Justia Securities Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
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In 1999-2016, Wilkinson convinced approximately 30 people to invest $13.5 million in two hedge funds that he created. By 2008, Wilkinson lost the vast majority of their money. Wilkinson told them that the funds’ assets included a $12 million note with an Australian hedge fund, Pengana. The “Pengana Note” did not exist. Wilkinson provided fraudulent K-1 federal income tax forms showing that the investments had interest payments on the Pengana Note. To pay back suspicious investors, Wilkinson solicited about $3 million from new investors using private placement memoranda (PPMs) falsely saying that Wilkinson intended to use their investments “to trade a variety of stock indexes and options, futures, and options on futures on such stock indexes on a variety of national securities and futures exchanges.” In 2016, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed a civil enforcement action against Wilkinson, 7 U.S.C. 6p(1).Indicted under 18 U.S.C. 1341, 1343, Wilkinson pleaded guilty to wire fraud, admitting that he sent fraudulent K-1 forms and induced investment of $115,000 using fraudulent PPMs. The court applied a four-level enhancement because the offense “involved … a violation of commodities law and ... the defendant was … a commodity pool operator,” U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(20)(B). Wilkinson argued that he did not qualify as a commodity pool operator because he traded only broad-based indexes like S&P 500 futures, which fit the Commodity Exchange Act’s definition of an “excluded commodity,” “not based … on the value of a narrow group of commodities.” The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Wilkinson’s plea agreement and PSR established that Wilkinson was a commodity pool operator. View "United States v. Wilkinson" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions for securities fraud and conspiracy to commit securities fraud, holding that Defendants' claims of trial and sentencing error were unavailing.Defendants were two biostaticians employed by two publicly traded biopharmaceutical companies. The jury found Defendants guilty of conspiracy of commit securities fraud and all counts of securities fraud with which they were charged. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court (1) did not err in denying Defendants' motions for judgments of acquittal as to the conspiracy and securities fraud convictions; (2) did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendants' motion to compel production of a letter from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority; (3) imposed sentences that were without error; and (4) did not err in awarding restitution. View "United States v. Chan" on Justia Law

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The Idaho Department of Finance ("Department") filed a civil enforcement action against appellant appellant, Sean Zarinegar, Performance Realty Management LLC ("PRM") and other nominal defendants, alleging Zarinegar and PRM committed securities fraud. The Department moved for summary judgment; Zarinegar and PRM responded with their own motion for partial summary judgment and a motion to strike several documents submitted by the Department in support of its motion for summary judgment. A few days before the district court was set to hear arguments on the motions, counsel for Zarinegar and PRM moved the district court for leave to withdraw as counsel of record. At the hearing, the district court preliminary denied the motion to withdraw, entertained the parties’ arguments, and took all matters under advisement. The district court later issued a memorandum decision and order denying, in part, Zarinegar’s, and PRM’s motions to strike. The district court also denied Zarinegar’s and PRM’s motion for partial summary judgment. The district court granted summary judgment for the Department after finding Zarinegar and PRM had misrepresented and omitted material facts in violation of Idaho Code section 30-14-501(2) and fraudulently diverted investor funds for personal use in violation of section 30-14-501(4). The district court then granted the motion to withdraw. The district court entered its final judgment against Zarinegar and PRM September 30, 2019. Zarinegar, representing himself pro se, appealed the judgment, arguing: (1) the district court lacked jurisdiction to enter judgment against him; (2) the district court violated his constitutional right to a jury trial and right to proceed pro se; (3) the district court’s denial of Zarinegar’s motions to strike as to certain documents was an abuse of discretion; and (4) the district court erroneously granted summary judgment for the Department. Finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Idaho v. Zarinegar" on Justia Law

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After the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme collapsed, Picard was appointed under the Securities Investor Protection Act, 15 U.S.C. 78aaa (SIPA), as the liquidation trustee for Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC (BLMIS). The Act established a priority system to make customers of failed brokerages whole before other general creditors. Where customer property is insufficient to satisfy customers' claims, the trustee may recover property transferred by the debtor that would have been customer property but for the transfer if and to the extent that the transfer is void or voidable under the Bankruptcy Code. 15 U.S.C. 78fff–2(c)(3). The provisions of the Bankruptcy Code apply only to the extent that they are consistent with SIPA.Picard attempted to recover transfers of money that the defendants had received from BLMIS in excess of their principal investments. The defendants are BLMIS customers who were unaware of the fraud but profited from it by receiving what they thought were legitimate profits; the funds were actually other customers' money. The Second Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Picard. The Bankruptcy Code affirmative defense that permits a transferee who takes an interest of the debtor in property "for value and in good faith" to retain the transfer to the extent of the value given does not apply in this SIPA liquidation. The transfers were not "for value" and recovery would not violate the two-year limitation. View "In re: Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC" on Justia Law

