Articles Posted in Criminal fraud

I wasn’t always a criminal defense lawyer in Atlanta who handles a lot of federal cases.  Oh no, at one time I was a smooth-faced high schooler who played lots of sports and also was in plays from time to time in the little Midwestern town where I grew up.  One play, My Fair Lady, reminded me of the importance of words.  Eliza Doolittle, a poor girl who the main character was trying to pass off as a Princess by changing her dialect, had a memorable line of complaint for her teachers:  “Words words word all day long, first from him then from you, is that all you blighters can do?”  A recent case from the venerable U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reminded me that when it comes to a Plea Agreement in a federal criminal case, Eliza’s complaint was something that lawyers need to remember, words can be crucial.  United States v. Elbeblawy.

First, a couple of legal principles.  As a general rule, whether in the criminal or civil context, discussions between two parties that are done with an eye toward resolving a particular dispute are usually not admissible in later court proceedings if the negotiations break down.  The basic idea is that the law wants to encourage the two sides to try and resolve the matter through discussions as opposed to fighting, and the parties are less likely to be forthcoming in such discussions if they know that their words can come back to bite them.  Next, a part of Rule 11 from the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and a different place within the Federal Rules of Evidence (Rule 410 to be precise) essentially encapsulate this idea of keeping plea negotiation discussions out-of-bounds from later trials.  Finally, just like any other protection, these rules can be “waived”, but only as long as the person or party understands the protection and makes a voluntary decision to give it up.

Now for Mr. Elbeblawy.  He got caught in a large-scale healthcare fraud investigation, decided to cooperate, and had his lawyer negotiate a plea deal.  As part of the deal the Defendant told investigators everything that he and others had done illegally, and also signed a separate document outlining and agreeing to his own criminal conduct.  He signed the Plea Agreement, but got cold feet when he got to court and backed out of the deal.  Now, federal prosecutors are a pretty savvy bunch, they’ve seen this before.  Therefore, just about every plea agreement in a federal criminal case comes with a waiver of the Rule11/Rule 410 protections.  You guessed it, they brought new charges against Mr. Elbeblawy, introduced everything he had told investigators and the plea documents, and to no one’s surprise, he was found guilty.

Late last week the United States’s Attorney’s Office here in Atlanta, Georgia announced an indictment alleging a federal criminal prosecution relating to the massive data breach  at Equifax. The government alleges that an “insider” at the company  traded on confidential information concerning the breach, selling stock ahead of the public announcement. This is the sort of federal criminal case we handle here at Kish law LLC, and while I am not involved in the particular matter, the indictment brings several ideas to mind.

First, we all see how the U.S. government now operates via press releases in criminal cases.  They have press officials who regularly draft and disseminate these releases, and the media gobble the release up without much analysis.  The newspapers and TV/radio stations and internet news sources seem to be very gullible at times, taking at face value what is only an allegation.  Remember, no one has proven anything in the case, yet the press regurgitate the prosecutor’s press release as if it was the Gospel truth.  So many people believe whatever they see on the internet, and the Defendant faces a huge battle to remind everyone that he or she is presumed to be innocent and that the only way he or she can be found guilty is if a prosecutor convinces all 12 people on a jury that the government proved its case “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Another thought this case prompted is the subject matter: insider trading, which is essentially a violation of the securities laws.  These laws obviously make sense, prohibiting insiders from getting to trade on private and confidential information that the rest of us saps in the stock market do not know about.  However, the securities laws are extremely complicated, and many fine lawyers spend their entire careers specializing in this arcane area of the law.  Too many criminal defendants who face a criminal case alleging securities laws violations believe they need to get one of these “securities law specialists” to defend against a federal criminal prosecution. It has been my experience that this is a huge mistake.  Yes, it is important to know the securities laws, but jurors are also not specialists.  Instead, my 36 years experience has taught me that a person facing a federal criminal case alleging securities fraud needs an attorney accustomed to handling jury trials, someone good at talking with regular people who end up on a jury.  Good trial lawyers learn new areas of the law in order to represent their client. Securities fraud is no different.  Using a pure securities law expert is often a huge mistake.  I’ve handle several of these complex matters, and my experience teaches me that the most important thing for the client is to hire a lawyer with whom he or she feels confident in going to trial.

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