White-Collar Crime Generally

Searching for an adversary’s hidden assets can be like tracking a shell-game-operator.  In USA v. Khalili for instance, Mr. Dan Farhad Khalili was accused of hiding assets & undeclared revenue from the IRS for 15 years at 5 offshore banks. The offshore banks were located in Switzerland & Israel. Although on 4/27/11 Mr. Khalili applied for the IRS’ Voluntary Disclosure Program, the IRS found him ineligible for it. Mr. Khalili ultimately pleaded guilty to failing to file U.S. Department of Treasury Reports of Foreign Bank & Financial Accounts. On 4/25/17 Mr. Khalili was sentenced to 1 year & 1 day of prison. When you search for assets hidden through sophisticated schemes similar to the one Mr. Khalili was accused of, it may help to keep 3 goals in mind. These goals are to detect the paper trails, look for compartmentalization & seek transparency.

I. Detect The Paper Trails

One way your adversary may hide the paper trail of an offshore bank account is to open an offshore post office box. Your adversary could then have the offshore bank send monthly bank account statements & other documents to the offshore post office box. By maintaining these banking documents offshore, your adversary reduces the risk that you; domestic tax authorities; or anyone else; will detect the secret offshore bank account.

II. Look For Compartmentalization

A former intelligence officer I knew kept 1 cellular phone for incoming calls & another for outgoing calls. By compartmentalizing incoming & outgoing calls, the former intelligence officer was trying to hamper any investigation of his telephone toll records. Your adversary may compartmentalize his/her financial activities in a scheme to hide assets from you. For more information read my post “Compartmentalization & An Asset Search.”

III. Seek Transparency

By eliminating paper trails & compartmentalizing, your adversary can make his/her financial activities nontransparent. Your adversary can also make financial activities nontransparent via: fraudulent asset transfers; bulk-cash smuggling; art assets & cultural heritage property; diamonds or other portable valuable commodities; etc. These common concealment methods are outlined at “Red Flags For An Asset Search.”

Image: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2017 Fred L. Abrams

Like the IRS & SEC you can sometimes search for assets by using whistleblower tips, my October 3rd program explains.

A) PROGRAM DESCRIPTION

At the New York County Lawyers’ Association on October 3, 2017 from 5:30 PM to 9:00 PM, I will be the program chair of “Whistleblowers, Secret Swiss Bank Accounts & Recovering Hidden Assets.” Attendee registration is available at the website available here or by calling the New York County Lawyers’ Association at (212) 267-6646. During the October 3rd program, I highlight the use of whistleblower tips to recover hidden assets.  I show how to search for assets which can be hidden by high net worth divorcing spouses; corporations; Ponzi schemers; tax fraudsters; etc.  I talk about tools you can use to recover assets hidden in Switzerland and other places across the globe. The October 3rd program also focuses on the Internal Revenue Service & Securities Exchange Commission whistleblower programs which can provide qualifying tipsters with the largest payouts compared to any other reward programs in the world.

Jack BlumWashington, D.C. attorney Jack Blum is well-known internationally for his representation of whistleblowers. In addition to others he has represented,  Mr. Blum will talk about Mr. Hervé Falciani, the whistleblower the media dubbed “the [Edward] Snowden of Swiss banking.”  Mr. Falciani allegedly stole Swiss bank account information from HSBC in Geneva and as a whistleblower turned the information over to French authorities. This alleged HSBC bank account information eventually fell into the hands of the International Consortium Of Investigative Journalists, which published part of it at their webpages known as the Swiss Leaks project.  Furthermore, Mr. Blum appeared on the CBS/60 Minutes television show to discuss the foregoing.  He will similarly discuss these matters at the October 3rd program and analyze: the IRS whistleblower program; problems whistleblowers face in the real world; and the difficulty lawyers may encounter in dealing with whistleblowers either as clients or tipsters.

ThomasLabaton & Sucharow partner Jordan A. Thomas will also speak at the October 3rd program.  Mr. Thomas will discuss the Securities Exchange Commission’s whistleblower program, as he is one of the world’s leading experts on it. He will review the advantages and disadvantages of the different whistleblower programs; and the ethical concerns gatekeepers like attorneys, accountants, officers and directors have, in reporting illegal behavior in both the civil and criminal contexts.  As more fully set forth below, Mr. Thomas: is a former assistant director in the Commission’s Enforcement Division; had a leadership role in developing the Commission’s whistleblower program; and was assigned to many of the Commission’s highest-profile matters such as those involving Enron, Fannie Mae, UBS & Citigroup.

Photo Charles Bott

Charles Bott QC, Head of Carmelite Chambers in the United Kingdom, is a recognized authority on financial crime and its regulation.  Subject to his availability, Mr. Bott may travel to New York to speak at the October 3rd program. He has appeared in more than 80 serious fraud trials including some of the leading cases of recent years and advised many other clients under investigation.  Mr. Bott specializes in cases of serious fraud, money laundering and revenue evasion; and in the United Kingdom, he is regularly instructed in serious criminal cases and regulatory cases of all kinds.

