion for a judgment of acquittal on those charges. Barringer’s false statements to investigators were “material to a matter within the jurisdiction of the agency.” The court upheld an abuse-of-trust enhancement under U.S.S.G. 3B1. View "United States v. Barringer" on Justia Law

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After an explosion at Massey’s West Virginia coal mine killed 29 miners, Blankenship, then Massey’s Chairman of the Board and CEO, was convicted of conspiring to willfully violate federal mine safety and health standards, 30 U.S.C. 820(d) and 18 U.S.C. 371. The evidence indicated that Blankenship had willfully failed to address numerous notices of mine safety violations that Massey had received, favoring production and profits over safety. Following the trial and in response to Blankenship’s ongoing requests, the government produced documents to Blankenship that it had not produced before trial and that it should have produced under applicable Department of Justice policies. The suppressed documents fell broadly into two categories: memoranda of interviews conducted of seven Massey employees and internal emails and documents of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) showing, among other things, some MSHA employees’ hostility to Massey and Blankenship.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of Blankenship’s 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate his conviction. While the documents were improperly suppressed, they were not material in that there was not a reasonable probability that they would have produced a different result had they been disclosed before trial. The verdict that Blankenship conspired to willfully violate mandatory mine standards was supported by ample evidence. View "United States v. Blankenship" on Justia Law

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Frank embezzled $19 million from his former employer, NCI, and pleaded guilty to wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343. The district court sentenced Frank to 78-months’ imprisonment and ordered Frank to pay restitution of $19,440,331. The government has recovered over $7 million and attempted to garnish Frank’s 401(k) retirement account under the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA), filing an Application for Writ of Continuing Garnishment, 18 U.S.C. 3664(m)(1)(A)(i), naming Schwab as the garnishee. Schwab currently holds approximately $479,504 in Frank's 401(k) account, which is covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001. Frank argued that ERISA’s anti-alienation provision protects retirement plans against claims by third parties. The Fourth Circuit affirmed that the MVRA permits the seizure of Frank’s 401(k) retirement account, notwithstanding ERISA’s protections. When the government enforces a restitution order under the MVRA, it stands in the shoes of the defendant, acquiring whatever rights to 401(k) retirement funds he possesses; the government’s access to the funds in Frank’s 401(k) account may be limited by terms set out in Frank’s plan documents or by early withdrawal penalties to which Frank would be subject. The court remanded so that the district court may decide what present property right Frank has in his account. The court rejected an argument that the Consumer Credit Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. 1673(a), limits the government to taking 25 percent of the funds. View "United States v. Frank" on Justia Law

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This criminal case stemmed from Defendant Terry and Brenda Millender's involvement in the Victorious Life Church. The district court granted Brenda's motion for a judgment of acquittal based on insufficient evidence to support her convictions for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The district court also conditionally ordered a new trial. The government appealed.The Fourth Circuit dismissed Terry's cross-appeal after his death and remanded the judgment against Terry to the district court for further proceedings. The court reversed the judgment of acquittal as to Brenda's convictions and held that the district court erred in concluding that no reasonable juror could find that Brenda knew of the fraud perpetrated by Micro-Enterprise and Kingdom Commodities; the district court relied on this ground alone to override the jury's guilty verdict as to two counts of wire-fraud conspiracy and two counts of money-laundering conspiracy; a reasonable jury could find that the Millenders not only spent the money but also tried to conceal its nature; and no more is required to sustain the jury's verdict on the three substantive counts of money laundering. The court also vacated the grant of a new trial where, on the record, the court cannot see whether the district court appreciated the limits on its discretion in making the decision. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Millender" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the SEC initiated enforcement proceedings in the District of Arizona against appellant for illegitimate investment activities. In 2017, appellant entered into a consent agreement with the SEC, and the United States District Court for the District of Arizona ultimately held appellant liable for disgorgement in the amount of $4,494,900. Then the grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned an indictment charging appellant with, inter alia, securities fraud and unlawful sale of securities, based in part on the same conduct underlying the SEC proceeding. Appellant filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, which the district court denied.The Fourth Circuit joined with every other circuit to have decided the issue in holding that disgorgement in an SEC proceeding is not a criminal penalty pursuant to the Double Jeopardy Clause, such that an individual cannot be later prosecuted for the conduct underlying the disgorgement. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of appellant's motion to dismiss the indictment. View "United States v. Bank" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs appealed the district court's grant of summary judgment to Serco in an action alleging numerous claims arising out of a failed business relationship. Plaintiffs alleged that Serco conspired with Jaxon Engineering to "rig" a bidding process related to work for the Air Force, and thus interfered with plaintiffs' reasonable business expectancy in that work.The Court of Appeal held that the district court properly awarded summary judgment to Serco on the claims of tortious interference with business expectancy, because those claims failed as a matter of law. However, the court held that the district court erred in awarding summary judgment to Serco with respect to plaintiffs' conspiracy claims, because they were not time-barred and, in the alternative, the evidence that plaintiffs were the sole providers of HEMP-related services to Serco for several years was sufficient to create a dispute of material fact regarding whether plaintiffs had a valid business expectancy in the task orders awarded to Jaxon. In regard to the Colorado Organized Crime Control Act (COCCA) claims, the court agreed with the district court that the two year statute of limitations applied to the claims but remanded for the district court to determine as a factual matter the particular limitations period for each of the COCCA claims. Therefore, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings. View "L-3 Communications Corp. v. Serco, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction for three counts of major fraud against the United States, three counts of wire fraud, and three counts of presentation of false or fraudulent claims. This case involved parallel False Claims Act (FCA) and criminal proceedings arising from defendant's failure to provide multinational forces in Iraq with contracted-for armored vehicles.The court held that defendant's criminal prosecution was not estopped by the prior FCA action where defendant failed to demonstrate that all five Fiel factors must be resolved in his favor. The court also held that the government was a party to the contract with Armet and that the government both sufficiently alleged such party status in the indictment and provided sufficient evidence at trial to establish this element of the charged crimes. Finally, the court held that the district court's denial of defendant's motion for a new trial was proper. View "United States v. Whyte" on Justia Law

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Defendant challenged the validity of his guilty plea for aggravated identity theft, and various aspects of sentencing for possession of at least fifteen access devices with intent to defraud and possession of device-making equipment with intent to defraud. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and held that defendant never objected to purported errors in the Rule 11 proceeding, and his challenges on appeal were insubstantial and did not come close to meeting a plain error standard. The court also held that the district court did not err in calculating the amount of loss; even if there was error in calculating the amount of loss, it was harmless; the district court did not err in concluding that the eighteen persons identified were victims; and the district court did not clearly err by denying defendant an acceptance of responsibility reduction under USSG 3E1.1(a). View "United States v. Carver" on Justia Law

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The Fourth Circuit affirmed defendant's conviction of wire fraud, extortion under color of official right, conspiracy to commit such offenses, and two counts of perjury. The court held that the district court did not err by denying defendant's motion for acquittal where there was sufficient evidence to support the four convictions arising from his bribery schemes and the honest-services wire fraud convictions; the substantive Hobbs Act extortion conviction was not duplicitous and there was no constructive amendment; and there was sufficient evidence to support the perjury convictions. Finally, the district court did not err in denying defendant's motions for a new trial based on inadmissible testimony, newly discovered evidence, and the jury's failure to fully deliberate. View "United States v. Burfoot" on Justia Law