CCC’s: Supreme Court Declines to Take up FTAIA Appeals

The Supreme Court has declined to hear the appeal from the Ninth Circuit decision affirming the convictions of AU Optronics and its executives in the TFT-LCD price-fixing cartel.  The Court also declined to review the Seventh Circuit case of Motorola Mobility where the Seventh Circuit dismissed civil damages claims for price-fixing purchases made by Motorola’s foreign subsidiaries from the same cartel.   Reuters story here.

In an April 9th blog post, I had opined that the Supreme Court would not hear either of the appeals because a): each case was decided correctly, and b) there was no conflict between the Ninth and Seventh Circuits on the application of the FTAIA. (here).  On May 15th, the DOJ filed a brief opposing the cert. petitions of AU Optronics and Motorola. (here)

I have no doubt that the Supreme Court will eventually be addressing the FTAIA. But, neither of these cases were the appropriate vehicle to do so.

Three People Arrested in Puerto Rico in a Contractor Major Scheme to Defraud the U.S. Department Of Veterans Affairs

On June 3, 2015, a federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned a five count indictment charging Jose A. Rosa-Colon, his brother and business partner, Ivan Rosa-Colon and Louis Enrique Torres with a multi-million dollar Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.  The charges include major fraud against the United States and wire fraud.  This investigation was conducted by Special Agents from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, Office of Inspector General, Criminal Investigations Division.

The indictment unsealed in federal court today alleges that from on or about 2007 to 2014, Ivan Rosa-Colon, Jose Rosa-Colon and Torres conspired to use Jose Rosa-Colon’s service-disabled veteran status to create BELKRO General Contractors, which was a pass- through or front company for Ivan Rosa-Colon’s other business, IRC Air Contractors.

The indictment alleges that Ivan Rosa-Colon and Louis Torres used Jose Rosa-Colon’s service-disabled veteran status to certify and register BELKRO General Contractors in various government databases as a SDVOSB after Ivan Rosa- Colon learned that President George W. Bush would be signing a government stimulus package encouraging the use of SDVOSB.  The stimulus package would allow for government agencies to award non-competitive, set-aside or sole-source government contracts to SDVOSB like BELKRO General Contractors.

The indictment further alleges that Jose Rosa-Colon, owner of BELKRO General Contractors, was employed as a full-time U.S. Postal Service Carrier; he was not in charge of the day to day operations of BELKRO General Contractors.  Jose Rosa-Colon was simply a figurehead or “rent-a-vet”, who was being used for his service-disabled veteran status to obtain contracts for his brother Ivan Rosa-Colon’s company.  As a result of the scheme, BELKRO General Contractors unlawfully received set-aside and/or sole-source SDVOSB contracts from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, including contracts involving American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds.

If convicted, they face a term of 20 years in prison as to each wire fraud charge and up to ten years in prison for the charges of major fraud against the United States.  Additionally, they face fines of up to $250,000 and up to three years of supervised release as to each count.

This indictment was announced today by U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez for the District of Puerto Rico, Special Agent in Charge Monty Stokes for the Southeast Field Office, Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General, Criminal Investigations Division and Acting Special Agent in Charge Sharon Johnson for the Eastern Regional Office, Small Business Administration, Office of Inspector General.  The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Julia Diaz-Rex.

Members of the public are reminded that an indictment constitutes only charges and that every person is presumed innocent until their guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Two Individuals Plead Guilty to Conspiring to Defraud Consumers through Fraudulent Debt Relief Services Firms

Two individuals pleaded guilty today for their roles at fraudulent debt relief services companies that offered to settle credit card debts but instead took victims’ payments as undisclosed up-front fees, the Justice Department and U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) announced.

Athena Maldonado, 30, and Christopher Harati, 31, both of Orange County, California, pleaded guilty to a one-count information alleging conspiracy in connection with debt relief companies known as Nelson Gamble & Associates (Nelson Gamble) and Jackson Hunter Morris & Knight LLP (Jackson Hunter).  According to the information filed in the case, the defendants and their co-conspirators portrayed the debt relief companies as law firms and attorney-based companies that would negotiate favorable settlements with creditors.  Clients made monthly payments expecting the money to go toward settlements.  The companies instead took an amount equal to at least 15 percent of clients’ total debt as company fees, with the first six months of payments going almost entirely toward undisclosed up-front fees.

“Debt relief service scams prey on vulnerable consumers trying to climb out of tough financial situations,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “The Justice Department will aggressively pursue the criminals who operate these schemes.”

Maldonado admitted that she acted as the “legal department” for both companies, and used multiple aliases when responding to complaints submitted by state attorney general offices, the Better Business Bureau and private attorneys.  Maldonado admitted that, after Nelson Gamble changed its name to Jackson Hunter, she responded to consumer complaints by falsely stating, among other things, that the two companies were not related and that Jackson Hunter could not refund money paid to Nelson Gamble.

