On November 16, the DOJ announced a $95.5 million settlement with the country’s second-largest for-profit education company to resolve alleged federal and state violations of the False Claims Act (FCA). According to the DOJ’s complaint, the company’s admissions personnel received payment based on the number of students they enrolled, a violation of Title IV of the Higher Education Act’s (HEA) Incentive Compensation Ban (ICB) and the Regulatory Safe Harbor. The DOJ alleges that the company misrepresented its compliance with Title IV of the HEA to the Department of Education by certifying in Program Participation Agreements that it had not “paid to any persons or entities any commission, bonus, or other incentive payment based directly or indirectly on success in securing enrollments, financial aid to students, or student retention.” The Department of Education calculated that, from July 1, 2003 through June 30, 2011, the company, having submitted “a variety of claims to the government for Title IV funding that it [knew] to be false based upon its non-compliance” with the ICB, received more than $11 billion in government funding. Under the terms of the settlement, the $95.5 million will be divided among the United States, the co-plaintiff states, and the whistleblowers and their counsel in the FCA cases filed separately in federal court in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Nashville, Tennessee.
On November 16, the DOJ’s Deputy AG Sally Yates delivered remarks at the American Bankers Association and American Bar Association Money Laundering Enforcement Conference. Yates focused her remarks on recent revisions – originally outlined in a September 9 policy memorandum – to the United States Attorney’s Manual (USAM), as follows: (i) updating the corporate criminal cases section, specifically the “Principles of Federal Prosecution of Business Organizations” chapter, or the “Filip factors”; (ii) implementing an entirely new section to the civil cases chapter on enforcing claims against individuals in corporate matters; and (iii) updating its policy on parallel proceedings. First, the DOJ updated the Filip factors and the written guidance accompanying the factors to emphasize individual accountability in corporate cases and company cooperation in the DOJ’s investigation of individual wrongdoing. Yates highlighted the following policy change: “In the past, cooperation credit was a sliding scale of sorts and companies could still receive at least some credit for cooperation, even if they failed to fully disclose all facts about individuals. That’s changed now… providing complete information about individuals’ involvement in wrongdoing is a threshold hurdle that must be crossed before [the DOJ will] consider any cooperation credit.” Read more…
On November 9, an Atlanta-based claims management firm disclosed that it reported possible FCPA violations to DOJ and SEC. The company discovered the possible violations during an internal audit and has since launched an investigation, using outside counsel and external forensic accountants. The company stated that it intends to cooperate with the SEC and the DOJ in this matter, but the filing did not elaborate on the nature or location of the potential violations.
Developments in Uzbekistan Telecommunications FCPA Investigations: Dutch Telecommunications Company Makes Provision in Connection with Investigation; DOJ Names Russian Telecommunications Company in Civil Forfeiture Action
On November 3, a Dutch telecommunications company announced that, based on its assessment of ongoing FCPA investigations, it would make a provision in the amount of $900 million in its third quarter financial statements. The company previously disclosed that the SEC, the DOJ, and the Dutch Public Prosecution Service were conducting investigations related to its business in Uzbekistan and prior dealings with a Gibralter-registered company that negotiates mobile phone licenses on behalf of the Uzbek government.
On November 5, another company under investigation for its conduct in Uzbekistan disclosed that the DOJ referenced it in a civil forfeiture complaint. The DOJ’s complaint was directed at an unnamed Uzbek government official, but the complaint alleged that the company and certain other parties made corrupt payments to the unnamed official to gain access to the Uzbek telecommunications market.
On November 2, a pharmaceutical company disclosed that the DOJ requested documents and other information related to the company’s compliance with the FCPA. The SEC is also investigating the company’s compliance with the FCPA, a fact the company disclosed in May. The SEC’s subpoena sought information about the company’s grant-making activities worldwide, specifically naming Japan, Brazil, Turkey and Russia in its request, and also addressed non-FCPA items. The company said that it plans to cooperate with DOJ’s investigation.
