White-Collar Crime

Remember the 80s? Big hair, Dynasty, Huey Lewis was popular for some reason. Well, Judge Jed Rakoff remembers the 80s, and he also remembers the way the federal government used to actually investigate and prosecute people who committed massive financial crimes — Mike Milken, Ivan Boesky, Charles Keating, a bevy of other savings and loans kingpins. Good times.

And Judge Rakoff wants to know what happened to prosecuting financial crimes, specifically the sort of fraud that crippled the economy. So he took to the pages of the New York Review of Books to ponder all the financial prosecutions that could have been. And he has some theories about what happened and how prosecutors could do a better job in the future.

It’s a fascinating look at a bunch of ideas that the government is going to totally ignore…

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A Washington Post article this past weekend gave me the willies.  It was about SIGTARP – the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

Leave aside that the article hits the tired drum that more people should have gone to prison after the financial crisis – because, of course, the only thing that causes an economic downturn is crime.

Instead, check out how SIGTARP shows us that they’re doing good work as a law enforcement agency.

[Special Inspector General Christy] Romero noted that the average prison sentence imposed by courts for crimes investigated by SIGTARP is five years and nine months — nearly twice the national average for white-collar fraud.

Right – SIGTARP is a serious player because it’s getting serious prison time…

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Ed. note: Matt Kaiser founded The Kaiser Law Firm PLLC, a white-collar boutique in Washington, D.C., and will now be writing a weekly column for us about white-collar practice and his adventures in building a law firm. Matt previously covered the Supreme Court for us. This is the second installment of his new column.

Suppose you’re a fourth-year associate in a litigation department in a large firm on one of the coasts. You’ve worked on a lot of different matters — you’ve done document review for commercial litigation. You put together a privilege log for some patent litigation (who says patent litigation is specialized?). You waded through documents in an FCPA case. You even got to do some deposition digesting for a reinsurance lawsuit!

You really liked your work on the FCPA document review. You noticed that the documents related to a foreign country, which sounded exotic. You could sit in your office, staring at the brick wall on the other side of the alley, and imagine that you were an extra in Casablanca, with a view toward how the world really works overseas.

Perhaps most importantly, you loved how your friends from law school reacted when you told them you were working on an FCPA matter. Cocktail parties became more interesting when people thought of you as a white-collar criminal defense lawyer, rather than the reinsurance guy. You resolved that you’d do more white-collar work and perhaps make this noble practice area the focus of your career.

But how?

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Ed. note: Matt Kaiser founded The Kaiser Law Firm PLLC, a white-collar boutique in Washington, D.C., and will now be writing a weekly column for us about white-collar practice and his adventures in building a law firm. Matt previously covered the Supreme Court for us. This is the first installment of his new column.

When I meet non-lawyers — a rare and jolting occurrence -– or talk to lawyers who don’t practice in the white-collar criminal space, I’m frequently surprised at how few of them know what “white-collar criminal defense” means.

Yet, whatever it is, white-collar work is seen as sexy. Just about any fifth-year associate who has reviewed documents as a part of an FCPA investigation has “white-collar criminal defense” listed as a practice area on his firm bio. Fewer, I suspect, have a clear understanding of what white-collar work is.

There are clear cases. The prosecution of John Edwards is classically a white-collar case: it involved campaign finance, was in federal court, was litigated like a civil case, and Abbe Lowell represented the defendant (any case involving Abbe Lowell is per se white-collar).

Then there are the less-clear cases….

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Jill Kelley

* With a government shutdown looming, the Supreme Court will likely go about business as usual. In fact, Justice Alito is rolling his eyes at the mere concept of closing the Court’s doors as we speak. [SCOTUSblog]

* But in the meantime, both the Department of Justice and the federal judiciary are hunkering down and waiting for the collapse of law and order thanks to all of our petulant politicians in Washington, D.C. [Blog of Legal Times]

* Justice Scalia thinks the NSA’s surveillance programs may come before SCOTUS for an examination of a “right of privacy that comes from penumbras and emanations, blah blah blah, garbage.” [Associated Press]

* Perhaps it’s due to the “hangover from the collapse of the markets in 2008,” but white-collar defense practices are on the rise in Biglaw, and the firms’ leaders could not be happier. [Philadelphia Inquirer]