Harati admitted that he worked as a client relations manager for the companies and handled complaint calls from clients.  He admitted he told customers that Nelson Gamble and Jackson Hunter were separate companies, falsely stated that Jackson Hunter was a nationwide law firm with years of experience and made other misrepresentations designed to convince customers to stay with the company.

The defendants each face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or an alternate fine of twice the loss or twice the gain, whichever is greater, along with mandatory restitution.  Their sentencing dates have not been set.

On Dec. 3, 2014, a grand jury in Santa Ana, California, returned a 22-count indictment charging Jeremy Nelson, Elias Ponce and John Vartanian, all of Orange County, for mail fraud, wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud in the same fraudulent scheme.  The trial in that case is scheduled to begin on Feb. 16, 2016, in Los Angeles.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) brought a civil case against Nelson Gamble, Jackson Hunter and other defendants in September 2012, alleging that the defendants falsely claimed they would reduce consumers’ unsecured debt by 50 percent or more, made unauthorized charges to their bank accounts and called phone numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry.  For more information about debt relief firms, the FTC encourages consumers to review this page on their website.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mizer commended the USPIS team assigned to the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branch for their investigative efforts, and thanked the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Central District of California for their contributions to the case.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Alan Phelps of the Consumer Protection Branch.

Current and Former Executives of an Automotive Parts Manufacturer Indicted for Roles in Conspiracy to Fix Prices – Investigation Has Resulted in Charges Against 90 Individuals and Corporations

A Detroit federal grand jury returned a one-count indictment against two executives of a Japanese automotive parts manufacturer for their participation in a conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids of automotive parts, the Department of Justice announced today.

The indictment, filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, charges Norio Teranishi, formerly of NGK Spark Plug Co. Ltd., and Hisashi Nakanishi of NGK Spark Plug, with conspiring to fix the prices of spark plugs, standard oxygen sensors, and air fuel ratio sensors, sold to DaimlerChrysler AG, Ford Motor Company, Fuji Heavy Industries (Subaru), General Motors Company, Honda Motor Company Ltd., Nissan Motor Co. Ltd., Toyota Motor Corporation, and certain of their U.S. subsidiaries.

Teranishi is the former General Manager of Sales and Vice-Head of the Automotive Component Group at NGK Spark Plug.  During the alleged conspiracy, Nakanishi served as the Managing Director of NGK Spark Plug Europe.

The indictment alleges, among other things, that beginning at least as early as January 2000 and continuing until at least July 2011, Teranishi and Nakanishi, and their co-conspirators participated in, and directed, authorized or consented to the participation of subordinate employees in, meetings with co-conspirators and reached collusive agreements to rig bids, allocate the supply, and fix the price of spark plugs, standard oxygen sensors, and air fuel ratio sensors sold to certain automobile manufacturers, in the United States and elsewhere.

“As a result of Antitrust Division’s automotive parts investigation, more than 50 individuals have been held accountable for corrupting the competitive process in this important global market,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Brent Snyder of the Antitrust Division’s Criminal Enforcement Program.  “The Antitrust Division will continue to vigorously prosecute those individuals who engaged in criminal antitrust violations in this vital market.”

“The criminal manipulation of the global automotive parts market through price fixing and bid rigging is a serious offense,” stated Special Agent in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office.  “The FBI, together with the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, will continue to aggressively pursue those who seek to commit criminal antitrust violations in order to gain a competitive advantage through corruption of the global marketplace.”

NGK Spark Plug is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of Japan with its principal place of business in Nagoya, Japan.  On Oct. 8, 2014, NGK Spark Plug pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a $52.1 million criminal fine for its role in the conspiracy.

Including Teranishi and Nakanishi, 55 individuals have been charged in the government’s ongoing investigation into market allocation, price fixing and bid rigging in the automotive parts industry.  Additionally, 35 companies have pleaded guilty or agreed to plead guilty and have agreed to pay a total of more than $2.5 billion in criminal fines.

Teranishi and Nakanishi are charged with price fixing and bid rigging in violation of the Sherman Act, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million criminal fine for individuals.  The maximum fine for an individual may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime, if either of those amounts is greater than the statutory maximum fine.

Today’s indictment is the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the automotive parts industry, which is being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s criminal enforcement sections and the FBI.  Today’s charge was brought by the Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal I Section and the FBI’s Detroit Field Office, with the assistance of the FBI headquarters’ International Corruption Unit.  Anyone with information on price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct related to other products in the automotive parts industry should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 888-647-3258, or call the FBI’s Detroit Field Office at 313-965-2323.

Kentucky Businessman Sentenced in New York Federal Court for $53 Million Tax Scheme and Massive Fraud that Involved Bribery of Bank Officials

Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Department of Justice’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York announced that a Kentucky businessman was sentenced today to serve 12 years in prison.

