Justia Securities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Armbruster, a CPA with experience working at a Big Four accounting firm, began serving as the controller for Roadrunner's predecessor in 1990 and became Roadrunner’s CFO. Roadrunner grew rapidly, acquiring transportation companies and going public in 2010. In 2014, Roadrunner’s then‐controller recognized shortcomings in a subsidiary's (Morgan) accounting and began investigating. In 2016, many deficiencies in Morgan’s accounting remained unresolved. The departing controller found that Morgan had inflated its balance sheet by at least $2 million and perhaps as much as $4–5 million. Armbruster filed Roadrunner's 2016 third quarter SEC Form 10‐Q with no adjustments of the carrying values of Morgan balance sheet items and including other misstatements. Roadrunner’s CEO learned of the misstatements and informed Roadrunner’s Board of Directors. Roadrunner informed its independent auditor. Roadrunner’s share price dropped significantly. Roadrunner filed restated financial statements, reporting a decrease of approximately $66.5 million in net income over the misstated periods.Criminal charges were brought against Armbruster and two former departmental controllers. A mixed verdict acquitted the departmental controllers on all counts but convicted Armbruster on four of 11 charges for knowingly falsifying Roadrunner‘s accounting records by materially misstating the carrying values of Morgan's receivable and prepaid taxes account, 15 U.S.C. 78m(b)(2), (5), i78ff(a), 18 U.S.C. 2, fraudulently influencing Roadrunner’s external auditor, and filing fraudulent SEC financial statements, 18 U.S.C.1348. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. While the case against Armbruster may not have been open‐and‐shut, a rational jury could have concluded that the government presented enough evidence to support the guilty verdicts. View "United States v. Armbruster" on Justia Law

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Following proceedings in district court, the trial court t entered a final judgment, finding Defendant liable, ordering him to disgorge over $4,000,000 in funds, and placing two of his entities under receivership in order to sell and reorganize assets to repay investors. Later, a federal grand jury sitting in Miami returned a superseding indictment that described consistent with the district court’s findings of fact.   After an extradition request was filed by the United States, the Supreme Court of Brazil allowed him to be extradited. He returned to the United States, and on the eve of trial, following over a year of pretrial proceedings, Defendant entered into a plea agreement, agreeing to plead guilty to one count of mail fraud. The district court later sentenced Defendant to 220 months’ imprisonment and ordered him to pay $169,177,338 in restitution.   On appeal, Defendant broadly argues: (1) that the custodial sentence imposed and the order of restitution violate the extradition treaty; and (2) that his guilty plea was not made freely and voluntarily. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed. The court explained that the district court fully satisfied the core concerns of Rule 11, and the court could discern no reason to conclude that the district court plainly erred in finding that Defendant’s guilty plea was entered knowingly and voluntarily. The court explained that in this case, the record fully reflects that Defendant agreed to be sentenced subject to a 20-year maximum term, and his 220-month sentence is near the low end of his agreed-upon 210-to-240-month range. View "USA v. John J. Utsick" on Justia Law

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Appellant was convicted of conspiracy to commit securities fraud, securities fraud, and first-degree fraud. On appeal, she mounted a single challenge: the prosecution made improper comments during its rebuttal closing argument that substantially prejudiced her and denied her a fair trial. Appellant objected to most of the prosecution’s statements in the district court, and the court sustained the objections.   The DC Circuit affirmed Appellant’s convictions, finding no reversible error in the district court’s response to the prosecution’s challenged statements. Appellant argued that the court should apply harmless-error review. However, the court explained that harmless-error review is inapplicable in the circumstances of this case. Harmless-error analysis generally applies when a district court erroneously rejects a defendant’s timely claim of an error. Here, though, the district court did not erroneously reject Appellant’s claim of an error. Indeed, the court did not reject any relevant claim of error at all. Appellant’s claim involves the four allegedly improper statements made by the prosecution in the rebuttal closing argument. But Appellant raised no objection in the district court to the fourth of those statements, so there was no claim of any error at trial as to that one. And while Appellant did object to the other three statements, the district court did not erroneously overrule her objections.   Further, Appellant cannot demonstrate plain error. The district court did not err, much less plainly err, in responding to the prosecution’s challenged statements. Lastly, even assuming the district court should have taken any additional actions, the court’s failure to do so did not affect Appellant’s substantial rights. View "USA v. Brynee Baylor" on Justia Law

