Zinnel Post
This 32nd Asset Search Blog post in my “Divorce & Hidden Money” series, explains how Steven Zinnel is thought to have hidden assets during his divorce & personal bankruptcy.

Plastic surgeon Michael D. Brandner & business owner Goderick Augustus Benjamin were accused of committing federal crimes & hiding assets from their wives. Like Dr. Brandner & Mr. Benjamin, Steven Zinnel was a divorcing husband suspected of concealing assets from his wife. According to prosecutors in USA v. Zinnel, Steven Zinnel had hidden assets from his wife Michelle Zinnel; & Steven Zinnel had fraudulently concealed assets during his personal bankruptcy.

Mr. Zinnel reportedly filed his personal bankruptcy to hamper the Family Court’s distribution of property to Michelle Zinnel, during the couple’s divorce. Mr. Zinnel’s e-mail to Michelle Zinnel dated July 15, 2001, seemed to give a glimpse into Mr. Zinnel’s bankruptcy scheme. The e-mail said that as a consequence of Mr. Zinnel’s bankruptcy, Mr. Zinnel expected “all the money to be gone in less than two months” & that “[t]he property settlement will then be very easy.

During his personal bankruptcy, Mr. Zinnel however, failed to disclose valuable assets which were apparently hidden from Michelle Zinnel & others. Prosecutors ultimately charged Mr. Zinnel with money laundering & bankruptcy fraud. At Mr. Zinnel’s superseding indictment &/or other court filings, prosecutors essentially claimed that Mr. Zinnel concealed assets four ways, through:

  1. lawyers;
  2. shell companies;
  3. a business associate who Mr. Zinnel employed as his nominee/intermediary;
  4. nominee bank account[s] (i.e. accounts maintained in the name of others).

On March 4, 2014 Mr. Zinnel was sentenced to 17 years & 8 months of prison for bankruptcy fraud & money laundering. This case is perhaps best summarized by these two sentences prosecutors wrote at a June 14, 2013 court filing:

The Government’s theory of this case is that Defendant Zinnel wanted to commit bankruptcy fraud and money laundering for reasons of greed and spite. Zinnel loved money and hated his ex-wife [Michelle Zinnel]. USA v. Zinnel, Gov’t Opposition Paper filed 6/14/13, Docket No. 179, at p. 1.

Image:  Nikolai Moiseenko/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams

shutterstock_201148613 (1)TIPS FROM EARLIER ASSET SEARCH BLOG ARTICLES THAT MAY HELP YOU RECOVER HIDDEN ASSETS:

Photo Of Light BulbDETERMINE BENEFICIAL OWNERSHIP—Has your adversary hidden assets by transferring them to nominees, (i.e. intermediaries), or by using nominees to make purchases?  If your adversary does this, the success of your asset recovery may depend on showing that your adversary is the true beneficial owner of the hidden assets.  Agencies including U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network discuss beneficial ownership at their March 5, 2010 Guidance on Obtaining and Retaining Beneficial Ownership Information, No. Fin-2010-G001, at fn.2.  The Wolfsberg Group of banks’ FAQs On Beneficial Ownership, supplies its own definition of beneficial ownership.

Photo Of Light BulbFIND LAUNDERED ASSETS—Launderers hide assets by washing them through a money laundering circuit with laundering links.  Laundering links can be shell companies; gatekeepers like lawyers & accountants; etc.  Through money laundering, your adversary may hide marital assets; bankruptcy estate assets; trust assets; assets belonging to a decedent’s estate and virtually anything else.  Even an act as ordinary as buying real estate can be an opportunity to hide & launder assets, as set forth by the Egmont Group case study available here

Photo Of Light BulbUSE LEGAL TOOLS—Tools which may help detect your adversary’s money trail are available in legal proceedings ranging from divorces to bankruptcies.  My May 18, 2015 article discusses one of these tools, 11 production requests geared toward detecting assets hidden offshore.  Depositions are another legal tool for gathering evidence about your adversary’s assets.  At a deposition, your lawyer should ask your adversary about any bank accounts; credit cards; real estate; etc.  The IRS asks these questions at its Information Collection Statement, Form 433-A.  The questions/material at the Form 433-A can be modified and used to depose your adversary about assets.

