President's Financial Fraud Task Force Gets Rare Win in Atlanta and Other News

After another late night of listening to tapes of witness interviews and undercover phone calls, I’ve just put on a little Richie Havens to look over the federal criminal news for you readers.

Much has been written over the past couple of years about the lack of financial institution fraud cases brought by the Department of Justice. However, the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta, Sally Quillian Yates, announced yesterday a sentencing in a case investigated by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Task Force. Mrs. Yates announced that Atlanta businessman, Charles Michael Vaughn, who operated CM Vaughn Emerging Ventures Fund, was sentenced to 8 years in federal prison and ordered to pay $9 million in restitution.


The announcement lauded the efforts of the multi-agency approach of federal law enforcement, regulatory agencies and others working to investigate and prosecute financial crimes in the markets. Quite frankly, that seems like a little bit of a stretch here to fit this case in that dynamic. This case seems more like the usual sort of fraud case traditionally handled by the FBI, or Postal Service.


Of absolutely no relation, but of note because it is such a rare event, federal district court Judge Richard J. Holwell, 65, is leaving the bench to form a boutique firm with two of his former partners at White & Case. Judge Holwell recently presided over the insider trading trial of Raj Rajaratnam. Of particular interest, Judge Holwell, noted in his interview with the New York Times that being a federal judge is “an extremely rewarding job, but [that it] can also be an extremely isolating job.” Also, he said that his move back into private practice had nothing to do with the compensation difference between private practice and the judiciary. You gotta like the guy to. Instead of maintaining the “Judge” before his name in private practice, he says, “I’m going back to Rick.”

Atlanta Man Indicted in New York for Securities Fraud, Insider Trading

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Scott Allen, of Atlanta, was charged last week with securities fraud and insider trading in the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York, according to the Wall Street Journal. The government alleges that Mr. Allen and John Bennett of Norwalk, Connecticut, conspired to make more than $2.6 million in profits on insider trades of pharmaceutical stocks. Mr. Allen was a former employee of Mercer, a gloabl human resources consulting firm, and Mr. Bennett was an independent film producer and stock trader. The criminal complaint against the defendants charges that Mr. Allen allegedly obtained information regarding acquisitions by pharmaceutical companies in 2008 and 2009, and gave the information to Mr. Bennett. Mr. Bennett is charged with using the information to make $2.6 million in trades, while paying Mr. Allen $100,000 in kickbacks.

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Acquittals in Ponzi Prosecution Across the Pond: Jury Acquits Imperial Consolidated Execs Fraser and Brook

UK citizens Lincoln Julian Fraser and Jared Bentley Brook, former executives with the Imperial Consolidated Group (ICG) were acquitted today at the Old Bailey at the conclusion of a nearly nine month trial, according to the Guardian and the Telegraph. The jury acquitted Mr. Fraser and Mr. Brook of one count of conspiracy to defraud, and deadlocked over another conspiracy charge and a fraudulent trading charge. 

The fraud charged against Mr. Fraser, Mr. Brook, ICG (headquartered on a Royal Air Force base in Lincolnshire, England, with offices in Europe, Australia and the Caribbean) and others, involved offshore investments in South American mining operations and havens such as the British Virgin Islands and Greneda, in what has been alleged to be Britain's largest Ponzi scheme. From 1998 through 2002, approximately 3,000 investors around the world invested nearly £253 with ICG on the promise of high-yield returns of up to 36 percent and "total asset protection." The loss to investors is alleged to be £150 million. One investor alone, Yuichi Yoshida of Japan, invested £16.7 million. The defendants were also alleged to have provided false information to investors, including falsely inflating the alleged value of mining interests in South America, and publishing false or misleading performance figures in the Financial Times. The defendants allegedly used investment monies to cover overhead and expenses, and for investments in failed mining interests in Argentina.

ICG's business declined precipitously when a Spanish newspaper article allegedly linked ICG to Osama bin Laden in 2001. The company failed in 2002.

The British Department of Trade and Industry disqualified Mr. Fraser and Mr. Brook from acting as directors of ICG for alleged unfit conduct relating to a failed hotel business in Morecambe, Lancashire, England. 

The Crown has attempted to prosecute Mr. Fraser and Mr. Brook three times over eight years. The first trial of Mr. Fraser and Mr. Brook two years ago ended in stalemate, forcing the judge to discharge the jury. The second trial was abandoned by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) as a result of legal errors. The SFO has seven days in which to choose to seek a retrial, but has announced that it will cease its efforts to prosecute Mr. Fraser and Mr. Brook, the investigation and prosecution of whom has cost British taxpayers approximately £10 to £20 million.

A co-defendant, Bill Godley, pled guilty to a charge of conspiracy to defraud in 2007. Godley claimed to have posed as a dynamic entrepreneur and to have transformed ICG into an international business empire. Godley is expected to receive approximately three years in gaol.

Mr. Fraser's and Mr. Brook's former solicitor, Michael John Harvey, was struck off by the British Law Society in a disciplinary proceeding for alleged involvement in Mr. Fraser's and Mr. Brook's dealings.

