Four Executives Acquitted in Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fraud Case

As reported in the Miami Herald, four former executives for Vanguard Fire and Casualty Co. were acquitted yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee on charges that they allegedly defrauded the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund of $20 million. The charges arose from the 2004 hurricane season, one of the most deadly and destructive for Florida, in which the State was hit by four hurricanes, Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne.

The defendants were tried by a bench trial (i.e. trial by the judge without a jury). U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle found in favor of the executives, former Vanguard President William Sanders, former CEO Thomas Stinson, Richard Magsam and John Henry Axley III, holding that there could not have been any fraud because the defendants told hurricane fund officials what they were doing and why they were doing it.

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Florida Attorney and Police Officers Acquitted of Federal Mortgage Fraud Charges

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida have dropped charges of mortgage fraud against Plantation, Florida, attorney Steven Stoll and police officer Dennis Guarancino, according to the Miami Herald. Stoll and Guarancino were charged in relation to a $16.5 million dollar loan fraud scheme by Guarancino's brother, Joseph Guarancino, also a police officer, which involved purchasing and flipping properties. However, their trial last month ended in a mistrial when the jury could not reach a verdict. The Government has stated that it will re-try Joseph Guarancino. Three other Plantation police offers and an FBI agent were acquitted by a jury in April.


Contact the attorneys of Gillen Withers & Lake LLC for your criminal and civil matters, in Savannah or Atlanta.

Prominent Cuban-American Acquitted of Healthcare Fraud in the 1990s, Indicted a Second Time for Submitting False Claims to Medicare

Ernesto Angel Montaner, aged 70, a member of a prominent Miami Cuban family, is facing healthcare fraud charges for the second time, according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Montaner was the sole defendant acquitted in a vast healthcare fraud prosecution in the 1990s for an alleged $15 million in false claims to Medicare. 

The government alleges that, from 2006 to 2008, Montaner submitted approximately $6.2 million in false claims to Medicare at rehabilitation clinics which he operated, including Infinity Therapy and Miami Dade Medical Group. Montaner and others are alleged to have bribed or paid kickbacks to assisted-living facilities, home health care agencies, patient recruiters and patients in exchange for referrals. Many of the patients referred to Montaner did not require physical therapy/occupational therapy services.

Montaner fled to Costa Rica in early 2009 after government agents raided his offices, where he lived on a farm worth $1 million. However, the government successfully extradited Montaner back to the U.S. in February. The current set of charges against Montaner arose out a sting operation by the FBI using a registered nurse and convicted felon posing as a patient recruiter, as well as a physician convicted of Medicare fraud and other ex-felons and recruits posing as patients with ailments. Montaner allegedly paid the informants cash to refer Medicare patients to him. The informants also signed off on claims for 17 rehabilitation sessions which were never given.

The government has also charged Montaner's business partner and his son, Ernesto Montaner Jr., 45, who entered a guilty plea to manipulating Medicare billing codes to maximize patient visits, was sentenced to four years in prison and is cooperating with authorities. Montaner's partner, Jose A. Varona, 39, a patient recruiter, has been sentenced to three years imprisonment and has also given information to the FBI.

Georgia Prisons Big Source of Tax Fraud According to USA Today


An article in USA Today claims that prison inmates in Georgia, Florida, California and elsewhere caused the Internal Revenue Service to issue $39 million in undeserved federal tax refunds in 2009. Georgia came in second with $3,560,562 in fraudulent refunds issued to prisoners, but was far outstripped by Florida's $12,576,944 in refunds. The IRS identified 44,944 false or fraudulent tax returns filed by prisoners in 2009, however an audit identified 54,410 tax returns which the IRS had failed to identify as having been filed by prisoners.The number of undeserved refunds paid out was up from $13.4 million in 2004.

While some inmates came legally receive income from investments, inheritances and other sources, the false tax returns are typically based on fictitious jobs and taxes that were never withheld. Although inmates do work in prison, prison jobs do not pay enough to trigger withholding. The scams often involve the theft of Social Security Numbers and other information from others. In some cases, the inmates will find the names of businesses which have declared bankruptcy, in order to make it more difficult for the IRS to verify the claims.

