Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
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Drill riser buoyancy modules (DRBMs) are the high-tech equivalent of water wings for the miles of steel pipe that extend from drillships to the ocean floor and carry oil from natural deposits tens of thousands of feet below the surface. In 2012, only four major companies in the world produced DRBMs. CBMF was sponsored by China to develop DRBM technology. CBMF partnered with Shi, a Ph.D. with 25 years of experience in offshore structural design. Shi visited factories where DRBM was being produced; the manufacturers took precautions to protect their information. Shi hired former employees of those companies, making clear that they were to provide their former employers’ nonpublic information. CBMF was successful in duplicating the technology. At a pitch meeting by Shi to representatives of a company Shi believed to be Lockheed Martin, FBI agents arrested Shi.Three coconspirators pled guilty to conspiracy to commit theft of trade secrets, 18 U.S.C. 1832; one absconded, and a CBMF employee remained in China. CBMF never appeared, leaving Shi as the only defendant at trial. The D.C. Circuit affirmed Shi's conviction as supported by substantial evidence. The information at issue was not publicly available; it came from a competitor. Shi joined an agreement to acquire and use trade secret information and believed the documents he received contained trade secrets. View "United States v. Shi" on Justia Law

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ESPN published an article about Driscoll, the former president of a nonprofit organization, indicating that a former employee planned to file an IRS whistleblower complaint that might lead to charges of embezzlement and fraud against Driscoll. The following month, Driscoll participated in a child custody hearing against her ex-husband. Valdini, an IRS criminal investigator, watched testimony by a cousin of Driscoll’s ex-husband who was also the IRS whistleblower, and from Driscoll, telling Driscoll that he was a member of the public. Valdini had lunch with Driscoll’s ex-husband, who offered to aid in the criminal investigation.Driscoll was indicted for fraud and tax evasion. Defense counsel asked the court to authorize discovery on whether the government had used a civil “audit” process to gather information for Driscoll’s criminal case. In reply to the government's opposition, Driscoll raised the custody hearing for the first time. The court denied her motion. At trial, Valdini’s conduct at the child-custody hearing was revealed. Government counsel, previously unaware of Valdini’s lunch outing, disclosed Valdini’s actions to the court, which held an evidentiary hearing. Driscoll unsuccessfully moved for a mistrial or dismissal, arguing that Valdini’s presence at the child-custody hearing violated her right against self-incrimination and that the government violated Brady by failing to disclose Valdini’s conduct.The D.C. Circuit vacated Driscoll’s convictions, finding that the court’s anti-deadlock jury instructions likely coerced a unanimous verdict. The court found no prejudice on the Brady claim and did not address Driscoll’s pretrial discovery or Fifth Amendment arguments. View "United States v. Driscoll" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed Defendant David G. Bowser's conviction for charges related his obstruction of an investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) into his work as chief of staff to a Member of Congress, Paul Broun. Bowser hired Brett O'Donnell as a communications and messaging consultant for official duties, but O'Donnell's job included increasingly more work on the Congressman's re-election campaign. The court explained that nothing prevented O'Donnell from assisting the campaign as a volunteer or campaign employee, but House Rules forbade the Congressman's office from paying O'Donnell out of the Members' Representational Allowance (MRA).The court affirmed the judgment of acquittal on the obstruction-of-Congress charge and held that the House has structured its internal procedures such that the Office's reviews precede any investigation by the House or the Ethics Committee; affirmed the concealment conviction because defendant had fair notice that he could be criminally prosecuted by failing to disclose particular information; affirmed the two false-statement charges because the charges are justiciable, the jury had sufficient evidence to conclude that his statements to the OCE investigators were false, and the court declined to adopt defendant's proposed jury instruction; because any error was harmless, the court need not address the merits of defendant's Rostenkowski argument; and affirmed three of defendant's false-statement convictions because any failure to instruct the jury to ignore evidence presented for other counts was harmless. View "United States v. Bowser" 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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The DC Circuit affirmed Defendants Cooper and Bryant's appeal of their convictions and sentences for theft of public money and conspiracy to defraud the United States. The court held that the district court correctly concluded that Cooper's statements could be used at trial where the evidence showed that Cooper's statements were given freely and voluntarily; a special agent's testimony did not meaningfully prejudice the defense; the district court did not err by denying Cooper's motion for a mistrial during the government's rebuttal where the prosecutor did not misstate the evidence applicable to Cooper, and the occasional inadvertent references to "these defendants" when discussing acts not attributable to Cooper were quickly remedied; and the district court's calculation of the restitution amount was appropriate. View "United States v. Cooper" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed defendants' convictions and sentences for health care fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The court rejected statutory and constitutional speedy trial claims. The court also held that the district court abused its discretion in denying severance; even assuming a Rule 16 violation, defendants failed to establish the requisite prejudice to their substantial rights for the court to conclude that the district court abused its discretion by not excluding Exhibit 439; the evidence was sufficient to convict defendants; and challenges to the unanimity and aiding-and-abetting instructions rejected on plain error review.The court also held that the district court properly concluded that the $80.6 million in payments from D.C. Medicaid to Global constituted loss under the Mandatory Victims Rights Act; the district court did not plainly violate the Excessive Fines Clause by ordering forfeitures without considering defendants' ability to pay them; and the district court did not abuse its discretion by imposing four sentencing enhancements for committing crimes involving a loss of approximately $80 million, abusing positions of trust, playing a managerial role in the crimes, and violating an administrative order. View "United States v. Bikundi" on Justia Law

