A person hiding assets from you could park their money in an offshore bank account & hire an intermediary to be the account’s bank signatory. One website offers this “Bank Nominee Signatories Service” for a cost of about $1000 per year.  This person could additionally title their real estate in the name of shell companies. A person can also hide assets by converting cash into portable valuable commodities like diamonds and smuggle the diamonds offshore.

This kind of scheme is outlined by “Detecting Hidden Assets By Following A Money Trail.”  “Searching For Assets Hidden By Lawyers” examines another way to hide assets.  It explains a person might hide their cash by laundering it through a lawyer. In these kinds of schemes the person hides his/her true beneficial ownership of assets. You may be able to detect  true beneficial ownership & search for assets 3 ways:

I. Collecting human intelligence/informants’ tips is sometimes the only practical way to detect a sophisticated scheme to hide assets.  If there is an informant with knowledge of the hidden assets, the informant might be willing to tip you about the assets.  This informant may be a disgruntled: employee; family member; paramour; etc.

II. Private investigators may help you identify informants & gather leads about hidden assets through surveillance or other surreptitious means. Some investigators however, search for assets illegally or provide spurious information. Ex-Toronto private investigator Elaine White & ex-police detective Cullen Johnson for example, ran an “asset locator” business. They supplied their clients with bogus bank account information.

III. Legal tools can be critically important in searching for assets.  “How Does A Divorcing Spouse Recover Assets Concealed In A Swiss Bank Account?” gives a glimpse of the kinds of tools generally available in many countries across the globe. Among other things, the tools can include serving letters rogatory upon foreign bank witnesses & tipping prosecutors or other governmental authorities.

Image: Farizum Amrod Saad/Shutterstock.com

 Copyright 2017 Fred L. Abrams

11 27 16 Post

2/12/17 Update: It seems that after I published this post on 11/27/16, the Jamaican Major Organized Crime and Anti-Corruption Task Force, (“MOCA”), listed Mr. Peter Sangster as a fugitive. “The people on this list are wanted for serious and or violent crimes” MOCA’s website says. 

Forty-seven-year-old Peter Sangster of Cherry Gardens, Kingston 8, Jamaica, has been a local politician and businessman in Jamaica. After Jamaican authorities subjected telephone carrier Jamus Communications Ltd., (“Jamus”), to a levy, Mr. Sangster allegedly offered to help Jamus by procuring a “waiver” of payment. Mr. Sangster supposedly supplied Jamus with this waiver which was dated 1/9/2013. The waiver appeared to be signed by the then Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller. The Prime Minister’s signature on the waiver is now however, thought to be a forgery.  It also appears that Jamaican law does not provide for a waiver of payment regarding the levy.

In exchange for allegedly supplying Jamus with the waiver, Mr. Sangster may have had Jamus transfer over $150,000 U.S. dollars to 2 bank accounts in the United States. One of the bank accounts is believed to be titled “Sangster Group LLC,” maintained at Bank of America, 515 Ocean Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. The other bank account was also at Bank of America and was thought to be titled “Peter and Tania Sangster.” Based on these allegations, MOCA investigated Mr. Sangster to determine whether he committed a forgery and larceny.

MOCA seemed to search for assets related to Mr. Sangster. MOCA sought corporate & banking records for “Sangster Group LLC.” MOCA similarly sought records for the “Peter and Tania Sangster” Bank of America account. On 10/6/16 a court in Delaware issued an order on behalf of MOCA, permitting a prosecutor to collect these records. The order authorized the prosecutor to gather the records listed on pp. 7-11 at the following letter rogatory/legal assistance request from Jamaica:¹

Letter Rogatory P Sangster
To Read The Letter Rogatory, Click On The Image Above

¹The letter rogatory/legal assistance request has been partly sanitized for privacy reasons.

First Image: Light And Dark Studio/Shutterstock.com

(Edited 2/12/17)

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams

7402945976_8ca11c5515_z
This 11th post in my “Private Investigators” series focuses on how private investigators may use data brokers to search for your assets & other personal information.

The August 5th Bloomberg article “This Company Has Built a Profile on Every American Adult,” brings up IDI,Inc. The article suggests that IDI has built a profile about you on its idiCore database. Private investigators, debt collectors, lawyers & government authorities might access this database to search for your assets & other personal information. The end of the article also says “IDI’s marketing databases may help PIs predict people’s moves or digitally peek into their cars or medicine cabinets.” IDI could be collecting your personal information through data mining. How can data brokers like IDI mine data? They may analyze your clickstream, as mentioned by my May 11, 2015 post:

Data Brokers Searching For Your Assets, Bank Accounts & Other Personal Information?