Wilbur Anthony Huff, 53, of Caneyville and Louisville, Kentucky, was also ordered to pay more than $108 million in restitution for committing various tax crimes that caused more than $50 million in losses to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and a massive fraud that involved the bribery of bank officials, the fraudulent purchase of an insurance company, and the defrauding of insurance regulators and an investment bank.  In December 2014, Huff pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Noemi Reice Buchwald of the Southern District of New York, who imposed today’s sentence.

“The department is committed to vigorously pursuing and prosecuting those individuals who violate the employment tax laws of the United States,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo.  “Today’s significant prison sentence sends a loud and clear message to those engaged in such criminal conduct, including owners and operators of professional employer organizations like Mr. Huff, who steal employment taxes collected from their business clients to line their own pockets, instead of paying over those funds to the IRS.”

“Anthony Huff and his co-conspirators stole millions of dollars from taxpayers and engaged in extensive frauds, all in the pursuit of additional property, luxury cars and the like,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara.  “His crimes have earned him 12 years in prison.  I would like to thank our law enforcement partners for their assistance on this case.”

According to the information, plea agreement, sentencing submissions and statements made during court proceedings:

Huff was a businessman who controlled numerous entities located throughout the United States (Huff-Controlled Entities).  Huff controlled the companies and their finances, using them to orchestrate a $53 million fraud on the IRS and other schemes that spanned four states, involving tax violations, bank bribery, fraud on bank regulators and the fraudulent purchase of an insurance company.  As part of his crimes, Huff concealed his control of the Huff-Controlled Entities by installing other individuals to oversee the companies’ day-to-day functions and to serve as the companies’ titular owners, directors, or officers.  Huff also maintained a corrupt relationship with Park Avenue Bank and Charles J. Antonucci Sr., the bank’s president and chief executive officer, and Matthew L. Morris, the bank’s senior vice president.

Tax Crimes

From 2008 to 2010, HUFF controlled O2HR, a professional employer organization (PEO) located in Tampa, Florida.  Like other PEOs, O2HR was paid to manage the payroll, tax and workers’ compensation insurance obligations of its client companies.  However, instead of paying $53 million in taxes that O2HR’s clients owed the IRS and $5 million to Providence Property and Casualty Insurance Company (Providence P&C) – an insurance company based in Oklahoma – for workers’ compensation coverage expenses for O2HR clients, Huff stole the money that his client companies had paid O2HR for those purposes.  Among other things, Huff diverted millions of dollars from O2HR to fund his investments in unrelated business ventures and pay his family members’ personal expenses.  The expenses included mortgages on Huff’s homes, rent payments for his children’s apartments, staff and equipment for Huff’s farm, designer clothing, jewelry and luxury cars.

Conspiracy to Commit Bank Bribery, Defraud Bank Regulators and Fraudulently Purchase an Oklahoma Insurance Company

From 2007 through 2010, Huff engaged in a massive multi-faceted conspiracy in which he schemed to bribe executives of Park Avenue Bank, defraud bank regulators and the board and shareholders of a publicly-traded company, and fraudulently purchase an Oklahoma insurance company.  As described in more detail below, Huff paid bribes totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and other items to Morris and Antonucci in exchange for their favorable treatment at Park Avenue Bank.

As part of the corrupt relationship between Huff and the bank executives, Huff, Morris, Antonucci and others conspired to defraud various entities and regulators during the relevant time period.  Specifically, Huff conspired with Morris and Antonucci to falsely bolster Park Avenue Bank’s capital by orchestrating a series of fraudulent transactions to make it appear that Park Avenue Bank had received an outside infusion of $6.5 million, and engaged in a series of further fraudulent actions to conceal from bank regulators the true source of the funds.

Huff further conspired with Morris, Antonucci and others to defraud Oklahoma insurance regulators and others by making material misrepresentations and omissions regarding the source of $37.5 million used to purchase Providence Property and Casualty Insurance Company, an insurance company based in Oklahoma that provided workers’ compensation insurance for O2HR’s clients and to whom O2HR owed a significant debt.

Bribery of Park Avenue Bank Executives

From 2007 to 2009, Huff paid Morris and Antonucci at least $400,000 in exchange for which they: provided Huff with fraudulent letters of credit obligating Park Avenue Bank to pay $1.75 million to an investor in one of Huff’s businesses if Huff failed to pay the investor back himself; allowed the Huff-Controlled Entities to accrue $9 million in overdrafts; facilitated intra-bank transfers in furtherance of Huff’s fraud; and fraudulently caused Park Avenue Bank to issue at least $4.5 million in loans to the Huff-Controlled Entities.