A Florida inmate, Danilo Suarez, obtained $58,022 in tax refunds by filing 14 or more false tax returns. Jeanni Renee Hillin, a Tennessee inmate, received $58,651 in refunds in 2006. 

USA Today on Misconduct by Federal Prosecutors; AUSA in Senator Ted Stevens Prosecution Takes Life;

USA Today ran a lengthy piece on prosecutorial misconduct on September 22. The article states that, since 1997, federal courts have determined that Department of Justice attorneys violated laws or ethical rules in some 201 cases, including the duty expressed by Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland over 70 years ago in Berger v. United States, 295 U.S. 78 (1935);

The United States Attorney is the representative not of an ordinary party to a controversy, but of a sovereignty whose obligation to govern impartially is as compelling as its obligation to govern at all, and whose interest, therefore, in a criminal prosecution is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done. As such, he is in a peculiar and very definite sense the servant of the law, the two-fold aim of which is that guilt shall not escape or innocence suffer. He may prosecute with earnestness and vigor -- indeed, he should do so. But, while he may strike hard blows, he is not at liberty to strike foul ones. It is as much his duty to refrain from improper methods calculated to produce a wrongful conviction as it is to use every legitimate means to bring about a just one.

Most of the cases of misconduct involved concealment of favorable or impeaching evidence from the defendant and presenting false testimony to the jury. In the cases found by the reporters as part of a six month investigation, the misconduct by the prosecution was so egregious that courts dismissed the charges against the defendants or overturned the defendants' convictions. The story states that investigations of prosecutorial misconduct by the Department of Justice prompted by complaints from judges rose to 61 last year, from 42 in 2001. The Department's Office of Professional Responsibility has reported that it has completed more than 750 investigations over the past decade, and that it has found intentional violations in 68 cases. Reporters found that only one prosecutor had been barred from practicing law, even temporarily, in the past 12 years. In one rare exception, in 2007 the Department prosecuted Richard Convertino, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, for allegedly obstructing justice in his handling of a Detroit terrorism case. Convertino was acquitted.

The story cites the case of Nino Lyons, who was alleged to have been a drug trafficker, and allegations that prosecutors concealed evidence which would have discredited the witnesses against him, many of whom were incarcerated convicted felons. The prosecution was alleged to have withheld from Mr. Lyons' defense promises made to the witnesses to reduce their prison time, and the failure of one key witness to even identify Mr. Lyons. The concealed evidence came to light only after it was suggested in a government filing after Mr. Lyons had already been incarcerated for three years. The U.S. District Court for the Central District of Florida overturned Mr. Lyons' conviction and declared him innocent.  The ordeal also cost Mr. Lyons his home and his business. U.S. District Judge Gregory Presnell wrote in his order that prosecutors engaged in "a concerted campaign of prosecutorial abuse" including covering up evidence and letting felons lie to the jury. Judge Presnell further said that prosecutors "brazenly" defied court orders and presented witnesses who were "allowed, if not encouraged, to lie under oath." As small compensation, the Justice Department paid $150,000 of Mr. Lyons' legal bills in a confidential settlement. The story states that the Department of Justice has paid nearly $5.3 million in legal bills for wrongly accused defendants.

The article noted the heavy caseload and lack of supervision of many federal prosecutors as a possible causes of misconduct. In response to the article, Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grinder wrote a letter to the editor, which may be read here, in which he defended that the number of cases of prosecutorial misconduct is actually "minuscule," given the fact that the Department of Justice prosecuted more than 720,000 cases and more than 1 million defendants in the time period covered by the study, suggesting that serious prosecutorial misconduct only occurs in approximately 1 in 3,600 cases.

In related news, following the dismissal of the prosecution of late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, the Department of Justice commenced an investigation of several Department attorneys for potential prosecutorial misconduct. Senator Stevens was killed in a plane crash on August 9, 2010. One of the attorneys under investigation was Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Marsh. Marsh, aged 37, committed suicide late last month, as reported in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan appointed a special prosecutor to investigate what he called the worst misconduct he had seen in nearly 25 years on the bench. Marsh's attorney issued statements to the media following his death that Marsh was fearful of the investigation preventing him from continuing to work at the Department of Justice, and indicated that Marsh and investigators were actually "on the verge of a successful resolution." The Department has expressed its condolences to Marsh's family, as does the Blog.



