On June 22, 2020, the Supreme Court, in an 8 to 1 decision, held in Liu v. SEC that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC” or “Commission”) may seek “disgorgement” in federal court actions in amounts which do not exceed a wrongdoers’ net profits and are, if possible, ultimately returned to victims pursuant 15 U.S.C. § 78u(d)(5), which authorizes the SEC to seek “equitable” relief. Continue reading “All’s Fair in Crime and Disgorgement: Supreme Court Upholds SEC’s Authority to Disgorge Ill-Gotten Gains with Limitations”
In the wake of national protests against police brutality surrounding the death of George Floyd, and ongoing national debate for police reform, New York lawmakers have seized the opportunity to take a stand against law enforcement’s use of a controversial surveillance technique, known as the geofence warrant, or “reverse location search.” Continue reading “Scaling the (Geo)Fence: New York Lawmakers Push to Outlaw Geofence Warrants amid Ongoing National Debate for Police Reform”
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, law enforcement officials throughout the country have publicly committed to aggressively combatting pandemic-related fraud. Those pronouncements have translated into action focused, at least at this early stage, upon frauds which might impact consumers’ health and safety. The first federal civil enforcement action took place on Saturday, March 21, 2020. On that date, the U.S. Department of Justice, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas, filed the first civil enforcement action against a COVID-19 related fraud. Prosecutors sought an injunction shutting down a website, which purportedly offered to provide “free” coronavirus “vaccine kits” for a $4.95 shipping and handling fee. This request for injunctive relief, which resulted in a temporary restraining order pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1345, is likely an omen of more to come. Continue reading “U.S. Department of Justice Files Civil Complaint for COVID-19-Related Fraud”
Sheldon Silver, former speaker of the New York State Assembly, was convicted of a number of political corruption crimes in 2015, namely accepting bribes in exchange for favorable “official acts” that benefited some bribe payors. He appealed his conviction to the Second Circuit on two grounds: first, that the trial court erred by failing to require that the prosecution establish that he and the bribe payor had a “meeting of the minds” on the specific official act to be performed in exchange for the bribes; and second, that the trial court erred by allowing the prosecution to proceed on a theory that allowed conviction based on a “nonspecific promise to undertake official action on any future matter beneficial to the payor.” (Emphasis added.)
On January 21, 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit partially reversed Silver’s conviction and remanded the case for resentencing. The court’s logic and findings are significant and merit close attention.
In an October 2016 guidance document, the United States Department of Justice Antitrust Division (DOJ) and the Federal Trade Commission alerted human resources professionals to potential violations of the antitrust laws in hiring and compensation decisions. The guidance included the announcement that, “Going forward, the DOJ intends to proceed criminally against naked wage-fixing or no-poaching agreements.” A naked agreement is one that is not ancillary to a broader, legitimate collaboration between businesses.
The DOJ’s decision to proceed criminally against such agreements is significant. Although the Sherman Act allows the DOJ to proceed either criminally or civilly against antitrust violators, before the guidance was issued the DOJ had treated agreements between competitors not to solicit each other’s employees as merely civil violations. Following the guidance, companies and individuals suddenly had to worry about criminal fines and potential jail sentences for entering into such agreements. Nevertheless, three years have now passed without a single such indictment being filed.
In a concise, six-page discovery order, a federal judge in Minneapolis may have just started the proverbial shifting of tectonic plates undergirding routine defense procedures in False Claims Act (FCA) litigation by requiring a defendant in an FCA lawsuit to produce the information provided to the Department of Justice (DOJ) during the DOJ’s process of determining whether to pursue the matter.
The FCA creates liability for persons or entities found to have knowingly submitted false claims to the government or having caused others to do so. Like some other federal laws, the FCA creates a private right of action; under the act, a private party—a whistleblower or “relator”—may bring a qui tam action on behalf of the government. When initially filed, the court seals the complaint pending the government’s investigation of the case. If the government chooses, it may intervene and pursue the matter. If not, the relator may pursue the case on its own. (In either case, the relator is entitled to a percentage of the government’s recovery.)