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Steven Thompson was a real estate developer and sole member and manager of SGD Timber Canyon, LLC (“Timber Canyon”), a real estate company that held an interest in a number of undeveloped lots in Castle Rock, Colorado. To buy those properties, Timber Canyon initially obtained a $11.9 million loan from Flagstar Bank. The properties went into foreclosure in October 2009. In February 2010, Timber Canyon filed for bankruptcy; Flagstar Bank sought relief from the automatic stay to allow it to proceed with the foreclosure. In the spring of 2010, Thompson met John Witt (“John”), who had worked in the construction industry in Denver but wanted to become a real estate developer. John eventually began working with Thompson and signed a letter of intent indicating that John would eventually obtain an ownership interest in Thompson’s company. Shortly thereafter, and without disclosing the fact that the Timber Ridge properties were in foreclosure and subject to a forbearance agreement, Thompson obtained an “investment” from John’s parents, Thomas and Debra Witt (“the Witts”). Ultimately, the Witts agreed to increase their initial $400,000 investment to $2.4 million. At no point did Thompson disclose to the Witts that Timber Canyon's properties were already highly leveraged; the company was in bankruptcy, the properties were in foreclosure, and the properties had been valued at only $6.75 million (an amount significantly less than the $31 million value that Thompson had represented to the Witts during negotiations). When the Witts’ note ultimately came due in the winter of 2011, Thompson defaulted. The Witts filed a civil lawsuit against him and contacted law enforcement. Thereafter, the State charged Thompson with two counts of securities fraud and one count of theft. A jury convicted Thompson on all counts, and the court sentenced him to the Department of Corrections for twelve years on each of the securities fraud counts, to be served concurrently, and eighteen years on the theft count, to be served consecutively to the securities fraud counts. As pertinent here, Thompson argued on appeal: (1) because the note at issue was not a security, insufficient evidence supported his securities fraud convictions; (2) the trial court erred by tendering an incorrect jury instruction regarding the meaning of “security”; and (3) his theft conviction had to run concurrently with his securities fraud convictions. The issue this case presented for the Colorado Supreme Court's review was whether: (1) the promissory note at issue was a security under the "family resemblance" test; (2) any error in the jury instruction defining “security” was not plain; and (3) consecutive sentences were permissible because different evidence supported defendant Steven Thompson’s securities fraud and theft convictions. Finding the note at issue was indeed a security under Colorado law, and no other reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed Thompson's convictions. View "Thompson v. Colorado" on Justia Law

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This appeal stemmed from an attempt to hold Defendant Paul Robben liable for securities fraud. Various Plaintiffs alleged that Robben fraudulently induced them to purchase ownership interests in a Kansas limited liability company named Foxfield Villa Associates, LLC (“Foxfield”). Plaintiffs argued that those interests were securities under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Plaintiffs contended Robben violated section 10(b) of the 1934 Act (its broad antifraud provision) and SEC Rule 10b-5 (an administrative regulation expounding upon that antifraud provision) when engaging in his allegedly deceitful conduct. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals determined that the specific attributes of the LLC interests in this case lead it to conclude the interests at issue were not securities as that term was defined by the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. The Court affirmed the district court's order declining to characterize the LLC interests as securities, thus granting summary judgment to defendants on those grounds. View "Foxfield Villa Associates v. Robben" on Justia Law

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In 2015, the SEC initiated enforcement proceedings in the District of Arizona against appellant for illegitimate investment activities. In 2017, appellant entered into a consent agreement with the SEC, and the United States District Court for the District of Arizona ultimately held appellant liable for disgorgement in the amount of $4,494,900. Then the grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia returned an indictment charging appellant with, inter alia, securities fraud and unlawful sale of securities, based in part on the same conduct underlying the SEC proceeding. Appellant filed a motion to dismiss the indictment, which the district court denied.The Fourth Circuit joined with every other circuit to have decided the issue in holding that disgorgement in an SEC proceeding is not a criminal penalty pursuant to the Double Jeopardy Clause, such that an individual cannot be later prosecuted for the conduct underlying the disgorgement. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of appellant's motion to dismiss the indictment. View "United States v. Bank" on Justia Law

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The Second Circuit certified two questions to the New York Court of Appeals: 1) Whether a stock conversion option that permits a lender, in its sole discretion, to convert any outstanding balance to shares of stock at a fixed discount should be treated as interest for the purpose of determining whether the transaction violates N.Y. Penal Law 190.40, the criminal usury law. 2) If the interest charged on a loan is determined to be criminally usurious under N.Y. Penal Law 190.40, whether the contract is void ab initio pursuant to N.Y. Gen. Oblig. Law 5-511. View "Adar Bays, LLC v. GeneSYS ID, Inc." on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendant's convictions of securities and wire fraud and conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud, holding that there was no reversible error in the proceedings below.Specifically, the First Circuit held (1) there was sufficient evidence to sustain Defendant's convictions and that, to the extent that the jury instructions may have been overbroad, any error was harmless; (2) this Court need not address whether the wire fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. 1343, applies extraterritorially because Defendant was convicted under a proper domestic application of the statute; and (3) the district court correctly determined that it lacked the authority to order the government to lodge Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties requests with the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland to seek evidence that may have been favorable to Defendant's defense. View "United States v. McLellan" on Justia Law

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A district court dismissed Plaintiff–Appellant Lawrence Smallen and Laura Smallen Revocable Living Trust’s securities-fraud class action against Defendant–Appellee The Western Union Company and several of its current and former executive officers (collectively, “Defendants”). Following the announcements of Western Union’s settlements with regulators in January 2017 and the subsequent drop in the price of the company’s stock shares, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on behalf of itself and other similarly situated shareholders. In its complaint, Plaintiff alleged Defendants committed securities fraud by making false or materially misleading public statements between February 24, 2012, and May 2, 2017 regarding, among other things, Western Union’s compliance with anti-money laundering and anti-fraud laws. The district court dismissed the complaint because Plaintiff failed to adequately plead scienter under the heightened standard imposed by the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (“PSLRA”). While the Tenth Circuit found the complaint may have given rise to some plausible inference of culpability on Defendants' part, the Court concurred Plaintiff failed to plead particularized facts giving rise to the strong inference of scienter required to state a claim under the PSLRA, thus affirming dismissal. View "Smallen Revocable Living Trust v. Western Union Company" on Justia Law