CCC’s: Bumble Bee CEO Indicted for Price Fixing

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According to a Department of Justice press release, on May 16, 2018 a federal grand jury returned an indictment against Christopher Lischewski, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Bumble Bee Foods LLC, for participating in a conspiracy to fix prices for packaged seafood sold in the United States. The indictment was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, and charged Lischewski with participating in a conspiracy to fix prices of packaged seafood beginning in or about November 2010 until December 2013.

The one-count felony indictment charges that Lischewski carried out the conspiracy by agreeing to fix the prices of packaged seafood during meetings and other communications.  The co-conspirators issued price announcements and pricing guidance in accordance with these agreements.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed.  Mr. Lischewski is presumed innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The government’s full press release can be found here.  Mr. Lischewski’s is represented by John Keker of Keker, Van Nest & Peters LLP, who said in a statement (as reported by Law 360 here) that his client will be found not guilty:

“Chris Lischewski is a decent and honorable man, who has lived a hardworking and ethical life. He has been a leader and beacon within the seafood industry for more than twenty-five years. And most significantly on this dark day, he is innocent of any wrongdoing.”

Bumble Bee has already pled guilty and agreed to pay a $25 million fine.  The Lischewski indictment demonstrates that the Antitrust Division seeks to maximize deterrence by holding individuals accountable for criminal antitrust violations.  The Division seeks to indict the highest level executive they believe is justified by the evidence.

The indictment can be found here. I have no personal knowledge of the facts of this case other than from reading the public documents.  The indictment doesn’t specify whether the defendant personally attended meetings and reached agreements or whether Bumble Bee subordinates did so at his direction or with his knowledge/approval. Trials against CEO’s can be challenging because conviction often depends on the jury accepting the testimony of lower level officials at the company who may have gotten immunity or favorable plea agreements in return for their testimony.  A plea agreement with the defendant is always possible, but a trial is far more likely given the probable high sentencing guidelines range the defendant would be facing and the unlikely possibility that he would be eligible for a downward departure for cooperation at this late stage of the investigation.

Thanks for reading.

Alabama Resident and Ringleader of Multi-Million Dollar Stolen Identity Tax Refund Fraud Schemes Sentenced to 30 Years in Prison

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Over 8,800 Identities Stolen from the U.S. Army, Alabama State Agencies and Georgia Businesses

A Phenix City, Alabama, resident was sentenced today to 30 years in prison for his role in masterminding multiple stolen identity refund fraud (SIRF) schemes, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division and U.S. Attorney Louis V. Franklin, Sr. of the Middle District of Alabama.

William Anthony Gosha III, a/k/a Boo Boo, was convicted, following a jury trial in November 2017, of one count of conspiracy, 22 counts of mail fraud, three counts of wire fraud, and 25 counts of aggravated identity theft.

According to the evidence presented at trial and sentencing, between November 2010 and December 2013, Gosha ran a large-scale identity theft ring with his co-conspirators, Tracy Mitchell, Keshia Lanier, and Tamika Floyd, who were all previously convicted and sentenced to prison.  Together they filed over 8,800 tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that sought more than $22 million in fraudulent refunds of which the IRS paid out approximately $9 million.

In November 2010, Gosha stole IDs of inmates from the Alabama Department of Corrections and provided the IDs to Lanier who used the information to seek fraudulent tax refunds.  Gosha and Lanier agreed to split the proceeds.  Gosha also stole employee records from a company previously located in Columbus, Georgia.  In 2012, Lanier needed an additional source of stolen IDs and approached Floyd, who worked at two Alabama state agencies in Opelika, Alabama: the Department of Public Health and the Department of Human Resources.  In both positions, Floyd had access to the personal identifying information of individuals, including teenagers.  Lanier requested that Floyd primarily provide her with identities that belonged to sixteen and seventeen year-olds.  Floyd agreed and provided thousands of names to Lanier and others at Lanier’s direction.

After receiving the additional stolen IDs, Gosha recruited Mitchell and her family to help file the fraudulent tax returns.  Mitchell worked at a hospital located at Fort Benning, Georgia, where she had access to the personal identification information of military personnel, including soldiers who were deployed to Afghanistan.  She stole soldiers’ IDs and used their information to file fraudulent returns.

In order to electronically file the fraudulent returns, Gosha, Lanier, and their co-conspirators applied for several Electronic Filing Identification Numbers (EFIN) with the IRS in the names of sham tax preparation businesses.  Gosha, Lanier, and their co-conspirators then used these EFINs to file the returns and obtain tax refund related bank products from various financial institutions, which provided them with blank check stock.  Gosha and his co-conspirators initially printed out the fraudulently obtained refund checks using the blank check stock.

However, the financial institutions halted Gosha’s and his co-conspirators’ ability to print checks.  As a result, they recruited U.S. Postal employees who provided Gosha and others with addresses on their routes to which the fraudulent refund checks could be directly mailed.  In exchange for cash, these postal employees intercepted the refund checks and provided them to Gosha, Lanier, Mitchell and others.  Gosha also directed tax refunds to prepaid debit cards and had those cards sent to addresses he controlled.

