In a recent decision showing how courts evaluate insider trading in the marital context, the First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a Massachusetts real estate investor’s conviction on insider trading securities fraud and related conspiracy offenses arising from his role in passing information he learned from his corporate insider wife to two of his friends.  The government’s theory of the case was that defendant Amit Kanodia violated Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 when he misappropriated material, nonpublic information obtained from his wife to whom he owed “a duty of trust and confidence that prohibit[ed] [him] from secretly using such information for [his] personal advantage.”  On appeal, Kanodia argued that there was insufficient evidence to show that a legal duty of trust and confidence arose between him and his wife because their marital relationship did not involve a history, pattern, or practice of sharing confidences.  The First Circuit, however, found that the government presented ample evidence for a jury to conclude that Kanodia and his wife shared confidences in the history of their marriage and also in their business and advisory relationships.  
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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).
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Following a week of trial proceedings in the case of defendant Jittesh Thakkar—a software programmer indicted in February 2018 on conspiracy and aiding and abetting charges related to a spoof trading scheme—the government’s case against Thakkar ended in a mistrial.  The jurors could not reach a unanimous verdict on the two aiding-and-abetting spoofing counts

Can a software programmer be held criminally responsible for designing a program that a trader uses to “spoof” the commodity futures market?  This is the question posed to the jury in U.S. v. Thakkar, 18-cr-36 (N.D. Ill.), which trial began this week in federal court.  The case grew out of the manipulative trading activities of Navinder Sarao, a London-based commodities trader who “spoofed” (i.e., placed bids or offers with the intention of canceling them before execution) futures on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME).  Sarao’s activity allegedly contributed to the May 6, 2010, “Flash Crash” in which the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped nearly 1,000 points within minutes.  Sarao pleaded guilty to fraud and spoofing charges in November 2016.

Jittesh Thakkar, the software programmer currently on trial, was indicted in February 2018 on charges that he conspired with Sarao to commit spoofing and that he aided and abetted Sarao’s spoofing by developing a customized software program that Sarao used to execute manipulative trades.  The indictment against Thakkar marks the first time the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has prosecuted an individual other than a trader with a spoofing-based crime.


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In United States v. Hoskins, 902 F.3d 69 (2d Cir. 2018) the Second Circuit held that a non-resident foreign national cannot be criminally liable for aiding and abetting or conspiring to violate the FCPA unless the government can establish that such an individual acted as an agent of one of the categories of persons subject to liability as a principal.

Background

The DOJ charged Lawrence Hoskins, a British national and former Alstom UK executive based in Paris, with FCPA and money-laundering violations.  The government alleged that Hoskins had approved payments to consultants that were funneled to Indonesian officials to secure a $118 million infrastructure contract with a state-owned power company.  Hoskins was never physically present in the U.S., but he called and emailed alleged conspirators who themselves were present in the U.S., and Hoskins authorized payments from Alstom S.A. to the consultants, one of whom had a Maryland bank account.

Hoskins moved to dismiss charges alleging indirect FCPA violations—i.e., that he aided and abetted or conspired to violate the FCPA—arguing that he did not fall within the narrowly-circumscribed group of people for whom the FCPA prescribes liability: American companies, citizens, and their employees and agents, as well as foreign persons acting on American soil.  The lower court agreed with Hoskins and dismissed Count I of the indictment.  On appeal, the question for the Second Circuit was whether Hoskins could be charged as either a conspirator or an accomplice to the asserted FCPA violations, despite not falling within the categories of persons subject to liability as a principal.  The Second Circuit concluded that the statute’s text, combined with its legislative history and the presumption against extraterritoriality, compelled the conclusion that foreign nationals who act abroad and lack a direct connection to one of the categories of persons subject to principal FCPA liability cannot be liable as accomplices or conspirators.

Agency Liability Post-Hoskins

Hoskins creates some uncertainty regarding FCPA prosecutions of individuals or entities who could not be charged as principals. The decision creates a stronger jurisdictional defense for companies that are subject to DOJ or SEC actions solely based on their business association with a U.S. concern.  Under the Second Circuit opinion, it will take more than mere conspiracy or assistance to bring such entities within the scope of liability.

It is also likely that investigators will put more emphasis on developing evidence of agency relationships between principal violators and entities otherwise unreachable under Hoskins.  Indeed, the court in Hoskins held that the government could present agency evidence and pursue Hoskins as an agent of, for example, Alstom S.A.’s U.S.-based subsidiary.  Prosecutors may also attempt to broaden the traditional definitions of agency under the FCPA, particularly as agency theory becomes a critical link to reach now unreachable defendants.
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