Conrad Black on the Problems of the U.S. Justice and Prison System: Prisoners are "An Ostracized, Voiceless Legion of the Walking Dead"


Canadian citizen Conrad Black, former head of Hollinger International, Inc., and once the third biggest newspaper magnate in the world, was charged in the Northern District of Illinois with diverting corporate funds for his own use and was convicted in July of 2007for "honest services" mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. s 1846, and obstruction of justice, following a jury trial. On June 24, 2010, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in Black v. U.S., case # 08-876, vacating Black's honest services convictions and remanding his case on the ground that the district court's instruction to the jury on honest services was incorrect. Black was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Center in Coleman, Florida, and was released on bail two weeks ago after spending two years and four months in prison. He remains in the U.S. pending an appeal to return to Canada.

Lord Black's (he was made a member of the House of Lords of the United Kingdom by Queen Elizabeth II and Prime Minister Tony Blair) legal odyssey aside, he has become an observer and critic of the U.S. criminal justice system. Black has kept a diary, which may be viewed here, regarding his experience in prison. Most recently, on July 31, Black published a letter in Canada's National Post entitled "Conrad Black: My Prison Education." Black does pause to criticize his conviction in passing, citing the "fallibility of American justice." However, Black's letter provides a glimpse into life at the end of the tunnel of the federal criminal justice system. Black discusses his daily calls to his wife and his difficulties in getting updates on his application for bail in prison. He recounts the interest of his fellow inmates in the developments and media attention in his case, and rather poignantly describes the lengthy goodbyes from his friends:

"The Mafiosi, the Colombian drug dealers, (including a senator with whom I had a special greeting as a fellow member of a parliamentary upper house), the American drug dealers, high and low, black, white, and Hispanic; the alleged swindlers, hackers, pornographers, credit card fraudsters, bank robbers, and even an accomplished airplane thief; the rehabilitated and unregenerate, the innocent and the guilty, and in almost all cases the grossly over-sentenced, streamed in steadily for hours, to make their farewells."

"Most goodbyes were brief and jovial, some were emotional, and a few were quite heart-rending. Many of the 150 students that my very able fellow tutors and I had helped to graduate from high school, came by, some of them now enrolled in university by cyber-correspondence."


Black goes on to criticize harsh federal sentencing policies, especially for drug offenders, citing in particular the disparities in the crack cocaine sentencing Guidelines and their disproportionate impact on African-Americans. He also takes the public defender system to task for being subservient to the will of prosecutors, and laments the United Sates' massive prison population and prison industry in comparison with other Western democracies. Black concludes that "America’s 2.4 million prisoners, and millions more awaiting trial or on supervised release, are an ostracized, voiceless legion of the walking dead; they are no one’s constituency."


Chairman of Nation's Largest Mortgage Company Indicted for Bank Fraud and TARP Fraud in Relation to Scheme Against Colonial Bank, SEC Charges Filed

The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission have brought criminal charges and civil claims against Lee B. Farkas, former Chairman of Taylor, Bean and Whitaker Mortgage Corp. (“Taylor Bean”) for allegedly selling at least $1.5 billion in fictitious and impaired residential mortgage loans to Colonial Bank and its parent company, The Colonial BancGroup, Inc. (“CBG”), according to press releases by the Department of Justice and the SEC, and the SEC’s complaint. Mr. Farkas, a resident of Ocala, Florida, is also charged with attempting to defraud the U.S. Department of Treasury through its Troubled Asset Relief Program (“TARP”) by allegedly representing to CBG and the public that Taylor Bean had secured a $300 million equity investment in CBG which would allow CBG and Colonial Bank to qualify for $550 million in TARP funds. The government contends that the investment and prospective TARP grant was a sham.

Taylor Bean was the largest non-depository mortgage lender in the United States by 2008, originating more than $30 billion in mortgage loans. Taylor Bean engaged in the the origination, acquisition, sale and servicing of residential mortgages through a network of local banks and mortgage brokers. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in August of 2009. 