In addition, between January 2010 and December 2013, Gosha participated in a separate SIRF scheme with Pamela Smith and others, in which Gosha sold the IDs that he had stolen from the Alabama Department of Corrections to Smith and others.  Smith and others used the IDs to file returns that sought approximately $4.8 million in fraudulent refunds of which the IRS paid out approximately $1.85 million.  Smith also has been convicted and sentenced to prison for this conduct.

At Gosha’s sentencing, the government offered victim impact statements from several individuals whose identities were stolen, and from companies and governmental agencies where the identity theft breaches occurred.  An Alabama Department of Public Health representative noted, the identity theft was not only devastating financially, but it also had a chilling effect on the department’s ability to serve the residents of the State of Alabama.  A mother of a young U.S. Army soldier who was an identity theft victim described the consequences of the fraud on her and her family, stating:

While [my son] was fighting for our country and all back home[,] I received a very disturbing phone call from [an] Agent [] from the IRS that my son[,] while at Ft. Benning training to defend our country[,] the land of the free[,] had his identity stolen and fraudulent tax returns were filed with his social security number.  This news was devastating to think that my [] 19-year-old son[,] who was defending the very freedom this country stands [for] [,] was wronged by one of those people [he] was willing to die for.  My whole family could not believe what was happening.  We now had to worry about this terrible act by one of our own.  As I tried my best to keep composed and handle all of the gruesome mounds of paperwork to get this straightened out with the IRS, [my son] was then denied his tax refund [as result of this scheme].  This created a financial hardship on [him].  We were too afraid to tell [him] while he was deployed because we did not want to worry him and we wanted him to focus only on getting home alive and not have to worry about such an atrocious act by someone who did not even know [him].

In addition to the term of imprisonment, U.S. Chief District Court Judge Keith Watkins ordered Gosha to serve three years of supervised release and to pay restitution in the amount of $9,052,049.

Prior to Gosha’s sentencing, thirty of his co-conspirators have been sentenced, including Keisha Lanier who received 15 years and Tracy Mitchell who received over 13 years.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Zuckerman and U.S. Attorney Franklin commended special agents of Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation and U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General who investigated this case and Trial Attorneys Michael C. Boteler and Gregory P. Bailey of the Tax Division and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Ross of the Middle District of Alabama, who prosecuted the case.

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

CCC’s: Was Heir Locators Indictment a Hair Too Late?

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Below is a post that I wrote with a friend and former Antitrust Division colleague, Karen Sharp.  The post originally appeared in Law 360 Competition (here). I am reposting for those that don’t have access to the article.

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Was Heir Locators Indictment a Hair Too Late?

by Robert Connolly and Karen Sharp[1]

            On August 17, 2016, a Utah grand jury returned a one count Sherman Act indictment against Kemp & Associates, Inc. and Daniel J. Mannix,[2] a Kemp corporate officer.  According to the indictment, the conspiracy was an agreement to “allocate customers of Heir Location Services sold in the United States” that began as early as September 1999 and continued as late as January 29, 2014.

Heir location service companies identify heirs to estates of intestate decedents and, in exchange for a contingency fee, develop evidence and prove heirs’ claims to an inheritance in probate court.  The indictment charged that there was an allocation scheme whereby the defendants agreed with a competing heir location service company that the first company to contact an heir would be allocated certain remaining heirs to the estate and, in return, would pay the other company a portion of the collusive contingency fees collected from the heirs.

In pretrial orders issued last August, U.S. District Court Judge David Sam, 1) dismissed the indictment as time barred by the five-year statute of limitations; and 2) held that if there were a trial, the agreement would not be considered per se, but instead judged by the jury under the Rule of Reason.  The Antitrust Division is challenging both rulings on appeal in the Tenth Circuit.  In this article we discuss the court’s ruling that the indictment was time barred by the statute of limitations.

A full exposition of the facts can be found in the indictment,[3] Judge Sam’s Memorandum Decision and Order[4], the government’s opening brief in the Tenth Circuit,[5] and the defendants’ response.[6]  But in short, the relevant facts are these:

  • There was a written allocation agreement between competing heir location service companies to divide certain customers.
  • On July 30, 2008, defendant Mannix wrote to Kemp & Associates colleagues in an email: “The ‘formal’ agreement that we have had with [Blake & Blake] for the last decade is over.”
  • There were in fact no other heirs allocated after July 30, 2008.
  • Payments made by previously allocated customers, however, occurred within the Sherman Act five-year statute of limitations period preceding the indictment.

The government argues on appeal that the conspiracy did not end on July 30, 2008 when the agreement was abandoned but continued based on the “payments theory.” The payments theory is straightforward: conspirators rig bids, fix prices and/or allocate customers to reap the higher prices that come from eliminating/restraining competition.  As long as a conspirator is being paid as a result of the illegal agreement, the conspiracy continues.

The government has the weight of authority and specifically, Tenth Circuit precedent, on its side.  The government argues on appeal that Judge Sam “mistakenly concluded that the alleged conspiracy ended after the last customers were allocated, rather than continuing as long as the conspirators collected and distributed payments from the contracts with the allocated customers.”  The indictment specifically alleged that as part of the customer allocation conspiracy, the defendants “accepted payment for Heir Location Services sold to heirs in the United States at collusive and noncompetitive contingency fee rates.”  The indictment alleges that the conspiracy continued at least as late as January 29, 2014, which is the date when, according to the defendants’ motion to dismiss the indictment, “a large team of law enforcement agents and prosecutors served subpoenas on, and sought to interview, many of the Company’s employees.”