* Another law school ranking just means there’s another way for Yale to whoop Harvard’s ass. Now we know that Lat’s alma mater is slightly better at producing law deans than Elie’s. [National Law Journal]

* A motion to dismiss has been filed, and now Jill Kelley, the Florida socialite who assisted in bringing about the end of General David Petraeus’s career in the CIA, is watching her legal case unravel. [CNN]

* DOJ busts giant fortune telling ring. You’d think they would have seen that coming. [Lowering the Bar]

* Today’s New York Times points out that Judge Kopf penned an eloquent post regarding his reaction to the news that Shon Hopwood — a man Kopf sentenced to a lengthy prison term — is poised to clerk for Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the D.C. Circuit. Funny, it seems like I read that news before… [New York Times]

* The government just doesn’t know what documents Edward Snowden stole. That’s part of the reason British authorities stopped David Miranda. That and the Brits love irony. [The Volokh Conspiracy]

* The message here is not bad per se, but to all the law school apologists spreading it around based on the quote, “Yeah, I know, the legal market sucks, blah blah blah. But you don’t need thousands of jobs. You just need one,” well, that’s not a sustainable model. For students that is. [Medium]

* In the midst of cracking down on the NYPD, Judge Scheindlin also issued a new opinion on e-Discovery. IT-Lex provides an in-depth review. [IT-Lex]

* Another sign of the discrimination against women in business — women lag far behind in the commission of high-level corporate fraud. [Law and More]

* BP has taken out a full-page ad in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal to complain about how much money they’ve had to spend cleaning up that one time they catastrophically devastated an ecosystem through their own recklessness. It’s the most recent curious PR move on BP’s part…

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One hopes “black edge” wasn’t on the list. Anyway, today’s indictment against SAC, for wire fraud and securities fraud, is something to behold:

“For example, on or about July 29, 2009, a recently hired SAC PM (the ‘New PM’) sent an instant message to [Steve Cohen] and relayed that, due to some ‘recent research,’ the New PM planned to short Nokia when he started work 10 days later. The New PM apologized for being ‘cryptic’ but noted that the head of SAC compliance ‘was giving me Rules 101 yesterday – so I won’t be saying much[.] [T]oo scary.’”

Possibly the weirdest part here is that new hires got compliance lectures two weeks before they showed up at the firm? But maybe not; the DOJ takes a pretty dim view of SAC’s hiring process generally, and if you believe the DOJ that SAC’s main hiring criterion was “is good at insider trading,” then you could imagine the need for a little pre-start-date warning in email etiquette:

Continue reading over at DealBreaker….

This is the moment we’ve been waiting for ever since Robert Khuzami left his gig as the Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement earlier this year. Now a Biglaw firm has signed him for big bucks (reportedly “more than $5 million a year”).

It’s like NFL Free Agency with less Deer Antler Spray and more lamentations over the revolving door between the government and the private sector…

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The thing is that when you run a brokerage company and it goes and loses $1bn of customer money, the CFTC really ought to charge you with “fail[ing] to supervise diligently the activities of [your] officers, employees, and agents,” no? At least? There are various views of Jon Corzine’s role in MF Global’s efforts to misplace a billion dollars – did he intentionally misuse customer funds? was he aggressive but above-board? just confused? – but no one is going around saying “oh, yeah, Corzine was really on the ball there protecting customer money.” You’re just irreducibly not supposed to lose a billion dollars in customer money, and if you do, “failure to supervise diligently” is pretty much the kindest possible description…

Continue reading over at DealBreaker….

Elite law firms and the Mafia would appear to be worlds apart. Biglaw firms represent all sorts of unsavory characters, but these clients tend to steal using computers rather than cudgels. When you wear white shoes, you don’t want to get them splattered with blood.

But there are commonalities. Both Biglaw and Big Crime are large and lucrative enterprises. They’re intensely hierarchical and often ruthless.

There are cultural similarities as well. As noted in these pages by lawyer turned therapist Will Meyerhofer, “Some big law firms are like the mob. They do ugly things, but prefer to avoid ‘ugliness.’” Instead, there’s a lot of indirection and passive-aggressiveness.

So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that a leading defense lawyer to Mob figures has joined “the family” — the Biglaw family, that is….

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