Crime Doesn’t Pay, But Defendants Still Left with the Bill

The U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently held that criminal defendants who gain unlawful proceeds from certain offenses must pay back those proceeds—even when they no longer possess them.  More specifically, the government may obtain “personal money judgments” that can be satisfied through the defendants’ untainted (and currently unidentified or even future) assets.

This ruling—reaffirming prior case law recently called into question—will impact defendants in cases involving economic crimes and forfeiture. Continue Reading

Germany Proposes New Corporate Sanctions Act with Global Reach

The German Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection recently presented draft legislation to Parliament that could pose a marked shift in how corporate crimes are sanctioned in Germany.  If enacted, this draft legislation, titled the Corporate Sanctions Act (“CSA”), would permit the criminal prosecution and conviction of a corporate entity in circumstances where the entity’s directors or officers committed corporate crimes, and where the entity failed to take reasonable precautions to prevent employees or agents from engaging in criminal wrongdoing.  Companies based or doing business in Germany will be subject to the law. Continue Reading

DOJ Brings Novel RICO Charges Against Alleged Spoofers

The DOJ has raised the stakes in criminal spoofing enforcement, unveiling sweeping charges against three traders who allegedly conspired to manipulate the precious metals market.  While the DOJ’s involvement in spoofing enforcement—an area previously dominated by civil regulators and SROs—has become more commonplace, the DOJ is using a new tactic in this latest enforcement action.  In addition to the usual spoofing and other financial crime offenses, the indictment charges the traders with a racketeering conspiracy.  The DOJ’s reliance on RICO increases the possible penalties for spoofing, while also potentially making the government’s case simpler to prove.

A Potential New Era of Spoofing Enforcement

After obtaining mixed results in its previous spoofing trials, the DOJ appears to be retooling its approach.  Indeed, the indictment against these precious metals traders marks the first time the DOJ has alleged RICO violations against traders accused of spoofing electronic derivatives markets. Thus, while the alleged spoofing conduct may be familiar, the charges brought are significantly different and more serious than before.  And so are the potential penalties.  In addition to hefty incarceration sentences, RICO provides for the government to seek forfeiture of all proceeds derived from the racketeering activity. Continue Reading

DOJ Leveraging Data Analytics To Detect Fraud

The DOJ is increasingly using a “data focused approach” to identify economic crime and corporate misconduct, according to a DOJ official.  In remarks to the 6th Annual Government Enforcement Institute, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Matthew S. Miner recently shared that using data analytics to identify fraud improves efficiency, expedites case development, and makes program enforcement “more targeted.”

While Miner indicated that data analytics are being utilized across the DOJ’s white collar enforcement efforts, he pointed to the healthcare industry and financial sector as two such targets of the DOJ’s data-driven enforcement approach.  The DOJ has already successfully used Medicare claims data to identify fraud.  That success is attributed, in part, to the DOJ’s healthcare data analytics team which analyzes the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ payment database for health care fraud activity and trends.  The financial sector—specifically the commodities and securities arena—represents an expanding “area of focus” for the DOJ’s data-driven enforcement.  Miner indicated that the DOJ uses trading data to identify indicators or anomalies that are suggestive of market manipulation and other fraudulent activity. Continue Reading

Second Circuit Affirms Broad Reading of Sec. 666 Bribery

The Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in United States v. McDonnell raised questions about the constitutionality of expansive interpretations of federal bribery statutes.  However, the bribery statute at issue in McDonnell—quid pro quo corruption defined at 18 U.S.C. § 201(a)(2)—is not the only bribery statute in federal prosecutors’ toolbox.  Since McDonnell was decided, federal prosecutors have increasingly relied on 18 U.S.C. § 666 to pursue bribery charges that might otherwise be precluded by McDonnell’s holding. Continue Reading

UK Regulator Sets High Bar for Corporate Cooperators

Last month, the UK Serious Fraud Office (“SFO”) published non-binding, internal guidance expanding on its view of corporate cooperation in prosecutions. The guidance marks a notable departure from the SFO’s past reluctance to clarify its expectations for corporations seeking cooperation credit, while still making it clear that no outcome will be “guaranteed,” even for companies that have provided “full, robust” cooperation.  Rather, cooperation is just “one of many factors” that the SFO will consider when making a charging decision. Continue Reading

American Indian Tribes and “Foreign Officials” Under the FCPA

One of the many challenges companies face when assessing their Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) liability is determining whether a potential business partner constitutes a “foreign government official” under the FCPA.  From a definitional perspective, the FCPA is far from a model of clarity on this point.  See 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-2(h)(2)(A).