The payments theory is well accepted, including in the Tenth Circuit.  United States v. Evans & Associates Construction Co.[7] was a bid-rigging case where the contract was rigged outside the statute of limitations, but the defendant received payments for the work done on the contract within the statute period.  The Tenth Circuit in Evans concluded that “the statute did not begin to run until after the successful contractor accepted the last payment on the contract.”[8] According to the court, “the Sherman Act violation was ‘accomplished both by the submission of noncompetitive bids and by the request for and receipt of payments at anti-competitive levels.’”[9] Similarly, in the more recent case of United States v. Morgan, the Tenth Circuit held that “the distribution of the proceeds of a conspiracy is an act occurring during the pendency of the conspiracy.”[10]

Judge Sam did not agree that the indictment before him alleged a conspiracy that would properly invoke the payments theory.  He concluded that the primary purpose of the anticompetitive agreement was the allocation of customers.  According to Judge Sam, “[i]t then follows that any conspiratorial agreement ceased to exist once the allocation of customers through the [agreed-upon] Guidelines ceased.”  Judge Sam distinguished the heir locators’ agreement from the bid-rigging agreement in Evans, stating, “[T]he evidence in Evans and Morgan shows that the central purpose of the conspiracy was to obtain wrongful proceeds or money.  While the Indictment here mentions the payment of proceeds, Ind. ¶¶ 11 (h), (i), the central purpose of the conspiracy charged was not ‘economic enrichment.’” Judge Sam found, without even a hearing or trial, that the “central purpose” of the heir locators’ allocation agreement was not “economic enrichment.”  The statute of limitations, therefore, expired on July 30, 2013, five years after defendant Mannix sent an internal Kemp & Associates email abandoning the allocation agreement.

In our opinion the judge was grasping at straws to distinguish (and extinguish) this case from Evans to avoid application of the payments theory.  Payments by allocated heir locator customers seem like payments made on rigged contracts.  Since the judge also found this to be a Rule of Reason case, he apparently felt that the agreement on balance was procompetitive–and not designed to generate supra competitive profits.  The court’s logic seems to be a real-life application of the “bad facts make bad law” principle.  But, there was simply no record on which to base a finding that the payments made and accepted by defendants and their co-conspirators within the statute were merely administrative tasks that “bore no relation to customer allocation.”

A Better Way to Judge The Validity of Using a Payments Theory To Extend the Statute

  1. The Judicial Concern with Prosecutorial Delay

            Judge Sam was clearly troubled by the fact that the defendants were indicted in August 2016, several years after the five-year statute of limitations would have appeared to have run on an agreement that was abandoned in July 2008.  Moreover, since there was no fixed time when an estate distribution would be finalized, there was no telling when the statute of limitations would begin to run in this type of case. The court noted:

“Additionally, the government has identified 269 allegedly affected estates, the administration of which consisted of a series of ordinary, non-criminal events that could last many years. In contrast, Evans involved the bid for one contract which was bid, granted, completed and fully paid within the two years. [citation omitted] . . .. This arbitrariness is not consistent with the very reasons limitations periods exist in criminal cases.”

In bid-rigging cases, the outer limits of the statute of limitations is at least defined by the length of the contract.  But here, as the court noted, the payments theory could extend the statute of limitations for an unknown, and possibly very long time.

2.    The “Payments Theory” as a Due Process Violation

A more direct and fair method to address the concern that Judge Sam and other courts may have with an indefinite extension of a statute of limitations is to consider the application of the payments theory as a possible violation of due process.  Does extending the statute of limitations for an indefinite and arbitrary period deprive the defendants of due process?

The Supreme Court has recognized that prosecutorial delay may constitute a due process violation but has set an extremely high bar for a would-be successful defendant.  In United States v. Marion,[11] the Court held that in order for the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment to require dismissal of an indictment the defendant must show that the pre-indictment delay:

1)         caused substantial prejudice to the defendant’s rights to a fair trial; and

2)         that the delay was an intentional device to gain tactical advantage over the accused.[12]

There is a critical difference, however, between the facts in Marion and the heir location services case.  In Marion there was a three-year delay between the commission of the crime and the charged case.  The defendants alleged this delay was a prejudicial due process violation.  But, the case was still brought within the statute of limitations.  However, where, as here, the application of a payments theory leads to an arbitrary and indefinite extension of the statutorily set limitations period, Marion can be distinguished.  We suggest it would be appropriate to apply a different/lesser test in this case.  The near-impossible-to-meet prong of showing that the prosecution intentionally engaged in delay tactics to gain an advantage should be dropped.  Instead, the defendants should be required to make the Marion showing of substantial prejudice suffered by the application of the payments theory. A showing of substantial prejudice would require for example a witness’ death or illness, loss of physical evidence, or a witness who was once available is now not available; i.e., something more than a general allegation that memories fade with time.