Fraud on Bank Regulators and a Publicly-Traded Company

From 2008 to 2009, Huff, Morris and Antonucci engaged in a scheme to prevent Park Avenue Bank from being designated as “undercapitalized” by regulators – a designation that would prohibit the bank from engaging in certain types of banking transactions and that would subject the bank to a range of potential enforcement actions by regulators.  Specifically, they engaged in a series of deceptive, “round-trip” financial transactions to make it appear that Antonucci had infused the bank with $6.5 million in new capital when, in actuality, the $6.5 million was part of the bank’s pre-existing capital.  Huff, Morris and Antonucci funneled the $6.5 million from the bank through accounts controlled by Huff to Antonucci.  This was done to make it appear as though Antonucci was helping to stabilize the bank’s capitalization problem, so that the bank could continue engaging in certain banking transactions that it would otherwise have been prohibited from doing, and to put the bank in a better posture to receive $11 million from the Troubled Asset Relief Program.  To conceal their unlawful financial maneuvering, Huff created, or directed the creation of, documents falsely suggesting that Antonucci had earned the $6.5 million through a bogus transaction involving another company Antonucci owned.  Huff, Morris and Antonucci further concealed their scheme by stealing $2.3 million from General Employment Enterprises Inc., a publicly-traded temporary staffing company, in order to pay Park Avenue Bank back for monies used in connection with the $6.5 million transaction.

Fraud on Insurance Regulators and the Investment Firm

From July 2008 to November 2009, Huff, Morris, Antonucci and Allen Reichman, an executive at an investment bank and financial services company headquartered in New York City (the Investment Firm), conspired to defraud Oklahoma insurance regulators into allowing Antonucci to purchase the assets of Providence P&C and defraud the Investment Firm into providing a $30 million loan to finance the purchase.  Specifically, Huff and Antonucci devised a scheme in which Antonucci would purchase Providence P&C’s assets by obtaining a $30 million loan from the Investment Firm, which used Providence P&C’s own assets as collateral for the loan.  However, because Oklahoma insurance regulators had to approve any sale of Providence P&C, and because Oklahoma law forbade the use of Providence P&C’s assets as collateral for such a loan, Huff, Morris, Antonucci and Reichman made and conspired to make a number of material misstatements and material omissions to the Investment Firm and Oklahoma insurance regulators concerning the true nature of the financing for Antonucci’s purchase of Providence P&C.  Among other things, Reichman directed Antonucci to sign a letter that provided false information regarding the collateral that would be used for the loan, and Huff, Morris and Antonucci conspired to falsely represent to Oklahoma insurance regulators that Park Avenue Bank – not the Investment Firm – was funding the purchase of Providence P&C.

After deceiving Oklahoma regulators into approving the sale of Providence P&C, Huff took $4 million of the company’s assets, which he used to continue the scheme to defraud O2HR’s clients.  Ultimately, in November 2009, the insurance company became insolvent and was placed in receivership after Huff, Morris and Antonucci had pilfered its remaining assets.

*                *                *

In addition to his prison sentence, Huff was sentenced to three years of supervised release, and ordered to forfeit $10.8 million to the United States and pay a total of more than $108 million in restitution to victims of his crimes, including, among others, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the IRS.

In imposing today’s sentence, Judge Buchwald said Huff’s crimes were “truly staggering” and “eye popping.”  Judge Buchwald described Huff’s conduct, which was preceded by a federal conviction and failure to pay millions in civil judgments, as “a living example” of “chutzpah,” which she defined as “shameless audacity and unmitigated gall.”

Morris and Reichman pleaded guilty for their roles in the above-described offenses on Oct. 17, 2013, and Feb. 20, 2015, respectively.  Reichman is scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Buchwald on July 15, and Morris is scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Buchwald on Aug. 19.

Antonucci pleaded guilty to his role in the crimes described above on Oct. 8, 2010, and is scheduled to be sentenced on Aug. 20, also before Judge Buchwald.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo and U.S. Attorney Bharara thanked the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the FBI, IRS-Criminal Investigation, the New York State Department of Financial Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, and the Office of Inspector General of the FDIC, for their work in the investigation, and the Tax Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of Florida, for their assistance in the prosecution.

Today’s announcement is part of efforts underway by the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.  With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices, and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud.  Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets; and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations.  Since fiscal year 2009, the Justice Department has filed over 18,000 financial fraud cases against more than 25,000 defendants.  For more information on the task force, please visit

The case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Janis Echenberg and Daniel Tehrani and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Tino Lisella of the Tax Division are in charge of the criminal case.

Additional information about the Tax Division and its enforcement efforts may be found on the division’s website.

Four People Arrested and Charged in Cross-Country Insider Trading Scheme

The owner and operator of a stock trading operation and three of his associates were arrested today on charges arising from their alleged participation in a multi-year insider trading scheme that netted more than $3.2 million in illicit profits, announced today by U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman for the District of New Jersey.

Steven Fishoff, 58, of Westlake Village, California, Ronald Chernin, 66, of Oak Park, California, Steven Costantin aka Steven Constantin, 54, of Farmingdale, New Jersey, and Paul Petrello, 53, of Boca Raton, Florida, are each charged by complaint with one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud.  Fishoff is charged with four substantive counts of securities fraud, Chernin and Petrello are each charged with two counts of securities fraud and Costantin is charged with one count of securities fraud.

