Connolly’s Cartel Capers: Whatever Happened to…Mark Whitacre?


Mark Whitacre was the former Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) executive who blew the whistle on the international lysine price-fixing conspiracy of the early 1990’s. He is the highest ranking Fortune 500 executive to become an FBI whistleblower.  Whitacre’s actions launched the age of international price-fixing prosecutions that dominate cartel enforcement to this day. Mr. Whitacre has written an essay, “When Good Leaders Lose Their Way,” 45 Loy. U. Chi. L.J. 525 (2014), that recounts how he became involved in the conspiracy; why he decided to confess to the FBI; his two year saga as an FBI uncover operative across the globe; his decision to embezzle $9.5 million from ADM (his “self-help” severance pay); his resulting ten-year prison sentence; and how he landed on his feet today as the COO of a biotech company with his family intact.  Whitacre’s journey illustrates how a serious antitrust and ethics compliance program may have prevented a journey of  misery for him and his company.  

Whitacre got involved in the lysine cartel because of tunnel vision focus on short-term profit driven by the lure of stock options and other financial benefits and trappings of life at the top. His wife, who noticed the changes in Whitacre and his material focus, became the impetus for him to turn himself in to the FBI. For two years Whitacre reported to work as a loyal executive of ADM, all the while equipped with recording devices to “get the goods” on his superiors and co-workers. By his account, after two years of this double life he made some extraordinarily bad decisions to try secure his financial future.  He embezzled almost $10 million from ADM and was caught. He compounded this mistake by turning down what his lawyer called the “deal of a lifetime” and a possible 6 month sentence, which was supported by FBI agents with whom he had worked. He ended up serving 8 years and 8 months in federal prison. Upon his release, however, he has been able to resume a successful career as the CEO of a biotech company fueled by an entirely new set of principles. Whitacre has his own web page, Website of Mark Whitacre This web site contains, among other things, interviews of FBI agents who handled Whitacre during his two years of undercover activity. To read more about the actual workings of the lysine cartel, see: “The Fly On The Wall Has Been Bugged– Catching An International Cartel In The Act,” speech by  Scott D. Hammond, Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Criminal Enforcement, Antitrust Division, May 15, 2001. Copies of the lysine tapes and transcripts are available at no charge by mailing or faxing (202/616-4529) your request to the United States Department of Justice, Antitrust Division, Freedom of Information Act Unit, Liberty Square Building, 450 Fifth Street, NW, Suite 3200, Washington, 20530
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Connolly’s Cartel Capers: Reform the Antitrust Sentencing Guidelines for Individuals

The Need to Reform the Antitrust Sentencing Guidelines for Individuals (continued)

In an earlier post, I explained why I think the antitrust sentencing guidelines for individuals are in need of serious reform (here). The main defect in the current guidelines is that the primary driver of an individuals’ sentence is the volume of commerce of the conspiracy. As discussed in the previous post, under this formulation, the President of a successful bid-rigging scheme is likely to be found less culpable than a salesperson in an international company who is directed by his boss to attend cartel meetings and report back.  Also, there is very little difference in culpability under the guidelines between the CEO who initiates and commits his company to a cartel and one of his employees who he directs to go to meetings or talk to a competitor. Both are tagged with the same volume of commerce (if their temporal participation in the cartel was the same).

Besides being unfair, or rather because of this, the individual sentencing guidelines are routinely ignored by the Courts. The guidelines have been advisory since the decision in United States v.Booker.   To date, in antitrust cases, courts sentencing a defendant under the current guidelines have (I believe) always departed downward from the government’s sentencing guidelines recommendations—at least after conviction at trial.   Courts have rejected the guidelines and instead focused on the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. Section 3553 (Imposition of Sentence)(Factors to be Considered in Sentencing.) This statute directs the court to impose a “sentence sufficient, but not greater than necessary.” In determining the sentence, the court is directed to consider various factors including “the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant.” The sentence should “reflect the seriousness of the offense,” and “afford adequate deterrence.” Applying these factors, courts have found departure from the antitrust sentencing guidelines warranted.

