Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
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Following a preliminary hearing, petitioner Dr. Sanjoy Banerjee was charged in an information with two counts of presenting a false or fraudulent health care claim to an insurer (a form of insurance fraud, counts 1-2), and three counts of perjury (counts 3-5). The superior court denied Banerjee’s motion to dismiss the information as unsupported by reasonable or probable cause. Banerjee petitioned for a writ of prohibition to direct the superior court to vacate its order denying his Penal Code section 995 motion and to issue an order setting aside the information. The Court of Appeal issued an order to show cause and an order staying further proceedings on the information, pending the Court's resolution of the merits of Banerjee’s petition. The State filed a return, and Banerjee filed a traverse. The State argued the evidence supported a strong suspicion that Banerjee committed two counts of insurance fraud and three counts of perjury, based on his violations of Labor Code section 139.3(a) between 2014 and 2016. During that period, Banerjee billed a workers’ compensation insurer for services he rendered to patients through his professional corporation and through two other legal entities he owned and controlled. The insurance fraud charges are based on Banerjee’s 2014-2016 billings to the insurer through the two other entities. The perjury charges were based on three instances in which Banerjee signed doctor’s reports, certifying under penalty of perjury that he had not violated “section 139.3.” Banerjee argued: (1) the evidence showed he did not violate the statute's referral prohibition; (2) even if he did not comply with section 139.3(e), the “physician’s office” exception to the referral prohibition applied to all of his referrals to his two other legal entities; and (3) the patient disclosure requirement of section 139.3(e), the referral prohibition of section 139.3(a), and the physician’s office exception to the referral prohibition were unconstitutionally vague. The Court of Appeal concluded: (1) Banerjee did not violate section 139.3(a) by referring his patients to his two other legal entities; and (2) the evidence supported a strong suspicion that Banerjee specifically intended to present false and fraudulent claims for health care benefits, in violation of Penal Code section 550(a)(6), by billing the workers’ compensation insurer substantially higher amounts through his two other legal entities than he previously and customarily billed the insurer for the same services he formerly rendered through his professional corporation and his former group practice. Thus, the Court granted the writ as to the perjury charges but denied it as to the insurance fraud charges. View "Banerjee v. Super. Ct." on Justia Law

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Dawson, the City Manager of Del Rey Oaks, purchased the Portola lot, “the last vacant lot” in the City. It had a water meter but no water credits and could not be built upon without water credits. The prior owner had never been able to obtain water rights or water credits. The City lacked any water credits and had no surplus water. In 2015, the City leased the Rosita property, part of Work Memorial Park, to Mori for a garden center. Dawson contracted on behalf of the City for a new well on the Rosita property and arranged for the water credit from the Rosita property to be transferred to Dawson’s Portola lot. Dawson never reported his ownership of the Portola lot on his Form 700 disclosure.Dawson was convicted of a felony count of violating Government Code section 10901 (conflict of interest as to a contract entered into in his official capacity) and a misdemeanor count of violating section 91000 (failing to report an interest in real property under the Political Reform Act). The court granted him probation. The court of appeal affirmed. The prosecution was not required to prove the inapplicability of an exception to section 1090 “for remote or minimal interests” because it was an affirmative defense; Dawson bore the burden of raising a reasonable doubt. View "People v. Dawson" on Justia Law

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Mark Yazdani was the president and sole owner of Meridian Financial Services, Inc. (Meridian). Over the span of a year, Yazdani made a series of investments totaling $5,079,000 in an international gold-trading scheme run by a loan broker, Lananh Phan, who promised him “guaranteed” returns of 5 or 6 percent per month. It turned out to be a Ponzi scheme and when it collapsed, Yazdani lost most of his money. In exchange for some of his investments, Yazdani demanded “collateral” from Phan, in the form of "loans" or promissory notes secured by deeds of trust in favor of Meridian on Phan's residence, and the residences of unwitting third parties ensared in Phan's scheme. The loans were facilitated through escrow at Chicago Title Company. The purported borrowers never knew of these transactions; their signatures on the Meridian deeds of trusts were forged or obtained by Phan under false pretenses. After the Ponzi scheme collapsed and unable to recover his investment, Yazdani moved to foreclose on the purported borrowers. In one of two lawsuits, two of the purported borrowers sued Yazdani and Meridian (collectively, Appellants) to prevent foreclosure of and quiet title to their home. A judge cancelled the Meridian deeds of trust, finding that they were “forged” and that Appellants had acted with unclean hands in procuring them (the Orange County decision). In this, the second lawsuit, Appellants sued Chicago Title, among others, alleging they were induced to invest with Phan because Chicago Title’s involvement in the transactions reassured them that Phan’s investment scheme was legitimate. Appellants also sued more than 50 individuals who allegedly received payments from Phan, asserting they were Phan’s creditors, and the transfers of money to the individuals should have been set aside. Summary judgment was entered in favor of Chicago Title and the individuals. Appellants appealed both judgments, contending the trial court erred in giving preclusive effect to the Orange County decision. They also argued the award of attorney fees was grossly excessive and an abuse of discretion. Finding no merit to these contentions, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgments and the fee award. View "Meridian Financial etc. v. Phan" on Justia Law