Colonial Bank, one of the fifty largest banks in the U.S., has had its own problems. In August of last year, the Alabama State Banking Department seized the bank and appointed the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. as receiver. CBG subsequently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and a financial holding company purchased Colonial Bank’s assets and assumed its deposits.

Taylor Bean had a financing arrangement with Colonial Bank to fund the mortgage loans which it originated. Under the agreement, Taylor Bean would represent that the loans were of a certain quality and that there was a commitment from a third-party investor to ultimately purchase the loan. When the investor purchased the loan, Colonial Bank would receive the proceeds to reimburse it for advancing the loan funds.

Colonial Bank and Taylor Bean also had another financing agreement, called an assignment of trade agreement, under which Colonial Bank would purchase a 99 percent interest in a bundled group of mortgage loans, or mortgage-backed securities, which Taylor Bean would issue, market and sell to third parties. Under the agreement, Taylor Bean was required to provide evidence of a binding commitment from a third party investor to purchase the securities.

The government alleges that Taylor Bean began experiencing liquidity problems in 2002. It alleges that Farkas and an unnamed officer of Colonial devised a pattern of “kiting” in which certain debits to Taylor Bean’s warehouse line of credit were not entered until after credits for the following day were entered. As a result of this kiting, Taylor Bean was supposedly overdrawing its accounts with Colonial Bank by approximately $150 million a day.

Farkas and the bank officer, in order to conceal the kiting activity, allegedly devised a scheme in which Taylor Bean would create and submit fictitious loan information to Colonial Bank. In December of 2003, Farkas allegedly directed Taylor Bean to submit approximately $150 million in non-existent loans, which Farkas allegedly referred to as “Plan B,” and impaired loans, which Farkas is alleged to have referred to as the “Crap,” to Colonial Bank for funding.

In 2004, as the loans began to age, in order to conceal them, Farkas and the officer allegedly bundled the loans in fictitious trades to Colonial Bank. Following the trades, Colonial Bank was unable to identify individual loans, or the age of the loans, within the trade. Farkas and the officer then caused information to be submitted to Colonial Bank which would reset the commitment dates on the loans and make the loans appear as if they had only recently been purchased. Farkas also caused Ocala Funding, L.L.C., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Taylor Bean, to divert funds which it received from Freddie Mac and other third parties for purchases of mortgages to Taylor Bean in order to pay down Taylor Bean’s debt to Colonial Bank.

By the close of 2007, Colonial Bank allegedly held $1 billion in impaired loans and $500 million in wholly fictitious, unsecured loans, as a result of Farkas’ and the officer’s conduct. The impaired and fictitious loans caused Colonial Bank to misstate its assets to the SEC and investors.

Finally, in November of 2008, Colonial Bank applied for TARP funds from the U.S. Treasury. The Department of Treasury approved Colonial Bank to receive $550 million in TARP funds on the condition that Colonial Bank increase its equity by $300 million. In 2009, Farkas allegedly approached Colonial Bank to raise the $300 million captial infusion through an investment group. Farkas falsely represented to Colonial Bank that it had found investors to participate in the capital infusion, and created a false stock purchase agreement. Farkas diverted $50 million in funds from an Ocala Investors Account to an escrow account in a move which he allegedly referred to as “Project Squirrel” in order to convince Colonial Bank that Taylor Bean had obtained investors. Colonial Bank entered the stock purchase agreement with Taylor Bean, however both companies subsequently terminated the agreement.

The indictment against Farkas in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia charges him with one count of conspiracy to commit bank, wire and securities fraud; six counts of bank fraud; six counts of wire fraud; and three counts of securities fraud. The SEC complaint alleges violations of Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5.