[Continued Read More…]

Connolly’s Cartel Capers: Consciousness of Innocence (continued)

Consciousness of Innocence (continued)

On July 8, 2014 Rengan Rajaratnam was acquitted by a federal jury of participation in an insider trading conspiracy. The verdict was the government’s first trial loss in a wide-ranging probe that has led to 85 convictions of traders, analysts, lawyers and executives, with most sentenced to prison. Raj Rajaratnam, the defendant’s older brother, is currently serving an 11 year jail term. In an earlier post I reported that in a pretrial motion, Rajaratnam’s counsel persuaded the court that he should be able to introduce evidence that he was in Brazil at the time he learned of his indictment and he immediately returned to the United States to face the charges. This evidence, Rajaratnam argued, and the court agreed, could be considered by the jury as “consciousness of innocence.” The jury acquitted Rajaratnam, and no doubt many factors were at play, but in fact, Rajaratnam did introduce such evidence at trial.   [Read more…]

Robert E. Connolly’s Cartel Capers: Second Circuit on FTAIA to Extraterritorial Anticompetitive Conduct

The Second Circuit Adds Its Voice to the Debate Over the Application of the FTAIA to Extraterritorial Anticompetitive Conduct

One of the hottest topics in cartel enforcement today is the question of how the Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act of 1982 (“FTAIA”) limits the extraterritorial reach of the Sherman Act. The FTAIA applies to both governmental and private actions. On June 4, 2014 the Second Circuit offered its views on the subject in Lotes Co., v. Hon Hai Precision Industry, No. 13-2280, slip op. (2d Cir. June 4, 2014).

The Foreign Trade Antitrust Improvements Act of 1982 (“FTAIA”), 15 U.S.C. Section 6a, limits the extraterritorial reach of the Sherman Act. The Supreme Court has explained that the FTAIA initially lays down a general rule placing all (nonimport) activity involving foreign commerce outside the Sherman Act’s reach. The FTAIA then brings such conduct back within the Sherman Act’s reach provided that the conduct both (1) sufficiently affects American commerce, i.e., has a “direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect” on American domestic, import, or (certain) export commerce, and (2) has an effect of a kind that antitrust law considers harmful,i.e., the “effect” must “giv[e] rise to a [Sherman Act] claim.” F. HoffmannLa Roche Ltd. v. Empagran S.A., 542 U.S. 155, 162 (2004) (quoting 15 U.S.C. § 6a(1), (2)).  

In Lotes, a manufacturer of UBS connectors (Lotes), alleged monopolization by the defendants of the market for UBS 3.0 connectors. Lotes alleged that the defendants breached their obligation to provide RAND‐Zero licenses to adopters of the USB 3.0 standard, which included Lotes. This, Lotes claimed, gave the defendants unlawful monopoly power over the manufacture of USB 3.0 connectors in China. While the anticompetitive conduct took place in China, Lotes’s theory was that monopoly driven price increases in USB 3.0 connectors would “inevitably” be passed on to consumers in the United States. Lotes alleged, therefore, that the monopolization conduct in China would have a “direct, substantial, and reasonably foreseeable effect on U.S. commerce.”

The Second Circuit upheld the dismissal of the complaint because Lotes did not satisfy the second requirement under the FTAIA that “such effect gives rise to a claim under the provisions of this Act.” The effect in the United States from the defendants’ alleged conduct was claimed to be higher consumer prices. But, Lotes’s injury, as a competitor of the defendants, was that it was allegedly wrongly denied a license to manufacture the connectors.  Higher U.S. consumer prices did not give rise to Lotes’s antitrust injury. In fact, Lotes’s injury predated the higher prices. Lotes’s complaint therefore was dismissed because any domestic effect caused by the defendants’ foreign anticompetitive conduct did not “give[] rise to” Lotes’s claims. 15 U.S.C. § 6a(2). Lotes at 47.

There are several other important aspects to the Lotes decision:

1) The Second Circuit joined the Third and Seventh Circuit in holding that the requirements of the FTAIA were not jurisdictional, but were substantive elements of a Sherman Act offense. The importance of this holding is obvious. Motions to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) based on lack of subject-matter jurisdiction place the burden on the plaintiff to establish jurisdiction.  The plaintiff must meet its burden before discovery takes place.  Instead, because satisfying FTAIA requirements is now considered an element of the Sherman Act violation, defendants must file a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) and all reasonable inferences will be drawn in favor of the plaintiff.

