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Quick plea in Atlantic City ballot fraud case is a good deal October 19, 2009

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New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram announced last week that a worker for the unsuccessful 2009 mayoral campaign of Atlantic City Councilman Marty Small pleaded guilty to engaging in fraud involving messenger absentee ballots during the June Democratic primary.
Ronald Harris of Atlantic City, pleaded guilty to a charge of third-degree conspiracy to commit absentee ballot fraud before Superior Court Judge Robert Neustadter in Atlantic County.  Under the plea agreement, the state will recommend that Harris be sentenced to a term of probation, conditioned upon him serving up to 364 days in the Atlantic County Jail. He may face a fine of up to $15,000.  I doubt he’ll do any jail time.

Harris was charged in a 10-count state grand jury indictment returned on Sept. 3, which also charged Councilman Small and 12 other campaign workers and operatives. The indictment resulted from an investigation led by the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau and the State Police Official Corruption Bureau South Unit.

In pleading guilty, Harris admitted that he conspired with others involved in Small’s mayoral campaign to submit false documents related to the procurement, casting, or tabulation of messenger absentee ballots in the Democratic primary in Atlantic City.

This seems like a pretty good deal as it keeps him out of prison and I doubt he’ll see any time.

NJ law enforcement cracks down on fake dentists August 24, 2009

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In any low income, immigrant community, there are plenty of people that line up to take advantage of those who live outside of society.  Say what you want about the immigration debate but no one should be taken advantage of.  Unlicensed lawyers and dentists are common in these area as a the recent arrests of ten fake dentists show. 

My problem with these cases is that it seems like everyone is lumped in together.  There has to be a difference between simply being unlicensed and then recklessly or purposely hurting people.  On the flip side, I think that society also ignores most of these scams so it is interesting that this crackdown is occurring. 

You can read more about this issue here.

NJ man allegedly steals domain name and sells it to NBA player August 3, 2009

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Daniel Goncalves of Union Township, New Jersey is charged with hacking into the online account belonging to owner of the P2P.com domain name. He allegedly then shifted ownership to himself and resold the Web site address on eBay to Los Angeles Clippers power forward Mark Madsen.  The price was allegedly $100,000.

He faces felony charges of theft by unlawful taking or deception, identity theft, and computer theft.  Even if he doesn’t have a record, prison time is mandatory if convicted.  The initial offer will be either a 5 or 3 flat. 

Hopefully, he gets a good attorney that actually knows how to turn on a computer.  It sounds like a very interesting case with some unique defense issues.  Story is here.

Will Brian Stack get caught up in Operation Bid Rig III? August 2, 2009

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Yesterday, the Record reportedthat a donation of $4,000 from BH Property Management shows up on a 2007 campaign finance report for Union City First, a political action committee linked to Union City Mayor Brian Stack.  The company has been identified in a federal complaint as “an FBI undercover company” that was used to facilitate money laundering.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that every dollar the company gave was used or intended to be used to facilitate criminal activity. 

However, this story comes a day after the Star Ledger reportedthat Solomon Dwek, the cooperating witness who was at the heart of the 44 arrests of Operation Bid Rig III which ensnared three mayors, two state assemblymen and five rabbis.    Dwek reportedly gave $2,600 to Stack as well as $3,500 to U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.  Menendez claimed to not know who Dwek was.

It seems like Stack has either been contacted by law enforcement or had some indication that he would be looked at as he has hired attorney Dennis McAlevy.  McAlevy has also represented former Hoboken Mayor Anthony J. Russo who pled guilty  to extorting $317,220 from accounting firm in exchange for contracts.  Russo was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

I’m sure that as OBR3 moves on, some of the 44 people will provide evidence against others who have not been arrested yet.  Whether or not Stack is one of them remains to be seen.

Contractor arrested for theft by deception August 1, 2009

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Robert D. Hamway of Toms River, who is not a licensed contractor, was arrested and charged with theft by deception after allegedly taking money to fix a roof but never performing the work. 

These cases are common but in my opinion, most of them are not criminal cases.  Instead, they are civil cases where the customer does not want to go to civil court for a number of reasons.  While I have little to no facts here, my experience tells me that the customer got fed up at some point and asked for his money back.  However, Hamway may have dodged phone calls or told the customer that the money was on the way, when it never really was.  It is that conduct that occurs after the transaction that tends to push this into criminal court.

Story is here.

