On November 18, at an American Bar Association/American Bankers Association conference on the Bank Secrecy Act/Anti-Money Laundering (BSA/AML), Deputy Attorney General (Deputy AG) James Cole challenged financial institutions’ compliance efforts and outlined the DOJ’s financial crimes enforcement approach. Noting that compliance within financial institutions is of particular concern to the DOJ, based in part on recent cases of “serious criminal conduct by bank employees,” the nation’s second highest ranking law enforcement official detailed DOJ’s approach to investigating and deciding in what manner to pursue potential violations. The Deputy AG included among his examples of serious misconduct recent BSA/AML, RMBS, mortgage False Claims Act, and LIBOR cases. He explained that the DOJ is particularly concerned about incentives that encourage excessive risk taking, and stated that “too many bank employees and supervisors value coming as close to the line as possible, or even crossing the line, as being ‘competitive’ or ‘aggressive.’” Read more…
On November 26, the DOJ announced that Weatherford International—a multinational oil services company—and certain of its subsidiaries agreed to pay approximately $250 million in fines and penalties to resolve FCPA, sanctions, and export control violations. The DOJ alleged in a criminal information that the company knowingly failed to establish an effective system of internal accounting controls designed to detect and prevent corruption, including FCPA violations. The alleged compliance failures allowed employees of certain of the company’s subsidiaries in Africa and the Middle East to engage in prohibited conduct over the course of many years, including both bribery of foreign officials and fraudulent misuse of the United Nations’ Oil for Food Program. The company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, pursuant to which it must pay an approximately $87 million penalty, retain an independent corporate compliance monitor for at least 18 months, and continue to implement an enhanced FCPA compliance program and internal controls. Read more…
On November 5, the DOJ announced that a New York check cashing company and its owner pleaded guilty to violating the Bank Secrecy Act in connection with more than $19 million in check-cashing transactions by willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program. The plea agreement requires the company to forfeit over $3 million and the owner to pay nearly $1 million in restitution for related tax violations; neither party has yet been sentenced. The DOJ alleges that over a two-year period the company cashed checks written on accounts of shell corporations. The shell corporations and the corresponding bank accounts on which the checks were written were established in the names of foreign nationals, many of whom were no longer in the United States. The check cashing company and its owner allegedly failed to obtain any identification documents or information from the individuals presenting the checks, filed false currency transaction reports (CTRs) that stated the checks were cashed by the foreign nationals who set up the shell corporations, and in certain CTRs, failed to indicate the full amount of cash provided to the individuals. Related charges remain pending against additional defendants. These cases are being prosecuted by, among others, the DOJ’s Money Laundering and Bank Integrity Unit, which investigates and prosecutes complex, multi-district and international criminal cases involving financial institutions and individuals who violate the money laundering statutes, the Bank Secrecy Act and other related statutes.
On October 22, the DOJ and the SEC announced parallel criminal and civil actions against a U.S. company for allegedly violating the FCPA by paying bribes and falsifying documents in connection with selling ATMs to bank customers in China, Indonesia, and Russia. The federal authorities allege that from 2005 to 2010 the company provided approximately $1.8 million of value to employees of its bank customers in China and Indonesia, including state-owned banks, in the form of payments, gifts, and non-business travel. The company allegedly attempted to disguise the benefits by routing the payments through third parties designated by the banks and by recording leisure trips for bank employees as “training” expenses. The government also alleges that from 2005 to 2009, the company entered into false contracts with a distributor in Russia for services that the distributor was not performing. Instead, the distributor allegedly used the approximately $1.2 million in payments to bribe employees of privately-owned Russian banks to secure ATM-related contracts for the company. The company entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ, agreeing to pay a $25.2 million penalty, and it consented to a final judgment in the SEC action, pursuant to which it will disgorge approximately $22.97 million, inclusive of prejudgment interest. The company agreed to implement numerous specific changes to its internal controls and compliance systems and to retain a compliance monitor for at least 18 months. The government acknowledged the company’s voluntary disclosure, cooperation, and extensive internal investigation.