Another aspect of due process that can arise in payments theory cases, and may be what really troubles courts, is that an individual who is the subject or target of a criminal antitrust investigation is often without a job and can find it difficult to get one while possible legal charges hang over his or her head.  A company may also suffer negative financial consequences while a “cloud of suspicion” from a grand jury investigation lingers.  Being a subject/target of an antitrust criminal investigation is an incredibly stressful and expensive ordeal.  If this status is going to continue, perhaps indefinitely, past the traditional statute of limitations, there should be a very good reason.  Depending on the circumstance, a judge, like Judge Sam, may find that the delay in bringing a case was a due process violation of the defendants’ property rights—the right to earn a living.

We also suggest, however, that if the defendant can make a showing of substantial prejudice, the government should have the opportunity to explain why there was a need to resort to a payments theory. Was the crime or industry investigated very complex?  Did the subjects themselves stonewall the investigation and cause delays?  Did the defendants successfully conceal the conspiracy until very near the typical running of the statute?  If the government has a satisfactory explanation of why it has resorted to the payments theory, and especially if the defendant’s conduct during the investigation contributed to the delay, then the court should find no due process violation.

The due process analysis we are suggesting is, of course, a deviation from the two-step test the Supreme Court established in Marion, but it is based on a valid distinction from Marion—but for the payments theory, the heir locators’ indictment is barred.  A balancing of the prejudice to the defendant versus the government’s need to use the payments theory, is a more appropriate way for a court to decide whether a case is time-barred than by finding that the ultimate goal of a customer allocation scheme was not economic enrichment.

Some Thoughts on the Case as Former Prosecutors

            Another benefit of a due process analysis is that it would help explain why the government brought a case that is facially so far out of the statute of limitations.  One might conclude, and perhaps Judge Sam did, that the government was simply negligent, and the defendants should not bear the cost of that negligence. After all, the allocation agreement itself was in the form of written “Guidelines,” and the directive ending the “formal” agreement was in a July 2008 email.  The defendants further allege that two disgruntled former Kemp & Associates employees (and potential witnesses) first approached the Antitrust Division in 2008 or 2009.  By all appearances, this seems like a relatively easy conspiracy to “uncover” and prove, so why did the Antitrust Division wait until it had to rely on a payments theory to bring an indictment?

As former prosecutors we can speculate—and it is just speculation– as to why the case was brought using a payments theory to extend the statute.  One possibility that comes to mind is that the government believes that the conspiracy was not abandoned in July 2008.  Perhaps the government has evidence that additional customers were allocated after July 2008 and that the conspiracy in fact continued until the date the defendants received the subpoenas.  Was the Mannix email withdrawing from the conspiracy just a cover and the allocation actually continued “underground?” The government may simply have found it expedient to go with the payments theory rather than disprove the withdrawal email beyond a reasonable doubt.  This, of course, is just speculation–there may be other valid reasons why a payments theory was necessary.  But, often the public facts do not tell the entire story. The Antitrust Division brought a case that appeared to be a straightforward per se customer allocation agreement and used the well accepted payments theory to bring the case within the statute of limitations.  Without a trial or a record of any sort, there is no way to tell whether this was a sound exercise of prosecutorial discretion or not.[13]

The Tenth Circuit may reverse Judge Sam on the statute of limitations issue, in which case the rule of reason versus per se issue will take center stage. Or the appeals court may agree with Judge Sam and limit the payments theory to situations, like Evans, where there is a fixed contract performance time that limits the payments theory extension of the statute of limitations.  But, even in this situation, contracts typically have delays, so the idea of a “fixed contract time” may be somewhat illusory.  While it is not the law currently, our suggestion is that rather than have courts chip away at the legally sound payments theory based on dubious distinctions, defendants should challenge, and courts should assess the fairness of, the government’s use of the payments theory on the basis of due process; i.e., balancing the harm to the defendants against the justification offered by the government for relying on this theory to extend the statute.

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[1] Bob Connolly is a partner with GeyerGorey LLP.  He is the former chief of the Antitrust Division’s Philadelphia Field Office and served for 34 years in the Antitrust Division. He publishes a blog, Cartel Capers.

Karen Sharp is a former trial attorney with the DOJ Antitrust Division, where she investigated and prosecuted national and international antitrust matters for 25 years. She also served as a special assistant United States attorney in the Eastern District of California. Most recently she was counsel for Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in San Francisco.  Ms. Sharp can be reached at Sharpkj100@gmail.com.

[2] United States v. Kemp & Associates, Inc., et al., No. 2:16-cr-00403 (D. Utah Aug. 17, 2016) (David Sam J.)16-

[3]   The indictment can be found on the Antitrust Division’s website at https://www.justice.gov/atr/file/887761/download.

[4]  Judge Sam’s memorandum opinion is linked at Law 360, Aug. 29, 2017, Antitrust Charges Against Heir-Tracker Co. Dismissed, available at https://www.law360.com/articles/958574/doj-antitrust-charges-against-heir-tracker-co-dismissed. It can also be found here JudgeSamSOLOrderandMemorandum.

[5]   Opening Brief for the United States, (corrected) (filed January 3, 2018), available at https://www.justice.gov/atr/case-document/file/1020466/download.

[6]  The defendants’ brief is linked at Law 360, February 5, 2018, Heir-Tracking Firm Urges 10th Circ. to Refuse Antitrust Case, available at https://www.law360.com/competition/articles/1009042/heir-tracking-co-urges-10th-circ-to-refuse-antitrust-case.  It can also be found here defendants’ kemp-brief.