2) The Second Circuit did not reach the issue of whether the defendants’ conduct met the FTAIA “direct, substantial and reasonably foreseeable effect” requirement, but did rule that the district court used the wrong test to answer this question.The district court construed the FTAIA’s “direct effect” element to require the effect to follow “as an immediate consequence of the defendant’s activity.”   This is the rule in the Ninth Circuit. The Second Circuit, however, rejected this test. The Court adopted an alternative approach advocated by the Department of Justice and the FTC in amicus briefs. Under this more relaxed approach“the term ‘direct’ means only ‘a reasonably proximate causal nexus.’” Lotes at 35-36. The Seventh Circuit has also adopted the “reasonably proximate causal nexus” test. See Minn-Chen v. Agrium, Inc., 683 F.3d 845 (7th Cir. 2012).

While the Second Circuit did not reach the question of whether Lotes’s allegations of monopoly conduct in China met the “reasonably proximate causal nexus” the Court did note that, “This kind of complex manufacturing process is increasingly common in our modern global economy, and antitrust law has long recognized that anticompetitive injuries can be transmitted through multi‐layered supply chains.” Lotes at 43. The Court also observed that the “Supreme Court has held that claims by indirect purchasers are ‘consistent with the broad purposes of the federal antitrust laws: deterring anticompetitive conduct and ensuring the compensation of victims of that conduct.’” Lotes at 43, citing California v. ARC Am. Corp., 490 U.S. 93, 102 (1989).

3) It may be significant that the Second Circuit adopted the approach advocated by the DOJ and FTC that the “the term ‘direct’ means only ‘a reasonably proximate causal nexus’” and noted that this test may still be met even where the fixed-price product is manufactured overseas and becomes a component of a finished product that is later imported into the United States. By contrast, the Seventh Circuit recently found in Motorola Mobility v. AU Optronics, Case No. 14-8003, slip op. (7th Cir. Mar. 27, 2014) that the FTAIA’s requirements were not met where prices were fixed on LCD screens that were sold to Motorola’s overseas subsidiaries and then incorporated overseas into cell phones that were then imported into the United States. TheMotorola Court held that the fact that the purchasers of the price-fixed products were located overseas meant that the effect was not “direct.” The court, per Judge Posner, stated:

The effect on component price fixing on the price of the product of which it is a component is indirect, compared to the situation in Minn-Chem where “foreign sellers allegedly created a cartel, took steps outside the United States to drive the price up of a product that is wanted in the United States, and then (after succeeding in doing so) sold that product to U.S. customers.”

Continued at Robert E. Connolly’s Cartel Capers Blog

Six Miami-Area Residents Plead Guilty to Mortgage Fraud Scheme Involving Four Condominium Developments

Six Miami-area residents, including three former loan officers, pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Florida this week to participating in a fraudulent scheme designed to enrich real estate developers by selling condominium units to straw buyers.

Acting Assistant Attorney General David A. O’Neil of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Special Agent in Charge Phyllis Robinson of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of the Inspector General (HUD-OIG) in Miami and Acting Inspector General Michael P. Stephens of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) made the announcement.

Today, Leidy Masvidal, 42, of Miami, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Marcia G. Cooke to conspiring to commit bank fraud.   Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 24, 2014.   Alfredo Jesus Chacon, 48, of Orange Park, Florida, and Francisco Martos, 63, and Dorian Wong Magarino, 49, both of Miami, also pleaded guilty today to conspiring to commit wire fraud and mail fraud before U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro.   Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 1, 2014.

On May 14, 2014, Tania Masvidal, 49, and Douglas Ponce, 40, both of Miami, each pleaded guilty before Judge Cooke to conspiring to commit bank fraud.  Sentencing is scheduled for July 30, 2014.

According to the defendants’ plea agreements and other court documents, the defendants participated in a scheme to pay straw buyers to submit false loan applications to lending institutions to purchase condominiums owned by co-conspirators.   Leidy Masvidal and Tania Masvidal used a mortgage brokerage they owned, EZY Mortgage Inc., to arrange financing for the purchases.   Because the straw buyers were not credit-worthy, the Masvidals secured loans in their names by submitting to lending institutions loan applications and other fraudulent documents containing false statements about the buyers’ income, employment and assets, and falsely stating that the buyers intended to reside in the properties.   Additionally, the Masvidals enabled their co-conspirators to secretly fund the buyers’ obligations to pay money at closing (known as “cash to close” obligations) by establishing shell corporations, which the co-conspirators used to funnel cash from conspirators to the escrow account used at closing, as well as paying the straw buyers.   The co-conspirators compensated the Masvidals for their role in the scheme by sending kickback payments taken from the loan proceeds to the Masvidals’ shell corporations for every straw buyer identified.

