Federal White-Collar Prosecutions Hit ‘All-Time Low’

Federal prosecutions of white-collar crimes have reached an “all-time” low this year, according to the Transactional Records Clearing House (TRAC) at Syracuse University.

As of January 2020, the number of white-collar offenders prosecuted on federal charges had dropped eight percent from the previous year, continuing a slide that began five years ago.

“If prosecutors continue at the same pace for the remainder of FY 2020, they are projected to fall to 5,175—almost half the level of their Obama-era peak,” TRAC said

In January, just 359 defendants were prosecuted—for the most part individuals, rather than firms—representing an “all-time low since tracking began during the Reagan Administration,” TRAC added.

In FY 2010 and FY 2011, annual prosecutions numbered over 10,000.

Critics have long assailed the government for concentrating its white-collar-crime efforts on individuals rather than large corporations and business organizations. Only 1,300 business entities have been hauled into court for white-collar offenses compared with 124,402 individual defendants since 2004—amounting to roughly one out of every 100 cases.

But the drop in prosecutions for individuals suggests a further softening of strategy, economist Catherine Rampell wrote recently in The Washington Post.

“The slide in prosecutions began before President Trump took office,” Rampell wrote. “But the numbers are especially low this year, perhaps in part because his fixation with other kinds of crimes (chiefly, immigration-related ones) has crowded out resources for other kinds of investigations and prosecutions.”

TRAC obtained its figures following successful litigation against the Justice Department under the Freedom of Information Act.

Download the full report and tables here.

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March 4, 2020 at 08:04AM

Federal Judge rules Florida felons can still vote despite inability to pay fees and fines

A federal judge in Florida has ruled that the state can’t bar felons from voting because they are unable to pay fines and other costs.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle of Tallahassee, Florida, issued a preliminary injunction in a ruling Friday, report the New York Times, the Miami Herald, Politico and HuffPost.

The injunction applies to 17 individual plaintiffs and permits them to show an inability to pay through an appropriate procedure.

Hinkle ruled in five consolidated cases arising from a voter-approved state constitutional amendment known as Amendment 4. The amendment, passed last November, restored voting rights to most people convicted of felonies after completion of all terms of their sentences, including parole or probation. (The amendment did not restore voting rights to those convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses.)

After Amendment 4 was approved, the Florida legislature passed a law that said former felons couldn’t vote until they paid pay all fines, fees and other financial penalties associated with their convictions.

Hinkle said the plaintiffs are entitled to vote despite an inability to pay because of a statement in a footnote by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Atlanta in a 2005 decision, Johnson v. Governor of Florida. The decision upheld Florida’s general ban on voting by felons but noted that felons could apply for clemency for restoration of civil rights.

The footnote said Florida’s executive clemency rules don’t allow Florida to deny restoration of voting rights to a felon who can’t afford to pay restitution. “Access to the franchise cannot be made to depend on an individual’s financial resources,” the 11th Circuit said in the footnote.

The consolidated cases before Hinkle are titled Jones v. DeSantis. Plaintiffs in the consolidated cases are 17 individuals and three organizations—the Florida State Conference of the NAACP, the Orange County Branch of the NAACP, and the League of Women Voters of Florida.

By Debra Cassens Weiss

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October 21, 2019 at 02:21PM

Man Who Posed as a Federal Agent to Defraud Immigrants out of $2.5 Million Sentenced to 91 Months

