Articles Posted in White Collar Crime

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Susan and William Avignone defrauded five investors out of more than $700,000 in a real estate scheme. In exchange for dismissal of some of the charges, the Avignones pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud in connection with the offer, sale, and purchase of a security and two counts of grand theft of personal property with a value of more than $950. Susan admitted a Penal Code section 186.11 (a)(2) allegation attached to count 10, and a section 12022.6 (a)(1) allegation attached to count 5. William admitted a section 186.11 (a)(2) allegation attached to count 2, a section 12022.6 (a)(2) allegation attached to count 3, and a section 12022.6 (a)(1) allegation attached to count 5. At sentencing, the trial court struck the section 186.11 enhancements and denied probation. It sentenced the Avignones to an aggregate term of five years four months to be served in the custody of the sheriff. The court imposed a split sentence, ordering that one year four months of the imposed sentence would be served in the community under mandatory supervision. The Avignones separately appealed, contending the trial court abused its discretion in denying probation. William also contended: (1) an electronic search condition was unreasonable and unconstitutionally overbroad; and (2) the trial court improperly calculated a restitution order as to one of the victims. The State conceded the trial court improperly calculated the restitution for one of the victims, but asserted the Avignones' sentences were unauthorized because the trial court did not have discretion to sentence them to county jail, rather than prison. The Court of Appeal rejected the Avignones' argument that the trial court abused its discretion in denying probation, and agreed the trial court imposed an unauthorized sentence. This conclusion rendered William's argument regarding the electronic search condition moot. The Court reversed and remanded with directions to allow the Avignones an opportunity to withdraw their guilty pleas. View "California v. Avignone" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of 11 counts related to a corruption scandal involving the City of Bell. The Court of Appeals held that the jury could reasonably have concluded that defendant was criminally negligent by failing to take steps to determine whether the loans at issue were authorized. However, the court reversed the five convictions for misappropriation of public funds because the jury instructions were erroneous in light of People v. Hubbard, (2016) 63 Cal.4th 378. Hubbard was issued after defendant's trial and clarified the scope of Penal Code section 424. Furthermore, the error was not harmless. The court affirmed the conflict of interest conviction based on her involvement in changing Bell's pension plan because amendments to the pension plan effectively modified the terms of defendant's employment with Bell, and constituted the making of a contract within the meaning of Government Code section 1090. The court remanded for further proceedings, including correction of the abstract of judgment to delete references to defendant's current or prior serious or violent felony convictions. View "People v. Spaccia" on Justia Law

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Defendants appealed a civil enforcement action against them for violation of the unfair competition laws (UCL) arising out of their involvement in a complex real estate scam. The Court of Appeal affirmed and held that defendants' unlawful scheme was not entitled to immunity under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine; the evidence supported the trial court's findings regarding the wild deeds; adverse possession was not a defense to UCL liability; the restitution award was supported by the evidence and the law; the civil penalties awarded were within the trial court's discretion; and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in imposing the permanent injunction. View "People ex rel. Harris v. Aguayo" on Justia Law

Posted in: White Collar Crime

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Lee, who has a degree in business administration, began a tax consulting business in 1974. Starting in the 1990s, Lee convinced clients to invest significant amounts of money with him, telling them their funds would either be part of an “investment club” or used to purchase shares in a company called China EC Net. Instead, Lee used the money for personal needs, including payment of mortgage obligations, living expenses, and his daughter’s medical costs. When San Mateo police arrested Lee in 2012, Lee said “you have no idea how big this is” and admitted “I know I was wrong.” Lee was convicted of 77 felonies, including multiple counts of grand theft, elder theft, identity theft, and money laundering, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison and ordered to pay over $1.3 million in victim restitution. The court of appeal reversed four of the money laundering convictions based on insufficient evidence; the identity theft convictions because there was no evidence Lee used his victims’ personal identifying information for an unlawful purpose without their consent; and two elder theft convictions because the Attorney General conceded there was insufficient evidence. View "People v. Lee" on Justia Law

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In this appeal, the parties asked the Court of Appeal to determine the value of a blank check for the purpose of distinguishing between misdemeanor and felony receiving stolen property after passage of the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act (Proposition 47). Respondent Angela Vandiver pled guilty in 2012 to a single felony count of receiving stolen property based on her possession of blank checks she knew had been stolen. She later petitioned to have the conviction redesignated a misdemeanor under the new provisions of Proposition 47 on the ground the checks were worth $950 or less. The State opposed, arguing the balance of the victim’s checking account was greater than $950. The trial court found the value of the blank checks to be de minimis and granted the petition. The State argued on appeal the court erred by: (1) reaching the merits because Vandiver did not attach evidence of value to her petition; and (2) determining the checks’ value was de minimis. The State contended the court should have dismissed the petition as unsupported or found the checks were worth the full amount in the linked checking account and denied the petition on the merits. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "California v. Vandiver" on Justia Law