As the Federal Trade Commission, (“FTC”), video depicted above reveals, data brokers (a.k.a. “information brokers”) and some other private sector businesses sell your highly personal information. The video says for example, your location, interests, prescriptions and medical history may all be “shared or sold.” Pages 22, 24, 34 & Appendix B-5 of a May 2014 FTC report similarly indicate that data brokers can search for your financial information including: where and when you open a bank account; estimated household income; the assets you own; loan history; credit card use and tax return transcripts.

Continue Reading Private Investigators: An Asset Search Via Data Brokers Like IDI,Inc.

Your Search For Assets Hidden Offshore

When naming offshore havens for opening secret bank accounts, people usually mention Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, Liechtenstein, etc.  Meanwhile, bank accounts in almost any country can be put to work to hide & place assets out of reach. “Using Multiple Jurisdictions To Launder Money” discussed a suspected scheme to bribe judges in Italy.  According to prosecutors, illicit proceeds from this offshore scheme were hidden in bank accounts located in the U.S. & elsewhere. “Money Laundering, Marital Assets & Divorce” outlines another scheme which relied on cross-border elements to conceal assets. The scheme involved a divorcing spouse in the U.S. who hid undeclared revenue in a Swiss bank & then “washed” it through a bank in Germany.¹

As the above essentially suggests, tracking assets offshore can become a critically important part of your asset search. How do you search for assets hidden offshore? One way is by employing legal tools. The following article discusses the tools federal prosecutors may use to collect evidence from witnesses residing offshore.² Two of the tools the article mentions are compelled consent forms & letters rogatory.  These two tools are not just for use by prosecutors. They are sometimes used by divorcing spouses, judgment creditors & others searching for offshore bank accounts/assets hidden offshore:

Click On The Image To Read The Entire Article

¹The fact pattern supplied at “Money Laundering, Marital Assets & Divorce,” has been changed & sanitized for privacy reasons.

²“Obtaining Foreign Evidence Outside of The Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty Process,” U.S. Attorneys’ Bulletin March 2007, is supplied courtesy of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys.

Image of offshore banking & tax haven concept: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams

Production Request
You might be able to access your adversary’s passport; credit card statements & phone records via a production request.

If you are a divorcing spouse, judgment creditor or other litigant, how do you conclusively establish whether or not assets have been hidden from you? You can sometimes reasonably determine this by using legal tools to search for assets. In a pending litigation, these tools might include: depositions; subpoenas; interrogatories; production requests; etc.

Below is part of a production request in the hypothetical case of “JOHN DOE.” The production request seeks access to JOHN DOE’s passport; credit cards; phone records; etc. By analyzing this kind of material one might possibly detect secret offshore bank accounts or other hidden assets.

PRODUCTION REQUEST

1.     JOHN DOE’s original passport of which FRED L. ABRAMS, ESQ. (or his representative), may possess for a period of not more than 45 minutes to photocopy and return to JOHN DOE.

2.     All paid and unpaid invoices from creditors arising from obligations incurred by JOHN DOE for the period January 1, 2011 to present.

3.     All of JOHN DOE’s telephone records, (including cell phone records), for the period of January 1, 2011 to date.

4.     Receipts and copies of airplane tickets for all air flights JOHN DOE traveled, during January 1, 2011 up to the present date.

5.     All frequent flyer miles statements relating to any air flights JOHN DOE traveled, during January 1, 2011 up to the present date.

6.     Receipts or documents relating to all hotel accommodations JOHN DOE paid for or hotels JOHN DOE stayed at anytime during the period of January 1, 2011 to the present.

7.     All records and documents relating to any transaction entered into on or after January 1, 2011 in which JOHN DOE presently has or will have a financial interest or from which JOHN DOE has received or will receive compensation of any nature.

8.     All documents related to any transaction since January 1, 2011, entered into by another person or entity for the benefit in whole or in part, of JOHN DOE.

9.     All documents showing the amount, purpose or source of all payments over $5,000.00 made since January 1, 2011, to, by or for the benefit of JOHN DOE.

10.  Copies of all of JOHN DOE’s current and previous wills and other estate planning documents. Continue Reading Using A Production Request In Your Asset Search

Following A Money Trail

High net worth divorcing spouses, kleptocrats, bankruptcy debtors, judgment debtors, etc., can easily conceal their beneficially owned assets by utilizing Nominee Incorporation Services (“NIS”). Pages 63-64 of “The 2007 National Money Laundering Strategy” essentially explained that individuals may use NIS in schemes to hide assets through money laundering. Individuals sometimes hire a NIS to open secret bank accounts & form non-transparent shell companies. Page 64 of The 2007 National Money Laundering Strategy said “[t]he FBI believes that U.S. shell companies and bank accounts arranged by certain NIS firms are being used to launder as much as $36 billion a year from the former Soviet Union. It is not clear whether these NIS firms are complicit in the money laundering abuse.