Hardev Panesar of San Diego was sentenced today in federal court by U.S. District Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel to 91 months in custody for his leadership role in an immigration fraud scheme.
According to his plea agreement, Panesar conspired with others, including Rafael Hastie and Gurdev Singh, to induce unauthorized immigrants to pay money based on false and fraudulent claims that the defendants could secure immigration status for the victims and their families. Panesar misled the victims into believing that he could obtain immigration documents or legal immigration status by pretending to be an agent with the Department of Homeland Security. Panesar wore a DHS jacket and showed purported official credentials to his victims.
The plea agreement outlined several dates in 2016 where Panesar successfully obtained thousands of dollars by pretending to be a DHS official. The money paid by the victims totaled over $2.5 million, which was converted to the personal use and benefit of Panesar and his co-defendants.  According to statements made at sentencing, Panesar also lost a significant portion of the money he stole from victims as a victim himself in a Nigerian “advanced fee scheme.” At a prior sentencing hearing, one of the victims testified in court that his family gave Panesar and Gurdev Singh approximately $250,000 with the hopes of receiving green cards—a devastating financial loss that contributed to the depression and eventual suicide of a family member.
Panesar’s sentence includes a six-month custodial sentence for an additional charge of Failure to Appear. On June 21, 2018, while released on bond, Panesar fled to Mexico and failed to appear at a Motion Hearing before Judge Curiel set for June 22, 2018. He was captured in Mexico and deported to the United States approximately six weeks later.
Earlier this year, Panesar’s co-defendants were sentenced by Judge Curiel. Rafael Hastie was sentenced to 46 months in custody and ordered to pay $942,000 in restitution to the victims. Gurdev Singh was sentenced to 27 months in custody and ordered to pay $392,850 in restitution to the victims. The Court ordered Panesar to pay approximately $2.5 million in restitution to his victims.
Additionally, last week, former HSI supervisor Johnny Martin was found guilty by a federal jury in a related case for the false statements he made to the FBI in connection with their investigation into this immigration fraud scheme. Martin will be sentenced on January 17, 2020.
In imposing the sentence, Judge Curiel described Panesar’s scheme as “one of the more serious cases this Court has handled” in recent years.  “Mr. Panesar preyed on the most vulnerable…these are people who wanted to live and experience the American dream. . . . Mr. Panesar pretended he could be the one who provided the American dream.” Judge Curiel added, “This offense is serious because of the heartlessness and callousness required to perpetuate this fraud on so many for so long.”
“Pretending to be a legitimate government agent to scam hundreds of individuals of their life savings undermines the crucial trust we bestow upon our law enforcement partners,” said U.S. Attorney Robert S. Brewer, Jr. “When that trust is betrayed for personal enrichment, our office will aggressively prosecute the fraudsters and seek restitution for the victims.”
“Panesar’s fraud scheme was particularly egregious as he attempted to use the veil of a U.S. government official to obtain millions of dollars from those trying to obtain legal status in the United States,” said Scott Brunner, FBI Special Agent in Charge. “Falsely claiming to be a federal official degrades the integrity of the system and therefore has serious consequences. Today, Panesar’s destructive scheme has been shut down, he has a federal conviction, and must serve a prison sentence as a result of his actions.”
DEFENDANTS                                Case Numbers:           17CR1371-GPC, 18CR3229-GPC
Hardev PANESAR                             Age: 71                       El Cajon, California
Rafael HASTIE                                  Age: 49                       Tijuana, Mexico
Gurdev SINGH                                  Age: 58                       Bakersfield, California
SUMMARY OF CHARGES
17CR1371-GPC
Count 1: 18 U.S.C. § 1349, Conspiracy to Commit Wire Fraud
Maximum Penalty: Twenty years in prison, $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution.
Counts 2-4: 18 U.S.C. § 1343, Wire Fraud;
Maximum Penalty: Twenty years in prison, $250,000 fine, forfeiture and restitution
Counts 5-10: 18 U.S.C. § 912, False Personation of an Officer or Employee of the United States;
Maximum Penalty: Three years in prison, $250,000 fine
Count 11: 31 U.S.C. § 5324(a)(3), Structuring Domestic Financial Institutions;
Maximum Penalty: Ten years in prison, $250,000 fine, forfeiture
18CR3229-GPC
Count 1: 18 U.S.C. § 3146(a)(1), Failure to Appear After Pre-Trial Release;
Maximum Penalty: Ten years in prison, $250,000 fine.
AGENCY
Federal Bureau of Investigation
U.S. Customs and Border Protection – Office of Field Operations
U.S. Customs and Border Protection – Office of Professional Responsibility

via Criminal Justice News https://ift.tt/1gA6osS

October 16, 2019 at 06:19PM

Attorney Sentenced to 30 Months’ Imprisonment for Bribing a Witness in Double Homicide Trial on Long Island