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Mark Yazdani was the president and sole owner of Meridian Financial Services, Inc. (Meridian). Over the span of a year, Yazdani made a series of investments in an international gold-trading scheme run by a loan broker, Lananh Phan, who promised him “guaranteed” returns of 5 or 6 percent per month. It turned out to be a Ponzi scheme and when it collapsed, Yazdani lost most of his money. In exchange for some of his investments, Yazdani demanded “collateral” from Phan, in the form of "loans" or promissory notes secured by deeds of trust in favor of Meridian on Phan's residence, and the residences of unwitting third parties ensared in Phan's scheme. The loans were facilitated through escrow at Chicago Title Company. The purported borrowers never knew of these transactions; their signatures on the Meridian deeds of trusts were forged or obtained by Phan under false pretenses. Yazdani had been made aware of “irregularities” with the execution and notarization of the Meridian deeds of trust. Yazdani moved to foreclose on the purported borrowers. In one of two lawsuits, two of the purported borrowers sued Yazdani and Meridian (collectively, Appellants) to prevent foreclosure of and quiet title to their home. A judge cancelled the Meridian deeds of trust, finding that they were “forged” and that Appellants had acted with unclean hands in procuring them (the Orange County decision). However, the parties later settled and, as a condition of settlement, obtained a stipulated order from a different judge vacating most of the trial judge’s decision. In this, the second lawsuit, Appellants sued Chicago Title, among others, alleging they were induced to invest with Phan because Chicago Title’s involvement in the transactions reassured them that Phan’s investment scheme was legitimate. Appellants also sued more than 50 individuals who allegedly received payments from Phan, asserting they were Phan’s creditors and the transfers of money to the individuals should be set aside. Summary judgment was entered in favor of Chicago Title and the individuals. Appellants appealed both judgments, contending the trial court erred in giving preclusive effect to the Orange County decision. They also argued the award of attorney fees was an abuse of discretion. Finding no merit to these contentions, the Court of Appeal affirmed the judgments and the fee award. View "Meridian Financial etc. v. Phan" on Justia Law

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Over the course of a few years, an employee of Severin Mobile Towing Inc. (Severin) took about $157,000 in checks made payable to Severin’s d/b/a, endorsed them with what appears to be his own name or initials, and deposited them into his personal account at JPMorgan Chase Bank N.A. (Chase). Because the employee deposited all the checks at automated teller machines (ATM’s), and because each check was under $1,500, Chase accepted each check without “human review.” When Severin eventually discovered the embezzlement, it sued Chase for negligence and conversion under California’s version of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC), and for violating the unfair competition law. Severin moved for summary judgment on its conversion cause of action, and Chase moved for summary judgment of all of Severin’s claims, asserting affirmative defenses under the UCC, and that claims as to 34 of the 211 stolen checks were time- barred. The trial court granted Chase’s motion on statute of limitations and California Uniform Commercial Law section 3405 grounds; the court did not reach UCL section 3406. The court denied Severin’s motion as moot, and entered judgment for Chase. On appeal, Severin argued only that the court erred in granting summary judgment to Chase on Severin’s conversion cause of action (and, by extension, the derivative UCL cause of action). Specifically, Severin argued the court erroneously granted summary judgment under section 3405 because Chase failed to meet its burden of establishing that Severin’s employee fraudulently indorsed the stolen checks in a manner “purporting to be that of [his] employer.” Severin further argued factual disputes about its reasonableness in supervising its employee precluded summary judgment under section 3406. The Court of Appeal agreed with Severin in both respects, and therefore did not reach the merits of Chase’s claim that its automated deposit procedures satisfied the applicable ordinary care standard. Accordingly, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings. View "Severin Mobile Towing, Inc. v. JPMorgan Chase etc." on Justia Law

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Metaxas was the president and CEO of Gateway Bank in 2008, during the financial crisis. Federal regulators categorized Gateway as a “troubled institution.” Gateway tried to raise capital and deal with its troubled assets. Certain transactions resulted in a lengthy investigation. The U.S. Attorney became involved. Metaxas was indicted. In 2015, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Gateway sued Metaxas based on two transactions involving Ideal Mortgage: a March 2009 $3.65 million working capital loan and a November 2009 $757,000 wire transfer. A court-appointed referee awarded Gateway $250,000 in tort-of-another damages arising from “the fallout” from the first transaction, and $132,000 in damages for the second.The court of appeal affirmed, rejecting arguments that the first transaction resulted in “substantial benefit” to Gateway and that Metaxas had no alternative but to approve the wire transfer. Gateway did not ask for any purported “benefit.” The evidence showed that the Board would not have approved either the toxic asset sale or the working capital loan if Metaxas had disclosed the true facts. Metaxas damaged Gateway’s reputation. Metaxas knew that the government was trying to shut Ideal down but approved the wire transfer on the last business day before Ideal was shut down, by expressly, angrily, overruling the CFO. View "Gateway Bank, F.S.B. v. Metaxas" on Justia Law