Florida Ponzi Con Man Scott Rothstein Gets 50 Years

Florida attorney and mastermind of a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme, Scott Rothstein, was sentenced to 50 years yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The scam involved investments in non-existent settlements, and resulted in the loss of about $400 million to 400 victims. Rothstein wrote a letter to the court stating that he had entered into the scheme in order to help his law firm, Rothstein, Rosenfeldt & Adler, meet its costs of expansion. Rothstein used the income and his client's funds to live a lavish lifestyle, and to associate with the powerful and famous, including Florida Governor Charlie Crist and California Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger. When the scheme unraveled last October, Rothstein fled to Morocco, but returned after "praying" for several days.

The government had sought a sentence of 40 years, and Rothstein's counsel had argued for a reduced sentence based upon Rothstein's cooperation with authorities following his arrest, however the court imposed a longer sentence, citing Rothstein's "greed and arrogance." Rothstein reportedly has assisted authorities in helping to set up a reputed organized crime figure.

Only one of the many victims, a client whom Rothstein had represented in a municipal proceeding, spoke at the sentencing. Another victim, auto magnate Ed Morse, has claimed $57 million alone in losses from Rothstein's conduct.

The chief operating officer of Rothstein's firm, Debra Villegas, is expected to plead guilty on Friday to charges of conspiring with Rothstein in the scheme. Villegas is the only other individual from Rothstein Rosenfeldt & Adler to face criminal charges. A bankruptcy proceeding continues to attempt to recover assets, and investors have sued numerous defendants, including Toronto Dominion (TD) Bank, which Rothstein moved his monies through.

Forensic Accountant Lewis Freeman Indicted for Alleged Misappropriation of $6 Million in Funds from Fiduciary Accounts

As reported in the South Florida Business Journal, Lewis B. Freeman, one of the best-known forensic accountants in South Florida was indicted yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. Freeman is alleged to have misappropriated funds from fiduciary accounts from 2000 through 2009 by writing checks to himself and his firm, Lewis B. Freeman & Partners, and depositing the funds into the firm's operating account. Freeman is alleged to have misappropriated some $6 million in funds by writing approximately 162 unauthorized checks and using the proceeds to support a lavish lifestyle.

Freeman put his firm into receivership last fall during the federal criminal investigation. The firm previously did millions of dollars in business. The government alleges that out of the $6 million misappropriated, some $2.6 million of clients' monies were lost. Freeman, oddly, worked routinely as an expert for the court in liquidating the assets of companies. According to Freeman's counsel, he turned himself in and is cooperating with authorities. His counsel have stated that he made "serious mistakes," and will "accept the consequences for his actions.” 

Rothstein Enters Guilty Plea

Of course we knew it was coming, but disbarred Fort Lauderdale attorney Scott Rothstein, architect of a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme selling phony interests in settlements in employment and civil cases, pled guilty today in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida to charges of racketeering, fraud and money laundering,

as reported by the Miami Herald

and various other sources. Rothstein was also charged with taking monies from client trust accounts and making unlawful campaign contributions to politicians. Former attorneys and employees of Rothstein's former law firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, are currently being investigated for illegal campaign contributions.

Following his surrender to authorities last fall, Rothstein assisted authorities in locating assets. His sentencing hearing has been set for May 6.


Sir Robert Allen Stanford's Congressional Ties and Prison Blues

So whatever happened to indicted billionaire Sir Robert Allen Stanford? Well, not much, as reported by the Houston Chronicle. Stanford, who is charged with allegedly defrauding investors of more than $7 billion, is still incarcerated, despite his extensive efforts to secure release prior to his trial since his arrest in June of last year. Stanford has submitted a report from a physician to U.S. District Judge David Hittner of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, in which the physician opines that Stanford is close to “a complete nervous breakdown.” Two psychiatrists have diagnosed Stanford with severe depression as a result of his confinement.

Stanford's counsel complained to the court that Stanford needed to have frequent communication with his defense team in order to review the more than 7 million documents in the case and answer questions by his counsel. Unmoved, Judge Hittner denied Stanford's latest motion for release in an order issued two days before Christmas, and Stanford has appealed the denial.