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Goulding, an accountant and lawyer, has a history of mail fraud and tax fraud. Goulding formed 15 funds that hired Nutmeg’s advisory services, which he managed. The funds invested in illiquid securities, many of which were close to insolvent. Gould wrote all of the disclosure documents, which overvalued the funds. Goulding made baseless statements about increases in value. Goulding did not use outside advisors and engaged in commingling, holding some securities in his own name.The Securities and Exchange Commission charged Goulding under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, 15 U.S.C. 80b, with running Nutmeg through a pattern of fraud, including touting his supposed financial expertise while failing to disclose his crimes, in addition to violating the Act’s technical rules. The district court issued an injunction removing Goulding from the business and appointing a receiver. A magistrate judge enjoined Goulding from violating the securities laws, required him to disgorge $642,422 (plus interest), and imposed a $642,422 civil penalty. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the finding of liability and the financial awards. The extent of Goulding’s wrongdoing makes it hard to determine his net unjustified withdrawals; as the wrongdoer, he bears the consequence of uncertainty. The restitution reflects a conservative estimate of Goulding’s ill-got gains. Nor did the judge err by declining to trace funds from their source to Goulding’s pocket. View "Securities and Exchange Commission v. Goulding" on Justia Law

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Weller was convicted of insider trading, Securities Exchange Act, 15 U.S.C. 78j(b). Fleming, a vice president of Life Time Fitness, had learned that his company was likely to be acquired by a private equity firm at an above-market price. Fleming told a friend, Beshey, who told Clark and Kourtis (who knew that the information had been misappropriated), who told others, including Weller. Most of them profited by trading on the information and showed their appreciation by “kickbacks.”Weller unsuccessfully argued that he did not know that Fleming violated a duty to his employer by passing the information to Beshey and that the government did not prove a financial benefit to Fleming. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his convictions. Although Weller did not interact with all of the others, he did conspire with at least Kourtis to misuse material non-public information for their own benefit. The court upheld Weller’s 366-day below-Guidelines sentence, noting that Weller profited more than the others. View "United States v. Weller" on Justia Law

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The Mandatory Victims Restitution Act requires defendants convicted of certain crimes to reimburse their victims for “lost income and necessary child care, transportation, and other expenses incurred during participation in the investigation or prosecution of the offense or attendance at proceedings related to the offense,” 18 U.S.C. 3663A(b)(4). The Second Circuit previously held that “other expenses” could include attorneys’ fees incurred by victims while helping the government investigate and prosecute the defendant and costs incurred while privately investigating the defendant. The Supreme Court subsequently held that “the words ‘investigation’ and ‘proceedings’ are limited to government investigations and criminal proceedings.”Afriyie was convicted of securities fraud after trading on inside information he misappropriated from his employer, MSD. The district court entered the restitution order, covering the fees MSD paid its law firm to guide MSD’s compliance with investigations by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the SEC; to help prepare four MSD witnesses to testify at Afriyie’s criminal trial; and to represent MSD during the post-verdict restitution proceedings.The Second Circuit held that attorneys’ fees can sometimes be “other expenses” but a victim cannot recover expenses incurred while participating in an SEC investigation. Restitution is appropriate only for expenses associated with criminal matters; civil matters, including SEC investigations, even if closely related to a criminal case do not qualify. View "United States v. Afriyie" on Justia Law

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Coscia used electronic exchanges for futures trading and implemented high-frequency trading programs. High-frequency trading, called “spoofing,” and defined as bidding or offering with the intent to cancel the bid or offer before execution, became illegal in 2010 under the Dodd-Frank Act, 7 U.S.C. 6c(a)(5). Coscia was convicted of commodities fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1348, and spoofing, After an unsuccessful appeal, Coscia sought a new trial, citing new evidence that data discovered after trial establishes that there were errors in the data presented to the jury and that subsequent indictments for similar spoofing activities undercut the government’s characterization of Coscia as a trading “outlier.” He also claimed that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance, having an undisclosed conflict of interest. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Even assuming that Coscia’s new evidence could not have been discovered sooner through the exercise of due diligence, Coscia failed to explain how that evidence or the subsequent indictments seriously called the verdict into question. Coscia has not established that his attorneys learned of relevant and confidential information from its cited unrelated representations. Coscia’s counsel faced “the common situation” where the client stands a better chance of success by admitting the underlying actions and arguing that the actions do not constitute a crime. That the jury did not accept his defense does not render it constitutionally deficient. View "Coscia v. United States" on Justia Law