The defendants were arrested by FBI agents this morning at their respective residences.  Costantin is scheduled to appear this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickson in Newark, New Jersey, federal court.  Fishoff is scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Kenly Kiya Kato in Riverside, California, federal court, Chernin is scheduled to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Carla Woehrle in Los Angeles, Californina, federal court, and Petrello is expected to appear before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Lee Brannon in West Palm Beach, Florida, federal court.

“The defendants and their associates were entrusted with confidential, nonpublic information about companies and time and time again, they allegedly violated that trust by illegally trading the companies’ stock for substantial profits,” said U.S. Attorney Fishman.  “They allegedly rigged the game so they would always win, and their profits came at the expense of legitimate investors, who were not privy to this inside information.”

“Insider trading is an investigative priority of the FBI,” said Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel for the FBI in Newark, New Jersey.  “The FBI is committed to stopping insider trading and will hold those who perpetrate these schemes accountable because their illegal activities undermine the integrity of the U.S. financial markets and weaken investor confidence.”

“We allege an insider trading scheme based on a short-selling business model designed to systematically profit on confidential information obtained under false pretenses,” said Senior Associate Director Sanjay Wadhwa for Enforcement in the SEC’s Regional Office in New York.  “But the defendants’ short selling proved to be short-sighted as they overlooked the fact that their trading patterns would be detected and they would be caught by law enforcement.”

According to the complaint unsealed today, Fishoff, Chernin, Costantin, Petrello and others, acting individually and through their associated trading entities, engaged in an insider trading scheme in which they netted more than $3.2 million in illicit profits over three years by executing illegal trades through trading entities that they controlled.

Fishoff is the president and sole owner of Featherwood Capital Inc. (Featherwood), a trading entity that he operates out of his home.  Featherwood maintained numerous stock trading accounts in its own name and in various additional names under which Featherwood did business (DBAs), including Gold Coast Total Return Inc. (Gold Coast), Seaside Capital Inc. (Seaside) and Data Complete Inc. (Data Complete).

Chernin, an attorney who was disbarred in California for misappropriation of client assets, is a friend and longtime business associate of Fishoff.  Corporate documents list Chernin as the president of Gold Coast and Fishoff as an officer.  Chernin is president of the trading entity Cedar Lane Enterprises Inc. (Cedar Lane) and an officer of Data Complete.

Costantin, a former pipefitter by trade, is Fishoff’s brother-in-law and a friend and business associate of Chernin.  Corporate documents list Costanstin as president of Seaside.  In brokerage account documents, Fishoff identifies himself as Seaside’s owner.  Costanstin is also the vice president and secretary of Cedar Lane.

Petrello is the president and owner of two trading entities, Brielle Properties Inc. and Oceanview Property Management LLC and a friend and longtime business associate of Fishoff.

On numerous occasions, the conspirators obtained material, nonpublic information related to publicly traded companies and traded on that information before it became public.  Between June 2010 and July 2013, Fishoff, Chernin, Costantin and a business associate referred to in the complaint as “Trader A” expressed interest in participating in at least 14 stock offerings by publicly traded companies.  Before providing these individuals with confidential information concerning the companies or the terms of the proposed sales, the investment bankers first required that Fishoff, Chernin, Costantin, Trader A and their associated trading entities, agree to be “brought over the wall,” or “wall-crossed,” standard industry terms which meant that they were required to keep the information disclosed to them confidential and could not buy or sell the stock based on the information.

Fishoff, Chernin, Costantin and Trader A agreed to these disclosure and trading restrictions and then flagrantly breached the agreements.  In instances where Fishoff was not personally wall-crossed in an offering, Chernin and Costantin tipped Fishoff telephonically or by email about the offering prior to the public announcement.  Even where Fishoff ostensibly was a party to the confidentiality agreement, through his affiliation with the wall-crossed trading entity, Fishoff himself breached the agreement by trading on the confidential information and by providing the information to Petrello so that Petrello could engage in parallel trading.  There were also instances where Chernin and Costantin violated the terms of the confidentiality agreements by trading themselves before the offering.  The conspirators traded through the accounts of the trading entities or through related accounts that they controlled.  The conspirators shared the proceeds of the insider trading scheme, with Fishoff wiring money to Chernin and Costantin for their services and Fishoff receiving compensation from Petrello for the offering-related tips that Fishoff provided to him.

The conspiracy count with which each defendant is charged carries a maximum potential penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, or twice the aggregate loss to victims or gain to the defendants.   Each of the substantive securities fraud charges carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $5 million fine.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Frankel, for the investigation leading to today’s arrests and complaint.  He also thanked the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s New York Regional Office under the direction of Andrew Calamari.  He also thanked special agents of the FBI, Los Angeles (Ventura Resident Agency and Riverside Resident Agency) and FBI, Miami (West Palm Beach Resident Agency) for their assistance.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shirley U. Emehelu of the Economic Crimes Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark, New Jersey and Acting Chief Barbara Ward for the of the Office’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit.