Utah law firm indicted for H-2B visa program fraud August 1, 2009

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James Hector Alcala, his law firm the Alcala law firm, seven current or former employees and a property management company have all been indicted for an alleged immigration fraud scheme.  Authorities allege that the firm lied on applications to help 10 companies in Salt Lake, Utah and Davis counties get work visas for ineligible foreign workers. 

The H-2B visa program allows employers to petition for permits that allow foreign nationals to work temporarily in the United States. More than 700 petitions filed by the Salt Lake City firm led to the issuance of more than 5,000 work visas. The majority of those were fraudulent.

This is the type of case where the number of people arrested can increase exponentially if authorities find evidence that the companies working with the firm knew that the applications were fraudulent.  I’m sure at least some of the companies know, but proving it is another matter.  These other companies need attorneys right away to field inquiries from authorities. 

While it looks bad for Acala, I’m questioning the case against the other employees.  Authorities in these cases tend to believe that everyone is in on it.  However, most employees are “worker bees” that do what they are told without being told what is really going on.  With the benefit of the whole picture in front of them, authorities find it impossible to believe that everyone else wasn’t in on it.  I’ve seen this many times. 

Thus, attorneys for these other employees need to really look at the case from a number of angles to see if there is any real criminal exposure for their clients.  Law enforcement tends to exert a lot of pressure on attorneys in an effort to weaken their opinion of the case which in turn, will change the advice they give to their clients.  In these situations, attorneys need to counter this pressure and work to convince law enforcement that they have no case.  I’ve done this several times with great results.

Story is here.

Sam Antar exposes Overstock.com’s cooking of books July 30, 2009

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Sam’s blog is great, but damn, this is just such a great post I had to highlight it here.  You have to check this out.  Sam really details the the accounting tricks that Overstock.com is using to hide what is really going on with the company.  Go check it out here.

11 week bribery trial ends in 5 hours July 30, 2009

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My heart goes out to Robin Lord.  She’s a great attorney.  After 11 long weeks of trial, her client, John Fiore was convicted  after just 5 hours of deliberations.  In my opinion, that tells me that it wasn’t even close which just has to kill you as an attorney.  There is no way that a jury can give serious consideration to 11 weeks of testimony in just 5 hours.  While I did not follow the trial, those two numbers alone tell me that most of the jury probably convicted him a few weeks ago.  Thus, this may have been a situation where, for whatever reason, there is little an attorney can do and no one could have done better. 

Press release:

TRENTON – Attorney General Anne Milgram and Criminal Justice Director Deborah L. Gramiccioni announced that John Fiore, former executive vice president of the East Windsor Police Athletic League, was convicted at trial today of official misconduct and bribery for steering a PAL construction contract to a contractor who built a deck at his home free of charge.

According to Director Gramiccioni, Fiore, 63, of Allentown, was convicted by a Mercer County jury of conspiracy, bribery and official misconduct, all second-degree offenses. The verdict followed an 11-week trial before Superior Court Judge Mitchell Ostrer. The jury deliberated for five hours over a two-day period. Second-degree crimes carry a maximum sentence of 10 years in state prison and a $150,000 fine. Judge Ostrer scheduled Fiore’s sentencing for Oct. 13.

Assistant Attorney General Lewis Korngut conducted the trial for the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau. The charges stem from an investigation by the Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor within the Division of Criminal Justice.

“This defendant selfishly and corruptly used his public position within the PAL for his personal gain,” Attorney General Milgram said. “Today’s verdict sends a loud message that this type of conduct will not be tolerated.”

The jury found that Fiore, a retired East Windsor police officer, used his position as an officer on the Board of Directors of the East Windsor PAL to steer a contract to Jeffrey Nemes to build the PAL a combined concession stand and administration building on Airport Road in East Windsor. The jury found that, in return for Fiore influencing the Board of Directors to hire Nemes’ company, Nemes built a $12,000 deck, free of charge, at Fiore’s former home in Washington Township, Mercer County.

The state’s investigation revealed a conspiracy among Fiore, Nemes and a third man, Marc Rossi, to arrange for Nemes Construction Company to get the contract and overcharge the East Windsor PAL for the project. The PAL paid Nemes a total of $274,046, which was at least $90,000 more than what the building should have cost. Rossi received $5,000 for his role in arranging the deal between Fiore, the East Windsor PAL, and Nemes Construction Company.