[7]   United States v. Evans & Associates Construction Co., 839 F.2d 656 (10th Cir. 1988).

[8]   Id. at 661.

[9]   Id. (quoting United States v. Northern Improvement Co., 814 F.2d 540 (8th Cir. 1987)).

[10]  United States v. Morgan, 748 F.3d 1024, 1036-37 (10th Cir. 2014).

[11]  United States v. Marion, 404 U.S. 307 (1971).

[12]  Id. at 324.

[13] The Antitrust Division already had a significant setback on the “payments theory” in United States v. Grimm, 738 F.3d 498 (2d Cir. 2013), a case where the jury returned guilty verdicts for fixing of municipal bonds.  The last bond fixed was outside the five-year statute of limitations, but payments on the fixed bonds could extend over the life of the bonds—up to thirty years.  The Second Circuit could not accept this extreme extension of the statute of limitations and reversed the convictions ruling that a “[criminal] conspiracy ends notwithstanding the [later] receipt of anticipated profits where the payoff merely consists of a lengthy, indefinite series of ordinary, typically noncriminal, unilateral actions.” Id. at 502 (quotation marks, ellipses, and brackets omitted).

Justice Department Reaches Settlement With Henry Ford Allegiance Health on Antitrust Charges

Friday, February 9, 2018

Settlement Prohibits Allegiance from Agreeing to Limit Marketing and Improperly Communicating with Competing Providers

The Department of Justice announced today that it has reached a settlement with Henry Ford Allegiance Health (“Allegiance”) for conspiring with a rival hospital in a neighboring county to restrict marketing in that rival’s county.  The settlement ends almost three years of litigation and a scheduled March 6 trial relating to agreements to restrict marketing among hospitals in South Central Michigan.

“As a result of Allegiance’s per se illegal agreement to restrict marketing of competing services in Hillsdale County, Michigan consumers were deprived of valuable services and healthcare information,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “By prohibiting further anticompetitive conduct and educating Allegiance executives on antitrust law, this settlement will ensure that consumers receive the fruits of robust competition.”

The proposed settlement, joined by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.  If approved by the court, the settlement will end Allegiance’s unlawful conduct and provide residents of South Central Michigan the full benefits of competition.  The Department’s Antitrust Division previously settled claims against three other South Central Michigan hospitals.  The Department charged Allegiance and these other hospitals with insulating themselves from competition by agreeing to withhold outreach and marketing in each other’s respective counties, so as not to solicit certain customers.  As a result, consumers were denied the benefits of competition, including free screenings and other services, as well as valuable information that informs healthcare choices and opportunities for higher quality care.

The Department’s proposed settlement with Allegiance expands on the terms of the Department’s previous settlements in this action, which the court entered more than two years ago.  Specifically, the proposed settlement prevents Allegiance from engaging in improper communications with competing providers regarding their respective marketing activities and entering into any improper agreement to allocate customers or to limit marketing.  It explicitly prevents Allegiance from continuing to carve out Hillsdale County from its marketing and business development activities.  The proposed settlement further requires Allegiance to report any violations to the Department, and imposes an annual obligation to certify compliance with the terms of the final judgment.  Allegiance must also submit to compliance inspections at the Department’s request.  The proposed settlement requires Allegiance to reimburse the Department and the state of Michigan for certain costs incurred in litigating this case.

Pursuant to Department policy, the settlement includes several new provisions included in all consent decrees designed to improve the effectiveness of the decree and the Division’s future ability to enforce it.  “The proposed settlement will make it easier and more efficient for the Department to enforce the decree by allowing the Department to prove alleged violations by a preponderance of the evidence,” said Assistant Attorney General Delrahim.  “These provisions will encourage a stronger commitment to compliance and will ease the strain on the Department in investigating and enforcing possible violations.”  Similar provisions have been included in a number of recent consent decrees where the Department’s new leadership has sought divestitures as a condition of clearing transactions under Section 7 of the Clayton Act.

Henry Ford Allegiance Health is a 475-bed health system that operates the sole general acute care hospital in Jackson County, Michigan, along with primary care physician offices, physical rehabilitation facilities, and diagnostic centers across several counties in South Central Michigan.  In March 2016, Allegiance became part of the Henry Ford Health System.  Henry Ford Health System is headquartered in Detroit, Michigan, and is the second largest health system in Michigan, operating Allegiance, five other hospitals, several medical centers, and one of the nation’s largest medical group practices.  Its 2016 revenues were over $5 billion.

The proposed settlement, along with the Department’s competitive impact statement, will be published in the Federal Register, consistent with the requirements of the Antitrust Procedures and Penalties Act.  Any person may submit written comments concerning the proposed settlement within 60 days of its publication to Peter Mucchetti, Chief, Healthcare & Consumer Products Section, Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 450 Fifth Street, NW, 4th Floor, Washington, DC 20530.  At the conclusion of the 60-day comment period, the court may enter the final judgment upon a finding that it serves the public interest.