The charges and allegations contained in the complaint are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This case was brought in coordination with President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.  With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. Attorneys’ offices and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud.  Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations.  Over the past three fiscal years, the Justice Department has filed nearly 10,000 financial fraud cases against nearly 15,000 defendants including more than 2,900 mortgage fraud defendants.  For more information on the task force, please visit

CCC’s: Some Thoughts On Compliance and Other Issues Raised by the Forex Guilty Pleas

It’s been almost two weeks since the Department of Justice announced its plea agreements in the Forex investigation. To recap the highlights, in his remarks announcing the case filings, Bill Baer Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division said (here):

Today’s guilty pleas to criminal charges represent major developments in our investigation into collusion affecting foreign exchange markets, particularly the spot market for trading U.S. dollars and euros. The antitrust guilty pleas announced today involving four major international financial institutions – Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase, The Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays – are without precedent. In light of the seriousness of the crimes and the unjustified benefit to the bottom lines of these banks, we demanded parent-level guilty pleas, secured record fines of more than $2.5 billion and insisted upon three years of court-supervised probation.

In addition, UBS agreed to plead guilty to a violation in the Libor market. UBS had previously received non-prosecution protection in the Libor investigation, but that protection was withdrawn in light of UBS’s participation in the Forex cartel.

Since the news of the case filings first broke, I’ve had some additional thoughts on the matter.  First, I want to give a big pat on the back to my former colleague, Joe Muoio, who signed the pleadings on behalf of the Antitrust Division. Joe and I worked together for many years in the now closed Philadelphia Field office. Joe was the Assistant Chief and transferred to the New York Field office when the Philadelphia office was closed in 2013. The Forex investigation was a team effort (a large international team, no doubt) and there could not have a better team leader than Joe.   Congratulations to Joe and the rest of the team.

The Forex plea agreements have two noteworthy departures from previous pleas in the financial sector. For the first time, the Antitrust Division acknowledged giving credit to a company for implementing an effective compliance program after the start of the investigation. Little has been revealed about what made Barclay’s compliance program effective, why the Division chose to give credit in this case, and what the value of the credit given to Barclays was?  The plea agreements states only: “The parties further agree that Recommended Sentence is sufficient, but not greater than necessary to comply with the purposes set forth in 18 U.S.C. §§ 3553(a), 3572(a), in considering, among other factors, the substantial improvements to the defendant’s compliance and remediation program to prevent recurrence of the charged offense.”  This language, while limited, is still an important first step for the Antitrust Division to acknowledge (and thereby encourage) implementation of effective antitrust compliance programs. The Antitrust Division does not make changes in policy lightly and it is likely they will have more to say about this development in future speeches.

Another noteworthy fact about the Forex plea agreements is that the Antitrust Division required pleas from the parent company. Previously, in most situations where financial institutions have been charged in Forex and Libor, the plea has come from a foreign subsidiary to avoid the collateral consequences that would flow from a conviction of a publicly traded company. Requiring the parent to plead was a relatively small step, however, as the pleas were only entered after waivers were secured from the SEC.  The banks wanted assurances from U.S. regulators that they would not be barred from certain businesses before agreeing to plead guilty to criminal charges. (here). The defendants received the desired waivers.

Public Reaction

The historic pleas have not been without some public criticism. An example is an editorial in the New York Times titled: “Banks as Felons, Or Criminality Lite

Besides the criminal label, however, nothing much has changed for the banks. And that means nothing much has changed for the public. There is no meaningful accountability in the plea deals and, by extension, no meaningful deterrence from future wrongdoing.”

SEC Commission, Kara M. Stein, was harsh in her dissent from the grant of waivers to the recidivist banks.

Allowing these institutions to continue business as usual, after multiple and serious regulatory and criminal violations, poses risks to investors and the American public that are being ignored. It is not sufficient to look at each waiver request in a vacuum.

And, in an article in USA Today (here), four leading antitrust commentators who are not usually found to be in agreement (Judge Douglas Ginsburg, FTC Commission Josh Wright and Albert Foer and Professor Robert H. Lande of the American Antitrust Institute) called for harsher penalties against individuals convicted of antitrust offenses.

Some thoughts on Compliance

As already noted, the Antitrust Division took a big step forward in encouraging the implementation of effective compliance programs. Hopefully, more details will be forthcoming about why now? What was it about Barclays’ program that was considered effective? And what was the monetary benefit for the compliance program.

The Division’s encouragement of an effective compliance program should be bolstered by the sheer magnitude of the fines and other consequences of these guilty pleas. In the compliance world, FCPA is “Top Dog” in terms of compliance resources and attention. No doubt issues like vetting third-party vendors worldwide rightfully account for this attention. But the consequences of an antitrust offense call out for an equally keen focus on antitrust compliance. I’ve written about this before (here), but the combination of huge fines, jails sentences for individuals, investigation by multiple U.S. agencies, and competition agencies around the world, and the significant damages paid out in civil class action lawsuits make a compelling case for robust antitrust compliance efforts.