According to admissions in court records, Martos was a former loan officer at a mortgage company known as State Lending who helped secure financing for straw buyers in exchange for kickbacks by procuring false employment documents and by including false information in buyers’ loan applications. Chacon and Ponce recruited straw buyers to purchase properties owned by co-conspirators in exchange for kickbacks paid from the sales proceeds.   Chacon also allowed a company that he controlled to be used as a false employer for the straw buyers.  Magarino accepted payments to act as one of Chacon’s straw buyers and recruited other straw buyers into the scheme.   For the properties in which Margarino acted as the straw buyer, he represented to the lender that he personally met his cash-to-close obligations when in fact he knowingly paid these costs with funds supplied by conspirators.

Many of the straw buyers defaulted on their loans after the conspirators stopped making their mortgage payments on their behalf, causing millions of dollars in losses to lenders.

On March 31, 2014, Luis Mendez, Stavroula Mendez, Luis Michael Mendez, Lazaro Mendez, Marie Mendez, Wilkie Perez and Enrique Angulo were indicted in the Southern District of Florida for their alleged participation in this scheme.   They have pleaded not guilty and trial is currently set for Sept. 8, 2014.   The charges in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The case is being investigated by HUD-OIG and FHFA-OIG.  The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Gary A. Winters and Brian Young of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section.

Washington Post: Three things expected from Comcast-TWC merger hearing

The Washington Post

Three things to expect from Thursday’s Comcast-TWC merger hearing” by Brian Fung

Revisiting the NBC Universal merger: Allen Grunes, a former Justice Department antitrust lawyer, is expected to say that the conditions that applied to Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal — such as a commitment to respect net neutrality and to help promote media diversity — won’t be enough to ensure adequate competition in a Comcast deal. “The most comprehensive study to date has shown that merger-specific regulation, like regulation as a whole, often does not work,” Grunes says in his prepared testimony.

Phillip Zane and Allen Grunes recognized

by Thomson Reuters

GeyerGorey LLP is pleased to announce that Phillip Zane and Allen Grunes have been named to the 2014 “DC Super Lawyers List” by Thomson Reuters.  Zane was recognized for his work in white collar criminal defense, antitrust litigation and appellate, while Grunes was recognized for his work in antitrust litigation, mergers & acquisitions and government relations.  Both attorneys will be listed in the May 2014 Washington DC Super Lawyers magazine.

The polling, researching, and selecting of “Super Lawyers” is designed to identify Washington, DC lawyers who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.  Only 5 percent of Washington, DC-area attorneys receive this honor.

GeyerGorey is a boutique law firm founded by former DOJ antitrust prosecutors.  With twelve lawyers in five offices, the firm concentrates on criminal and civil antitrust litigation and counseling, matters involving federal procurement fraud, other federal criminal matters, and counseling on compliance with U.S. laws.

Forbes Magazine: DoJ Flexing Muscle On Price Fixers Worldwide

DoJ Flexing Muscle On Price Fixers Worldwide:

“There are going to be fewer places to hide,” said Robert Connolly…

Antitrust and White-Collar Defense Luminary, Robert E. Connolly, Joins GeyerGorey LLP