Nurse Practitioner and Physician Indicted in Compounding Pharmacy Fraud Schemes

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

A Mississippi-based nurse practitioner was charged in an indictment unsealed today for her role in a multi-million dollar scheme to defraud TRICARE, the health care benefit program serving U.S. military, veterans and their respective family members.  A Mississippi-based physician was charged in a separate indictment filed last week for his role in a similar scheme.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Mike Hurst of the Southern District of Mississippi, Special Agent in Charge Christopher Freeze of the FBI’s Jackson, Mississippi Field Division and Special Agent in Charge Jerome R. McDuffie of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) New Orleans Field Office made the announcement.

Susan Perry N.P., 58, of Grand Bay, Alabama, and Albert Diaz M.D., 78, of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, were charged in separate indictments returned on Oct. 18, in the Southern District of Mississippi, in Hattiesburg.  Perry’s indictment was unsealed upon her arrest and initial appearance today before U.S. Magistrate Judge John Gargiulo of the Southern District of Mississippi.  Perry is scheduled to be arraigned on Oct. 25, at 10:30 a.m., and Diaz is scheduled to be arraigned on Nov. 1, at 10:30 a.m., both before Judge Gargiulo.

Perry was charged in a 13-count indictment with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to distribute and dispense a controlled substance, one count of distributing and dispensing of a controlled substance, one count of conspiracy to solicit and receive healthcare kickbacks, four counts of soliciting and receiving healthcare kickbacks and one count of making false statements.  Diaz was charged in a 16-count indictment with one count of conspiracy to commit health care fraud and wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to distribute and dispense a controlled substance, four counts of distributing and dispensing a controlled substance, one count of conspiracy to falsify records in a federal investigation and five counts of falsification of records in a federal investigation.

The indictments allege that both Perry and Diaz participated in schemes to defraud TRICARE by prescribing medically unnecessary compounded medications, some of which included Ketamine, a controlled substance, to individuals they had not examined, for the purpose of having a Hattiesburg-based compounding pharmacy dispense these medically unnecessary compounded medications and to seek reimbursement from TRICARE.  According to the indictments, between February 2013 and October 2016, TRICARE reimbursed the compounding pharmacy more than $3.3 million for compounded medications prescribed by Perry, and between October 2014 and December 2015, TRICARE reimbursed the compounding pharmacy more than $2.3 million for compounded medications prescribed by Diaz.  Additionally, Perry is alleged to have received more than $50,000 in kickback payments from a marketer for the compounding pharmacy in return for prescribing the compounded medications, as well as having made false statements to the FBI.   Diaz is alleged to have submitted falsified patient records in response to an audit conducted by TRICARE to make it appear as though he had examined patients before prescribing the compounding medications.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The FBI, IRS-CI, the Defense Criminal Investigative Service, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the Mississippi Bureau of Narcotics and other government agencies investigated the case.  Trial Attorneys Dustin M. Davis, Katherine Payerle and Jared Hasten of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Helen Wall of the Southern District of Mississippi are prosecuting the case.

The Fraud Section leads the Medicare Fraud Strike Force, which is part of a joint initiative between the Department of Justice and HHS to focus their efforts to prevent and deter fraud and enforce current anti-fraud laws around the country.  The Medicare Fraud Strike Force operates in nine locations nationwide.  Since its inception in March 2007, the Medicare Fraud Strike Force has charged over 3,500 defendants who collectively have falsely billed the Medicare program for over $12.5 billion.

Former Global Head of HSBC’s Foreign Exchange Cash-Trading Found Guilty of Orchestrating Multimillion-Dollar Front-Running Scheme

Monday, October 23, 2017

The former head of global foreign exchange cash trading at HSBC Bank plc, a subsidiary of HSBC Holdings plc (collectively HSBC), was found guilty today for his role in a scheme to defraud an HSBC client through a multimillion-dollar scheme commonly referred to as “front running.”

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Rohde of the Eastern District of New York, Inspector General Jay N. Lerner of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and Assistant Director in Charge Andrew Vale of the FBI’s Washington Field Office made the announcement.

Mark Johnson, 51, a United Kingdom citizen with residences both in the U.K. and the United States, was found guilty after a four-week jury trial of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and eight counts of wire fraud.  Sentencing date has not been scheduled.  U.S. District Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis of the Eastern District of New York presided over the trial.  Johnson was arrested on a criminal complaint in July 2016 and indicted in August 2016.

“This verdict makes clear that the defendant corruptly manipulated the foreign exchange market for the benefit of his bank and his bonus pool, to the detriment of the bank’s client,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Blanco.  “This case demonstrates the Criminal Division’s commitment to protecting the financial system from harm, and holding corporate executives, including at the world’s largest and most sophisticated financial institutions, responsible for their crimes.”

“The jury found that former HSBC banker Mark Johnson exploited confidential information provided by a client of the bank to execute trades that were intended to generate millions of dollars in profits for him and the bank at the expense of their client,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Rohde.  “This Office, together with its law enforcement partners, will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute those who would so abuse their client relationships and, more generally, undermine public confidence in the operation of the financial markets by engaging in fraudulent schemes.”

“This case involved a complex fraud scheme to ‘front run’ a foreign exchange transaction in order to generate millions of dollars in illicit profits for HSBC, which also indirectly benefited individual traders,” said Inspector General Lerner. “Such cases are challenging, but important, to bring against bank insiders who misuse their positions and undermine the integrity of a major international financial institution.”

