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.
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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.
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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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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.
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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.
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Federal sentencing guidelines for economic crime have long been subject to criticism due to high dollar loss amounts that can produce eye-popping prison terms.

Adding to the fodder, a new report issued by the United States Sentencing Commission found that securities and investment fraud offenders received the longest average sentences under the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines—more than twice as long as the average sentence for all economic crime offenders.  The report, What Does Federal Economic Crime Really Look Like?, analyzes sentences imposed under § 2B1.1 of the Guidelines, which is the section that applies to most financial fraud cases, including those involving securities, bank, mail and wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy.

The report is chock full of data, but one of the Commission’s big-picture findings was that the average sentences for 29 categories of economic crime vary significantly.  Not surprisingly, the report ties these variations to certain guideline enhancements, including loss amounts.  For example, the report notes that in 2017, the median loss amount for securities and investment fraud was $2,105,620, a loss amount that corresponds to a 16-level increase under the Guidelines.  This enhancement is substantially higher than any other specific offense type analyzed in the report.
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The DOJ recently took another step to encourage corporate self-disclosure for FCPA violations through the announcement of a new FCPA Enforcement Policy based on the eighteen month FCPA Pilot Program.  The DOJ’s Pilot Program proved to be successful—the FCPA Unit received over 30 voluntary disclosures in the 18-month period the Pilot was in place—compared to only 18 voluntary disclosures in the previous 18-month period, according to Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein.  The new Enforcement Policy contains many of the same incentives as the Pilot Program, with a few added benefits to sweeten the deal for corporations hoping to avoid hefty FCPA fines.

Presumption of Declination. Building on the cooperation credit offered under the Pilot Program—and barring aggravating circumstances—corporations will receive a presumption that the DOJ will resolve the case through a declination if they 1) voluntarily self-disclose; 2) fully cooperate; and 3) timely and appropriately remediate.  The Enforcement Policy delineates the DOJ’s expectations as to each of these requirements, many of which track the Pilot Program.  Evaluation of compliance programs, for example, will vary depending on the size and resources of a business and includes factors such as fostering a culture of compliance; dedicating sufficient resources to compliance activities; and ensuring that experienced compliance personnel have appropriate access to management and to the board.
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This week the Supreme Court trimmed the SEC’s power to seek disgorgement of unlawful gains by securities law violators by unanimously holding in Kokesh v. Securities and Exchange Commission that SEC disgorgement constitutes a penalty and such claims must be brought within five years of their accrual. This decision resolved the circuit split described in a previous post.

SEC Does Not Have Limitless Power to Impose Penalties

Kokesh involved the SEC’s effort to collect $34.9 million in disgorgement for conduct going back as far as 1995, and an additional $18.1 million in prejudgment interest. The Court noted that statutes of limitations are “vital to the welfare of society” and set a fixed date when exposure to Government enforcement efforts end.
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The U.S. Department of Justice—widely criticized for the perceived lack of cases brought against corporate executives—issued a new directive yesterday to all U.S. Attorneys designed to hold more individuals accountable for illegal corporate conduct.   The memorandum, written by Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates, first acknowledges the challenges involved in pursuing individuals for corporate crimes, noting the difficulties in determining the culpability of high-level corporate executives who tend to be “insulated from the day-to-day activity in which the misconduct occurs.”  Yates then goes on to outline guidance designed to help prosecutors better address these challenges.
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Last week, DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell took to the Justice Department’s blog to rally support behind recent White House proposals that would bolster law enforcement tools for prosecuting those who create, sell or advertise malicious “spyware.”  Spyware refers to software that allows users to surreptitiously intercept communications on their victims’ electronic devices such as smartphones and computers.  Although prosecutors in the Eastern Division of Virginia recently brought criminal charges against a spyware seller—a case DOJ characterized as the first of its kind—Caldwell states that prosecutorial efforts have been hamstrung by an inability to seize criminal proceeds resulting from sales of spyware, as well as an inability to utilize money laundering charges to go after those who transfer funds across multiple overseas accounts in order to conceal profits from criminal spyware sales.  
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