Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
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After an explosion at Massey’s West Virginia coal mine killed 29 miners, Blankenship, then Massey’s Chairman of the Board and CEO, was convicted of conspiring to willfully violate federal mine safety and health standards, 30 U.S.C. 820(d) and 18 U.S.C. 371. The evidence indicated that Blankenship had willfully failed to address numerous notices of mine safety violations that Massey had received, favoring production and profits over safety. Following the trial and in response to Blankenship’s ongoing requests, the government produced documents to Blankenship that it had not produced before trial and that it should have produced under applicable Department of Justice policies. The suppressed documents fell broadly into two categories: memoranda of interviews conducted of seven Massey employees and internal emails and documents of the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) showing, among other things, some MSHA employees’ hostility to Massey and Blankenship.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of Blankenship’s 28 U.S.C. 2255 motion to vacate his conviction. While the documents were improperly suppressed, they were not material in that there was not a reasonable probability that they would have produced a different result had they been disclosed before trial. The verdict that Blankenship conspired to willfully violate mandatory mine standards was supported by ample evidence. View "United States v. Blankenship" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Defendants' convictions connected with the murder of Steven DiSarro, holding that Defendants were not entitled to relief on their allegations of error.Defendants, Francis Salemme and Paul Weadick, were convicted of the 1993 murder of DiSarro. At the time of the murder, Salemme was the boss of a criminal organization known as the New England La Cosa Nostra. Defendants murdered DiSarro to prevent him from talking with federal agents about his activities with Salemme, Weadick and Salemme's son. On appeal, Defendants challenged the trial court's admission of a significant amount of evidence concerning the prior criminal activities of Salemme and several witnesses. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in admitting the evidence. View "United States v. Weadick" on Justia Law

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A felony complaint alleged that on seven different dates in 2014, Martinez committed a felony under Insurance Code section 1814 by entering into an agreement and having an understanding with a person incarcerated in jail, to inform and notify Martinez, a bail licensee, of the fact of an arrest in violation of California Code of Regulations, title 10, section 2076. Martinez was associated with Luna Bail Bonds.The court of appeal reversed her subsequent conviction, finding the regulation facially invalid. Section 2076 prohibits bail licensees from entering, indirectly or directly, any arrangement or understanding with specified types of people— including a “person incarcerated in a jail”—“or with any other persons” to inform or notify any bail licensee, directly or indirectly, of information pertaining to (1) an existing criminal complaint, (2) a prior, impending, or contemplated arrest, or (3) the persons involved therein, which impliedly includes arrestees and named criminals. The section is not unconstitutionally vague but is a content-based regulation, which unduly suppresses protected speech and fails to survive even intermediate judicial scrutiny. While section 2076 might indirectly deter unlawful solicitation of arrestees, an indirect effect is not enough to survive intermediate scrutiny. View "People v. Martinez" on Justia Law