“Mark Johnson misused confidential information to manipulate currency prices and defrauded a client out of more than $7 million,” said Assistant Director in Charge Vale.  “The American people need to be assured that we are working vigorously to ensure integrity is upheld in financial services industries.  We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute those who engage in illegal business practices.”

According to the evidence presented at trial, in November and December 2011, Johnson cheated an HSBC client out of millions of dollars by misusing information provided to him by a client that hired HSBC to execute a foreign exchange transaction related to a planned sale of one of the client’s foreign subsidiaries.  HSBC was selected to execute the foreign exchange transaction – which was going to require converting approximately $3.5 billion in sales proceeds into British Pound Sterling – in October 2011.  HSBC’s agreement with the client required the bank to keep the details of the client’s planned transaction confidential.  Instead, Johnson misused confidential information he received about the client’s transaction to cheat the client out of millions of dollars, the evidence showed.

Shortly before the transaction, which occurred in December 2011, Johnson and other traders acting under his direction purchased Pound Sterling for their own benefit in their HSBC “proprietary” accounts.  Johnson then caused the $3.5 billion foreign exchange transaction to be executed in a manner that was designed to “ramp,” or drive up, the price of the Pound Sterling, benefiting their proprietary positions and HSBC at the expense of their client.

As part of their scheme, Johnson and his co-conspirators made misrepresentations to the client about the transaction that concealed the self-serving nature of their actions.  In total, Johnson and the traders he supervised generated HSBC profits of roughly $7.5 million from the execution of the FX  transaction for the victim company.

The investigation was conducted by the FDIC’s Office of Inspector General and the FBI’s Washington Field Office.  The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs provided significant support.  Assistant Chiefs Carol Sipperly and Brian Young and Trial Attorney Blake Goebel of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lauren Elbert of the Eastern District of New York’s Business and Securities Fraud Section are prosecuting the case.

The Fraud Section plays a pivotal role in the Department of Justice’s fight against white collar crime around the country, focusing on cases of national significance and international scope.  Fraud Section prosecutors have vast experience in investigating and prosecuting securities and financial fraud, health care fraud and foreign corruption.  The Section is routinely the national leader in large, sophisticated white collar investigations and prosecutions, frequently in partnership with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and in coordination with foreign law enforcement agencies.  Learn more about the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section at: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-fraud.

Roofing Company Owner and Former Facilities Manager at Sierra Army Depot Indicted for Conspiracy to Defraud the United States

Friday, October 20, 2017

Government Seeks Forfeiture of Proceeds Resulting From Conspiracy

A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of California returned an indictment yesterday against two individuals for allegedly conspiring to defraud the United States, the Department of Justice announced.

The indictment alleges that Kenneth Keyes, a former facility manager at Sierra Army Depot (SIAD), and Leroy Weber, the owner of a roofing company, participated in a conspiracy to defraud the United States from as early as February 2012, and continuing through at least July 23, 2013, by obstructing the lawful functions of the United States Army through deceitful or dishonest means.

“Yesterday’s indictment demonstrates the Antitrust Division’s commitment to pursuing individuals who seek to enrich themselves by misusing federal programs at the expense of taxpayers,” said Assistant Attorney Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.

SIAD is a United States Army facility located in Northern California.  In 2012, SIAD earmarked $40 million for construction and renovation projects at its site using contractors who qualified under the Small Business Administration’s 8(a) Development Program.  The program provides assistance and benefits to small businesses owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.

The indictment alleges that Keyes, Weber, and other unidentified co-conspirators:

  • Recruited eligible 8(a) contractors to work as primary contractors at SIAD;
  • Represented to those contractors that Weber controlled the work and allocation of SIAD contract awards;
  • Caused prime contracts to be assigned to selected 8(a) contractors;
  • Used proprietary government pricing information to inflate contract prices for the SIAD contracts;
  • Required selected 8(a) contractors to award work to companies owned or controlled by Weber; and
  • Required a contractor to pay Weber in exchange for being awarded certain subcontracts by 8(a) contractors.

The indictment also alleges that Weber caused a company under his control to issue weekly paychecks to a relative of Keyes, and himself caused $10,000 to be paid directly to Keyes.

The purpose of this conspiracy was to enable Keyes and Weber to unjustly enrich themselves and their family members by diverting government funds intended to rebuild and repair the SIAD Army facility to themselves and their companies.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  Weber and Keyes each face a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

The charges are the result of an ongoing federal antitrust investigation handled by the Department of Justice Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office with assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Inspector General, the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, and the General Services Administration Office of Inspector General.  Anyone with information concerning the conspiracy should contact the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office at 415-934-5300.

Leading Electrolytic Capacitor Manufacturer Indicted for Price Fixing

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Nippon Chemi-Con Is Eighth Company Charged in Long-Running Conspiracy

A federal grand jury returned an indictment against an electrolytic capacitor manufacturer for participating in a conspiracy to fix prices for electrolytic capacitors sold to customers in the United States and elsewhere, the Department of Justice announced today.

The indictment, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, charges that Nippon Chemi-Con Corporation, based in Japan, conspired to suppress and eliminate competition for electrolytic capacitors from as early as September 1997 until January 2014.  Three current Nippon Chemi-Con executives, and one former Nippon Chemi-Con executive, were previously indicted for their participation in the conspiracy: Takuro Isawa, Takeshi Matsuzaka, Yasutoshi Ohno, and Kaname Takahashi.