DOJ Unseals Indictment Against Individuals for Alleged Involvement in Hacks Against Various U.S. Institutions
On November 10, the DOJ unsealed an indictment against three individuals, Gery Shalon, Joshua Samuel Aaron and Ziv Orenstein, for allegedly orchestrating and committing computer hacking crimes against U.S. financial institutions, brokerage firms, and financial news publishers. According to the DOJ, “these three defendants perpetrated one of the largest thefts of financial-related data in history – making off with the sensitive information of literally thousands” of Americans. The DOJ alleges that, from approximately 2012 to mid-2015, Shalon and Aaaron hacked financial institutions to steal the personal information of more than 100 million customers, and then manipulated the price of certain U.S. publicly traded stocks, seeking to “market the stocks, in a deceptive and misleading manner, to customers of the victim companies whose contact information they had stolen in the intrusion.” Additionally, Shalon engaged in illegal businesses with Orenstein between 2007 and July 2015, allegedly operating (i) unlawful internet gambling businesses; (ii) multinational payment processors for illegal pharmaceutical suppliers, counterfeit and malicious software distributors, and unlawful internet casinos; and (iii) Coin.mx, a Bitcoin exchange company that violated federal anti-money laundering laws. Read more…
Bank Settles with DOJ for $81.6 Million for Failing to Timely File Payment Change Notices for Homeowners in Bankruptcy
On November 5, the DOJ announced a proposed settlement with a bank for allegedly violating bankruptcy rules by not providing homeowners with required notices that would have allowed them to challenge the accuracy of increased mortgage rates. According to the DOJ, the bank acknowledged that, from December 1, 2011 to March 31, 2015, it failed to (i) file payment change notices (PCNs) 21 days before adjusting a debtor’s monthly mortgage payment, as required by federal regulations; and (ii) perform timely escrow analyses. Under the settlement, the bank will be required to pay over $80 million in restitution to homeowners in bankruptcy that were affected by its actions and will be required to update its internal procedures to prevent further violations, including improving its employee training and its quality control processes to ensure that PCNs are filed within the appropriate timeframe. The settlement was filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland and is subject to court approval.
On October 19, the DOJ announced that a former DEA agent was sentenced to 78 months in prison for crimes he committed while working as an undercover agent in the Silk Road investigation. On July 1, the former DEA agent pleaded guilty to charges of extortion, money laundering, and obstruction of justice. Using his DEA-sanctioned persona, “Nob,” the former agent sold Ross Ulbricht – Silk Road’s convicted operator – fake drivers’ licenses and inside information about the investigation, directing Ulbricht to conceal his payments, which were made in bitcoin, using encrypted messaging. Understanding that the payments were government property and constituted evidence of a crime, the former agent admitted to falsifying reports and depositing the funds into his own personal bank accounts, receiving more than $100,000 in bitcoin payments from Ulbricht. In addition, the former agent created another, not government-sanctioned online persona, “French Maid,” which he used to solicit and receive approximately $100,000 in bitcoins from Ulbricht in exchange for information on the government’s Silk Road investigation. The former agent also admitted to serving as the chief compliance officer for a digital currency exchange company, even though he did not receive permission from the DEA to do so. In February 2014, the company alerted him to suspicious activity in a certain account, but, using his capacity as a DEA agent, the former agent directed the company to freeze $337,000 in cash and digital currency from the account, and then transferred $300,000 of the digital currency into an account he controlled. In addition to his prison sentence and post-sentence supervision, the former DEA agent will pay $340,000 in restitution.