Stanford's trial is still a year away, scheduled to begin in January 2011. He has denied the government's charges, as well as civil fraud charges brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Also reported in the Chronicle, similar to confessed attorney/Ponzi schemer, Scott Rothstein, Stanford allegedly had many ties to politicians. The Department of Justice is investigating approximately $2.3 million dollars in alleged contributions from Stanford and his staff to politicians over the past decade, as well as $5 million paid to lobbyists.  Donations by Stanford and his staff included $40,000 to the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, $100,000 to the inaugural committee of George W. Bush and $500,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He furthermore set up his own lobbying firm in Washington, D.C. Stanford is alleged to have successfully lobbied to defeat legislation in Congress relating to financial secrecy and offshore banking which would have allegedly revealed his activities.

Stanford allegedly treated politicians to trips to the Carribean, hosting dinners with lobster and caviar. Illustrative of Stanford's high level government contacts was the fact that, mere hours after Stanford was arrested last year, Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, sent Stanford an e-mail stating that he "loved" Stanford and believed in him, and offering his advice or to listen to Stanford. Stanford and his staff contributed $44,375 to Sessions. Stanford entertained numerous Congressional delegations to the Carribean nation of Antigua, where Stanford was based, at a total cost of $311,307. Stanford also hosted a wedding dinner for New York Representative John Sweeney at a five-star restaurant owned by Stanford in Antigua, and held a cocktail fundraiser for Ohio Representative Bob Ney in Miami. Ney was later sentenced to 30 months imprisonment for accepting money and gifts from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Stanford opened a trust office in Miami in 2001, which allegedly enabled his bank to sell millions in certificates of deposit. This event allegedly prompted him to become involved in politics in order to prevent legislation which would have forced Stanford to reveal the source of the flow of monies to the office.

19 politicians have returned a total of $87,800 in contributions from Stanford to the court-appointed receiver. Other politicians have stated that they have donated money contributed by Stanford to charity, including $45,000 by Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, and $11,800 by Representative Charlie Rangel.


SEC Complaint Against Florida Hedge Fund Managers for Violations of Anti-Fraud Provisions

On Monday, the SEC filed a Complaint for Injunctive and Other Relief, in Federal court in Tampa, Florida, which may be viewed here, against Neil V. Moody and Christopher D. Moody, managers of the hedge funds Valhalla Investment Partners, L.P., Viking IRA Fund, LLC, and Viking Fund, LLC. Neil Moody, 71, and his son Christopher D. Moody, 35, are co-owners of the funds, based in Sarasota, Florida.

The Complaint charges that the Moodys allegedly recklessly violated anti-fraud provisions of Federal securities laws. Specifically, the SEC alleges that, from 2003 to 2009, the Moodys allegedly overstated investment returns and the value of the funds' assets by as much as $160 million in account statements provided to investors and offering materials provided to prospective investors. The Complaint also charges that the Moodys allegedly recklessly misrepresented to investors that they actively managed the funds, when in fact the investment and trading activities of the funds were managed by a third-party, namely Arthur Nadel of Scoop Management. Nadel, however, was the operator of a large Ponzi scheme involving hundreds of investors, including investors in the Moodys' hedge funds. Nadel allegedly fabricated false performance and account information which overstated the value of the Moodys' funds, and shared management and performance fees with the Moodys. The SEC filed an emergency action against Nadel in the Middle District of Florida last January, and was indicted in the Southern District of New York in April on six counts of securities fraud, eight counts of wire fraud, and one count of mail fraud.

Counsel for Christopher Moody has responded to the Complaint. “The SEC's complaint does not allege that Chris Moody knowingly intended to harm investors. The complaint alleges recklessness which Mr. Moody neither admits nor denies. Mr. Moody has cooperated from the outset with the receiver in the recovery of assets and will continue to do so,” said Mr. Moody’s attorney, Jeffrey L. Cox, of Sallah & Cox, LLP.

The Complaint alleges violations of Sections 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, 15 U.S.C. § 78j(b); Section 17(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, 15 U.S.C. § 77q(a); Section 206(4) of the Investment Advisers Act of 1940, 15 U.S.C. § 80b-6(4); Exchange Act Rule 10b-5, 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5; and Advisers Act Rule 206(4)-8, 17 C.F.R. § 275.206(4)-8. It seeks declaratory relief, a permanent injunction against the Moodys, disgorgement of all profits and civil penalties. A Receiver has been appointed for the funds.