Photo Of Light BulbLETTERS ROGATORYRequests for letters rogatory (a.k.a requests for judicial assistance)—are used to gather evidence from witnesses residing offshore.  This means that a divorcing spouse; judgment creditor; etc. may utilize these requests to collect evidence about offshore bank accounts from foreign bank witnesses.  Billionaire gunmaker Gaston Glock’s former wife Helga filed a request for judicial assistance in federal court in Atlanta, Georgia.  It claimed that because of the couple’s divorce in Austria, Helga Glock needed to collect evidence about Gaston Glock’s assets from businesses in Georgia including Glock, Inc.

Photo Of Light BulbCOMPELLED CONSENT/AUTHORIZATION FORMS—can be utilized to perform a bank account search if you already know: where your adversary’s bank is located; the bank account number; and the identity of the bank signatory.  You would apply to the Court for an order, (i.e. a judicial direction), compelling the bank signatory to execute a consent/authorization form for the release of bank account information.  You then send this executed form to your adversary’s bank which permits the bank to release your adversary’s bank account information to you.

Photo Of Light BulbINFORMANT’S TIPS—are one of the best ways to detect complex asset concealment schemes.  This is why the Securities Exchange Commission & the Internal Revenue Service offer tipsters rewards through whistleblower programs.  A business partner; paramour; family member; or others associated with your adversary may have direct knowledge of your adversary’s assets.  If any of them fall out of favor with your adversary they may be willing to tip you about your adversary’s hidden assets.  An attempt to elicit a tip from an informant is covered by the article “An Asset Search, Tax Fraud & Divorce.”

Photo Of Light BulbCOMPUTER-BASED RESEARCH—sometimes reveals assets hidden by an individual or corporation.  This research is discussed at “A Low-Cost Asset Search.”  It can include searches for physical business assets; IP licenses like patents & copyrights; & searches for additional things.

 

¹Money laundering case study/excerpt courtesy of the Egmont Group, “100 Cases From The Egmont Group” at pp. 17-18.

First Image: Texelart/Shutterstock.com

Photo of Lightbulb courtesy of Flickr (Licensed) by One Way Stock

Copyright 2015-16 Fred L. Abrams

12 22 articleBelow is a list of red flags.  Recognizing the red flags can help you detect assets your adversary has hidden from you.  I first published the list in 2007 at my article “Asset Search Indicia For Divorce, Debt Collection & Bankruptcy.”  The list consists of common asset concealment methods:

Image: Davi Sales Batista/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2007- 2015 Fred L. Abrams

Multiple Juris Photo

Determined criminals sometimes conceal their illicit cash by laundering it through banks located in multiple jurisdictions.  Criminals are not the only ones concealing assets by using bank accounts in multiple jurisdictions.  Whether you are a divorcing spouse; a creditor in a bankruptcy case; are collecting money owed on a judgment; etc., these ideas may help you search for bank accounts &/or gather legally sufficient evidence about them:

Photo Of Light BulbTHE UNIFORM INTERSTATE DEPOSITIONS AND DISCOVERY ACT (“the UIDDA”)—The UIDDA may apply to your case if you are searching for monies transferred through bank accounts in multiple states in the U.S.  The UIDDA has been codified in N.Y. at CPLR § 3119 & it “provides a streamlined procedure for obtaining disclosure…for use in an action in another state or territory within the United States.” Connors, Practice Commentary, McKinney’s Cons Laws of NY, CPLR § 3119.  Most states in the U.S. have adopted the UIDDA.  This generally makes it easier for you to use subpoenas to depose bank witnesses in multiple states in the U.S.  At these subpoenas, you can also request that the bank witnesses supply copies of the relevant bank account statements; account opening documents & signatory information.

LPhoto Of Light BulbETTERS ROGATORY/FOREIGN LEGAL PROCEEDINGS—Schemes to hide large sums of money often involve parking money offshore in foreign bank accounts.  This money may be transferred offshore by wire transfers; bulk cash smuggling; trade-based money laundering; employing portable valuable commodities like diamonds; etc.  Since the foreign bank witnesses usually reside offshore/lack a nexus to the U.S., you can not compel them to supply bank account information by using a subpoena issued under U.S. laws.  In many countries you can however, employ letters rogatory (a.k.a. letters of request or legal assistance requests).  Letters rogatory are used to try to compel foreign bank witnesses to disclose bank account information.  Besides letters rogatory, there may also be other legal remedies available to you under foreign laws.