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In 1998-2010, Dimora served as one of three Cuyahoga County Commissioners. An FBI investigation revealed that Dimora had received over $250,000 in gifts from individuals with business before the County, including home renovations, trips to Las Vegas, and encounters with prostitutes. Dimora had used his position to help with the awarding of County contracts, hiring, the results of at least one County election, and civil litigation outcomes. Dimora’s “influence” ranged from casting formal votes as Commissioner to pressuring other officials.Dimora was charged with Hobbs Act offenses, bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, making false statements on tax returns, conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services wire fraud, RICO conspiracy, mail fraud, conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstructing a federal investigation. A jury convicted Dimora on 33 counts. The Sixth Circuit upheld the jury instructions defining “official acts” as having “fairly trace[d] the line between permissible gifts and impermissible bribes.” A ruling that state ethics reports were inadmissible hearsay was harmless in light of “overwhelming evidence.”In its 2016 “McDonnell” decision, the Supreme Court gave a narrow construction to a key element included within several of Dimora’s offenses. The term “official acts” does not include “setting up a meeting, calling another public official, or hosting an event.” Official acts are limited to “formal exercise[s] of governmental power.” Dimora petitioned to vacate his convictions under 28 U.S.C. 2255. The Sixth Circuit vacated a denial of relief. The court declined to decide whether the instructional error was harmless with respect to most of the counts or whether the “cumulative effect” of instructional and evidentiary errors entitles Dimora to relief. View "Dimora v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Drug Enforcement Administration investigated Dr. Ley and his opioid addiction treatment company, DORN, conducted undercover surveillance, and decided Ley did not have a legitimate medical purpose in prescribing Suboxone. Indiana courts issued warrants, culminating in arrests of four physicians and one nurse and seven non-provider DORN employees. Indiana courts dismissed the charges against the non-providers and the nurse. Ley was acquitted; the state dismissed the charges against the remaining providers. DORN’s providers and non-provider employees sued, alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution, and civil conspiracy. The district court entered summary judgment for the defendants, holding probable cause supported the warrants at issue. The Seventh Circuit affirmed as to every plaintiff except Mackey, a part-time parking lot attendant. One of Ley’s former patients died and that individual’s family expressed concerns about Ley; other doctors voiced concerns, accusing Ley of prescribing Suboxone for pain to avoid the 100-patient limit and bring in more revenue. At least one pharmacy refused to fill DORN prescriptions. Former patients reported that they received their prescriptions without undergoing any physical exam. DORN physicians prescribed an unusually high amount of Suboxone; two expert doctors opined that the DORN physicians were not prescribing Suboxone for a legitimate medical purpose. There was evidence that the non-provider employees knew of DORN’s use of pre-signed prescriptions and sometimes distributed them. There were, however, no facts alleged in the affidavit that Mackey was ever armed, impeded investigations, handled money, or possessed narcotics. View "Vierk v. Whisenand" on Justia Law

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Ludwikowski went to the police station to report extortionate threats. He was there for about seven hours and was questioned extensively about why he was vulnerable to extortion. He was given water and offered pizza. He went to the restroom, unaccompanied, at least three times. He was interviewed for about four hours, in three phases, punctuated by breaks. He had his phone and used it to make a call. It came to light that Ludwikowski, a pharmacist, had been filling fraudulent oxycodone prescriptions. He was later tried for distribution of a controlled substance. He moved to suppress the statements he made at the police station, arguing that they were inadmissible because no one read him his Miranda rights. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. Ludwikowski was not in custody, so no Miranda warnings were needed. Much of the interview was devoted to trying to identify the extorter and the motivation; the interview would have been shorter if Ludwikowski had been more responsive. His statements at the police station were not involuntary. A reasonable person would have understood he could leave; Ludwikowski’s calm demeanor and calculated answers belie his argument that he subjectively felt his freedom was constrained. There was no plain error in the admission of expert testimony on the practice of pharmacy. . View "United States v. Ludwikowski" on Justia Law

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Orie, a former state senator, used her government-funded legislative staff to do fundraising and campaigning for her reelection. When the Commonwealth investigated, she tried to hide and destroy documents. Orie's sisters, including a Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice, were also charged. At trial, Orie introduced exhibits with directives to her chief of staff, not to do political work on legislative time. The prosecution determined that these exhibits had forged signatures. The court found that the forged documents were “a fraud on the Court,” and declared a mistrial. The Secret Service subsequently found that many of the exhibits were forged. During Orie’s second trial, the prosecution's expert testified that Orie’s office lease barred her staff from using that office for anything besides legislative work. Orie unsuccessfully sought to call an expert to testify that the senate rules let staff do political work from legislative offices on comp time. Orie was convicted of theft of services, conspiracy, evidence tampering, forgery, and of using her political position for personal gain, in violation of the Pennsylvania Ethics Act. The Third Circuit affirmed the denial of her federal habeas petition, first finding that it lacked jurisdiction to consider her Ethics Act challenge because she is not in custody for those convictions. The court rejected a double jeopardy argument. The state court reasonably found that a mistrial was manifestly necessary because the forged documents could have tainted the jury’s verdict. Orie did not show that her senate-rules expert’s testimony would have been material, so she had no constitutional right to call that witness. View "Orie v. Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections" on Justia Law