The investigation was conducted and coordinated by Lt. Robert Stemmer, Civil Investigator Joseph Salvatore, Analyst Paula Carter, Deputy Attorney General Asha Vaghela and Assistant Attorney General Lewis Korngut. Stemmer and Salvatore were formerly assigned to the Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor but now are assigned to the Division of Criminal Justice Corruption Bureau.

“This verdict is a tribute to the superb hard work and dedication of the Division of Criminal Justice’s investigative and trial teams,” Director Gramiccioni said. “Today’s conviction marks the conclusion of a 10-year investigation in which 12 people were convicted, resulting in seven people being sent to New Jersey State Prison.”

In March, Nemes, 43, of Hamilton, pleaded guilty to bribery, admitting he built the $8,000 deck for Fiore in return for the PAL contract. The judge ordered Nemes to pay $8,000 in restitution to the East Windsor PAL and imposed a five-year state prison sentence, concurrent to an eight-year sentence he was already serving on a 2007 bribery conviction obtained by the Division of Criminal Justice.

Rossi pleaded guilty to theft in 2003 in connection with the $5,000 payment involving the PAL. He was sentenced to three years in prison.

Nemes, a former Hamilton Township police officer, was convicted at trial in 2007 of offering two Hamilton Township fire chiefs up to $500 and other rewards if they would delay fire suppression and increase damage at fire scenes so as to increase potential profits for Nemes’ company and an insurance adjustment firm owned by Rossi. That conviction led to his prior eight-year state prison sentence. Assistant Attorney General Korngut also represented the state in that trial.

In addition, Nemes pleaded guilty in March to theft for stealing insurance money from four fire victims who hired him for repairs that he never completed. For that charge, Nemes received a concurrent jail sentence and was ordered to pay $74,472 in restitution.

Rossi pleaded guilty in 2003 to bribery and operating an “arson-for-profit” insurance fraud scheme. Rossi admitted to intentionally setting at least six fires in the Trenton area in 1999 so his public insurance adjustment business would be hired to adjust the insurance claims. Rossi was sentenced to eight years in prison and was ordered to pay $542,853 in restitution and a $50,000 insurance fraud fine.

Ponzi schemes continue to roll up July 30, 2009

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Some of the ponzi schemes that surfaced over the past year are starting to plea out.  The latest includes Marcia Sladich, the former operator of a Clifton-based real estate investment program.  She admitted that she fraudulently stole more than $15 million from hundreds of investors.  She pleaded guilty on Thursday in federal court to a one-count information charging her with mail fraud.  Under federal sentencing guidelines, she faces up to 78 months in prison but of course, the guidelines are no longer mandatory.

After the circus that was the Madoff case, I would want a few more of these cases to shake out first before tempting fate.  Conventional wisdom has traditionally been that a good attorney can shave years off the sentencing guidelines in a white collar crime case.  My firm has made that a reality.  Of course, post-Madoff, some judges might want to send an example especially when the victims are in the hundreds.  A six and a half year sentence in a  $15 million case is pretty good deal so we’ll have to see what the judge hands down.

Story is here.

Private investigator probably lost opportunity to settle case before indictment July 30, 2009

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Jerry Panico of Staten Island, is accused of stealing $79,000 from Allstate Investigations by diverting funds from clients to his own bank account.  He was charged with second-degree theft by deception for allegedly conducting investigations for clients without his employer’s knowledge then had checks written made payable to himself and mailed to his home. 

That alleged theft totaled $30,000 and I would have no problem taking that case to trial.  However, he is also charged with stealing an additional $49,000 worth of checks made payable to Allstate by endorsing them and cashing them before being deposited into a fraudulent account he created in the company’s name.

He was fired in October of 2008, arrested in June and indicted this week.  This case is illustrative of advice that I often give but is rarely followed:  hire an attorney at the first sign of trouble.  Here, Panico was fired almost a year ago and he knew what was going on.  He should have hired a good attorney right away to resolve this before it even got to the police. 

For whatever reason, many people think that nothing bad will ever happen to them so they do nothing.  How do I know?  I have people come to me before law enforcement is involved but some of them seem to want  to find someone that will just agree with them.  As soon as I tell them that they need to take proactive action now, they assure me that nothing bad will ever happen.  Of course, that begs the question, why the hell are you in my office in the first place?  I have seen these people try to convince me that they know better only to read (and blog) about them later when they are arrested/indicted and sentenced to prison. 

You know you will never read about?  All the clients that came to me early on where I could work out a case and prevent them from ever getting arrested/convicted.  Those clients pay a smaller legal bill and have a lot less stress in their life. 

Story is here.