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Defendant-appellant John Riddles pled guilty to one count of workers' compensation insurance fraud. His conviction grew out of his application for workers' compensation insurance, which fraudulently represented that a number of nurses who had been placed in residential care and skilled-nursing facilities by Riddles' staffing agency were computer programmers. His misrepresentation of the nurses as computer programmers substantially reduced the premium his agency was charged by the workers' compensation insurer that accepted his company's application; accordingly, the trial court required that Riddles pay, as restitution to the insurer, $37,000 in premiums the insurer would have earned in the absence of his misrepresentation. Contrary to his argument on appeal, a workers' compensation insurer could recover, as restitution under Penal Code section 1202.4, the premiums it would have earned in the absence of misrepresentations by an insurance applicant. The fact Riddles may have been able to establish that the Labor Code did not require that he provide workers' compensation coverage for the nurses did not relieve him of responsibility for providing the insurer with a fraudulent application or alter the fact the nurses were covered by the policy he obtained. View "California v. Riddles" on Justia Law

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Respondent Angela Vandiver pled guilty in 2012 to a single felony count of receiving stolen property based on her possession of blank checks she knew had been stolen. She later petitioned to have the conviction redesignated a misdemeanor under the new provisions of Proposition 47 on the ground the checks were worth $950 or less. The State opposed, arguing the balance of the victim’s checking account was greater than $950. The trial court found the value of the blank checks to be de minimis and granted the petition. The State contended the court erred by: (1) reaching the merits because Vandiver did not attach evidence of value to her petition; and (2) determining the checks’ value was de minimis. The State contended the trial court should have dismissed the petition as unsupported or found the checks were worth the full amount in the linked checking account and denied the petition on the merits. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "California v. Vandiver" on Justia Law

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Black called Knarr to suggest a real estate investment. Knarr gave Black $124,456, documented by a May 2006 promissory note. Knarr testified that he would not have invested without a promised 10 percent return if sale or development of the property failed. The parties modified the note in May 2007 to reflect Knarr’s additional investment of $155,474 and extended the maturity date of the note several times, through mid-January 2012. Knarr obtained information inconsistent with what Black had told him and asked Black for his money. Receiving no response, Knarr initiated an investigation. In 2013, Black was charged with five counts (there were other investors) of using false statements in the offer or sale of a security (Corp. Code, 25401, 25540(b)). The trial court set aside two counts, finding that the note was not a security. The court of appeals affirmed, holding that the promissory notes offered for Knarr’s investment in the real estate development scheme were not securities within the meaning of the Corporate Securities Law. The evidence of other investors was insufficient to meet the public offering prong of the risk-capital test and there was insufficient evidence that Knarr was “led to expect profits solely from the efforts of the promoter.” View "People v. Black" on Justia Law

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Starski identified himself as a lawyer in a demand letter to a business, claiming that his “client” (Cornett, his mother’s husband) had been injured at the business. The manager was suspicious and contacted authorities, who subsequently staged a pretext call during which Starski identified himself as an attorney. Cornett subsequently stated that he had not been injured at the business, but changed his story again for trial. A search of Starski’s computer uncovered documents revealing that he had been involved in several similar schemes, representing himself as an attorney. He is not a licensed attorney, but described himself as a “freelance paralegal.” After his trial on felony charges of attempted grand theft and conspiracy and a misdemeanor charge of unlawful practice of law (Business and Professions Code section 6126), the judge instructed the jury that section 6126 requires more than simply holding oneself out as an attorney, that “practicing law” entails use of that purported status. Starski and Cornett were convicted. Each was given to probation. The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments of insufficient evidence; that the instructions on section 6126 were “overbroad” because they allowed conviction for what a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision made protected free speech; and that the judge erred by refusing to give Starski’s special instruction on a “claim-of-right” defense to the charges of attempting and conspiring to commit grand theft. View "People v. Starski" on Justia Law

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Hannon, an attorney, represented Barber in litigation against the victim, Barber’s former domestic partner, Dr. Magno. In December 2006, the parties agreed that Barber would fund a college trust for their children. Barber paid $27,500.32 to Hannon as the trustee of the children’s funds and authorized Hannon to open a bank account. In February 2011, the victim became aware that the children’s funds had been misappropriated. Hannon may have used the money to cover legal fees owed by Barber. Charged with grand theft by embezzlement by a fiduciary (Pen. Code 487(a), 506), Hannon ultimately pled no contest to misdemeanor theft by embezzlement. The trial court placed him on probation for two years, ordered him to perform 240 hours of community service, and ordered him to pay $40,800 in restitution to the victim: $25,000 in attorney’s fees, $15,000 in lost wages, and $800 in mileage. The court of appeal rejected challenges to the restitution award and held that the victim was entitled to file a victim impact statement on appeal, pursuant to the Victims’ Bill of Rights Act of 2008 (Marsy’s Law, Proposition 9 (2008)), but may not raise present legal issues not raised by Hannon or facts not in the record below View "People v. Hannon" on Justia Law