Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
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The Haistens sold discounted animal pesticides and drugs online from their South Carolina home. They operated in violation of multiple FDA and EPA regulations. They sold counterfeit DVDs of movies and television shows that they obtained from China. The Haistens ignored cease-and-desist letters from state regulators and animal pesticides companies. Department of Homeland Security agents began making undercover purchases from the Haistens. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized shipments of counterfeit DVDs. Agents then searched the Haistens’ home, which revealed unapproved animal pesticides and drugs, counterfeit DVDs, and business records. In the ensuing prosecution, Count 14 charged the Haistens with trafficking counterfeit DVDs that were seized by CBP officers in Cincinnati. Count 15 charged them with trafficking counterfeit DVDs, that were seized at their home. Defense counsel did not request a jury instruction on improper venue or move for acquittal on Counts 14 or 15 for lack of proper venue in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The Haistens appealed, challenging an evidentiary ruling and a statement the government made during its summation. The Third Circuit affirmed.The Haistens then sought relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255, arguing that their trial counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge venue on Counts 14 and 15. The Third Circuit remanded the denial of that motion for the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing on whether their counsel had a strategic reason for not raising a defense based on improper venue. View "United States v. Haisten" on Justia Law

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Zheng became a permanent U.S. resident in 2004. He was a professor at the University of Southern California, Pennsylvania State University, and The Ohio State University and performed research under National Institute of Health (NIH) grants. Zheng had financial and information-sharing ties to Chinese organizations and received grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China. Including that information on NIH applications would have derailed Zheng’s funding prospects, so Zheng clouded his ties to China. By 2019, the FBI began investigating Zheng. Zheng left for China but federal agents apprehended him in Anchorage.Zheng pleaded guilty to making false statements, 18 U.S.C. 1001(a)(3). Rejecting an argument that the research Zheng completed offset the amount of money lost, the district court calculated a Guidelines range of 37-46 months and sentenced Zheng to 37 months. On appeal, Zheng argued that his counsel was ineffective by not seeking a downward variance based on Zheng’s immigration status as a deportable alien, which would have an impact on the execution of his sentence. The Sixth Circuit dismissed, noting that the record was inadequate to establish ineffective assistance for the first time on direct appeal. Nothing in the record shows counsel’s reasons for making certain strategic decisions or why he advanced one argument over another. View "United States v. Zheng" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed Appellant's plea of guilty to one count of investment adviser fraud, four counts of wire fraud, and one count of aggravated identity theft, holding that there was no prejudicial error in the proceedings below.On appeal, Appellant argued that her plea was not knowing and voluntary, that the evidence was insufficient to convict her of wire fraud and aggravated identity theft, that several sentencing enhancements were improperly applied, and that her counsel was ineffective. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) there was no error in the district court's acceptance of Appellant's guilty plea; (2) Appellant's conduct clearly satisfied the statutory requirements for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft; and (3) Appellant's challenges to several aspects of her sentence were unavailing. View "United States v. Kitts" on Justia Law

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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