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Guy Jean-Pierre, a corporate and securities attorney, aided an illegal stock trading operation. Through a series of self-dealing transactions, Jean-Pierre and his co-conspirators artificially inflated stock prices of a company they controlled. Jean- Pierre sent letters on the company’s behalf to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) that contained false and misleading information and omitted material information from disclosures to potential investors. Jean-Pierre appealed his convictions for conspiracy to commit securities fraud and securities fraud as to four of the twenty-eight counts of conviction, arguing the district court erred in admitting evidence that he had previously used his niece’s signature without her permission to submit attorney letters to a stock trading website. Jean- Pierre also argued that three of the four convictions should have been reversed because the district court declined to give a requested instruction reiterating the government’s burden as to a specific factual theory. Finding no reversible error, the Tenth Circuit affirmed. View "United States v. Jean-Pierre" on Justia Law

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Respondent Karl Baker and his business partner sought investors for a company called Aviara Capital Partners, LLC. According to promotional materials that Baker provided to potential investors, investment money would be used to purchase distressed banks that were being shut down and were under the control of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (“FDIC”). In conjunction with the purchase of the distressed banks, Aviara would operate a “distressed assets fund” to purchase the assets of such banks. Aviara would then acquire additional banks under a business plan by which Aviara and its investors would collectively own eighty percent of the banks, while bank management, directors, advisors, and employees would own the other twenty percent. In the course of soliciting potential investors, Baker spoke, independently, with the purported victims in this case, Donna and Lyal Taylor, Dr. Alan Ng, and Stanley Douglas. The alleged victims’ investments did not work out as they claim to have been promised, and a grand jury subsequently indicted Baker on, among other charges, four counts of securities fraud, and three counts of theft. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court’s review centered on whether the admission of a deputy securities commissioner’s expert testimony that Baker’s misstatements and omissions were material was reversible error. Because: (1) in presenting such opinions, the deputy commissioner also opined that certain disputed facts were true; (2) such testimony involved weighing the evidence and making credibility determinations, which were matters solely within the jury’s province; and (3) the error in admitting such testimony was not harmless, the Supreme Court agreed with the court of appeals that the admission of this testimony was reversible error. View "Colorado v. Baker" on Justia Law

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Shaun Lawrence met D.B. at a casino, where she worked as a cashier. During their conversations, Lawrence told D.B. that he ran several successful businesses and that he was looking for people to work for him and for investors to help grow a private investigations business called Advert Investigations (“Advert”). The parties eventually signed two “Investment and Business Agreement,” which provided that D.B. would invest cash money in exchange for an ownership interest in Advert. At no time prior to D.B.’s investments did Lawrence tell her that he would use the money to pay for personal and gambling expenses. Nor did he ever advise her that he had outstanding civil judgments against him totaling over $100,000. D.B. filed a complaint with the State Division of Securities, which subsequently referred the case to the district attorney’s office for prosecution. The State then charged Lawrence with two counts of securities fraud, and one count of theft. The jury ultimately convicted Lawrence as charged, and Lawrence appealed. In his appeal, he contended, among other things, that (1) the evidence did not establish that the transaction at issue involved a security (namely, an investment contract); (2) Colorado Securities Commissioner Rome’s expert testimony usurped the jury’s role as factfinder because the Commissioner was improperly permitted to opine on the ultimate factual issues in this case; and (3) Lawrence was entitled to the ameliorative benefit of the amendments to the theft statute and, as a result, he could only stand convicted of a class 1 misdemeanor because that was the lowest degree of theft that the jury’s verdict supported. The Colorado Supreme Court concurred with the appellate court’s determination that: (1) the agreement at issue here was an investment contract, and therefore a security; (2) Commissioner’s testimony was admissible, and any error by the trial court in admitting that testimony was harmless; and (3) the trial court erred in instructing the jury as to the value of the property taken. View "Lawrence v. Colorado" on Justia Law