On October 15, the DOJ filed an indictment against a Swiss national and former executive at Maxwell Technologies—a U.S.-based energy storage and power-delivery company—for alleged violations of the FCPA. The DOJ claims that over a more than six-year period the former executive engaged in a conspiracy to make and conceal payments to Chinese government officials in order to obtain and retain business, prestige, and increased compensation for his company. This individual action follows a 2011 action by the DOJ and the SEC against the company based on the same allegations and which the company agreed to resolve for $13.65 million.
On September 17, President Obama announced his intent to nominate Leslie R. Caldwell to serve as the DOJ’s Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division. Ms. Caldwell currently is a partner at Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP where she co-chairs the firm’s corporate investigations and white collar practice group. Prior to entering private practice, Ms. Caldwell served as Director of the DOJ’s Enron Task Force from 2002 to 2004. Prior to that she served as Chief of the Criminal Division and Securities Fraud Section at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California and held several positions in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York.
As the technology continues to grow and become a part of day-to-day life, smartphones and tablets are reshaping the delivery of financial services to consumers. The mobile device is quickly becoming a full-fledge platform for electronic financial services, especially for mobile payments.
The variety and number of mobile devices and service providers to support them has introduced new and different stakeholders – all of whom are competing with traditional financial institutions for dominance in the mobile commerce/mobile payment space. This new and rapidly evolving environment presents new and operational risks for consumers, payment providers, and the recipients of the payments. It will be vital to identify who has legal responsibility and liability for the various risks associated with payment platforms and payment transactions.
To learn more about the mobile technology issues impacting the financial services industry, please review some of our recent articles on the issue. BuckleySandler attorneys Margo Tank and David Whitaker raise legal considerations surrounding the regulatory uncertainty in mobile payments in their article, “Is Regulatory Uncertainty an Impediment to Mobile Payments?” earlier this year. In “Federal Regulators Issue Guidance on Social Media and Mobile Privacy” Margo, David, and Ian Spear discuss the recent guidance and flexible guidelines issued by the FFIEC and FTC. Another recent article by Margo and David provides a list of the accessibility items financial services companies should consider when developing their websites and mobile apps.
On August 6, the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the FDIC Office of Inspector General, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan announced criminal charges against former members of the board of directors and senior executives at a bank that received funds under the TARP program. The authorities allege that the former directors and officers concealed the bank’s financial condition from state regulators, while the board chairman allegedly solicited and demanded bribes in exchange for business loans and lines of credit. The authorities charge that over a six year period, the officers submitted numerous fraudulent reports to their Illinois regulator and used money from third parties to make payments on several bank loans that were pasts due. During this period, the bank applied for and obtained TARP funds that were used to further the officers’ criminal scheme.
On July 31, the DOJ announced the departure of Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force (FFETF) Executive Director Michael Bresnick, effective August 1, 2013. The DOJ describes the FFETF, which was created in 2009, as the broadest coalition of law enforcement, investigatory and regulatory agencies ever assembled to combat financial fraud. Mr. Bresnick has led the FFETF since October 2011, and departed to join a private law practice. On the same day, the Senate voted to confirm Stuart Delery as Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s Civil Division. Mr. Delery had been filling that position on an acting basis, prior to which time he held several other positions within the department. He joined the DOJ in January 2009 as Chief of Staff and Counselor to the Deputy Attorney General and later served as Associate Deputy Attorney General and Senior Counselor to the Attorney General.
On July 25, the DOJ announced the indictment of five individuals accused of conspiring in a worldwide hacking and data breach scheme that targeted major corporate networks, stole more than 160 million credit card numbers and resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. The DOJ believes the defendants and others conspired to use a “SQL injection attack” to penetrate the computer networks of several of the largest payment processing companies, retailers and financial institutions in the world. Once started, the attacks could last months while the defendants worked to steal user names and passwords, means of identification, credit and debit card numbers and other corresponding personal identification information of cardholders, and subsequently sell the data to end-users who used the data to make fraudulent ATM withdrawals or credit card purchases. The DOJ’s action was based on the findings of an extensive Secret Service investigation.
