Illegal Asset Searches

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.

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 Copyright 2017 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

Talking Points Photo

The following is a list of Asset Search Blog posts which discuss data brokers; private investigators; bankers; suspected tax fraudsters; etc.  As these posts show, asset searches & asset recoveries sometimes raise privacy &/or criminal law issues.

A)  Data Brokers, Data Mining & Your Privacy

  1. Data Brokers Searching For Your Assets, Bank Accounts & Other Personal Information?
  2. Government Data Mining & An Asset Search

B) Possible Illegal Asset Searches

  1. Private Investigators & Their Clients Facing Criminal Prosecution Over Illegal Asset Searches
  2. Private Investigators: A Surreptitious Search For Money Hidden In Divorce & Other Cases
  3. Private Investigators: 5 Things To Be Aware Of When Hiring A PI For A Bank Account Search
  4. Searching For Assets By Using Insiders At A Bank
  5. Searching Law Enforcement Data Bases For Your Personal Information?

C)  Criminal Prosecution For Hiding Assets

  1. An Asset Search, Tax Fraud & Divorce
  2. Prosecuting Offshore Bankers Who Allegedly Help Tax Evaders Hide Assets From The IRS
  3. Red Flags & The IRS Search For Attorney Memmott’s Assets
  4. Concealing Assets In More Than $150 Trusts?

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Copyright 2015 Fred L. Abrams

Photo Insider

This is my 21st post in the Divorce & Hidden Money series.  It is also the 8th post in my series describing what private investigators can and cannot do legally when searching for hidden assets.  My July 13th post mentioned private investigators & their clients using law enforcement databases and illegal pretext calls to search for assets.  As a practicing attorney, I am aware of another kind of asset search which would be illegal & this post describes it.  The post provides a hypothetical account which discusses a divorcing wife who hired a private investigator.  The private investigator in this hypothetical account, illegally obtains bank account information from an insider—a teller at a bank located in Nevada.

THE DIVORCING WIFE IN NEW JERSEY

Even though Ralph was a medical doctor with a thriving private practice, Ralph claimed in his New Jersey divorce that he had a low net worth.  Ralph’s divorcing wife Nancy suspected Ralph had hidden money in anticipation of the divorce.  Nancy gathered documents she obtained during the pretrial discovery phase of the divorce and before.

These documents included copies of Ralph’s: passport, statements for airline frequent flyer miles, phone bills, tax filings and additional financial records.  Nancy gave the documents to Mike, the licensed private investigator Nancy retained to perform an asset search regarding Ralph.  After conducting an investigation for more than a month, Mike told Nancy that Ralph hid monies at offshore banks and at a bank in Nevada.

THE SEARCH FOR SECRET BANK ACCOUNTS

Mike stated that Ralph secretly maintained about $2.5 million dollars in the offshore bank accounts which were located in high-risk geographical locations known for money laundering.  Ralph had supposedly hidden another $85,000 dollars in the secret bank account in Nevada.  Mike explained to Nancy that he could collect evidence regarding the secret bank accounts by conducting searches at the Nevada and the offshore banks.

Nancy paid Mike over $10,000 dollars for the bank account searches and Mike provided Nancy with an investigative report summarizing his search results.  The report named the offshore banks and the Nevada bank Ralph supposedly used to hide his money.  It supplied the purported secret bank account numbers; account balances and detailed the bank signatory information.

The report meanwhile, never explained the source of Mike’s information/how Mike detected Ralph’s supposed secret bank accounts.  When Nancy asked Mike how he had obtained the information at the report, Mike said the report was completely reliable.  A trusted colleague supplied Ralph’s offshore bank account information, Mike said.  Mike also explained he obtained Ralph’s Nevada bank account information from an “insider”, a teller who worked for the Nevada bank.  According to Mike, the insider used the bank’s computer system to sneak a peek at Ralph’s $85,000 dollar bank account.

THE U.S. CRIMINAL LAW VIOLATION IN NEVADA

Assuming that Mike’s representations to Nancy were true, then the bank teller and Mike could have violated privacy and other U.S. laws.  The two may have conspired to access Ralph’s Nevada bank account information in violation of  18 U.S.C. §1030  (Fraud and related activity in connection with computers).  Another type of case involving an insider at a bank was U.S.A. v. Feliciano, 2:09−cr−00197−NS.  The March 2009 indictment filed in Feliciano, alleged that a bank teller had stolen confidential customer information as part of a bank fraud/identity theft scheme.

First Image: Patrick Brassat/Shutterstock.com

Second image courtesy of Flickr (Licensed) by Tsahi Levent-Levi

Copyright 2015 Fred L. Abrams

Accusation Photo

This post discusses when federal prosecutors might initiate a criminal prosecution against private investigators and their clients as a consequence of an illegal asset search.  It is the 7th post in my series covering private investigators.

If you are a divorcing spouse; heir under a will; a creditor; etc., you may hire a private investigator to help you search for hidden assets.  Your private investigator might then try to detect assets/discover leads by reviewing: passports; phone records; bank account statements; credit card transactions; tax filings; or other confidential information.  What if your private investigator illegally obtained this confidential information from sources like law enforcement databases in the U.S. or by making illegal pretext calls in the U.S.?