Photo Of Light Bulb

PRIVATE INVESTIGATORS—A highly skilled investigator can sometimes be one of the reasons your asset search or asset recovery succeeds.  Such an investigator will know how to relentlessly dig for information.  One private investigator I know spent 17 years investigating an ultra-high net worth family suspected of concealing more than $100 million dollars in a financial fraud.  A good investigator may also be able to sniff out informant’s tips concerning hidden assets, as suggested by my recent post “An Asset Search By Pursuing Interviews & Tips.”  Finally, additional information about searching for bank account information is available at “5 Things To Be Aware Of When Hiring A PI For A Bank Account Search.”

First image: Spectrumblue/Shutterstock.com.

Second image courtesy of Flickr (Licensed) by One Way Stock

Copyright 2015 Fred L. Abrams

Photo Of A Red Flag

If a divorcing spouse hides marital assets there usually are red flags.  Red flags are also often found when assets have been hidden by tax fraudsters, Ponzi schemers, bankruptcy debtors, money launderers & narco-traffickers.  This 16th post in the “Divorce & Hidden Money ” series examines the red flags.

Red flags indicating assets might have been hidden are listed at my post “Locating Hidden Assets By Spotting The Red Flags.”  The list describes 18 red flags including the use of: multiple jurisdictions, sham trusts, bulk-cash smuggling, etc.  In addition to the 18 on the list, below are 6 more red flags of asset concealment.  The 6 red flags or money laundering indicators were published by the Egmont Group, an international organization which fights money laundering and terrorist financing.¹   Even though some of them discuss criminals or laundering, the 6 red flags might be used to help locate assets hidden by a divorcing spouse:

Laundering Indicators:Red Flags

¹Six Money Laundering Indicators Courtesy Of The Egmont Group, “100 Cases From The Egmont Group”, p. 172, Appendix A: Most Frequently Observed Indicators.

First Image courtesy of Flickr (Licensed https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/) by DBduo Photography/Daniel R. Blume

Copyright 2015 Fred L. Abrams

Trust Photo

My post “Four Asset Concealment Tools” says that assets can be hidden by fraudulently transferring them to a trust.  This 15th post in the “Divorce & Hidden Money” series concentrates on the evidence a divorcing spouse might try to collect if marital assets are concealed by a trust.

A spouse can use the pretrial discovery phase of a divorce to gather evidence about any marital assets concealed by a trust.  Based on this evidence, the divorcing spouse may be able to credibly argue that assets at the trust are marital property subject to distribution by the Court.  A divorcing spouse might also claim the trust was void if the trust was “self-settled” (i.e. the grantor and beneficiary were found to be one and the same).  Under certain circumstances a divorcing spouse can additionally assert the trust veil should be pierced because the trust wrongly concealed assets &/or facilitated fraudulent transfers.  See Babitt v. Vebeliunas (In re Vebeliunas), 332 F.3d 85, 91 (2d Cir. 2003) (discussing New York cases where right to pierce trust veil was preserved).

Below is a demand for documents, (i.e. a production request) and demand for answers to interrogatories employed by the Chapter 7 trustee in the Seattle, Washington Michael Mastro bankruptcy case.  The Chapter 7 trustee made these demands suspecting Mr. Mastro hid assets at trusts.  Mr. Mastro had formed LCY Trust under Belizean law and it had a Belizean trustee, called “Compass Trust Corporation.”  The Chapter 7 trustee’s demands sought information regarding the location of assets, transfer of assets, banking records, etc.  They give a glimpse of the kind of evidence a divorcing spouse should collect if a trust is thought to conceal marital assets.

(To Access The Discovery Demands Click On Each Image)

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First image courtesy of Flickr (Licensed) by Syed Ikhwan

Copyright 2015 Fred L. Abrams

Domestic tax authorities, financial Intelligence units, bankruptcy trustees and banks rely on red flags to detect illicit assets, as mentioned by “Recognizing Hidden Assets, The Red Flags.” Recognizing Hidden Assets, The Red Flags notes that a broad range of litigants may uncover hidden assets by spotting the red flags.  These red flags are listed at “Asset Search Indicia For Divorce, Debt Collection and Bankruptcy”, which I initially published during 2007:

