Feds Set Sights on ‘Gatekeepers’ in Fraud Investigations

Joe Palazzolo
Legal Times

Federal law enforcement officials said Wednesday they are targeting lawyers, mortgage brokers, real estate brokers and other “gatekeepers” who perpetrated fraud that contributed to the current economic crisis — a clear warning shot as the federal government is pumping billions of dollars into the financial sector.

“They have the most to lose, they’re the most likely to flip, and they make the best examples,” said Neil Barofsky, the special inspector general for the Troubled Assets Relief Program, during a congressional hearing on fraud enforcement. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was even more blunt: “I want to see these people prosecuted,” he said. “Frankly, I want to see them go to jail.” The hearing was meant to underscore the need for more law enforcement resources amid an upsurge in mortgage and corporate fraud investigations.

Leahy and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have introduced a bill that would expand the scope of federal fraud laws and provide funding for more prosecutors and investigators. FBI Deputy Director John Pistole told the committee that mortgage fraud investigations nearly doubled in the last two years to more than 1,600 in 2008. The bureau, he said, has more than 530 corporate fraud investigations open, including 38 directly related to the current financial crisis.

Pistole said he could see that number potentially rising into the hundreds. But federal law enforcers could do much more with additional resources, he said, pointing to the Justice Department’s successes in the wake of the savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s. At the time, 1,000 agents and forensic investigators and dozens of federal prosecutors were devoted to the effort, which produced more than 600 convictions and $130 million in restitution. Compared to the $160 million lost during the S&L crisis, the current situation is far more dire, with financial institutions globally reducing their assets by more than $1 trillion.  But the Justice Department’s focus on national security has diminished the fraud ranks.

Pistole said 240 agents, supplemented by investigators from other agencies, are working on fraud cases stemming from the economic crisis. Rita Glavin, acting head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, said the department was in discussions with Barofsky about how best to handle criminal referrals and prosecutions when his office uncovers wrongdoing. She also said the Justice Department’s fraud section had created a mortgage fraud working group, with a collection of other enforcement agencies. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., asked Glavin whether DOJ had any designs for a nationwide mortgage fraud taskforce. Then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey repeatedly rejected the idea, saying individual U.S. Attorneys’ Offices were better equipped to handle the work. Glavin said the department was studying the issue. “No decision has been made with respect to that,” she said.

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Securities and Exchange Commission v. Bernard L. Madoff and Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC (S.D.N.Y. Civ. 08 CV 10791 (LLS)) SEC Obtains Preliminary Injunction, Asset Freeze, and Other Relief Against Defendants

The United States Securities and Exchange Commission announced that on December 18, 2008, the Honorable Judge Louis L. Stanton, a federal judge in the Southern District of New York, entered a preliminary injunction order, by consent, against Bernard L. Madoff and Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC (“BMIS”).

The preliminary injunction continues to restrain Madoff and BMIS from violating certain antifraud provisions of the federal securities laws. Also, by consent, Judge Stanton ordered that assets remain frozen until further notice, continued the appointment of a receiver for two entities owned or controlled by Madoff in the United Kingdom (while defendant BMIS remains subject to oversight by a SIPC trustee), and granted other relief. The preliminary injunction order continues the relief originally obtained on December 12, 2008, in response to the Commission’s application for emergency preliminary relief that sought a temporary restraining order, an order freezing assets, and other relief against Madoff and BMIS based on his alleged violations of the federal securities laws.

The SEC’s complaint, filed on December 11, 2008, in federal court in Manhattan, alleges that the defendants have committed a $50 billion fraud and violated Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 thereunder, and Sections 206(1) and 206(2) of the Advisers Act of 1940. The complaint alleges that Madoff last week informed two senior employees that his investment advisory business was a fraud. Madoff told these employees that he was “finished,” that he had “absolutely nothing,” that “it’s all just one big lie,” and that it was “basically, a giant Ponzi scheme.” The senior employees understood him to be saying that he had for years been paying returns to certain investors out of the principal received from other, different investors. Madoff admitted in this conversation that the firm was insolvent and had been for years, and that he estimated the losses from this fraud were at least $50 billion.