Robert E. ConnollyGeyerGorey LLP announced today that Robert E. Connolly has joined the firm’s Washington, D.C. office as a partner.  Connolly spent most of his career as a prosecutor with the Middle Atlantic Field Office of the Antitrust Division, Department of Justice.   Connolly joined that office in 1980 and was Chief from 1994 until early 2013.  More recently, Robert E. Connolly has been with DLA Piper in Philadelphia.  Connolly will lead GeyerGorey’s corporate internal investigations practice.  Founding partner Brad Geyer said “Bob is a natural fit for our culture, which requires constant disciplined teamwork and focus on client solutions that spring from the firm’s’ deep prosecutorial experience”
Connolly said: “I am excited to join my former DOJ colleagues.  Collectively we have worked on many of the Division’s most significant criminal and civil matters.  We have unique insights and experience to offer clients. The firm’s unique approach and rapid growth further strengthens our ability to serve clients faced with government investigations.”
“We expect Bob will be involved in much of the firm’s current portfolio of work, in addition to leading the corporate internal investigation practice,” said founding partner Hays Gorey.  “Bob has a notable reputation for his representation in high-stakes matters. He will strengthen our ability to represent multinational clients in complex litigation, as well as in high-profile regulatory and enforcement agency investigations.”  Connolly will be also be part of GeyerGorey’s compliance team, which blends its experience in enforcement, in-house counseling, criminal and civil defense, and qui tam litigation, to help companies efficiently identify, address, and mitigate litigation risks from the onset and develop an organizational culture that encourages ethical conduct and a commitment to comply with the law.
In his career with the Division, Connolly led major national and international white-collar crime investigations in the areas of antitrust, fraud and obstruction of justice.  He is known for innovative investigative and trial strategy and a command presence in the courtroom.  He left the government with one of the, if not the most successful, trial records in Antitrust Division history. Connolly was known for his building and leading effective teams that had an extraordinary commitment to successfully completing the mission.
Notably, Connolly led the international graphite electrodes cartel grand jury investigation, which resulted in seven corporate and three individual convictions and approximately $437 million in fines, including what was then the largest post-trial criminal fine in Antitrust Division history.  The investigation was capped by charging, trying and convicting a foreign corporation of aiding and abetting the cartel.   Connolly, as lead trial attorney, along with GeyerGorey’s Wendy Norman, received the DOJ’s highest litigation honor, the John Marshall Award for Outstanding Legal Achievement for Trial Litigation.  More recently, Connolly’s office led the historic effort to extradite Ian Norris to the United States from Britain to stand trial on obstruction of justice charges, of which Norris was later convicted.
In addition to his prosecutorial experience, Connolly was the Victor Kramer Fellow at Yale University in 1989-1990. He has served as an adjunct professor of antitrust law at Rutgers-Camden Law School and later Drexel School of Law.   He currently serves on the Advisory Board for the ABA Cartel and Criminal Practice committee and since leaving the Antitrust Division in 2013, has authored more than a dozen articles on U.S. and international competition law practice.

Compliance Week Examines Maurice E. Stucke’s Recent Research on Compliance Programs

Compliance Week’s review of the latest working paper by GeyerGorey’s Maurice Stucke affirms the nagging doubts commonly shared by compliance officers and inside counsel alike about the effectiveness of their compliance programs.


PRLog (Press Release) – Jan. 22, 2014 – WASHINGTON, D.C. — “An eye-opening academic paper.” That was the response to Maurice E. Stucke’s latest working paper, In Search of Effective Ethics & Compliance Programs, which Compliance Week reviewed recently.

As Professor Stucke explains, the U.S. Sentencing Commission’s Organizational Guidelines for over twenty years have offered firms a significant financial incentive to develop an ethical organizational culture. Nonetheless, corporate crime persists. Too many ethics programs remain ineffective. As his article argues, the Guidelines’ current approach is not working. The evidence, which includes sentencing data over the past twenty years, reveals that few firms have effective ethics and compliance programs. Nor is there much hope that the Guidelines’ incentives will induce companies, after the economic crisis, to become more ethical.

The problem is not compliance per se. The empirical research, while still developing, suggests that compliance efforts can be effective, and that effective compliance is attainable for many companies. The problem, Professor Stucke identifies, is attributable to an extrinsic, incentive-based approach to compliance, which does not cure, and likely contributes to, the problem of ineffective compliance.

In his article, What You Believe About Effective Compliance, And What Works, Matt Kelly summarizes Prof. Stucke’s piece,

Good news for chief compliance officers frustrated with the effectiveness of your compliance program, or the lack thereof: you are correct to feel that way.

That’s the conclusion of an eye-opening academic paper, “In Search of Effective Ethics & Compliance Programs,” published last month by University of Tennessee law professor Maurice Stucke. If you ever wanted to confirm that nagging feeling you have that maybe our approach to building compliance programs and deeming them effective isn’t quite right, read this 88-page paper immediately.

Professor Stucke is part of GeyerGorey’s compliance team, which blends its experience in enforcement, in-house counseling, criminal and civil defense, and qui tam litigation, to help companies efficiently identify, address, and mitigate litigation risks from the onset and develop an organizational culture that encourages ethical conduct and a commitment to comply with the law.