By way of example, consider the compliance sandbars companies must circumnavigate to determine whether (and when) providing something of value to “traditional authorities” (including First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples) could impose FCPA liability.  This question often arises when U.S.-based companies are asked to make donations to American Indian tribes with whom they interact, or to do favors for individual members of a tribe.  For instance, a tribal elder may ask that a company doing business with the tribe employ a certain tribal member, or provide an internship to the chief’s son, etc.  Under such circumstances, companies might find themselves evaluating the contemplated transaction through the amorphic lens of the FCPA.

Understanding the Definitional Challenge

Going back to basics, the FCPA’s anti-bribery provisions define a “foreign official” as:

[A]ny officer or employee of a foreign government or any department, agency, or instrumentality thereof, or of a public international organization, or any person acting in an official capacity for or on behalf of any such government or department, agency, or instrumentality, or for or on behalf of any such public international organization. 15 U.S.C. § 78dd-2(h)(2)(A).

Do American Indian tribes fit under this definition?  While there is little guidance on this analysis outside the United States (see this helpful article by my colleagues on that issue), there is even less in the context of  American Indian tribes, even though they possess much-discussed “sovereign status” in the United States.  This is both surprising and concerning. Continue Reading

SCOTUS Considers Challenge to DOJ’s “Bridgegate” Theory

The Supreme Court recently granted certiorari in a criminal case arising from a fraudulent scheme to cause massive gridlock at the George Washington Bridge in September 2013—otherwise known as the “Bridgegate” scandal. Bridget Anne Kelly, a staffer in then-Governor Chris Christie’s office, was convicted of wire fraud for her role in fabricating a fake traffic study and orchestrating lane reallocations as an act of political retaliation against a local mayor.

Affirming Kelly’s wire fraud conviction, the Third Circuit sustained the Government’s theory that Kelly and a fellow political operative fraudulently deprived the Port Authority of both physical property and intangible property, finding that the Port Authority has an “unquestionable” property interest in the Bridge’s traffic allocation and its public employee labor, and that the Port Authority has an intangible property interest in the public employees’ time and wages. Continue Reading

Highlights from Transnational Crime Conference: Expanding Anti-Corruption Enforcement & Cross-Border Cooperation

Last month, attorneys from around the world descended upon Buenos Aires to tango with criminal justice and anti-corruption experts at the International Bar Association’s 22nd Annual Transnational Crime Conference.  Conference highlights included remarks from distinguished members of the Argentine government, including the Minister of Justice and Human Rights, President of the Financial Information Unit, and Supreme Court President.  These officials focused their comments on criminal justice reforms in Argentina, the role of regulators and the judiciary in establishing and inspiring confidence in the rule of law, and the hope that such efforts would improve Argentina’s reputation in the global fight against graft and corruption.

Panelists and attendees also discussed similar efforts across the globe, cross-border cooperation, and collateral issues to consider when representing clients subject to international anti-corruption inquiries or enforcement actions. Of note were discussions regarding the following:

Evolving Mechanisms for Detecting and Penalizing Corruption  

  1. Increased use of money laundering statutes and administrative remedies.

Although most anti-corruption laws around the world criminalize the payment of bribes to government officials, the receipt of bribes (passive bribery) is conspicuously absent from laws like the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”).  As a result, beneficiaries of bribes have traditionally escaped FCPA liability.  However, panelists noted, recent years have seen an increase in anti-money laundering prosecutions and civil administrative actions targeting profits from corrupt dealings that otherwise fall outside the reach of traditional anti-bribery paradigms.  Using money laundering statutes, U.S. prosecutors were able to prosecute officials working for Venezuela’s state-owned energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., who accepted bribes from several U.S. executives (themselves prosecuted under the FCPA).

Panelists noted that more than €2 billion in anti-money laundering fines were assessed globally in 2018 alone, calling banks not yet penalized for money laundering issues “the exception and not the norm.”  Another new norm is the decoupling of predicate offenses (i.e., conduct generating illegal proceeds) from allegations that such proceeds were in fact “laundered,” allowing prosecutors to bring intentional and negligent money laundering cases.  Panelists also warned that lawyers were being targeted more than ever as negligent money launderers, based on the sources of client payments. Continue Reading

Corporate Execs Indicted in First-Ever “Failure to Report” Consumer Safety Case

In March 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) brought its “first-ever” criminal prosecution against two corporate executives under the Consumer Product Safety Act’s (CPSA) “failure to report” provision.  The two defendants, Simon Chu and Charley Loh, also face charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to fail to furnish information under the CPSA, and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Continue Reading

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