On July 1, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York held that it has the power to accept or reject a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA), and to retain supervisory power over the implementation of a DPA. U.S. v. HSBC Bank USA, N.A., No. 12-00763, 2013 WL 3306161 (E.D.N.Y. Jul, 1, 2013). In 2012, a major international bank holding company announced agreements with U.S. law enforcement authorities and federal bank regulators to end investigations into alleged inadequate compliance with anti-money laundering and sanctions laws by the holding company and its U.S. subsidiaries. As part of the resolution, the companies entered into a DPA, which the parties filed with the court and asked the court hold the case in abeyance to exclude part of the DPA from the federal Speedy Trial Act. In reviewing the request for abeyance, the court held that it has broader supervisory power to approve or reject the agreement in its entirety and that such power extends to implementation of the agreement. The court approved the DPA, but retained authority to monitor its execution and implementation. The court explained that “by placing a criminal matter on the docket of a federal court, the parties have subjected their DPA to the legitimate exercise of that court’s authority.” Under its supervisory powers holding, which the court characterized as “novel,” the court could later move to modify the agreement. More broadly, the court’s assessment of its supervisory power potentially calls into question the certainty and finality of DPAs, which could impact the use of that prosecutorial tool.
On June 27, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama announced that a used car dealer pleaded guilty to charges that he violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). United States v. Nuss, No. 13-102 (N.D. Ala. Plea entered Jun. 27, 2013). In March, a federal grand jury returned a two-count indictment charging the car dealer with failing to follow the SCRA when asked to do so by an Alabama National Guard member who had been called to active duty in Afghanistan. The guardsman allegedly had sent a letter from his deployed location, in which he asked that his interest rate be reduced to six percent as required by the SCRA. According to the indictment, the dealer refused to reduce the interest rate, and hired two individuals to repossess the guardsman’s vehicle without first obtaining a SCRA-required court order. Notably, the dealer entered his plea without a plea agreement with the government. He is scheduled for sentencing on September 12, 2013. The maximum penalty for each SCRA violation is one year in prison, and a $100,000 fine.
On June 24, FinCEN announced its new organizational structure, effective immediately. The new structure organizes employees based on their job function, whereas previously employees were organized based on the stakeholder that they served. FinCEN believes the change will maximize its ability to efficiently further its anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing efforts.
On June 12, the DOJ and the SEC announced additional charges in a previously announced case against employees of a U.S. broker-dealer related to an alleged “massive international bribery scheme.” The DOJ unsealed criminal charges against a third employee of the broker-dealer who allegedly arranged bribe payments to a Venezuela state economic development bank official in exchange for financial trading business for the broker-dealer. The SEC, whose routine compliance examination detected the allegedly illegal conduct, announced parallel civil charges.
Eleventh Circuit Holds Bank Accounts Containing Commingled Criminal, Non-Criminal Funds Are Not Subject to Forfeiture as “Proceeds” of the Crime
On June 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that bank accounts in which funds traceable to the defendant’s criminal activity were commingled with funds unrelated to such activity were not subject to forfeiture as “proceeds” of the criminal activity. In re Rothstein, Rosenfeldt, Adler, P.A., 2013 WL 2494980, No. 11-10676 (11th Cir. June 12, 2013). The defendant pleaded guilty to violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by using his law firm to perpetrate a Ponzi scheme over a four-year period. Funds traceable to the criminal activity were deposited in the law firm’s bank accounts, where they were commingled with funds earned from the law firm’s substantial legitimate activities. The trustee of the law firm’s bankruptcy estate appealed a trial court order granting the government’s request that the firm’s bank accounts be forfeited as the “proceeds” of the criminal activity. The Eleventh Circuit reversed, noting that the government must establish the “requisite nexus between the property and the offense,” which requires that the tainted and untainted property be distinguishable “without difficulty.” The government was unable to clearly distinguish between the tainted and untainted funds, in part because of the size and number of transactions in the bank accounts. Because the government could not establish that the bank accounts were the proceeds of the criminal activity, the court remanded to allow the government to pursue forfeiture of “substitute assets.”