An apparent NIS is Capital Asset, Inc. One of its webpages recommends forming companies in Nevada, Wyoming or Delaware. It presumably makes this recommendation because Nevada, Wyoming & Delaware have little or no reporting requirements concerning a company’s shareholders, managers, etc. Someone who wants to hide assets can form a non-transparent shell company in these states & use the shell company to open a bank account at a financial institution in an offshore tax haven. During a bank or asset search, this bank account may be especially difficult to detect because it is titled in the name of the non-transparent shell company.

Another Capital Asset, Inc. wepage asserts:

We use encrypted software, mobile memory sticks, and we back up any information in countries outside the U.S.  There are no paper statements, no debit cards, and all of the accounts are in the names of an IBC [International Business Corporation], just exactly the way Microsoft does it. We imitate in every detail what multinational companies do when they open an offshore account.  Most of our clients use a nominee- they are not officers, directors, or shareholders of the IBC. However, as signatory or beneficial owner of an offshore account, you need to understand there are heavy tax reporting requirements.

Image: jesadaphorn/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2012-2016 Fred L. Abrams

Look Before Leap Image
Look before you leap into your asset search by taking a multifaceted approach.

Red Flags For An Asset Search” lists the common methods for concealing assets including the use of shell companies; offshore bank accounts; sham trusts; etc. To successfully search for assets hidden by these methods, a multifaceted approach is often necessary. You may need to determine beneficial ownership; & look for laundered assets; & employ letters rogatory; & follow the other suggestions outlined by “7 Tips For A Successful Asset Search.”  If you rely on just one of these approaches, you might not gather enough evidence to demonstrate to a court that assets were hidden from you. For example, “7 Tips For A Successful Asset Search” says you might use letters rogatory¹ to collect information from witnesses residing offshore.

Under certain conditions, a letter rogatory can be invaluable in a search for evidence of a secret offshore bank account. Since letters rogatory do not work 100% of the time, it is best to take a multifaceted approach in your asset search.  One letter rogatory which apparently did not work, was filed at In re Application of Victor Mikhaylovich Pinchuk, U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, Docket No. 13-cv-00251.  Ukrainian billionaire Mr. Pinchuk used the letter rogatory to try to get documentary evidence about assets owned by Ferrost LLC (“Ferrost“), a business entity in Wyoming. Mr. Pinchuk’s court papers claimed he needed this evidence because his business partners had allegedly misappropriated assets. The court papers also alleged “Pinchuk should have been offered an opportunity to participate in [the ownership of] Ferrost or its assets…

Mr. Pinchuk intended to use any evidence obtained about Ferrost, at a London arbitration & at legal proceedings in Cypress. On May 7, 2014, the federal court in Wyoming issued an Order directing Ferrost to comply with Mr. Pinchuk’s subpoena. The subpoena requested documents relating to: assets owned by Ferrost; how Ferrost was capitalized; the identities of Ferrost’s shareholders; etc. At a May 20, 2014 affidavit, Ferrost alleged it possessed no business records in the United States. Ferrost therefore only supplied Mr. Pinchuk with organizational documents Ferrost had filed with the Wyoming Secretary of State. Despite Mr. Pinchuk’s letter rogatory & the Court’s May 7, 2014 Order, Mr. Pinchuk was apparently unable to gather information about assets owned by Ferrost.

¹”Preparation of Letters Rogatory” courtesy of U.S. Department of State.

Image:  eelnosiva/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

Image Offshore Assets

The following can help you detect money concealed in an offshore bank account:

I.  DETECT A MONEY TRAIL

When an adversary hides funds at an offshore bank there is always an electronic trace. The trace occurs because the bank stores electronic information comprised of: bank account opening documents; bank signature cards; monthly bank statements; etc.  In addition to an electronic trace, there are usually other signs of a money trail to spot.  As “Secreting Assets Without A Border Trace” reveals, you may be able to detect the money trail by “concentrat[ing] on foreign hotels, payment information, telephone records and on credit card expenses for details of physical movements and lifestyle.”

II.  DEPOSE YOUR ADVERSARY’S LAWYERS

A complex scheme to hide assets is sometimes facilitated by a lawyer, as described at “Striking Out During Your Asset Search? Don’t Forget To Look At The Lawyers” & “Hiding Assets Through Gatekeepers With Accounts Across The Globe.” A lawyer may have opened your adversary’s offshore bank account &/or withdrawn money from it. By bringing legal proceedings, you can sometimes depose this lawyer/serve the lawyer with discovery demands, as described at “A Debt Collection In New York.” “An Asset Search Of A Lawyer Employed To Conceal Cash” also shows how these discovery demands might lead you to a secret bank account.

