Justia Government Contracts Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Criminal Law
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Eghbal Saffarinia, a former high-ranking official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of the Inspector General (HUD-OIG), was required by federal law to file annual financial disclosure forms detailing most of his financial liabilities over $10,000. One of Saffarinia’s responsibilities was the allocation of HUD-OIG’s information technology contracts. An investigation revealed that Saffarinia had repeatedly falsified his financial disclosure forms and failed to disclose financial liabilities over $10,000. The investigation also revealed that one of the persons from whom Saffarinia had borrowed money was the owner of an IT company that had been awarded HUD-OIG IT contracts during the time when Saffarinia had near-complete power over the agency operation.Saffarinia was indicted on seven counts, including three counts of obstruction of justice. A jury convicted Saffarinia on all seven counts, and the District Court sentenced him to a year and a day in federal prison, followed by one year of supervised release. Saffarinia appealed his conviction, arguing that the law under which he was convicted did not extend to alleged obstruction of an agency’s review of financial disclosure forms because the review of these forms is insufficiently formal to fall within the law’s ambit. He also argued that the evidence presented at trial diverged from the charges contained in the indictment, resulting in either the constructive amendment of the indictment against him or, in the alternative, a prejudicial variance. Finally, Saffarinia challenged the sufficiency of the evidence presented against him at trial.The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found no basis to overturn Saffarinia’s conviction. The court held that the law under which Saffarinia was convicted was intended to capture the sorts of activity with which Saffarinia was charged. The court also found that the government neither constructively amended Saffarinia’s indictment nor prejudicially varied the charges against him. Finally, the court found that the evidence presented at Saffarinia’s trial was sufficient to support his conviction. The court therefore affirmed the judgment of the District Court. View "USA v. Saffarinia" on Justia Law

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The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed convictions against Whitney McBride and her company, Odyssey International Inc., for fraudulent conduct in obtaining a government contract. McBride was convicted of five offenses, including wire fraud, major fraud, and making a false declaration. She appealed the convictions, arguing that they should be vacated based on a Supreme Court case decided after her conviction, Ciminelli v. United States, which dealt with the interpretation of federal fraud statutes. She also contended that her conviction for making a false declaration should be vacated due to errors in the jury instructions.The court rejected her arguments, finding that she had waived her challenges to the convictions for conspiracy, wire fraud, and major fraud because she invited error by proffering the jury instruction she now disputed. The court also found that she waived her challenges due to her numerous procedural errors, including failing to argue for plain error on appeal and failing to meet the requirements of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. The court concluded that she had waived her arguments and affirmed her convictions. View "United States v. McBride" on Justia Law

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In 2018, Kousisis and Alpha Painting were convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1349, and three counts of wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343. The charges arose from false documents filed concerning “disadvantaged business enterprise” status in transportation construction projects for which the U.S. Department of Transportation provided funds through the Federal Highway Administration to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. The district court imposed a 20-point sentencing enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(1), which corresponds to a loss of $9.50 million-$25 million, noting that the actual loss to the government was not measurable at the time of sentencing and concluding that Alpha’s “ill-gotten profits” represented an appropriate measure of loss.The Third Circuit affirmed the convictions. The defendants secured PennDOT’s money using false pretenses and the value PennDOT received from the partial performance of those painting and repair services is no defense to criminal prosecution for fraud. The court vacated the calculation of the amount of loss for sentencing purposes, noting the extreme complexity of the case. The victim’s loss must have been an objective of the fraudulent scheme; it is insufficient if that loss is merely an incidental byproduct of the scheme. The court separately vacated a forfeiture order of the entire profit amount on the contracts. View "United States v. Alpha Painting & Construction Co., Inc." on Justia Law