On October 20, the DOJ, OFAC, the NYDFS, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and the Federal Reserve simultaneously announced that a Paris-based investment bank would pay a total of more than $787 million to settle multiple alleged violations of U.S. sanctions regulations. The OFAC settlement resolves allegations that the investment bank and certain predecessor banks, between August 6, 2003 and September 16, 2008, processed 4,055 transactions – for a total of approximately $337,043,846 – to or through U.S. financial institutions that involved countries and/or persons subject to the sanctions regulations administered by OFAC. The investment bank settled with OFAC for more than $329,500,000, an amount that reflects the agency’s consideration of the following aggravating factors: (i) the investment bank had indications that its actions had the potential to constitute violations of the U.S. law before the earliest date of the apparent violations; (ii) several managers of the investment bank were aware of the conduct that led to the violations; (iii) the investment bank’s conduct resulted in significant harm to various sanctions programs OFAC oversees and their associated policy objectives; (iv) the investment bank’s size and sophistication, along with its global presence; and (v) the investment bank’s failure to maintain proper controls to prevent the violations from occurring and otherwise maintain an adequate compliance program. Read more…
On October 9, James Rama, a former Vice President of Florida-based defense contractor IAP Worldwide Services, Inc., was sentenced in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to 120 days in prison for conspiracy to violate the anti-bribery provisions of the FCPA. Rama pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge on June 16 for his role in a scheme by IAP to pay more than $1.7 million in bribes to Kuwaiti officials to win a government contract intended to provide nationwide surveillance capabilities for several Kuwaiti government agencies. Rama had faced a recommended sentence under the Sentencing Guidelines of between 57 and 60 months, but received a substantially shorter sentence in part due to his cooperation with authorities during their investigation. Prosecutors had recommended that Rama receive a one year sentence, while the defense had requested just supervised release. IAP previously entered into a non-prosecution agreement with the DOJ and agreed to pay $7.1 million to resolve the allegations against the company.
On October 13, the DOJ unsealed an indictment against a Moldovan citizen for his alleged involvement in a criminal conspiracy to steal confidential financial information by distributing malware software through phishing emails. According to the indictment, the Defendant and his co-conspirators infected computers with malware designed to circumvent anti-virus protections and steal confidential personal and financial information from victims. The confidential information, such as online banking credentials, was used to “falsely represent to banks that the defendant and co-conspirators were the victims or employees of the victims with authority to access the victims’ bank accounts.” The investigation found that an estimated $10 million loss in the U.S. alone can be attributed to the Defendant’s scheme.
On October 13, the DOJ announced that a Columbus, Georgia resident pleaded guilty to one count of operating an unlicensed money transmitting business. According to the DOJ, between February 2013 and March 2014, the individual unlawfully owned, operated, and managed multiple money transmitting companies throughout the Columbus area, offering check-cashing services. The individual allegedly knew that he was required to register his company with FinCEN and with the state of Georgia, but failed to do so. Scheduled to face sentencing in January 2016, the individual faces a statutory maximum sentencing of five years and has agreed to a forfeiture order of more than $1,300,000.
On October 2, Canadian mining company Kinross Gold Corp. announced that the SEC and DOJ are investigating potentially improper payments to government officials in West Africa. The company’s announcement states that it received subpoenas from the SEC in 2014 and 2015, and a request for information from the DOJ in December 2014. The subpoenas came after the company launched an internal investigation in August 2013 to investigate a whistleblower complaint alleging improper payments to government officials and internal control deficiencies in the company’s West African mining operations.
On September 30, the former CFO of Siemens S.A.-Argentina pleaded guilty in a federal court in New York to conspiring to pay nearly $100 million dollars in bribes to Argentinian officials. The former executive, Andres Truppel, who is a German and Argentinian citizen, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the antibribery, internal controls, and books and records provisions of the FCPA, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. As described in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York’s press release, the violations stemmed from Siemens’ bid to win an Argentine government contract worth $1 billion to create a national identity card system. Mr. Truppel faces up to five years in prison and three years of supervised release when he is sentenced; there is no information on when sentencing will occur.
Truppel was one of eight former Siemens executives indicted in 2011 on charges of conspiring to violate the FCPA and other statutes (see previous BuckleySandler coverage here and here). Siemens itself reached a record $800 million resolution in 2008 with the DOJ and SEC related to FCPA violations in numerous countries, including Argentina. Siemens S.A.-Argentina pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the FCPA’s books and records provisions as part of that resolution.
On September 30, U.S. Assistant Attorney General John Carlin delivered remarks at the 2015 Cybersecurity Summit hosted jointly by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Gaming Association. In his remarks, Carlin highlighted a variety of “tools,” including the use of sanctions, the DOJ may employ on individuals or entities that engage in malicious cyber-enabled activities against the U.S. Notably, Carlin discussed certain advantages for increased collaboration among the private sector and government to share information and best practices “to help defend against or disrupt [cyber] attacks before they happen or in real time,” adding that “law enforcement can also enlist the assistance of international partners to help retrieve stolen data or identify a perpetrator.” Concluding his remarks, Carlin urged companies to adopt a strong cybersecurity risk management program.