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Defendant and her son appealed from their convictions for conspiracy to commit tax fraud and related offenses. The DC Circuit held that the prosecutor's blatant misstatements of key evidence during closing arguments, in the absence of any steps to mitigate the resulting prejudice, required reversal of the son's convictions; because the evidence against the son was insufficient, he was not subject to retrial; defendant was not prejudice from the closing arguments; and defendant's evidentiary challenges were unpersuasive. The court affirmed defendant's convictions but remanded her case for resentencing and for reconsideration of her claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. View "United States v. Davis" on Justia Law

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Defendant pleaded guilty to making false statements to government authorities, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(2). Plaintiff was told by her managers at Blackhawk to certify that Blackhawk guards had received training that they had not in fact received, thereby enabling Blackhawk to charge more for each guard’s services. As part of her sentence, she was jointly and severally liable for $442,330 in restitution. But, the district court also expressed a clear intention that the actual restitution amount should be much smaller, perhaps as little as $0. A federal court had already entered judgment against Blackhawk for more than $1 million. And the district court said, in sentencing defendant, that she would not be on the hook at all if Blackhawk paid its fine. Even in the absence of such a payment, defendant would only have to pay “at a rate of not less than $50 each month.” In 2013, defendant found out that the Treasury Department had seized tax refunds due her and that it had acted under the Treasury Offset Program (TOP), 31 U.S.C. 3716, 3720A. Defendant then filed a Motion for Clarification or Modification of Supervised Release in the sentencing court, asking that the tax refunds be returned and future seizures stopped. At the first hearing, the district court vacated defendant’s sentence, stating that it had not anticipated or intended that she be subject to such a harsh sentence. At the second and third hearings, the district court entertained further arguments about the resentencing. At the fourth hearing, the district court reimposed its original sentence. The court held that the sentence manifested a clerical error which the district court should have corrected. The court also held that, in light of the necessary corrections in the sentence, the district court’s refusal to remedy the TOP collection was error. Accordingly, the court remanded for the district court to require the government to return defendant's tax refunds and to cease withholding payments. View "United States v. Hughes" on Justia Law

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Defendants Ransom and Talbott appealed their sentences after pleading guilty to fraud charges in connection with the operation of their property management company. The court need not decide whether Ransom's appeal waiver should stand since the court determined that, even if Ransom had not waived his right to appeal, his arguments made on appeal were meritless. The court concluded that defendants' sentences were both procedurally and substantively reasonable. The district court did not only all that it was required to do in entering the upwardly variant sentences, but more than enough. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.View "United States v. Ransom, Jr." on Justia Law

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Defendants Olejiya and Akinadewo appealed their sentences after pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud based on their participation in a scheme that involved opening fraudulent bank accounts. The court concluded that the district court properly applied an aggravated role enhancement of three levels for Olejiya and four for Akinadewo. The district court did not fail to make the factual findings necessary to support a 12 level increase for both based on the amount of intended loss in the conspiracy. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.View "United States v. Olejiya" on Justia Law