Asset Search Indicia For Divorce,
Debt Collection and Bankruptcy

People don’t typically think of the common money laundering indicia when searching for hidden assets the subject of a: divorce; bankruptcy; commercial collection or other legal proceeding.  Such indicia can be effectively used as part of an asset search / recovery effort even in situations where there is no money laundering.  In the United States, the indicia or red flags of money laundering are described at Appendix “F” of the Bank Secrecy Act / Anti-Money Laundering Examination Manual.  They are also described in Money Laundering Prevention, A Money Services Business Guide, at pages 16-24.
Money laundering indicia are sometimes used outside of the United States.  For example, India’s Financial Intelligence Unit relies on “broad categories of reason for suspicion“; the Belgian Financial Intelligence Unit (“CTIF-CFI”) uses Money Laundering Indicators; the Swiss Federal Banking Commission has the Schedule: Indicators of Money Laundering ; and the Asia / Pacific Group on Money Laundering also uses such a list.  Recognizing the following money laundering indicia may however, lead to the discovery of assets concealed in a divorce, commercial collection, bankruptcy or other legal case:

Copyright 2013 Fred L. Abrams

Hiding assets via jewelry or other portable valuable commodities and former Turks & Caicos premier Michael Misick:

  1. On the trail of Michael Mastro: how to flee the law when you are 87” is about Michael & Linda Mastro.  These two might have secretly transferred bankruptcy estate assets by shipping a Range Rover full of jewelry, (i.e. portable valuable commodities), to Lisbon.  The post “Secreting Assets Without A Border Trace” similarly describes the fact pattern of a Ponzi schemer who had conceivably concealed diamonds by traveling as an airline passenger from the U.S. to Zurich, Switzerland.
  2. The April 21, 2012 Asset Search News Roundup states that former Turks & Caicos premier Michael Misick was the subject of an arrest warrant, reportedly over alleged corruption and supposed money laundering.  This past June 30th, the Turks & Caicos Weekly News published “Mike Misick Fighting Extradition.”   It discusses Misick’s April 13, 2013 re-arrest in Brazil and the effort to extradite him to the Turks & Caicos Islands.

Copyright 2013 Fred L. Abrams

This Asset Search News Roundup reports on Michael and Linda Mastro’s supposed concealment of two diamond rings-

The October 25, 2012 indictment of Michael Mastro and his wife Linda, alleges violations of money laundering and bankruptcy fraud laws.  Among other things, the indictment accuses the Mastros of fraudulently hiding portable valuable commodities, such as a platinum ring with a 27.80 carat pear shape diamond and one 14 karat white gold ring with a 15.93 carat round diamond.

These rings might have been parked offshore, as suggested by “Mastros’ $1.4M diamonds now reportedly in France.”  According to page 15, ¶44 of the October 25th indictment, Linda Mastro falsely testified during her March 24, 2010 deposition, about the whereabouts of the rings.  At the deposition, Linda Mastro stated she brought the rings to Italy on or about November 2009.  As page 33, lines 15-25 of the deposition transcript show, Linda Mastro too asserted she could not recall if she left the rings in Italy:

(Click Above To Read The Entire Deposition Transcript)

Copyright 2012 Fred L. Abrams

The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations August 1, 2006 report on offshore tax haven abuses explains that assets can be hidden with the assistance of  “lawyers, brokers, bankers, offshore service providers, and others” offering offshore asset protection.  Seattle lawyer Mary Simon appears to have especially provided offshore asset protection services that featured Belizean trusts.

As revealed by “Red Flags In One of Washington State’s Largest Bankruptcies”, Ms. Simon may have aided bankruptcy debtor Michael Mastro’s effort to protect assets by way of a Belizean trust.  Mr. Mastro had seemingly hidden assets in said Belizean trust and the Court ultimately deemed the Belizean trust assets, (and his assets at two other trusts), to be bankruptcy estate property.

This meant Mr. Mastro’s trust assets were subject to liquidation for the benefit of his unsecured creditors, as discussed by Mr. Mastro’s Bankruptcy Estate & His Self-Settled Trusts.  Besides surfacing at Mr. Mastro’s bankruptcy, Ms. Simon’s name popped up during U.S.A. v. Berg, the largest Ponzi scheme / fraud prosecution in Washington state history.  A November 30, 2010 sworn declaration filed in Berg, averred that Mr. Berg had conferred with Ms. Simon on the subject of an asset protection plan.

Although an August 3, 2010 letter purportedly signed by Ms. Simon, suggests the plan was never fully realized, Ms. Simon might have participated in the plans initial phase by allegedly starting the process for forming the “DB517” Belizean trust and the “DB517” Delaware company.  Documents reportedly linked to this Belizean trust and the Delaware company, were seized by FBI agents executing a search warrant on August 30, 2010 at Mr. Berg’s Seattle business office.  These documents can be viewed by clicking on the following image:

 

Copyright 2012 Fred L. Abrams