Rothstein Investigation Widens to Include Attorneys, Police Chief; Pols Return Donations

The fallout from Fort Lauderdale attorney Scott Rothstein's alleged fraudulent scheme to bilk investors out of hundreds of millions continues to fall.

Florida Governor Charlie Crist has told the media that he will return campaign contributions received from Rothstein and employees of his law firm, a total of $76,250. The announcement by Crist follows a pledge by Florida Republican Senate President Jeff Atwater to return donations by Rothstein. On the same day, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, a Democrat, announced that she would return at least $7,025 in contributions from Rothstein and members of his firm. Crist is running for U.S. Senate, Sink is running for Governor and Atwater is running for Chief Financial Officer. Rothstein is alleged to have made contributions to numerous politicians using ill-gotten gains, and to have illegally reimbursed members of his firm for making contributions. Rothstein and his wife, Kimberly, also held fundraisers for Senator McCain and Governor Crist in one of their waterfront homes.

The campaign contributions have also created potential criminal exposure for lawyers at Rothstein's firm Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler. Approximately 30 lawyers in the firm, along with 15 employees, spouses and relatives, made approximately $2.2 million in Federal and State campaign contributions, with the largest recipient being the 2008 Presidential campaign of Arizona Senator John McCain. One attorney, Steven Lippman, and his wife contributed approximately $247,000 to Governor Crist,  Senator McCain and other politicians over a span of four years. Federal investigators are looking into the contributions. Several partners in the firm have retained counsel in response to the investigation. Experts have stated that the attorneys should have been aware that they were violating campaign finance laws when Rothstein required the attorneys to make campaign donations as a condition to receiving bonuses.

The fallout has extended further to Fort Lauderdale Police Chief Frank Adderly. Two Fort Lauderdale City Commissioners have asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate Adderly regarding his relationship with Rothstein. Rothstein is alleged to have flown Adderly to New York in December 2008 for a football game, and Adderly personally intervened in an automobile collision involving a friend of Rothstein.

Fisher Auction will auction property of Rothstein's law firm on January 23, at the direction of the firm's trustee, including fountain pens used by Rothstein and the massage chair in the firm's lounge. Rothstein's attorney has opposed the auctioning of photographs of Rothstein withvarious politicians.

Court in Rothstein $ 1.6 Billion Fraud Case Asserts Jurisdiction Over Assets

As reported by, yesterday, U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn of the Southern District of Florida issued an order requested by the government to preserve all assets of accused Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein for forfeiture. Rothstein is alleged to have defrauded investors of an $1.6 billion--according to the most recent estimates--by soliciting investments in alleged settlement agreements in civil and employment cases. He voluntarily surrendered assets to authorities last month, without conceding any wrongdoing.

Rothstein's former law firm, Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, is currently going through dissolution in Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Florida. The District Court's order shifts jurisdiction for marshalling the assets from the Bankruptcy Court to the District Court. The Court will consider any claims by third-parties in ancillary proceedings to the criminal case against Rothstein.

The bankruptcy trustee had sought to bring Rothstein and his companies into the law firm's bankruptcy proceeding, claiming that they were "alter-egos" of the firm. The District Court's intervention will impede the trustee's pursuit of any claims against the assets, according to Rothstein's bankruptcy counsel.

The District Court has set trial on the money laundering, fraud and racketeering charges against Rothstein for January 11. Rothstein is currently being held in federal custody.

Florida Executive Sentenced in $10.5 Million Embezzlement Scheme

Although it may be considered small change when compared with the fraud of fellow Floridian Scott Rothstein, according to an FBI press release, Gary Ernest Williams, former Chief Financial Officer for Marian Gardens Tree Farm (MGTF) in Groveland, Florida, was sentenced to eight years imprisonment on Monday in the U.S. District Corut for the Middle District of Florida. Williams was charged with embezzling approximately 10.5 million from MGTF since 2000 through falsified checks, use of a credit card in the company's name and making large cash withdrawals which he told bank officials were to be used to pay “employee bonuses.” Willams spent the money on lavish homes, luxury cars, jewelry, drugs, and vacations by private jet. He also failed to failed to pay federal income taxes in the amount of $3,675,000 on the illegally obtained funds.