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Jensen was charged as a coconspirator in a felony indictment alleging a scheme under which members of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department issued hard-to-obtain concealed firearms permits in exchange for substantial donations to an independent expenditure committee supporting the reelection campaign of Sheriff Smith. Jensen is a sheriff’s department captain identified as the individual within the sheriff’s department who facilitated the conspiracy. Jensen unsuccessfully moved to disqualify the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting him, alleging that that office leaked grand jury transcripts to the press days before the transcripts became public which created a conflict of interest requiring disqualification. He also joined in codefendant Schumb’s motion to disqualify the office due to Schumb’s friendship with District Attorney Rosen and Rosen’s chief assistant, Boyarsky.The court of appeal rejected Jensen’s arguments for finding a conflict of interest requiring disqualification: the grand jury transcript leak, Schumb’s relationships with Rosen and Boyarsky, and a dispute between Rosen and Sheriff Smith about access to recordings of county jail inmate phone calls. The trial court could reasonably conclude Jensen did not demonstrate that the district attorney’s office was the source of the leak. Jensen himself does not have a personal relationship with Rosen or Boyarsky. The trial court could reasonably conclude that Jensen did not establish a conflict of interest based on the existence of a dispute between the district attorney and the elected official with supervisory power over Jensen. View "Jensen v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Schumb was charged as a coconspirator in a felony indictment alleging a quid pro quo scheme in which members of the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department issued hard-to-obtain concealed firearms permits in exchange for substantial monetary donations to the reelection campaign of Sheriff Smith. Schumb is an attorney with a history of fundraising for elected officials; he accepted the donations as a treasurer of an independent expenditure committee supporting Sheriff Smith’s reelection. Schumb is a friend of Rosen, the elected Santa Clara County District Attorney, and previously raised funds for Rosen’s campaigns.Schumb unsuccessfully moved to disqualify the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office from prosecuting him, arguing that his friendships with Rosen and Rosen’s chief assistant, Boyarsky, created a conflict of interest making it unlikely Schumb would receive a fair trial. Schumb asserted that he intends to call Rosen and Boyarsky as both fact and character witnesses at trial and. despite their personal connections to the case, neither Rosen nor Boyarsky made any effort to create an ethical wall between themselves and the attorneys prosecuting the case. The court of appeal vacated and directed the lower court to enter a new order disqualifying the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office in Schumb's prosecution. View "Schumb v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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Gonzalo Paredes was found guilty by jury of 35 counts of offering or delivering compensation for workers’ compensation patient referrals and 16 counts of concealing an event affecting an insurance claim. The trial court sentenced Paredes to an aggregate term of five years in prison. On appeal, Paredes claimed the prosecutor committed misconduct during his examination of one of the witnesses and during closing argument by suggesting the existence of facts not in evidence. He also contended the trial court erred in excluding as hearsay, an unavailable witness' testimony from a prior federal trial. Further, Paredes contended the evidence presented was insufficient to support the jury's verdicts. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed Paredes' convictions and sentences. View "California v. Paredes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Zhi An Wang, Yu Liu, Bo Xu, Yanhong Sun, Yong Li, Tao Chen, Lina Tao, Bin Qu, Qingjiang Li, Tao Jing, Xingchuan Wu, Jun Shi, Ke Zhang, Zhuo Xiao, and Yugang Xie appealed a trial court order granting defendants Shimin Fang and his spouse, Juhua Liu's motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ complaint on the grounds of forum non conveniens (motion). Fang and Juhua Liu resided in San Diego County. Plaintiffs all resided in the People’s Republic of China. Fang created a website in China that published articles and other content regarding purported examples of fraud, corruption, and bureaucratic inefficiency affecting the scientific and academic communities in China. In about 2005, Fang publicly criticized a urologist who claimed to have a developed a treatment for a rare disease. A year later, the urologist sued Fang, and a Chinese court ruled in the urologist's favor. In 2010, Fang was attacked by individuals purportedly hired by the urologist as revenge for his public criticism of the doctor. As a result of the attack, Fang established a business in China called “Personal Safety Foundation for Scientific Anti-Fraud Individuals” (Foundation). Fang used the Foundation’s website among other methods to obtain donations. Fang represented that donated funds “would be used solely for the protection of the personal safety of individuals engaged in anti-fraud activities,” and that any such awards could be used by recipients for the “purpose of protecting their personal safety.” As an inducement to obtain donations, Fang publicly represented that no monies collected to fund the Foundation would be used to pay for his personal living expenses. For approximately eight years, the Foundation collected donations from “several thousand donors” including plaintiffs. The complaint alleged defendants misused Foundation funds “for personal transactions” in contravention of the stated mission and purpose of the Foundation. Defendants in their motion argued the complaint should have been dismissed on the ground of inconvenient forum because the matter should be litigated in China, where all plaintiffs resided and where the Foundation was located. The Court of Appeal concluded substantial evidence supported the trial court’s finding that China was a suitable forum. However, the California Court agreed with plaintiffs that in the interest of justice, the case should have been stayed and not dismissed, with the U.S. court to retain jurisdiction over the matter pending the outcome of the case in China. View "Wang v. Fang" on Justia Law