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Johnson was the councilman in Cleveland’s Buckeye-Shaker neighborhood for 41 years. Jamison was his executive assistant. For years, Johnson used his position to fraudulently claim federal reimbursements for payments he never made. He also secured employment for his children in federally funded programs, although they were not legally eligible to work in such positions. Johnson deposited their earnings into his own account. In addition, Johnson fraudulently claimed a series of tax deductions. He encouraged and assisted his son Elijah in submitting falsified records for Elijah’s grand-jury testimony. Jamison assisted Johnson in these crimes. Johnson and Jamison were convicted on 15 charges, including federal program theft under 18 U.S.C. 371, 666(a)(1)(A) and (2); tax fraud, 26 U.S.C. 7206(2); and obstruction of justice, 18 U.S.C. 1512(b) and 1519. Johnson was sentenced to 72 months in prison. Jamison was sentenced to 60 months.The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the district court’s loss calculations and to sentencing enhancements for being an organizer or leader of a criminal activity involving five or more participants, for using a minor, and for obstructing justice. The district court properly admitted “other acts” evidence of prior misuse of campaign funds. Any other errors in evidentiary rulings were harmless. View "United States v. Jamison" on Justia Law

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If a borrower defaults on a loan guaranteed by the Small Business Administration (SBA), the lender asks the SBA to purchase the outstanding balance of the defaulted loan. The SBA then decides whether to honor the guarantee after reviewing the paperwork to ensure that the loan complied with SBA requirements. A lender can retain a lending service provider (LSP) to package, originate, disburse, service, or liquidate SBA-guaranteed loans on the lender’s behalf. The five defendants worked at, or with, an LSP, and engaged in a scheme to obtain SBA guarantees for loans that did not meet the SBA’s guidelines and requirements. They made false statements on loan-guarantee applications and purchase requests sent to the SBA about matters such as borrowers’ eligibility to receive a loan and how loan proceeds would be disbursed.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the defendants’ convictions for conspiracy to commit wire fraud affecting a financial institution, 18 U.S.C. 1349, and wire fraud affecting a financial institution, section 1343) and their sentences. The court rejected arguments concerning a constructive amendment to the indictment, that the government did not prove that the wire fraud scheme deprived the SBA of a protectable money or property interest, jury instructions, the sufficiency of the evidence, and loss calculation. View "United States v. Griffin" on Justia Law

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From 2011-2017, Care Specialists provided care to homebound Medicare beneficiaries. At least part of its operation was fraudulent. Care Specialists would submit Medicare claims for health services, including skilled nursing services, provided to many patients who did not qualify for Medicare reimbursement. Newton, a quality assurance specialist and the owner’s secretary, helped implement the scheme. A former Care Specialists employee, Bolender, filed a whistleblower letter describing the scheme and met with federal investigators, directly implicating Newton as a key figure in the conspiracy. The owners pleaded guilty. Newton was convicted of conspiracy to commit both health care fraud and wire fraud, following testimony from multiple Care Specialists employees. Bolender avoided testifying by invoking her rights against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment. Newton unsuccessfully argued that the court wrongly accepted the invocation and that the government’s refusal to grant Bolender immunity violated her due process rights.The Seventh Circuit affirmed Newton’s conviction. The government's actions did not distort the fact-finding process; Bolender’s testimony was just as likely, if not more likely, to inculpate Newton as it was to exculpate her. Bolender’s invocation of her rights under the Fifth Amendment had been proper because she potentially could have opened herself up to prosecution. The court vacated Newton’s sentence. The district court’s calculation of Medicare’s loss attributable to Newton was unreasonable. View "United States v. Newton" on Justia Law