Indeed, the Antitrust Division’s plea agreements with the other banks besides Barclays call for devoting resources to compliance programs:

“The defendant shall implement and shall continue to implement a compliance program designed to prevent and detect the conduct set forth in Paragraph 4 (g)-(i) above and, absent appropriate disclosure, the conduct in Paragraph 13 below throughout its operations including those of its affiliates and subsidiaries and provide an annual report to the probation officer and the United States on its progress in implementing the program, commencing on a schedule agreed to by the parties.”

The plea agreements, however, do not call for external compliance monitors. Given that the cartel involved billions of dollars, the brazen nature of the crime (the conspirators referred to themselves in private chat rooms as the “Cartel Club” and “The Mafia,” and finally, the degree of recidivism, one wonders (OK, I wonder) why no external compliance monitors? The Division sought (and received from the court) external compliance monitors in the Apple case, (a civil violation) and in AU Optronics (a first offense).  Unless the Antitrust Division provides further guidance, it appears that the only criteria for seeking an external monitor is if a company goes to trial against the Division and loses.

The Investigation Is Ongoing

There is some validity to the charge that the corporate fines are just a cost of doing business and don’t provide sufficient deterrent. Perhaps requiring a parent to plead was one step closer towards requiring a plea and no regulatory waivers. But fears of collateral damage to innocent employees (who would lose jobs), stockholders (who could be wiped out) and the economy in general make this a hard trigger to pull.  The real deterrent comes with prosecution of individuals—i.e., the guys in The Cartel or The Mafia, as they put it.   It is extremely likely that the Antitrust Division will seek charges against individuals in this case. The hard part is not so much prosecuting the traders who operated in the chat rooms and left a trail of evidence, but in determining if knowledge of the cartel went higher up in the banks. Holding the highest-level person in an organization responsible for the crime is the highest deterrence. But, this is challenging as superiors are often shielded from direct involvement in the crime and can only be convicted on the basis of the testimony of subordinates whose credibility may be compromised by their own plea. The public often cries for higher level executives to be held accountable, but juries take seriously their obligation to convict only where the proof establishes guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

There will be much more to this story so stay tuned. Thanks for reading.

CCC’s: My Antitrust Spring Meeting Interview with Capitol Forum

During the ABA Antitrust Spring Meeting, I had the good fortune to be interviewed by David Blotner, Senior Editor of the Capitol Forum. The Capitol Forum is an in-depth news and analysis service dedicated to informing policymakers, investors, and industry stakeholders on how policy affects market competition. The Capitol Forum provides in-depth coverage of major antitrust matters such as the now abandoned Comcast-Time Warner merger. I was delighted to be asked to speak about cartel issues. David and I have known each other for years. He also was a career Antitrust Division prosecutor. And while I’m no Nostradamus, we did discuss the Forex investigation which just had big news yesterday. If you have a few minutes (around 27) here is a link to the video. And check out the Capitol Forum website, as well as their blog, for the complete coverage they offer.

Thanks for reading (or watching if you have the time).


WASHINGTON — A Georgia real estate investor pleaded guilty today for his role in conspiracies to rig bids and commit mail fraud at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Georgia, the Department of Justice announced.

Felony charges against Eric Hulsman were filed on March 27, 2015, in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Georgia in Atlanta.  According to court documents, from at least as early March 6, 2007, and continuing at least until Dec. 6, 2011, in Fulton County, Georgia, and from at least as early as Jan. 2, 2007, and continuing at least until Jan. 1, 2008, in DeKalb County, Georgia, Hulsman conspired with others not to bid against one another, but instead designated a winning bidder to obtain selected properties at public real estate foreclosure auctions.  Hulsman was also charged with a conspiracy to use the mail to carry out a scheme to fraudulently acquire title to selected Fulton and DeKalb properties sold at public auctions, to make and receive payoffs and to divert money to co-conspirators that would have gone to mortgage holders and others by holding second, private auctions open only to members of the conspiracy.  The selected properties were then awarded to the conspirators who submitted the highest bids in the second, private auctions.

“Homeowners and lenders in Fulton and DeKalb counties deserved free and fair public real estate foreclosure auctions,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “The defendant conspired with others to keep for themselves money that should have gone to those homeowners and lenders.  The division remains committed to rooting out this kind of anticompetitive conduct at foreclosure auctions.”

The primary purpose of the conspiracies was to suppress and restrain competition and to conceal payoffs in order to obtain selected real estate offered at Fulton and DeKalb county public foreclosure auctions at non-competitive prices.  When real estate properties are sold at these auctions, the proceeds are used to pay off the mortgage and other debt attached to the property, with remaining proceeds, if any, paid to the homeowner.  According to court documents, these conspirators paid and received money that otherwise would have gone to pay off the mortgage and other holders of debt secured by the properties, and in some cases, the defaulting homeowner.