John Scarpa, Jr., a criminal defense attorney, was sentenced today in federal court in Brooklyn to 30 months’ imprisonment and fined $10,000 by United States District Judge Carol Bagley Amon for bribing a witness to commit perjury in a double homicide trial in Suffolk County Supreme Court.  Scarpa was convicted following a four-day trial in May 2019.  Scarpa, who will be disbarred, had been practicing law in New York since 1982, and was a prosecutor at three district attorneys’ offices in the metropolitan area before entering private practice in 2003.
Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), announced the sentence.
 “As a defense attorney and former prosecutor, Scarpa was sworn to uphold the law he so egregiously subverted,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue.  “Scarpa went from practicing law to breaking the law and will now pay a price for his crime.”  Mr. Donoghue thanked the Queens County District Attorney’s Office for its assistance during the investigation.
As proven at trial, Scarpa plotted with co-conspirator Charles Gallman to bribe a convicted murderer, Luis Cherry, to testify in support of Scarpa’s client, who was charged with the execution-style murders of two men.  Cherry then falsely testified at trial that he alone committed the second of the two murders, and that Scarpa’s client was innocent.  In exchange for his testimony, Scarpa and Gallman promised to help Cherry with the appeal of his own murder conviction, and to spread word in the prison system that Cherry was not a government informant.   Despite the false testimony, the trial judge found Scarpa’s client guilty of both murders.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Organized Crime and Gangs Section.  Assistant United States Attorneys Andrey Spektor, Lindsay K. Gerdes and Keith D. Edelman are in charge of the prosecution.
The Defendant:
JOHN SCARPA, JR.
Age:  66
Hauppauge, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 18-CR-123(S-1) (CBA)

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September 24, 2019 at 03:04PM

Federal judge tosses suit by gay lawyer who says his co-counsel outed him to al-Qaida client

By Debra Cassens Weiss

A federal judge in Chicago has ruled that a mitigation specialist who worked on the defense team for accused Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed can’t sue a co-counsel accused of outing him as a gay man to the client.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman ruled Sept. 11 that Illinois lawyer and mitigation specialist Tim Jon Semmerling can’t sue the co-counsel or their employer, the federal government. Law360 has coverage.

Semmerling accused co-counsel Cheryl Bormann of falsely telling Mohammed that Semmerling was “infatuated with him” and “pursuing a homosexual interest.” Semmerling said he was fired in 2015 after the statements were allegedly made by Bormann, the lead defense counsel.

Semmerling said he had tried to keep his sexuality hidden because he had been informed that Mohammed wouldn’t work with any lawyers who were gay or Jewish.

After learning of the alleged comments, Semmerling said, he became physically and emotionally ill because of the client’s hatred of gay people and connections to al-Qaida.

Semmerling’s suit alleged that the government was liable for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. He asserted the same claims against Bormann and added a claim of defamation.

Gettleman said the alleged comments by Bormann were protected by Illinois’ absolute litigation privilege because they pertained to the client’s relationship with the defense team. The privilege protects lawyer comments that “pertain to proposed or pending litigation.”

Gettleman also barred Semmerling’s claims against the United States under the Federal Tort Claims Act because his allegations did not satisfy the requirements for the torts that he alleged.

Gettleman said the defense team owed Semmerling no duty, as required by a negligence claim.

Nor did Semmerling make out a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, Gettleman said, because the alleged outing did not amount to the required “extreme and outrageous conduct.”

“The defense team’s alleged outing of plaintiff was, at most, offensive,” Gettleman said. “It was not extreme and outrageous.”

Gettleman also said Semmerling failed to make out a claim that the emotional distress was intentional, since he only learned of the alleged outing from other sources after he was fired. The allegations raise no inference that the statements would reach Semmerling and cause him emotional distress, Gettleman said.

The lawyer for Semmerling, Raymond Wigell, told Law360 that Gettleman’s opinion is premised on “a rather narrow reading of absolute privilege,” and they think exceptions to the privilege would allow the lawsuit. Wigell said he and his client were considering their options.

via ABA Journal Daily News https://ift.tt/1jXmrxS

September 17, 2019 at 03:21PM

Pacer should be free, according to amicus brief by Posner and 6 other retired judges

By Debra Cassens Weiss

Posted

Plaintiffs who claim Pacer fees are illegally excessive are getting lots of support in amicus briefs filed in their pending federal appeal.

Among the amici are seven retired federal judges who argue that Pacer should be free, report the New Republic and Law.com. The judges include former Circuit Judge Richard Posner of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The judges’ brief argues that docket-access fees reduce judicial transparency and the legitimacy of the courts. Other retired federal judges filing the brief include Shira Scheindlin, W. Royal Furgeson and Nancy Gertner.