Could federal prosecutors then accuse you of crimes because your private investigator performed this illegal asset search for you?  If you knew that confidential information was going to be illegally obtained, prosecutors might initiate a criminal prosecution against you.  The December 6, 2007 press release issued in U.S.A. vs. Torrella et. al. 3:07-cr-05775 discussed the significance of this element of knowledge.  The press release said that several private investigators had been accused of illegally obtaining confidential information.  The private investigators supposedly wanted “to uncover assets or income” during investigations they performed for their clients.  According to the press release, the U.S. Attorney indicated a willingness to criminally prosecute the clients if the clients knew the ‘information was obtained illegally’:

This indictment alleges that private investigators across the country illegally obtained confidential information and sold it to the clients who hired them,’ said United States Attorney Jeffrey C. Sullivan. ‘This is a very serious matter, the investigation is continuing and it is our intention to go after these ‘clients’ if we can prove that they knew this information was obtained illegally.’

In deciding whether to initiate criminal charges against you, federal prosecutors would also follow “the principle that, ordinarily, the attorney for the government should initiate or recommend Federal prosecution if he/she believes that the person’s conduct constitutes a Federal offense and that the admissible evidence probably will be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction.”  U.S. Dep’t of Justice, United States Attorneys’ Manual 9-27.220 §B Comment (1997).

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Second image courtesy of Flickr (Licensed) by Tsahi Levent-Levi

Copyright 2015 Fred L. Abrams

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As “A Surreptitious Search For Money Hidden In Divorce & Other Cases” explains, law enforcement databases may house confidential information about a person’s assets.  Private investigators & the general public cannot lawfully access these law enforcement databases/computers.  This is the 5th post in my series about what private investigators can and cannot do legally when searching for assets:

NJ.com reporter Vernal Coleman & private investigator Brian Willingham recently tweeted on an alleged scheme to access a confidential law enforcement database:

These tweets link to articles saying that Newark N.J. Police Captain Anthony Buono & Nutley N.J. private detective Dino D’Elia are suspected of conspiring to access a law enforcement computer/database.  According to one article, “Buono and D’Elia allegedly obtained the personal data of approximately 900 individuals, selling each set for $100.”  Mr. D’Elia &/or Mr. Buono are thought to have then possibly sold the data to private investigators &/or to data brokers.  State prosecutors have charged Mr. Buono & Mr. D’Elia with supposed violations of New Jersey’s conspiracy & computer theft laws.

Private investigators like Mr. D’Elia, (who are suspected of computer intrusions), sometimes face a federal prosecution rather than state prosecution.  USA v. Buell et. al., Index No. 1:15-cr-00385 is a matter in which a private investigator faced this type of federal prosecution.  At the criminal complaint in Buell, federal prosecutors alleged that private investigator Joseph P. Dwyer bribed an NYPD officer & conspired to obtain data from a law enforcement database.  Last week federal prosecutors slimmed down the criminal charges at their complaint against Mr. Dwyer.  They did this on June 18th by filing a one-count superseding information against Mr. Dwyer, charging him with a suspected bribery scheme.

First image courtesy of Flickr (Licensed) by elhombredenegro

Second image courtesy of Flickr (Licensed) by Tsahi Levent-Levi

Copyright 2015 Fred L. Abrams

This is the 2nd post in my series about private investigators & what they can & cannot do legally when searching for assets.  It is also the 10th post in my Divorce & Hidden Money series.  The Huffington Post article “Uncovering Hidden Assets In Divorce Litigation” observes that information obtained by “surreptitious means” might be used by one divorcing spouse against the other.  Obtaining information through a surreptitious search can be critical to recovering assets in a broad range of criminal & civil cases.  Depending on the circumstances, surreptitious searches might involve wiretaps; bank searches; law enforcement databases; and physical surveillance.  These surreptitious means have however, sometimes been abused by private investigators, attorneys & others in the following ways:

WIRETAPS– As stated in testimony at a 1967 U.S. Senate hearing ‘private bugging in this country can be divided into two broad categories, commercial espionage and marital litigation.’ ¹  Former attorney Mary Nolan handled divorce & family law matters for nearly 30 years before pleading guilty to the wiretapping & tax fraud charges at counts 1-4 &/or 6 of her 2012 criminal indictment.  An amended judgment showed Ms. Nolan was sentenced to serve 24 months in prison, 3 years of supervised release, etc.  Ms. Nolan’s sentencing memorandum said her cases frequently involved allegations that husbands were hiding assets.  The prosecutor’s sentencing memorandum meanwhile, claimed Ms. Nolan had employed a private investigator “to install eavesdropping devices in cars used by her clients’ spouses for use in their divorce proceedings.”

BANK SEARCHES– Some private investigators try to surreptitiously search banks in the U.S. for accounts secretly opened by divorcing spouses, debtors, etc.  These investigators may claim they search through computer research; insiders; or information brokers.  Private investigators cannot ordinarily search banks legally because of privacy and other U.S. laws, as explained by the post available here.   The Court has also noted “it is more likely than not that the only way that information brokers can obtain private financial information from banks is through the use of deception and trickery, including impersonation of account holders.”  Commonwealth v. Source One Associates, Inc., No. CIV. A. 98-0507-H, 1999 WL 975120, at *6 (Mass. Super. Oct. 12, 1999) aff’d sub nom. Com. v. Source One Associates, Inc., 436 Mass. 118, 763 N.E.2d 42 (2002). Continue Reading Private Investigators: A Surreptitious Search For Money Hidden In Divorce & Other Cases