The Commission continues to seek, among other things, a permanent injunction, disgorgement of ill-gotten gains plus pre-judgment interest, and civil money penalties.

SEC Files Settled Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Charges Against Siemens AG for Engaging in Worldwide Bribery With Total Disgorgement and Criminal Fines of Over $1.6 Billion

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a settled enforcement action on December 12, 2008, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging Siemens Aktiengesellschaft (“Siemens”), a Munich, Germany-based manufacturer of industrial and consumer products, with violations of the anti-bribery, books and records, and internal controls provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”). Siemens has offered to pay a total of $1.6 billion in disgorgement and fines, which is the largest amount a company has ever paid to resolve corruption-related charges. Siemens has agreed to pay $350 million in disgorgement to the SEC. In related actions, Siemens will pay a $450 million criminal fine to the U.S. Department of Justice and a fine of €395 million (approximately $569 million) to the Office of the Prosecutor General in Munich, Germany. Siemens previously paid a fine of €201 million (approximately $285 million) to the Munich Prosecutor in October 2007.

The SEC’s complaint alleges that:

Between March 12, 2001 and September 30, 2007, Siemens violated the FCPA by engaging in a widespread and systematic practice of paying bribes to foreign government officials to obtain business. Siemens created elaborate payment schemes to conceal the nature of its corrupt payments, and the company’s inadequate internal controls allowed the conduct to flourish. The misconduct involved employees at all levels, including former senior management, and revealed a corporate culture long at odds with the FCPA.

For more see SEC.gov.

SEC Files Settled Books and Records and Internal Controls Charges Against Fiat S.p.A. and CNH Global N.V. For Improper Payments to Iraq Under the U.N. Oil for Food Program — Fiat Agrees to Pay Over $10 Million in Disgorgement, Interest, and Penalties

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed Foreign Corrupt Practices Act books and records and internal controls charges against Fiat S.p.A. and CNH Global N.V. in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Fiat S.p.A., an Italian company, provides automobiles, trucks and commercial vehicles. CNH Global N.V., a majority-owned subsidiary of Fiat, provides agricultural and construction equipment. The Commission’s complaint alleges that from 2000 through 2003, certain Fiat and CNH Global subsidiaries made approximately $4.3 million in kickback payments in connection with their sales of humanitarian goods to Iraq under the United Nations Oil for Food Program (the “Program”). The kickbacks were characterized as “after sales service fees” (“ASSFs”), but no bona fide services were performed. The Program was intended to provide humanitarian relief for the Iraqi population, which faced severe hardship under international trade sanctions. The Program required the Iraqi government to purchase humanitarian goods through a U.N. escrow account. The kickbacks paid by Fiat’s and CNH Global’s subsidiaries diverted funds out of the escrow account and into Iraqi-controlled accounts at banks in countries such as Jordan.

According to the Commission’s Complaint:

During the Oil for Food Program, Fiat’s subsidiary, IVECO S.p.A., used its IVECO Egypt office to enter into four direct contracts with Iraqi ministries in which $1,803,880 in kickbacks were made on the sales of commercial vehicles and parts. After agreeing to pay the ASSFs, IVECO Egypt increased its agent’s commissions from five percent to between fifteen and twenty percent of the total U.N. contract price, which the agent funneled to Iraq as kickbacks. The agent submitted invoices for the inflated commissions, and IVECO financial documents show line items for “contract pay-back” due to the agent. IVECO and the agent secretly inflated the U.N. contracts by ten to fifteen percent. Despite the agent’s invoices being held for one year and the unusually large commissions, IVECO paid the invoices. In one instance, IVECO set up a bank guarantee in the amount of the ASSF in favor of a Dubai-based firm that operated as a front company for Iraq. IVECO’s bank guarantee was canceled and, instead, the agent established an identical bank guarantee to conceal IVECO’s role. A line item identified as “pay-back” on IVECO documents corresponded to the amount of the agent’s bank guarantee. The ASSFs were incorrectly recorded as legitimate commissions on the company’s books and records.

For more see SEC.gov.

