Articles Posted in White Collar Crime

It was recently reported that Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Alpine) is currently under criminal investigation by the federal Department of Justice for allegedly misspending tens of thousands in campaign funds. According to a report by the Office of Congressional Ethics, Rep. Hunter may have appropriated the money from his congressional campaign committee for personal use to pay for family travel, tuition, jewelry, groceries, and other personal expenses. The Committee on Ethics then deferred its investigation at the request of the Justice Department.

At a town hall in Ramona, California, Hunter was asked about his alleged personal use of campaign funds. In response, the congressman said his campaign had made a “mistake” and that the funds had been paid back. He has reimbursed his campaign fund approximately $62,000.

As of March 23rd, Hunter has been under criminal investigation by the Department of Justice/ Federal Bureau of Investigation for the misspending. Federal election officials and the San Diego Union-Tribune have repeatedly raised questions over the last year about his unusual spending.  These spending issues reach back over a year, when the Federal Election Commission (FEC) first questioned Hunter for using campaign funds to pay for video games on 68 occasions.

The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the group that filed the original ethics complaint against Hunter, said in a statement that “Hunter has shown a blatant disregard for the rules.” The FBI has looked at the financial dealings of more than a half dozen House members in the last decade.

Federal Campaign Rules

Political action committees or campaign committees are organized for the purpose of raising and spending money to elect and defeat candidates. They must register with the FEC within 10 days of formation and abide by disclosure rules and federal limits on contributions. Candidates are not allowed use the funds in these committees for personal use.

California Campaign Rules

California’s Political Reform Act was adopted as a statewide initiative (Proposition 9) by an overwhelming vote in 1974. The state has been a leader in promoting transparency in elections since. The law requires candidates and committees to file campaign statements disclosing contributions received and expenditures made. These documents are public and can be audited by the Fair Political Practices Commission  and Franchise Tax Board. However, the law only applies to state and local elections, and not federal (ie. Congressional ones).

Additionally many cities have adopted local ordinances on the city level that may also have additional regulations and restrictions. Continue reading

It has been reported by the San Diego Union Tribune that the amount of computer extortion crimes has significantly increased. Victims are getting notices that they have downloaded a virus and will have to pay X amount to ‘get rid of it.’ Victims are accidentally downloading ransomware. Hackers load malicious software onto people’s computers via emails, decoy ads, bogus news stories, and code embedded through websites. They then charge money to “remove” this ransomware. It is a form of extortion.

According to Special Agent Chris Christopherson, who investigates cyber crimes out of the FBI’s field office in San Diego, it is “entirely possible that we’ll have far in excess of $1 billion in losses” worldwide related to ransomware.” The final tally for 2016 has not been completed yet. The FBI claims that every hour, about 4,000 computers around the world become infected with ransomware. This is an exponentially larger problem for the city of San Diego, which faces daily attacks against its 14,000 desktop and laptop computers.

According to cyber experts, many victims never report the extortion because they feel ashamed for getting duped, or are worried that others will know they visited a pornography website or some other questionable page. Others do not know where to report the attack and doubt that law enforcement will investigate the incident.

Lately, there is increasing concern about the innovations seen in ransomware software. The new codes will offer to decrypt infected victim’s computers as long as they are willing to ‘infect someone else’ in their contact list.

Internet Crime

Internet crime is a blanket crime that generally describes fraud crimes involving the use of the internet or computers. These encompass fraudulent schemes carried through email, “phishing” (using email to obtain sensitive information), or accessing a computer or its data without permission.

In order to convict someone of internet fraud under federal law (18 U.S. Code § 1343), prosecutors have to prove that the defendant intended to commit fraud and that he or she used electronic communication to further that scheme. A conviction of internet fraud under the federal wire fraud statute is punishable by up to 20 years of imprisonment and a hefty fine.

Other criminal laws implicated in cyber crimes are identity theft statutes and credit card fraud (as they pertain to phishing schemes). Continue reading

U.S. and European authorities just announced they have dismantled “Avalanche,” a worldwide computer network that criminals have used to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from online banking customers around the world. The network enabled crime networks to send various types of spam and malicious software to banking customers who would open these messages and have their computers become infected with malware. The malware installed would then allow criminals to steal the bank account emails and passwords. With this information the criminals were able to transfer money from the victims’ accounts to various other worldwide accounts.  According to Europol, over 1 million emails were sent out. This happened in the U.S. and 180 other countries.

Europol says it spent four years investigating the case with the help of the U.S. Department of Justice, FBI, and ESET, a global security company based out of San Diego. ECET has been reportedly helping law enforcement for years.

What is Money Laundering?

A month after the national news broke that 5,300 Wells Fargo employees were fired for opening two million phony accounts, the California Department of Justice just announced it is investigating the bank on allegations of criminal identity theft over the creation of these accounts. The California DOJ sent over a search warrant to Wells Fargo’s San Francisco headquarters on October 5. The New York Times, through a public records request, has discovered that California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, in the final weeks of a run for U.S. Senate, has joined the growing list of public officials and agencies investigating Wells Fargo for the scandal.

Harris’ office has demanded the bank turn over the identities of California customers who had unauthorized accounts opened in their names, information about fees related to those accounts, the names of the Wells Fargo employees who opened the accounts, the names of those employees’ managers and emails, and other communication related to those accounts. The search warrant says that there is probable cause to believe Wells Fargo violated two sections of the state penal code — one outlawing identity theft, and the other outlawing the unauthorized use of personal information. Both are felonies.

It is unclear whether Harris will be pursuing criminal charges against individual bank employees or the bank itself. Federal regulators had revealed last month that bank employees had been secretly creating unauthorized bank and credit card accounts without their customers’ permission or knowledge since 2011. The phony accounts earned the bank boosted fees and sales figures to make the bank more money and to make employees bonuses. The bank has agreed to pay $185 million in fines along with refunding their customers $5 million.  $50 million of those fines were paid out to Los Angeles County.

In the latest controversy surrounding Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, the New York Times reportedly published Trump’s tax documents without his permission. The story that ran concluded that Trump declared $916 million in losses in 1995. This amount is large enough to wipe out more than $50 million a year in taxable income over a span of 18 years.

While Trump has obviously threatened legal action against the media outlet, legal experts are saying that there is no clear-cut criminal case against the newspaper. For one, it is not clear who leaked the information. The Times claims it received the documents anonymously in the mail. If this source was accurate, the Times should be protected on First Amendment grounds, since they did nothing illegal to obtain the information. Being a media outlet, the Times has a defense in that its job is to report on matters of public concern.

Trump has so far been the only presidential candidate that has refused to turn over his tax records. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, has stated that Trump refuses to turn over his taxes because he has paid none. It is reported that he has stated “That just makes me smart.”  The Times presented the leaked documents to Jack Mitnick, who was Trump’s accountant for over 30 years. Now retired, he has verified that the documents appear to be authentic copies of portions of Trump’s returns.

Consequences of Tax Evasion in California

Tax evasion is considered a white collar crime, even if it seems as though many corporate conglomerates seem to get away with it. Tax evasion in California is a serious crime subject to serious penalties.

Under California Revenue and Taxation Code §19706, it is illegal for any person or employee of a corporation to: knowingly fail to file any tax return or falsify information to evade taxes, or to willfully and intentionally make false statements on a tax return. Underpaying taxes, which is still considered tax evasion also includes but is not limited to:

  • Not reporting all income earned;
  • Failing to file a tax return;
  • Lying or making false statements on a return;
  • Claiming to be a resident of another state to avoid California taxes.

Violation of the California tax code is punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine up to $20,000. Continue reading