Williams entered a guilty plea in July. The District Court ordered Williams to pay more than 14 million in restitution to MGFT and to forfeit homes in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and the Bahamas.

Government Drops Prosecution of Miami Attorney Ben Kuehne for Receipt of Legal Fees from Drug Kingpin


Last Wednesday, the Government, through Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco, filed a brief Motion to Dismiss Third Superseding Indictment with Prejudice seeking to dismiss its indictment against Miami, Florida, attorney Benedict P. Kuehne, and also Colombian attorney Oscar Saldarriaga Ochoa, in the criminal action of U.S. v. Velez, 1:05-cr-20770-MGC, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. The Government’s motion stated that it was based upon the “totality of the circumstances,” including the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals’ affirmance of the District Court’s dismissal of the Government’s charge of conspiracy to launder money against Mr. Kuehne. The Government stated that it believe that dismissal was in the interest of justice. On the same day, U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke entered an order dismissing the Third Superseding Indictment.

The dismissal marked the end of a long ordeal for Kuehne, who was indicted over two years ago for alleged money laundering conspiracy, money laundering concealment conspiracy, concealment money laundering and wire fraud conspiracy. According to the Government’s indictment, Fabio Ochoa Vasquez was one of the leaders of the Medellin Cartel, one of the largest cocaine trafficking and money laundering organizations in the world. In 2001, Ochoa was extradited from Colombia to the U.S. to face charges of conspiring to smuggle approximately 30 tons of powder cocaine into the U.S. per month between 1997 and 1999. Ochoa hired distinguished attorney Roy Black, of the Miami law firm of Black, Srebnick, Kornspan & Stumpf, P.A., and other attorneys to represent him, and the defense in turn retained Mr. Kuehne, of the Law Offices of Benedict P. Kuehne, P.A., to investigate the funds which Ochoa would use to pay his legal team. Kuehne drafted various opinion letters for the offense. The Government alleged that Kuehne was paid for his investigation and opinions by various wire transfers with monies which were the proceeds of specified unlawful activity—the distribution and sale of illegal drugs, including monies from the Colombian “Black Market Peso Exchange” and drug proceeds supplied by undercover U.S. agents.

Kuehne, through his attorney, Jane Moscowitz of Moscowitz & Moscowitz, P.A., filed a motion to dismiss the indictment in July, which may be viewed here, relying on the fact that one of the federal money laundering statutes, 18 U.S.C. § 1957, contains an express exemption for “any transaction necessary to preserve a person’s right to representation as guaranteed by the sixth amendment to the Constitution.” 18 U.S.C. § 1957(f)(1).The motion began with a quote from Banking Crimes: Fraud Money Laundering and Embezzlement, by John K. Villa: "There is an inestimable difference... between expecting a defendant to be able to find an attorney willing to risk his fee, and expecting him to find an attorney willing to risk his personal liberty." Kuehne argued that Congress enacted the exemption in § 1957(f)(1) out of a concern that the threat of prosecution of criminal defense attorneys for accepting fees would have a “chilling effect” on attorneys’ willingness to accept clients, and therefore impose an unacceptable burden on the exercise of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The defense argued that the monies paid fell squarely within § 1957(f)(1)’s exemption and that Count One of the indictment should be dismissed. The District Court agreed and dismissed Count One, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed in United States v. Velez, No. 09-10199, 2009 WL 3416116 (11th Cir., October 26, 2009).

As reported by the Miami Herald, Kuehne addressed reporters on the steps of the courthouse, stating that he always believed “things would turn out well in the end.” Prior to the allegations against him, he had been a prominent member of the legal community, serving on the Florida Bar board of governors, as a past president of the Dade County Bar Association and as a member of Vice President Al Gore’s legal team in the 2000 Florida presidential election dispute. Kuehne expressed his appreciation to the Department of Justice for the dismissal of the matter. Cynthia Hujar Orr, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which filed amicus briefs in Kuehne’s case, called the Government’s prosecution of Kuehne “disgraceful.”