Other amici supporting the plaintiffs include former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, the original sponsor of the law at issue in the suit; several legal research platforms; media organizations; the American Civil Liberties Union; and the Cato Institute.

Lieberman said excessive fees create a system where the rich and poor have different access to federal court records.

Pacer cost slightly more than $3 million to operate in 2016, but it brought in more than $146 million in fees, according to the New Republic article.

The class-action lawsuit, pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, argues that the E-Government Act of 2002 limits Pacer fees to the marginal cost of running the federal courts’ electronic docket system. The law says the judiciary authorizes the judiciary to levy fees “only to the extent necessary” to provide “access to information available through automatic data processing equipment.”

From 2010 to 2016, the federal courts collected $920 million in Pacer fees. During that period, the judiciary spent about $185 million of the money on courtroom technology, and millions more on other projects, including $75 million for automated notices to creditors in bankruptcy cases.

In a decision last March, U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle of Washington, D.C., disagreed with the government’s contention that Pacer can be used to fund any technology related to disseminating information through electronic means.

But she also said the plaintiffs’ reading of the law was too restrictive, and fees could be used for services that provide the public with access to information stored in the docketing the system.

Digital equipment that makes courtroom audio on Pacer is one example of courtroom technology that might legitimately be funded with Pacer fees, she said. She also upheld the money spent on the creditor notices.

The suit was filed in 2016 by the National Veterans Legal Services Program, the National Consumer Law Center and the Alliance for Justice.


via ABA Journal Daily News http://bit.ly/1jXmrxS

February 4, 2019 at 10:12AM

Shutdown Affects Prosecutor Training, Immigration Courts

The 24-day-old partial federal shutdown is hobbling enforcement efforts. halting power plant and oil well inspections, slowing financial fraud probes and tax audits, thwarting plane crash investigations and delaying a probe into Facebook’s privacy practices, reports Politico. The resulting pileup could take months to untangle after the shutdown ends. The shutdown forced the Justice Department to cancel a training session for prosecutors about online markets on the “dark web” where criminals trade in narcotics, child pornography and other illicit goods. The Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section was scheduled to host the Dark Market and Online Investigations Seminar from Jan. 8 to 10. The seminar, which was to be held at DOJ’s National Advocacy Center in Columbia, S.C., would have included briefings by FBI agents and federal prosecutors involved in takedowns of major markets. Without this training, one employee said, prosecutors “may not have the knowledge they need to effectively investigate crime ranging from computer intrusions to child pornography to the sale of narcotics and more.”

Federal immigration courts have drastically reduced their workload as most of 400 judges have been furloughed, said Ashley Tabaddor of the National Association of Immigration Judges. That will add to the court’s growing case backlog, which stands at more than 809,000, says to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University. As many as 100,000 people waiting for a court hearing could be affected if the shutdown continues through the end of the month. Judges who hear cases of detained migrants have continued to work without pay. Judges who handle the “non-detained docket” have been furloughed. Judges who preside over non-detained dockets, including certain requests for asylum, can involve waits of several years, which mean a canceled court date can’t easily be placed back on the calendar.

via The Crime Report http://bit.ly/2myW3Gx

January 15, 2019 at 07:59AM

Justice Department Lawyers Unable To Do Their Jobs Thanks To Government Shutdown

Although we greatly regret any disruption caused to the court and the other litigants, the government hereby moves for a stay of all proceedings in this case until Department of Justice attorneys are permitted to resume their usual civil litigation functions. [We will notify judges] as soon as Congress has appropriated funds for the department. The government requests that, at that point, all current deadlines for the parties be extended commensurate with the duration of the lapse in appropriations. The department does not know when funding will be restored by Congress.

— Language used by the Justice Department in motions filed nationwide, asking federal judges to pause proceedings in all of their cases due to the government shutdown.


Staci Zaretsky

Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

via Above the Law https://abovethelaw.com

December 27, 2018 at 01:31PM

Federal courts expect to have money to operate through next week despite shutdown

Image from Shutterstock.

By Debra Cassens Weiss

Posted

Updated: Federal courts have tacked on a week to the amount of time they hope to continue paid operations during the government shutdown. But they are still making plans for scaled-down operations after the money is expected to run out.

Federal courts initially said they were using fees and other funding sources to continue most operations through about Jan. 11. In a press release on Monday, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said it was now working toward a goal of sustaining paid operations through Jan. 18.

To achieve the goal, courts have been asked to delay or defer expenses that aren’t critical to their mission. Those expenses may include new hires, certain contracts and travel that is unrelated to cases. But judiciary employees reporting to work are all currently working at full pay.

The question still looms: What happens when the money runs out?

Courts will continue operating, but not at full steam, report Bloomberg News, the New York Times and CBS News.

Nonessential court workers will likely be sent home, while others will be working if it’s necessary “to support the exercise of Article III judicial powers,” according to a provision of the federal Antideficiency Act.

That means judges and key staff members will have to work without pay to handle criminal cases and other matters that are deemed essential.

Also working will be essential probation and pretrial services officers who are needed to resolve cases, according to a Dec. 10 congressional report.

Most federal prosecutors and staff members for criminal cases also are continuing to work, as are Department of Justice lawyers working on civil cases that haven’t been delayed. Jurors will be empaneled, but they won’t be paid right away.

Meanwhile, federal prison guards are on the job, working without pay, the Washington Post reports.

Already many proceedings in immigration courts have been delayed, although immigration courts in detention centers continue to operate.

The partial shutdown began on Dec. 22 after President Donald Trump refused to sign a budget bill that did not include $5 billion in border wall funding. If the shutdown extends beyond Jan. 11, it will set a record.

Individual courts and judges will decide how to proceed, courts spokesperson David Sellers told Bloomberg. The courts will have to coordinate with the U.S. Marshals Service to deliver defendants to court and U.S. Attorney’s offices to make sure prosecutors are available.

Chief U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois told Bloomberg that his court will operate on “triage” if the shutdown continues after Jan. 11. “This is not the way to run a court system,” he said.

Already federal courts “have issued a hodgepodge of conflicting orders” on suspensions of civil cases involving the federal government, according to the New York Times. Some courts have issued blanket orders for such suspensions. Individual judges have issued differing decisions.

A federal judge in San Francisco has refused to delay a Monday trial that seeks to block a citizenship question on the 2020 census. But DOJ lawyers won a delay in a suit claiming Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C., improperly profits from business with foreign countries.


via ABA Journal Daily News http://bit.ly/1jXmrxS

January 8, 2019 at 11:07AM

What happens after federal courts run out of money to continue operations?

By Debra Cassens Weiss

Posted

Federal courts are using fees and other funding sources to continue most operations through about Jan. 11. What happens when the money runs out?

Courts will continue operating, but not at full steam, report Bloomberg News, the New York Times and CBS News.

Nonessential court workers will likely be sent home, while others will be working if it’s necessary “to support the exercise of Article III judicial powers,” according to a provision of the federal Antideficiency Act.

That means judges and key staff members will have to work without pay to handle criminal cases and other matters that are deemed essential.

Also working will be essential probation and pretrial services officers who are needed to resolve cases, according to a Dec. 10 congressional report.

Most federal prosecutors and staff members for criminal cases also are continuing to work, as are Department of Justice lawyers working on civil cases that haven’t been delayed. Jurors will be empaneled, but they won’t be paid right away.

Meanwhile, federal prison guards are on the job, working without pay, the Washington Post reports.

Already many proceedings in immigration courts have been delayed, although immigration courts in detention centers continue to operate.

The partial shutdown began on Dec. 22 after President Donald Trump refused to sign a budget bill that did not include $5 billion in border wall funding. If the shutdown extends beyond Jan. 11, it will set a record.

Individual courts and judges will decide how to proceed, courts spokesperson David Sellers told Bloomberg. The courts will have to coordinate with the U.S. Marshals Service to deliver defendants to court and U.S. Attorney’s offices to make sure prosecutors are available.

Chief U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois told Bloomberg that his court will operate on “triage” if the shutdown continues after Jan. 11. “This is not the way to run a court system,” he said.

Already federal courts “have issued a hodgepodge of conflicting orders” on suspensions of civil cases involving the federal government, according to the New York Times. Some courts have issued blanket orders for such suspensions. Individual judges have issued differing decisions.

A federal judge in San Francisco has refused to delay a Monday trial that seeks to block a citizenship question on the 2020 census. But DOJ lawyers won a delay in a suit claiming Trump’s hotel in Washington, D.C., improperly profits from business with foreign countries.


via ABA Journal Daily News http://bit.ly/1jXmrxS

January 7, 2019 at 12:53PM