“Today’s guilty plea of another real estate investor engaged in unfair bidding practices is further evidence of the FBI’s support for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division in ensuring that public foreclosure auctions remain a level playing field for all,” said Special Agent in Charge J. Britt Johnson of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office.  “Anyone with information regarding such criminal activities as seen in this case should promptly call their nearest FBI field office.”

A violation of the Sherman Act carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $1 million fine for individuals.  The maximum fine for a Sherman Act charge may be increased to twice the gain derived from the crime or twice the loss suffered by the victims of the crime if either amount is greater than the statutory maximum fine.  A count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a fine in an amount equal to the greatest of $250,000, twice the gross gain the conspirators derived from the crime or twice the gross loss caused to the victims of the crime by the conspirators.

Including Hulsman, eight cases have been filed as a result of the ongoing investigation being conducted by Antitrust Division’s Washington Criminal II Section and the FBI’s Atlanta Division, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Georgia.  Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to public real estate foreclosure auctions in Georgia should contact Washington Criminal II Section of the Antitrust Division at 202-598-4000, call the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 1-888-647-3258 or visit

The charges were brought in connection with the President’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force.  The task force was established to wage an aggressive, coordinated and proactive effort to investigate and prosecute financial crimes.  With more than 20 federal agencies, 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices, and state and local partners, it’s the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat fraud.  Since its formation, the task force has made great strides in facilitating increased investigation and prosecution of financial crimes; enhancing coordination and cooperation among federal, state and local authorities; addressing discrimination in the lending and financial markets; and conducting outreach to the public, victims, financial institutions and other organizations.  Since fiscal year 2009, the Justice Department has filed over 18,000 financial fraud cases against more than 25,000 defendants.  For more information on the task force, please visit

Seller of “Miracle Mineral Solution” Convicted for Marketing Toxic Chemical as a Miracle Cure

A federal jury in the Eastern District of Washington returned a guilty verdict yesterday against a Spokane, Washington, man for selling industrial bleach as a miracle cure for numerous diseases and illnesses, including cancer, AIDS, malaria, hepatitis, lyme disease, asthma and the common cold, the Department of Justice announced.

Louis Daniel Smith, 45, was convicted following a seven-day trial of conspiracy, smuggling, selling misbranded drugs and defrauding the United States. Evidence at trial showed that Smith operated a business called “Project GreenLife” (PGL) from 2007 to 2011.  PGL sold a product called “Miracle Mineral Supplement,” or MMS, over the Internet.  MMS is a mixture of sodium chlorite and water.  Sodium chlorite is an industrial chemical used as a pesticide and for hydraulic fracking and wastewater treatment.  Sodium chlorite cannot be sold for human consumption and suppliers of the chemical include a warning sheet stating that it can cause potentially fatal side effects if swallowed.

“This verdict demonstrates that the Department of Justice will prosecute those who sell dangerous chemicals as miracle cures to sick people and their desperate loved ones,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Benjamin C. Mizer of the Justice Department’s Civil Division.  “Consumers have the right to expect that the medicines that they purchase are safe and effective.”  Mizer thanked the jury for its service and its careful consideration of the evidence.

The government presented evidence that Smith instructed consumers to combine MMS with citric acid to create chlorine dioxide, add water and drink the resulting mixture to cure numerous illnesses. Chlorine dioxide is a potent agent used to bleach textiles, among other industrial applications.  Chlorine dioxide is a severe respiratory and eye irritant that can cause nausea, diarrhea and dehydration.  According to the instructions for use that Smith provided with his product, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting were all signs that the miracle cure was working.  The instructions also stated that despite a risk of possible brain damage, the product might still be appropriate for pregnant women or infants who were seriously ill.

According to the evidence presented at trial, Smith created phony “water purification” and “wastewater treatment” businesses in order to obtain sodium chlorite and ship his MMS without being detected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or U.S. Customs and Border Protection.  The government also presented evidence that Smith hid evidence from FDA inspectors and destroyed evidence while law enforcement agents were executing search warrants on his residence and business.

Before trial, three of Smith’s alleged co-conspirators, Chris Olson, Tammy Olson and Karis DeLong, Smith’s wife, pleaded guilty to introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce.  Chris Olson, along with alleged co-conspirators Matthew Darjanny and Joseph Lachnit, testified at trial that Smith was the leader of PGL.

In all, the jury convicted Smith of one count of conspiracy to commit multiple crimes, three counts of introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce with intent to defraud or mislead and one count of fraudulently smuggling merchandise into the United States.  The jury found Smith not guilty on one out of four of the misbranded drug counts. He faces a statutory maximum of 34 years in prison at his Sept. 9 sentencing.

The case was investigated by agents of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.  The case was prosecuted by Christopher E. Parisi and Timothy T. Finley of the Civil Division’s Consumer Protection Branchin Washington, D.C.