III.  LOOK FOR THE THE BADGES OF FRAUD

Money Laundering, Marital Assets & Divorce” mentions a divorcing husband who transferred money, (i.e. black capital), originating in the U.S., into a secret Swiss bank account.  Through financial transactions including a back-to-back loan, the husband laundered the money he transferred offshore.  Individuals like the husband can secretly transfer money into an offshore bank account via bulk-cash smuggling; phony invoicing schemes; disguised wire transfers; & numerous other ways.  You might be able to detect this suspicious transfer of money by looking for badges of fraud. According to the Court in Salomon v. Kaiser (In re Kaiser), 722 F.2d 1574 (2d Cir. 1983), the badges of a fraudulent asset transfer are:

  1. the lack or inadequacy of consideration;
  2. family, friendship or close associate relationship between the parties;
  3. the retention of possession, benefit or use of the property in question;
  4. the financial condition of the party sought to be charged both before and after the transaction in question;
  5. the existence or cumulative effect of a pattern, or series of transactions, or course of conduct, after a debt, the onset of financial difficulties or pendency or threat of suits by creditors;
  6. & the general chronology of the events and transactions under inquiry. (Id.)

Image: Irina Mos/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams

7402945976_8ca11c5515_qThis is the 9th post in my series discussing private investigators.  It highlights former private investigators Elaine White & Cullen Johnson who were convicted of a money laundering conspiracy.  The conspiracy involved bogus asset searches Ms. White & Mr. Johnson apparently performed for their clients.  Mr. Johnson seemed to blame the bogus searches on ‘the fog of information.’ As also set forth below, Ms. White recently petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus arguing she should be resentenced in her criminal case.  

From about 2006-2012 ex-Toronto private investigator Elaine White &/or her husband ex-police detective Cullen Johnson, offered asset searches including a search for bank accounts.  Ms. White’s & Mr. Johnson’s clients were licensed private investigators, divorcing spouses & others seeking assets hidden from them.  Ms. White &/or Mr. Johnson however, supplied their clients with phony financial data/spurious bank account information.  As reported at “Island-hopping private eyes indicted on fraud, money laundering charges,” police criminally charged Ms. White & Mr. Johnson for frauds related to clients in Canada.

Ms. White & Mr. Johnson then fled to the Bahamas & the Turks & Caicos Islands.  Next, they were extradited from the Turks & Caicos Islands to face criminal charges in Newport News, Virginia in USA v. White, et al. Docket No. 4:13-cr-00047.  An August 23, 2012 Affidavit In Support Of Criminal Complaint And Arrest Warrant described the criminal case against Ms. White & Mr. Johnson.  Ms. White’s & Mr. Johnson’s April 10, 2013 indictment also said they had “operated a purported asset locator business for clients.”  During September 2013, Mr. Johnson pleaded guilty to Count Two of the indictment (i.e. conspiracy to commit money laundering).  On October 7, 2013 the Court also accepted Ms. White’s guilty plea to Count Two.

The Statement of Facts at Ms. White’s plea agreement showed that Ms. White had provided her clients with “false and fraudulent data and fabricated bank records…”  Mr. Johnson also wrote a December 24, 2013 letter discussing the bogus private investigations.  According to the letter available here, Mr. Johnson’s ‘misjudgments’ in the investigations were due to the ‘fog of information’:

IF THE EXPRESSION THE “FOG OF WAR” IS DEEMED TO BE ACCEPTABLE AND RECOGNIZED AS BASIS FOR EXPLAINING TRAGIC MISJUDGEMENTS AND ERRORS IN MILITARY SITUATIONS, THE EXPRESSION THE “FOG OF INFORMATION” SHOULD BE DEEMED TO BE AN ACCEPTABLE AND RECOGNIZED BASIS FOR EXPLAINING OTHERWISE IRRATIONAL MISJUDGEMENTS AND ERRORS IN INVESTIGATION SITUATIONS.¹

On January 16, 2014 Ms. White & Mr. Johnson were both sentenced to 66 months in prison, 3 years of supervised release and ordered to pay $1,021,738 in restitution.  Ms. White is reportedly serving this sentence at the low-security federal prison in Aliceville, Alabama.  While there, Ms. White drafted her December 21, 2015 Petition For A Writ of Habeas Corpus Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255.  At the Petition, Ms. White alleges she had ineffective assistance of counsel during her criminal case & that she is entitled to a resentencing.

¹ Page numbered “17” at Cullen Johnson’s December 24, 2013 letter, (Docket Entry 76), U.S.A. v. White et al., United States District Court, Eastern District of Virginia, Docket No. 4:13-cr-00047.

Image courtesy of Flickr (Licensed) by Tsahi Levent-Levi.

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams