U.S. Charges Four in Panama Papers Conspiracy

Nearly three years after the massive leak of secret offshore shell-company documents known as the Panama Papers, federal prosecutors announced charges against four people, including Ramses Owens, a former lawyer for Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian firm that helped dictators, drug lords and the ultra-wealthy hide cash.

Nearly three years after the massive leak of secret offshore shell-company documents known as the Panama Papers, federal prosecutors announced criminal charges Tuesday against four people, including Ramses Owens, a former lawyer for Mossack Fonseca, the Panamanian firm that helped dictators, drug lords and the ultra-wealthy hide their cash, McClatchy Newspapers reports. Owens was charged in New York City with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit tax evasion and money laundering. His name appears in nearly 100,000 files in the database of leaked files maintained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which pulled together reporters across the globe. He left the firm after the April 2016 publication of the Panama Papers by a journalistic partnership.

Also charged in the alleged conspiracy are German citizen Dirk Brauer, an investment adviser for Mossfon Asset Management, which worked closely with the parent law firm to invest and manage client money; Richard Gaffey, an American accountant based outside Boston; and Harald Joachim von der Goltz, a German who formerly lived in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Justice said the four men “defrauded the U.S. government through a large scale, intercontinental money-laundering and wire-fraud scheme.” The indictment revealed that federal investigators used undercover agents and that one cooperating Mossack Fonseca client wore a wire. “These defendants went to extraordinary lengths to circumvent U.S. tax laws in order to maintain their wealth and the wealth of their clients,” said U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. Shruti Shah of the Coalition for Integrity, which advocates for financial transparency, said, “This may be just the beginning. Intermediaries who help people engage in illicit activities like setting up shell companies to hide their assets should really think hard about what they are doing. The U.S. is going after the enablers, not just the people who evade taxes.”

from https://thecrimereport.org

Michael Cohen Admits Lying to Congress About Deal

Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, who pleaded guilty in August to breaking campaign finance laws, admitted in court Thursday making false statements to Congress about his efforts to pursue a Trump Tower deal in Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former lawyer, who pleaded guilty in August to breaking campaign finance laws, admitted in court Thursday making false statements to Congress about his efforts to pursue a Trump Tower deal in Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign, the New York Times reports. The real estate deal has been a focus of the special counsel investigation into whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russian operatives. In testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, Cohen played down the extent of his contact with the Kremlin about the potential project and made other false statements about the negotiations, which never led to a deal.

Cohen’s new guilty plea comes at a particularly perilous time for Trump, whose presidency has been threatened by Cohen’s statements to investigators. In recent days, the president and his lawyers have increased their attacks on the Justice Department and the special counsel’s office. It was the first time that special counsel Robert Mueller has charged Cohen. In exchange for pleading guilty and continuing to cooperate with Mueller, he may hope to receive a lighter sentence than he otherwise would. In two weeks, Cohen, 52, is scheduled to be sentenced for his earlier guilty plea. It was just three months ago that Cohen stood up in a different Manhattan courtroom and accused Trump of directing hush-money payments during the 2016 campaign to conceal potential sex scandals. Those payments formed the basis of the campaign finance charges against Cohen.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ex-PA AG Kane Loses Appeal, Headed for Prison

Former Pennsyvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane must serve a 10-to-23 month term for leaking grand jury information and lying about it.

Kathleen Kane, Pennsylvania’s former top state prosecutor, is likely to soon find herself behind bars, more than two years after being convicted and sentenced for leaking grand jury information and lying about it, the Associated Press reports. The state Supreme Court said Monday it would not view Kane’s conviction. The Montgomery County district attorney’s office is asking a judge Tuesday to revoke her bail. Kane argued that she was not properly convicted of two counts of felony perjury and seven misdemeanor charges, including obstruction and conspiracy.

Kane, 52, a Democrat, has been free on $75,000 bail since her 2016 sentencing to 10 to 23 months in prison. A three-judge Superior Court panel upheld her conviction, ruling that her defense was not entitled to use evidence of a pornographic email scandal or the Jerry Sandusky child molestation case that her office prosecuted. While running for office, Kane was critical of how the office handled the Sandusky investigation at Penn State, creating resentment among lawyers who had worked on it. After secret grand jury information about another investigation was leaked to a newspaper, two former attorney general’s office’s prosecutors alerted a judge, who appointed the special prosecutor who investigated Kane.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ex-MSU President Charged With Lying in Nassar Probe

A warrant issued by the Michigan Attorney General’s office says Lou Anna Simon told investigators she was unaware of any specific investigations into Nassar before 2016 “when in fact she knew it was Larry Nassar who was the subject of the 2014 MSU Title IX investigation.”

Former Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon has been charged with lying to police, the latest charges from a state investigation into the university after the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal, reports Mlive.com. A warrant issued by the Attorney General’s office says Simon told investigators she was unaware of any specific investigations into Nassar before 2016 “when in fact she knew it was Larry Nassar who was the subject of the 2014 MSU Title IX investigation.” Simon is taking an immediate leave of absence, without pay. She stepped down from the presidency in January amid controversy over the university’s handling of Nassar, who is in prison on criminal sexual conduct and federal child pornography charges.

Nassar victims, members of the Michigan Staste community and public officials had called for Simon to step down, claiming she and others in the administration were not transparent about who knew what when, and had not taken responsibility for institutional failures that critics say enabled Nassar’s abuse. Former Gov. John Engler was appointed as interim MSU president. Although his brief tenure has been peppered with controversies of his own, Engler has remained in his position and led the university to a $500 million settlement with Nassar’s victims.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Sharp Drop in Penalties Against Business Under Trump

The approach mirrors the administration’s deregulatory agenda throughout the federal government, says the New York Times. At the Justice Department, there has been a 72 percent decline in corporate penalties from criminal prosecutions.

There has been a sharp decline in financial penalties against banks and big companies accused of malfeasance under the Trump administration, the New York Times reports.  The approach mirrors the administration’s deregulatory agenda throughout the federal government. In the Obama administration, Walmart was under pressure to pay nearly $1 billion and plead guilty to end a foreign bribery investigation. Barclays faced demands to pay nearly $7 billion to settle claims that it had sold toxic mortgage investments that helped fuel the 2008 financial crisis, and the Royal Bank of Scotland was ensnared in a criminal investigation over its role in the crisis. In the Trump administration, prosecutors and the Securities and Exchange Commission have yet to charge Walmart, and the Justice Department reached a much lower settlement agreement with Barclays for $2 billion. The Royal Bank of Scotland paid a civil penalty but escaped criminal charges .

Checking enforcement activity at the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department, there has been a 62 percent drop in penalties imposed and illicit profits ordered returned by the SEC, to $1.9 billion under the Trump administration from $5 billion under the Obama administration. At DOJ, there has been a 72 percent decline in corporate penalties from criminal prosecutions, to $3.93 billion from $14.15 billion, and a similar percent drop in civil penalties against financial institutions, to $7.4 billion. The SEC ordered banks to pay $1.7 billion during the last 20 months of Obama’s presidency period, nearly four times as much as in the Trump era’s first 20 months, and  Trump’s Justice Department has brought 17 such cases, compared with 71 under Obama. If the balance tilted toward a heavier hand in corporate penalties under Obama — even as critics argued that his administration did not do enough to punish top bankers after the financial crisis, it began to swing in the opposite direction under Trump.

from https://thecrimereport.org

San Francisco Sees Long-Term Drop In White-Collar Cases

Since its glory days of aggressive fraud prosecutions under Robert Mueller, the San Francisco U.S. attorney’s office’s standing as a white-collar hub has declined. Former employees of the office say that’s partly a matter of policy, but also office culture.

White-collar prosecutions are down nationally, but the drop-off in cases in the San Francisco U.S. attorney’s office has been much more steep, The Information reports. In the 1990s, the office accounted for 2.5 percent of all white-collar cases nationally. But in the past 10 years, that figure has dropped nearly in half, with prosecutors turning away more cases than in the past, according to government data from the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University. The office used to have a stellar reputation for white-collar prosecutions, particularly in the late 1990s when it was run by Robert Mueller, now the special counsel investigating the Trump campaign. Mueller created a securities fraud section and brought in an aggressive prosecutor from New York to lead it. But after he stepped down to take over the FBI in 2001, a series of embarrassing missteps in cases combined with less aggressive management led to the slow decline in prosecutions.

The Information spoke with more than two dozen lawyers familiar with the office, including 18 who have worked there. Many describe a 9-to-5 office culture, lacking the rigor and energy needed to pursue complex cases defended by top-notch defense lawyers. Prosecutors in the San Francisco office “will do anything to avoid litigation,” says an attorney who worked there for years. “It’s a fear of defeat and a fear of the effort involved.” Kevin Ryan, who was U.S. attorney from 2002 to 2007, attributed the declines in numbers during his tenure to priorities of the Bush administration’s Justice Department. “What people don’t understand is that it depends on the priorities of main Justice,” Ryan said. He added that the Bay Area’s high cost of living discourages FBI agents from making a government career there, resulting in a younger and less experienced team.

from https://thecrimereport.org

‘Sovereign Citizen’ Jailed 16 Months With no Charges

Texas truck driver Ronald Connor ignored a judge’s order to respond to an IRS summons and was jailed for contempt of court. A government lawyer would like his jail stay to continue.

Ronald Conner of Grand Prairie, Tx., hasn’t been charged with a crime, but he has been locked up for 16 months and he could be there for a lot longer, the Dallas Morning News reportsExactly how long the 55-year-old truck driver should remain in lockup is the subject of a legal battle in Fort Worth federal court. Connor ignored a judge’s order to respond to an IRS summons and he was jailed for contempt of court. A government lawyer would like his jail stay to continue. She cited cases in which people have spent years behind bars for civil contempt. An investment manager sat behind bars for seven years for refusing to turn over $15 million in gold and antiquities.

