Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A White Collar Crime Haiku

Fraud, greed, everywhere.
No one hears the victims' cries.
Some things never change.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

White Collar Crime: Size Doesn't Matter!

[Photo of White House from]
Hey, are you looking for a cheap house to rent in Washington, D.C.?  Then, a guy from Atlanta, Georgia may have a real "bargain" for you!  But you may have to look him up in an Atlanta area jail!

According to news reports, the man has been charged with leasing homes in the Atlanta area which did not belong to him to various tenants.  According to reports, the man allegedly broke into one house, changed the locks, prepared a bogus lease, and rented the house to a poor victim for $1,000 per month, (with a $3,000 security deposit, up front)!  Later, the actual owner of the home discovered that someone was living in his house and apparently reported it to police! 

Of course, these are only the charges and the alleged perpetrator is presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.

Look, I realize that this case is not the biggest case of white collar crime "out there."  But that is the point of this post.  Occasionally, I like to include such posts to illustrate the point that most white collar crime is, in fact, just relatively small thefts or fraud committed by relatively ordinary folks.

Now, does anybody "out there" really need a good deal on a house in D.C.!?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Scarlett Johansson's Alleged Computer Hacker Arrested

[Photo of Scarlett Johansson from wikipedia]
Did you hear the big news?  According to various news reports, yesterday, F.B.I. agents arrested a 35 year-old Jacksonville, Florida man, Christopher Chaney, on federal charges related to his alleged hacking into the computers and email accounts of various Hollywood celebrities, including actresses Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, and Christina Aguilera.  No doubt, you will recall that, for some time, nude photographs and other information had been posted online about the celebrities.

Of course, Chaney, who was released on a $10,000 bond, is entitled to a presumption of innocence and to his fair day in court.  But, as a former federal prosecutor, I look forward to following what happens in this celebrity computer hacking case!

One lesson to be learned from this matter involves computer email account passwords.  According to news reports, the perpetrator in these cases was able to guess the celebrities' passwords, (and hack into their email accounts), based upon public information which he acquired about each of them.  Therefore, we can all learn that it is important for us to create more complex passwords!  Don't you agree? 

Has your computer even been hacked?  Have you ever been a victim of identity theft?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Restitution in the Bernie Madoff Fraud Case: A Case of Too Little, Too Late!

As the Bernie Madoff fraud case demonstrates, restitution often comes too little and too late in white collar crime cases.  You will recall that Madoff, the "king of the ponzi scheme," was sentenced in 2009 to serve 150 years in prison for masterminding the largest investment fraud scheme in U.S. history. 

Tragically, Madoff's tough prison sentence did little to assuage the losses inflicted on hundreds of crime victims, many of whom were elderly people who saw their life savings taken away.  I will never forget the report of one elderly victim who was forced to return to work as a grocery store clerk after losing his retirement nest egg to Madoff's crime. 

Since Madoff's sentencing, a bankruptcy trustee, assisted by the U.S. Marshal's Service, has been selling off Madoff's property, including homes, jewelry, and even his clothes, to try to help make some restitution to Madoff's victims.  (I started to bid on something in the online auction, but the red tape was too complicated!)  Unfortunately, this restitution effort is not enough.  For instance, according to reports, last week, the trustee distributed $312 million to victims, but this constituted just pennies on the dollar compared to the total amount stolen.  

Also, according to reports, up to one-half of the $17.3 billion taken by Madoff may ultimately be recovered and distributed to victims, but only after time-consuming litigation.  However, many of the elderly victims simply don't have the time.  At least eight of Madoff's elderly victims have already died during the past couple of years.  As a result, sadly, many of Madoff's victims will never be made whole.

And sadly, this case shows that restitution often comes too little and too late in white collar crime cases.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Goolsby "War Story" About Sleeping Jurors, Criminal Lawyers, and The Charge of the Light Brigade!

[Depiction of "The Charge of the Light Brigade" from wikipedia]
'Forward, the Light Brigade!
   Charge for the guns,' he said,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
As a young law student, I clerked for an Athens, Georgia law firm headed by a resourceful criminal defense attorney.  Let's call him "John Jones."  I learned a lot from Mr. Jones about human nature and about trying criminal cases.  For instance, I learned that law school doesn't really prepare law students for the real world, or teach you about human nature.  I also learned from Mr. Jones that, no matter what challenges or obstacles you face, in life, or during a criminal trial, as a criminal defense lawyer, you must be willing, like Lord Tennyson's Light Brigade, to keep charging ahead!

To illustrate my points, let me give you an example of an actual criminal case.  First, it might help you to know that Mr. Jones was confined to an electric wheel chair.  But as I learned very quickly, Mr. Jones wasn't actually confined -- he never allowed this mere encumbrance to slow him down one bit.  Nor did it prevent him from winning a criminal trial!

I will never forget the Smith embezzlement case.  The evidence was largely circumstantial that Mr. Jones' client had stolen company funds.  But a problem had cropped up at trial.  One of the jurors, a middle aged man who sat near the right front corner of the jury box, kept nodding off during the trial.  Ordinarily, as Mr. Jones explained to me, a juror sleeping through a trial could be a good thing for the defense.  But Mr. Jones really wanted the juror to wake up for the next critical defense witness' testimony.  So, here is what he did to correct this problem!

First, Mr. Jones drove his chair up alongside where I sat, which was just behind the defense counsel table.  Then, he whispered, "Watch this, Richard." 

Immediately, Mr. Jones wheeled around and drove his electric wheel chair forward, full throttle, toward the front right corner of the jury box!  "Half a league, half a league, half a league onward," charged Mr. Jones!  Then, everyone in the courtroom was jolted by a loud "bam," as the electric wheel chair hit the corner of the jury box!  No real damage was done.  Somehow, Mr. Jones had managed to stay upright.  But I quickly saw the results!

Naturally, the sleeping juror was jolted awake!  Even the judge was awakened from his perch on the bench!  Mr. Jones had succeeded in his mission!  In fact, after the collision, all the jurors seemed wide awake, attentive, and watchful -- and perhaps a little bit afraid that this crazy-drivin' lawyer might hit them next!  I will never really know what role Mr. Jones' mission had played, but we won this criminal case!

I later learned that Mr. Jones knew that, because of his physical challenge, no one -- including the judge and jurors -- would blame or criticize him for "inadvertently" driving his wheel chair into the jury box.  And no one did.  That is human nature, isn't it?  I also learned that, when you are trying a criminal case, while you must always remain professional, sometimes, you must also be willing to "charge for the guns," in order to win!

What do you think?  Have you ever had to "charge for the guns?"  Wouldn't you want an aggressive criminal defense lawyer, like Mr. Jones, in your corner!?