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In 2003, Cordaro and his co-defendant were elected as two of three Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania county commissioners. About 30 percent of Ackers’ business was municipal engineering, mostly for Lackawanna County. McLaine, Acker’s principal, expressed concerns to Cordaro's friend, Hughes. Hughes arranged a meeting, telling McLaine to bring a list of Acker's existing work for the county. McLaine’s list included the Lackawanna Watershed 2000 Program, a multi-year project based on a $30 million congressional grant; work on the Main Street and Gilmartin Street Bridges; work for several municipal authorities; and surveying, paving, and mapping. Cordaro stated, “I think I can let you keep that, . . . if we’re having fundraisers you’re going to have to participate and support us.” McLaine agreed. After becoming aware that Acker might lose two large contracts, McLaine called Hughes, who called Cordaro. Hughes asked, “how much money ... to give for the work.” Cordaro said, “maybe $15,000.” Hughes told McLaine that if he gave him $10,000 a month for Cordaro, Hughes could guarantee that Acker would keep its contracts and that he would lose his work if he did not pay. Payments began. In 2011, Cordaro was convicted of bribery, 18 U.S.C. 666(a)(1)(B); Hobbs Act extortion, section 1951(a); and racketeering, sections 1962(c) and (d). The court instructed the jury that those crimes required an “official act.” In 2016, the Supreme Court (McDonnell) clarified what constitutes an “official act.” The Third Circuit affirmed the rejection of Cordaro’s habeas corpus (28 U.S.C. 2241) because Cordaro cannot show that it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror properly charged under McDonnell would have convicted him. View "Cordaro v. United States" on Justia Law

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Ayers, an experienced Kentucky criminal-defense attorney, was indicted in 2008 on five counts of failing to file state tax returns. Ayers represented himself throughout the 21 months between his indictment and trial, but never formally elected to do so. He never waived his right to counsel on the record, filed a notice of appearance, or moved to be allowed to proceed pro se. The court allegedly failed to inform him at his arraignment that he had a right to counsel and never subsequently sought to determine whether Ayers’s self-representation was a voluntary, intelligent, and knowing waiver of his right to counsel. When Ayers asked for a continuance a day before trial was scheduled to begin so that he could hire an attorney with whom he attested he was already in negotiations, the court denied his request and forced him to proceed pro se. Ayers was convicted. The Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s denial of habeas relief. The Kentucky Supreme Court acted contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent when it held that trial courts need not “obtain a waiver of counsel” before allowing “experienced criminal trial attorneys” to represent themselves. Applying de novo review, the court concluded that Ayers did not validly waive his right to counsel. View "Ayers v. Hall" on Justia Law

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On the facts of the case, the constitutional speedy trial clock began to run from the date of the original indictment rather than from the date of an additional charge first brought in a superseding indictment.A federal grand jury indicted Defendant on twelve counts of wire fraud. Approximately six years later, the government filed a superseding indictment containing the same twelve wire-fraud counts as the original indictment and adding a new count for bank fraud. The district court granted Defendant’s motion to dismiss the original indictment and the added bank-fraud count on Sixth Amendment speedy trial grounds. The government appealed, arguing that, with respect to the bank-fraud charge, the district court should have measured the period of delay from the filing of the superseding indictment, not from the filing of the initial indictment. The First Circuit disagreed, holding that the bringing of an additional charge does not reset the Sixth Amendment speedy trial clock to the date of the superseding indictment where the additional charge and the charge for which the defendant was previously accused are based on the same act or transaction, or common scheme or plan, and where the government could have, with diligence, brought the additional charge at the time of the prior accusation. View "United States v. Handa" on Justia Law