“Today’s indictment affirms the Antitrust Division’s commitment to holding companies accountable for conspiring to cheat American consumers,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division.  “The Division will prosecute companies—no matter where they are located—that violate U.S. antitrust laws.”

According to the one-count felony charge, Nippon Chemi-Con carried out the conspiracy by agreeing with co-conspirators to fix prices of electrolytic capacitors during meetings and other communications.  Capacitors were then sold in accordance with these agreements.  As part of the conspiracy, Nippon Chemi-Con and its co-conspirators took steps to conceal the conspiracy, including the use of code names and providing misleading justifications for prices and bids submitted to customers in order to cover up their collusive conduct.

As a result of the government’s ongoing investigation, eight companies and ten individuals have been charged with participating in a conspiracy to fix prices of electrolytic capacitors.  Electrolytic capacitors store and regulate electrical current in a variety of electronic products, including computers, televisions, car engines and airbag systems, home appliances, and office equipment.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Today’s charge results from ongoing federal antitrust investigations being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco Field Office into price fixing, bid rigging and other anticompetitive conduct in the capacitor industry.  Anyone with information related to the focus of this investigation should contact the Antitrust Division’s Citizen Complaint Center at 1-888-647-3258, visit https://www.justice.gov/atr/report-violations, or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.

New York Businessman Charged in Telemarketing-Related Fraud and Identity Theft Scheme

Thursday, October 5, 2017

A New York businessman was arrested today for overseeing a scheme to forge hundreds of thousands of counterfeit documents containing improperly obtained personal information, which he allegedly sold to his clients, who then allegedly provided this information to telemarketers.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Bridget M. Rohde of the Eastern District of New York, Special Agent in Charge Richard T. Thornton of the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office, Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs of the FBI’s San Antonio Field Office and FBI Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney, Jr. of the New York Field Office made the announcement.

William Patrick Nanry, 55, of Pearl River, New York, was charged on Tuesday, October 3, in an indictment filed in the Eastern District of New York with one count of conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud, one count of mail fraud, one count of identity theft and one count of aggravated identity theft.

According to the indictment, Nanry operated a business selling “sweepstakes leads,” which are documents listing the phone numbers and personal information of individuals who have responded to mass mailings notifying recipients that they may have won, or were likely to win, expensive prizes and enormous cash payouts.  Such information is highly valued by fraudulent telemarketers, who seek to identify individuals who may be susceptible to questionable pitches.

The indictment alleges that beginning in approximately 2009, Nanry acquired lists of names and contact information for hundreds of thousands of people—primarily senior citizens— and used this information to create fake sweepstakes leads, which he then sold to his clients as authentic.  The indictment further alleges that Nanry directed a team of employees and associates to write the personal information of the victims onto the counterfeit sweepstakes forms, even though the victims had not agreed to this use, and even though many of the victims had never responded to a sweepstakes mailing.  Nanry allegedly directed these employees and associates to vary their handwriting, to use a large number of pens in varying colors, and to take other actions to make the fake leads appear authentic.  According to the indictment, the counterfeit sweepstakes leads were then sold to Nanry’s clients, who provided them to telemarketers, who then contacted the people named in the leads.  Many of these fake sweepstakes leads allegedly ended up in the hands of telemarketers who attempted to defraud the victims.  Some of the individuals who had their information misused by Nanry were ultimately defrauded by scam telemarketers.

Over the duration of the scheme, Nanry earned over $1.7 million by selling fake sweepstakes leads to his clients, the indictment alleges.

An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

The FBI is investigating this matter.  Timothy A. Duree and Tracee Plowell of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case

Real Estate Investor Pleads Guilty to Bid Rigging in Northern California Public Foreclosure Auctions

Friday, October 6, 2017

Investigations Have Yielded 63 Plea Agreements to Date

A real estate investor pleaded guilty for his role in a conspiracy to rig bids at public real estate foreclosure auctions in Northern California, the Department of Justice announced.

Jim Appenrodt pleaded guilty to two counts of bid rigging in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco. Appenrodt was charged in an indictment returned by a federal grand jury on October 22, 2014.

According to court documents, Appenrodt participated in a conspiracy to rig bids by agreeing to refrain from bidding against other coconspirators at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco County and San Mateo County from as early as August 2008 until January 2011.

“The Antitrust Division has prosecuted scores of real estate investors who, for their own benefit and profit, conspired to corrupt the bidding process at foreclosure auctions,” said Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division.  “Today’s guilty plea demonstrates the Division’s continued commitment to bringing to justice the individuals who committed these crimes.”

Today’s guilty plea is the result of the Department’s ongoing investigation into bid rigging at public real estate foreclosure auctions in San Francisco, San Mateo, Contra Costa and Alameda counties, California. To date, 63 individuals have agreed to plead or have pleaded guilty.

These investigations are being conducted by the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office and the FBI’s San Francisco. Anyone with information concerning bid rigging or fraud related to real-estate foreclosure auctions should contact the Antitrust Division’s San Francisco Office at 415-934-5300 or call the FBI tip line at 415-553-7400.