Genetic testing and telemedicine targeting senior citizens and individuals with disabilities have been the subject of growing government scrutiny. Most recently, on September 27, 2019, the United States Department of Justice announced charges against nearly three-dozen individuals—across numerous federal judicial districts—allegedly responsible for more than $2.1 billion in Medicare billing losses, all of which stem from misconduct in the provision of genetic testing and telemedicine services.
According to the DOJ’s press release, the federal investigation uncovered a scheme in which cancer genetic testing laboratories paid kickbacks and bribes to healthcare providers in exchange for the referral of medically unnecessary services for Medicare beneficiaries. The government alleges that, in many instances, the tests were ordered by physicians who had no treating relationship with the patients and the results of the unnecessary tests were often withheld from the beneficiaries or their actual treating physicians. The DOJ also alleges that the defendants targeted seniors and individuals with disabilities. According to the government, the patients often received scripts for genetic testing from physicians with whom they had never interacted or had had only brief telephone conversations.
Sooner or later, nearly every white collar defense attorney will represent a witness subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury. It is well settled in most circuits that federal grand jury witnesses do not have a right to have defense counsel present during the grand jury proceedings – but how frequently may witnesses request a break in the grand jury proceedings to leave the room to consult with their lawyers about the questions being posed?
Quite frequently, it turns out. Many federal courts allow non-immunized grand jury witnesses to consult with their lawyers after each question posed. See U.S. v. Soto, 574 F.Supp. 986, 990 (D. Conn. 1983). Courts recognize that witnesses reasonably wish to consult with counsel to avoid, for example, providing testimony which may tend to incriminate them. While some courts may limit the frequency of consultation to every two or three questions, particularly if the breaks become too lengthy or disruptive, courts will typically honor requests for regular consultation unless the request appears “frivolous” or “with intent to frustrate the proceedings.” See In re Tierney, 465 F.2d 806, 810 (5th Cir. 1972). Continue reading “Sometimes, You CAN Always Get What You Want: Counseling Clients On Taking Breaks Before a Federal Grand Jury”
With the change of presidential administrations in January 2017, it was expected that the priorities of the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) would shift away from white-collar crime enforcement and towards immigration, violent crime, and narcotics enforcement. But recent data actually show a significant uptick in both prosecutions and convictions of individuals by the DOJ Criminal Division’s Fraud Section in 2018 over the previous two years. Moreover, the amount of money the DOJ recovered from companies through Deferred Prosecution Agreements (DPAs) or Non-Prosecution Agreements (NPAs) skyrocketed in 2018 .
In early 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a new policy encouraging prosecutors handling False Claims Act (FCA) cases to seek dismissal of qui tam complaints that threaten the government’s interests. However, it was unclear how and to what extent prosecutors would carry out that directive. Now a year later, federal prosecutors appear to be embracing the new policy—and it is already having an effect on one case involving a drug manufacturer.
The January 2018 Granston memorandum outlined the Department’s new approach to handling FCA prosecutions in “in light of the government’s limited resources.” Under the new policy, prosecutors are encouraged to move to dismiss qui tam claims as a way to “advance the government’s interests, preserve limited resources, and avoid adverse precedent.” This marked a departure from the Department’s previous policy of rarely exercising its statutory authority to dismiss such claims. To guide prosecutors, the memorandum offered a nonexhaustive list of factors as to when a motion to dismiss a qui tam claim is proper. Those factors include: (1) “curbing meritless qui tams”; (2) “preventing parasitic or opportunistic qui tam actions”; (3) “preventing interference with agency policies and programs”; (4) “controlling litigation brought on behalf of the United States”; (5) “safeguarding classified information and national security interests”; (6) “preserving government resources”; and (7) “addressing egregious procedural errors.” Overall, the memorandum instructed prosecutors to seek dismissal when the litigation does not serve the government’s interests.