SEC Files Settled Enforcement Actions Against UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Former General Counsel in Stock Options Backdating Case

Litigation Release No. 20836 / December 22, 2008

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil injunctive action against UnitedHealth Group Inc., a Minnetonka, Minnesota health insurance company, alleging that it engaged in a scheme to backdate stock options. Without admitting or denying the allegations, UnitedHealth agreed to settle to charges that it violated the reporting, books and records, and internal controls provisions of the federal securities laws.

In a separate complaint, the Commission charged former UnitedHealth General Counsel David J. Lubben with participating in the stock option backdating scheme. Without admitting or denying the allegations, Lubben consented to, among other things, an antifraud injunction, a $575,000 civil penalty, and a five-year officer and director bar.

The Commission alleges that between 1994 and 2005 UnitedHealth concealed more than $1 billion in stock option compensation by providing senior executives and other employees with “in-the-money” options while secretly backdating the grants to avoid reporting the expenses to investors.

According to the Commission’s complaint, certain UnitedHealth officers used hindsight to pick advantageous grant dates for the company’s nonqualified stock options that on many occasions coincided with, or were close to, dates of historically low annual and quarterly closing prices for UnitedHealth’s common stock. Although pricing the options below current prices required the company to report a compensation expense under well-settled accounting principles, UnitedHealth avoided reporting the charges by creating inaccurate and misleading documents indicating that the options had been granted on the earlier date. The backdated grants resulted in materially misleading disclosures, with the company overstating its net income in fiscal years 1994 through 2005 by as much as $1.526 billion.

For more see SEC.gov.

When U.S. E-Discovery Meets EU Roadblocks

By Shannon Capone Kirk, Emily Cobb and Michael Robotti
The National Law Journal
December 22, 2008

One of the most challenging aspects of electronic discovery arises when U.S. litigation crosses borders into European Union countries with strong privacy laws. Ten years ago, these challenges seemed nonexistent; today, litigators face increasing roadblocks to e-discovery based on foreign privacy laws.

Are these roadblocks real or imaginary?

All European Union privacy laws derive from EU Directive 95/46/EC, adopted by the European Parliament in October 1995. The directive and the national laws implementing it shield “personal data” from disclosure in most instances. This protection is in stark contrast to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26, which mandates that parties disclose relevant information regarding any matter not privileged.

Because Rule 26 has been broadly interpreted, U.S. discovery generally is viewed as the most far-reaching among common law countries. This expansive scope directly conflicts with the protections afforded to personal data in the European Union. It is, therefore, not surprising that EU privacy laws restrict the “transfer” of personal data to the United States from the European Union. This article does not seek to define personal “data.”

EU privacy laws protect against the “processing” (reviewing) and “transfer” (which can include viewing, from the United States, data “hosted” on an EU Web site) of personal data — “any information relating to an identified or identifiable” individual, which is construed broadly to include information such as an e-mail address. See, e.g., The Sedona Conference Working Group on International Electronic Information Management, Discovery and Disclosure, Framework for Analysis of Cross-Border Discovery Conflicts 8-9 (August 2008) (hereinafter Sedona Report).

For more see law.com.

Attorney-Client Privilege Protection Act Passes House

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Defense Bar, Business and Legal Groups Support Legislation

Washington, DC­ (Nov. 13, 2007) – The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers fully supports H.R. 3013, “The Attorney-Client Privilege Protection Act of 2007, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives Monday afternoon with no serious opposition. NACDL President Carmen D. Hernandez. stated, “The attorney-client privilege is our oldest privilege at common law. It has served the public interest well for hundreds of years by ensuring frank and confidential communications between persons and their lawyers in potential civil and criminal matters. The criminal defense bar hopes that the Senate will now pass this legislation without further delay.”

The bill prohibits U.S. government employees from pressuring organizations into waiving their traditional legal privileges, including work product protections, or taking actions that adversely affect the rights of their employees during federal investigations.

The Coalition to Preserve the Attorney-Client Privilege, business and legal groups , including NACDL, which have been supporting the legislation, released the following statement on the bill’s passage:

“An overwhelming majority of Members of the House of Representatives have voted to stop Justice Department abuses of power and force federal prosecutors to simply follow rules that will no longer place untenable pressure on companies and employees to waive basic constitutional rights guaranteed to every person targeted in government investigations. Continue reading