Mark Cuban Continues to Pursue SEC for Bad Faith in Insider Trading Investigation

Today's Wall Street Journal Law Blog reveals that Dallas Mavericks owner, Landmark Theaters owner and Chairman of HDNet Mark Cuban has gone on the offensive against the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC made widely publicized charges against Mr. Cuban for insider trading in selling shares of, an internet search technology company now known as Copernic, in 2008. Mr. Cuban disputed the charges, and a federal court dismissed the charges last year.

Not satisfied, Mr. Cuban demanded evidence regarding whether the SEC had acted in in bad faith in bringing the charges, and the SEC provided documents to his counsel. Now Mr. Cuban is attempting to force the SEC to turn over still more documents. If the court holds that the SEC acted in bad faith, it could impose sanctions and force the Commission to pay Mr. Cuban's legal fees.

Christopher Aguilar, former general counsel for a broker-dealer who did work for, has submitted an affidavit stating that Julie Riewe, an SEC attorney, informed him in August 2007 that she would prefer if employees of the broker-dealer did not speak to Mr. Cuban's attorneys, although Mr. Aguilar "could do what he wanted." Mr. Aguilar stated that he believed that the statement was an attempt to not make a witness available to the subject or target of an SEC investigation. Mr. Aguilar eventually allowed Mr. Cuban's counsel to speak with the employee.

Hedge Fund Managers, Attorneys, Others Fall in Rajaratnam/Galleon Insider Trading Investigation

Raj Rajaratnam and Danielle Chiesi were indicted in indictment alleging 17 counts of securities and wire fraud on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, U.S. v. Raj Rajaratnam et al, Case No. 09-2306, as reported by the New York Daily News here, here and here, and the New York Times here, here and here. Rajaratnam is a former Bear Stearns hedge fund manager and is the founder of Galleon Management LP, which managed some $3.7 billion in funds. Rajaratnam, a U.S. citizen born in Sri Lanka, was arrested on October 16 at his Manhattan home. U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas Eaton set Rajaratnam's bail at $100 million which Rajaratnam posted. The indictment alleges a multi-million dollar insider trading scheme that spanned from coast to coast, in which Rajaratnam and Chiesi shared tips on companies like Google, Advanced Micro Devices, Hilton Hotels and others, and reaped more than $20 million in illicit profits by trading on the confidential information. Rajaratnam and Chiesi have both pled not guilty and are fighting the charges. The government claims to have numerous recorded telephone conversations from cooperating witnesses in support of the charges.

Rajaratnam's attorneys also requested a second time that his bail amount be reduced to $20 million. His lawyers disputed the government's reliance on Roomy Khan, an Intel Corp employee and former trader who was convicted of wire fraud in California in 2002 for passing confidential information to Galleon and Rajaratnam when she was an employee of Intel, and who is cooperating with the government. Half a dozen persons, including Ms. Khan, are cooperating in the case.

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has also filed civil charges against Rajaratnam. Following Rajaratnam's arrest, investors withdrew more than $4 billion from various Galleon hedge funds, and the firm ceased operations.

The investigation has implicated 21 individuals, including 14 hedge fund managers, lawyers and other investors who were arrested in November. Robert Moffat, a senior official at I.B.M., Rajiv Goel, an executive of Intel; and Anil Kumar, an executive at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, were arrested at the same time as Rajaratnam, but have not yet been indicted. The Court has granted the prosecution an extension of 30 more days to indict these individuals. The prosecution has described the case as the largest insider trading case in history.

Attorney Brien Santarlas, of the New York law firm of Ropes & Gray, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud and wire fraud this week. Santarlas admitted that, from June 2007 to May 2008, he and another attorney, Arthur Cutillo, also with Ropes & Gray, used confidential information regarding acquisitions by 3Com, Inc., and Axcan Pharma, Inc. Bain Capital Partners LLC, a Ropes & Gray client, had announced it planned to acquire 3Com on September 27, 2007, in a deal which would have also involved China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd. A U.S. government security panel rejected the deal, however. 3Com is now in the process of being purchased by Hewlett-Packard Co. Another Ropes & Gray client, TPG Capital LP, announced on November 29, 2007 that it was acquiring Axcan Pharma.Prosecutors charged Santarlas, Cutillo, Jason Goldfarb and Zvi Goffer with causing trades of 3Com and Axcan stock before the public announcements, making approximately $20 million in profits.Santarlas also faces civil charges by the SEC. His sentencing is tentatively scheduled for June 1. Cutillo was indicted in November.

Rajaratnam has also been linked to Steven Cohen, manager of SAC Capital Advisors, a hedge fund, major art collector, and with a $6 billion net worth, the 36th richest person in America. Cohen's ex-wife, Patricia Cohen, filed a lawsuit in Federal court on Wednesday alleging that Cohen had hid money during their divorce 20 years ago and asserting civil RICO claims. The former Mrs. Cohen alleges that Cohen had made millions from insider trading in the 1980s and had hid the money with the help of one of his real estate partners. Specifically, she claims that Cohen received an insider tip prior to General Electric's purchase of RCA in 1985. She is seeking $300 million from Cohen. SAC issued a statement criticizing the former Mrs. Cohen and her attorney, calling the allegations in the lawsuit "ludicrous" and "without merit."

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday asked for 30 more days to indict four defendants tied to the Galleon Group insider trading scheme, one day after two of the main players were formally indicted on conspiracy and fraud charges.