Federal law sets an 18-month limit for civil contempt. Some courts have freed people earlier, ruling that confinement must end after it has lost its coercive effect, which is the legal standard. Other courts have made exceptions and allowed people to remain in jail. In Texas, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor is considering when Conner might go free. Conner is a so-called “sovereign citizen” and tax protester who owes taxes dating back to 2002. The Arkansas native learned about the movement about two years ago. Sovereign citizens claim that paying taxes is voluntary and that the government is fraudulently trying to hide that from the people. Mark Pitcavage of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism said he’s never heard of any adherents serving as much time as Conner for civil contempt. “He is making a voluntary decision. It’s not like he’s being forced to be in there,” Pitcavage said. “He could at any minute comply. In that sense, I don’t have any sympathy for him.” The IRS issued Conner a summons in 2016 to provide records to begin the collection process.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Russian Charged With Trying to Influence U.S. Voters

Elena Khusyaynova of St. Petersburg, Russia, is charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. for managing the financing of the social media troll operation that included the Internet Research Agency, which special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators charged with crimes.

A Russian who allegedly worked on funding online propaganda efforts to manipulate voters in the 2016 and 2018 elections was charged with a federal crime Friday as part of a wider conspiracy to hurt U.S. democracy, CNN reports. Elena Khusyaynova, 44, of St. Petersburg, Russia, is charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S. for managing the financing of the social media troll operation that included the Internet Research Agency, which special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigators charged with crimes earlier this year. Prosecutors say she aided the Russian effort to “inflame passions” online related to immigration, gun control and the Second Amendment, the Confederate flag, race relations, LGBT issues, the Women’s March and the NFL National Anthem debate.

The social media efforts specifically focused on the shootings of church members in Charleston, S.C., and concert attendees in Las Vegas, the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally, which left one counterprotester dead, and police shootings of African-American men, the complaint says. The criminal charge says the Russians’ online manipulation effort focused on multiple political viewpoints and candidates. The effort had an operating budget of $35 million, prosecutors say, and was allegedly funded by Russian oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin and his companies. Prigozhin has not responded to a criminal charge he faces from Mueller for funding the scheme before the 2016 election. “The conspiracy has a strategic goal, which continues to this day, to sow division and discord in the U.S. political system, including by creating social and political polarization, undermining faith in democratic institutions, and influencing U.S. elections,” said the criminal complaint in the Eastern District of Virginia.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Public Corruption Cases Down During Trump Administration

The federal government has filed 23.5 percent fewer pubic corruption cases, 340, during the first eleven months of fiscal year 2018 than during the previous year, reports TRAC at Syracuse University. 

The federal government has filed 23.5 percent fewer pubic corruption cases, 340, during the first eleven months of fiscal year 2018 than the previous year, reports TRAC at Syracuse University. There were 485 prosecutions during the prevfious fiscal year. TRAC obtained case-by-case information via Freedom of Information Act from the Executive Office for United States Attorneys. Compared with five years ago, when there were 636, the estimate of FY 2018 public corruption prosecutions is down 41.7 percent.

Overall, the data show that prosecutions of this type are down 45 percent from the of 675 reported in 2008 and down 59.1 percent from the 906 reported in 1998. The prosecution of state officials for corruption accounted for about one in ten (10.9 percent) of prosecutions. Most of the remaining prosecutions involved alleged corruption at the federal level. These included corruption offenses by federal law enforcement officials (10.3 percent), in federal programs (7.1 percent), in federal procurement (6.2 percent), and miscellaneous other federal corruption offenses (19.7 percent). The Federal Bureau of Investigation was the lead investigative agency on half (49.7 percent) of these prosecutions. A diverse array of other federal agencies were the lead investigators on the remaining half. The Postal Service handled one out of every ten – the second most active investigative agency in turning up corruption cases that were federally prosecuted during FY 2018

from https://thecrimereport.org

Ex-Senate Staffer Admits Lying to FBI in Leak Probe

James Wolfe, the former security director of the Senate Intelligence Committee, pleaded guilty Monday to making a false statement to the FBI. Records from a New York Times reporter were seized during the investigation.

James Wolfe, the former security director of the Senate Intelligence Committee, pleaded guilty Monday to making a false statement to the FBI as part of an investigation into media leaks, the Wall Street Journal reports. Wolfe acknowledged making a false statement to FBI agents who questioned him in December 2017. Two other false statement charges will be dropped in a plea agreement. Wolfe he wasn’t charged with actually leaking classified information. As part of the investigation, records from New York Times reporter Ali Watkins were seized, a tactic that prosecutors typically avoid because of concerns about interfering with the First Amendment.

Watkins and Wolfe were romantically involved, according to prosecutors, who suggested that he provided her with information about the committee’s work. Watkins has denied using Wolfe as a source, but was reassigned from the national security beat after the relationship became public. Under the plea agreement, Wolfe is likely to serve up to six months in prison and pay a fine of less than $9,500. President Trump has urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to prosecute leakers aggressively, saying the disclosure of classified information is a national security threat. The Justice Department said last year that it had more than tripled the number of leak investigations from the number pending at the end of the Obama administration, which brought more leak cases than all prior administrations combined.

from https://thecrimereport.org