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Then-New York Governor Cuomo’s “Buffalo Billion” initiative administered through Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, a nonprofit affiliated with SUNY, aimed to invest $1 billion in upstate development projects. Investigations later uncovered a scheme that involved Cuomo’s associates--a member of Fort Schuyler’s board of directors and a construction company made payments to a lobbyist with ties to the Cuomo administration. Fort Schuyler’s bid process subsequently allowed the construction company to receive major Buffalo Billion contracts.The participants were charged with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud 18 U.S.C. 1343, 1349. Under the Second Circuit’s “right to control” theory, wire fraud can be established by showing that the defendant schemed to deprive a victim of potentially valuable economic information necessary to make discretionary economic decisions. The jury instructions defined “property” as including “intangible interests such as the right to control the use of one’s assets,” and “economically valuable information” as “information that affects the victim’s assessment of the benefits or burdens of a transaction, or relates to the quality of goods or services received or the economic risks.” The Second Circuit affirmed the convictions.The Supreme Court reversed. Under Supreme Court precedents the federal fraud statutes criminalize only schemes to deprive people of traditional property interests. The prosecution must prove that wire fraud defendants “engaged in deception,” and also that money or property was “an object of their fraud.” The "fraud statutes do not vest a general power in the federal government to enforce its view of integrity in broad swaths of state and local policymaking.” The right-to-control theory applies to an almost limitless variety of deceptive actions traditionally left to state contract and tort law. The Court declined to affirm Ciminelli’s convictions on the ground that the evidence was sufficient to establish wire fraud under a traditional property-fraud theory. View "Ciminelli v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Department of Transportation (DOT) provides funds for state transportation projects. States that receive federal transportation funds must set participation goals for disadvantaged business enterprises (DBEs)--for-profit small businesses “at least 51 percent owned by one or more individuals who are both socially and economically disadvantaged” and “[w]hose management and daily business operations are controlled by one or more of the socially and economically disadvantaged individuals who own it.” States certify businesses as DBEs.The defendants were convicted of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1349, and wire fraud, section 1343, arising out of DOT-financed contracts for work in Philadelphia that included DBE requirements. The Defendants' bids committed to working on the projects with Markias, a company that had prequalified as a DBE. During the performance of their contracts, the Defendants submitted false documentation regarding Markias’ role; PennDOT awarded the Defendants DBE credits and paid them based on their asserted compliance with the DBE requirements. Markias did not do any work on the projects or supply any of the materials. The Defendants arranged for the actual suppliers to send their invoices to Markias, which then issued its own invoices, adding a 2.25% fee.The Third Circuit affirmed the convictions but vacated the forfeiture order and loss calculation. The court acknowledged the complex nature of this fraud in this and commended the attempt to determine the amount of loss for sentencing purposes, and the amount to be forfeited. View "United States v. Kousisis" on Justia Law

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Klund purports to supply electrical parts. In 1991 and in 1993, he was convicted for fraudulent misrepresentations involving defense contracts. Disqualified from the award of government contracts, from 2011-2019, Klund bid on defense contracts using shell corporations, aliases, and the names of employees and relatives. He certified that one shell company was a woman-owned business, eligible for special consideration. Klund bid on 5,760 defense contracts and was awarded 1,928 contracts worth $7.4 million. Klund satisfactorily performed some of his contracts; the Department paid $2.9 million for these goods. But he knowingly shipped and requested payment for 2,816 nonconforming electrical parts and submitted invoices for parts that he never shipped.Klund pleaded guilty to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and money laundering. The PSR calculated the intended loss at $5.7 million and the actual loss at $2.9 million. Since Klund fraudulently obtained contracts intended for woman-owned businesses, the PSR did not apply an offset for the cost of goods actually delivered under those contracts. An 18-level increase in Klund’s offense level applied because the loss was more than $3,500,000 but not more than $9,500,000, U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(1)(J). With an advisory range of 87-108 months, Klund was sentenced to 96 months’ imprisonment with a mandatory consecutive sentence of 24 months for aggravated identity theft. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding the loss calculations. View "United States v. Klund" on Justia Law

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After an order was issued setting the execution of Virgil Delano Presnell, Jr., the Federal Defender Program, Inc. filed a breach of contract action against the State of Georgia and Christopher Carr in his official capacity as Attorney General (collectively, the “State”) alleging that the State breached a contract governing the resumption of the execution of death sentences in Georgia after the COVID-19 pandemic. The State contended the trial court erred in denying its motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity and in granting the Appellees’ emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and an interlocutory injunction. The Georgia Supreme Court concluded that an e-mail exchange between a deputy attorney general and certain capital defense attorneys, including an attorney employed by the Federal Defender, constituted a written contract sufficient to waive sovereign immunity in this matter, and the Supreme Court in turn conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in weighing the equities in granting the Appellees’ motion for injunctive relief. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Georgia, et al. v. Federal Defender Program, Inc., et al." on Justia Law