Continue Reading Whistleblowers, Secret Swiss Bank Accounts & Recovering Hidden Assets

Money Laundering Typology Post

One way to learn how to search for hidden assets is to read “A Laundry List For An Asset Search.” Another way is to study money laundering typologies. Money laundering typologies are used by law enforcement and regulators to develop countermeasures against emerging criminal trends. “100 Cases from the Egmont Group” contains a wide variety of money laundering typologies.¹ Although “100 Cases from the Egmont Group” arises from data collected during the 1990s, it is still relevant today. “100 Cases from the Egmont Group” describes these methods for concealing assets:

  • Concealment within existing business structures
  • Misuse of legitimate businesses
  • Use of false identities, documents or straw men
  • Exploiting international jurisdictional issues
  • Use of anonymous asset types

Below is the money laundering typology “Example B: Limited edition jewellery.”² It is about an agent who participated in an auction for a diamond necklace. The agent tried to conceal monies from suspected frauds by using multiple jurisdictions; offshore bank accounts & a portable valuable commodity—a diamond necklace.

Example B Limited editon jewellery

¹”100 Cases From The Egmont Group” courtesy of The Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units.

²“Example B: Limited edition jewellery” courtesy of The Guernsey Financial Services Commission.

First Image: studiostoks/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2017 Fred L. Abrams

Back to Back Loan Image

Money Laundering, Marital Assets & Divorce was my first Asset Search Blog post highlighting back-to-back loans (i.e. a fully collateralized loan in which the borrower and the lender are one and the same). That post mentioned a divorcing husband who hid millions from his wife and the IRS, by claiming he was indebted because of an arm’s length business loan. The husband’s claim about owing money to an arm’s length lender was false, as the loan was back-to-back. In other words, the husband hid millions by secretly arranging to be both the borrower and lender of the loan; and by pretending to be in debt.

Federal prosecutors similarly discussed back–to-back loans in their tax fraud case against Los Angeles, California businessman Masud Sarshar. According to prosecutors, Mr. Sarshar hid tens of millions of dollars from the IRS by using two back-to-back loans and offshore bank accounts in Israel and Hong Kong. Mr. Sarshar supposedly maintained the offshore bank accounts in the names of intermediaries (i.e. nominees). Prosecutors also said an Israeli banker delivered offshore bank account statements to Mr. Sarshar by smuggling them into the U.S. on a USB drive hidden in a necklace.

To avoid being flagged as an American by the offshore banks, Mr. Sarshar is believed to have used Israeli and Iranian passports to open his offshore accounts. When Mr. Sarshar mentioned his offshore accounts during conversations with his Israeli bankers, Mr. Sarshar also reportedly spoke in code. On 3/13/17 Mr. Sarshar was sentenced to 24 months in prison for conspiring to defraud the U.S. and for seeking to impair/impede administration of internal revenue laws. Mr. Sarshar’s 8/1/16 plea agreement can be read here.

Image: Ionut Catalin Parvu/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

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

Laundry List Post:ImageGovernmental authorities follow money trails in order to interdict assets hidden by narco-traffickers; money launderers; Ponzi schemers; tax fraudsters & other determined criminals. During your asset search, you can similarly follow a money trail to track assets which have been hidden from you. You might detect a money trail by scrutinizing data related to the person or business entity suspected of hiding assets.

You can collect this data in some situations, by issuing subpoenas; using compelled consent forms; or through additional legal tools. Below is the “Financial Investigations Checklist” & it includes a laundry list of items which contain data.¹ You may be able to collect some of the items the list mentions: bank account records; telephone records; utility company records; credit card statements & many others. Data at these kinds of items could conceivably help you follow a money trail to assets hidden from you.

(To Read The Financial Investigations Checklist, Click On The Following Image)


Financial Investigations Checklist

 

¹Financial Investigations Checklist, Courtesy of The United States Department of Justice.

First image: Picsfive/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams

Trade-Based Laundering Photo

If your adversary is using a business entity to conceal assets from you, one thing to look for is trade-based money laundering. A June 2006 report by the Financial Action Task Force explains that trade-based laundering schemes can include: the over or under-invoicing of goods or services; the over or under-shipping of goods; falsely describing goods or services; or multiple invoicing.¹ You can search for assets hidden via trade-based laundering by spotting the red flags. Page 24 of the June 2006 report describes the red flags and some of them are:

  • a disparity between a shipped commodity’s bill of lading and its invoice.
  • a disparity between a commodity’s value as recorded on its invoice and fair market value.
  • the shipping of goods although there is no profit/economic benefit.
  • a shipment with a nexus to shell companies.
  • letters of credit related to a shipment that have been amended or extended repeatedly.
  • the type of shipped commodity is inconsistent with the importer’s/exporter’s ordinary business activities.
  • shipping to or from a high-risk geographical location (i.e. a jurisdiction especially vulnerable to money laundering).

Pages 9-20 of the June 2006 report also provide 12 case studies showing how trade-based money laundering can be used to conceal one’s assets. The August 24, 2007 plea agreement of Gene Haas might describe another case of trade-based money laundering. Mr. Haas entered this plea agreement after his arrest on June 19, 2006 for suspected tax fraud. Attachment A at the plea agreement says the Enmark Aerospace and Supermill companies had provided Mr. Haas with invoices for fictitious purchases.

According to Attachment A, Mr. Haas paid Enmark & Supermill millions of dollars pursuant to these invoices; and Mr. Haas then took business deductions for “cost of goods sold.” Attachment A also indicates that Enmark and Supermill eventually returned the millions, (less a 2% kick back fee), to Mr. Haas through Mr. Haas’ intermediary, CNC Associates, Inc. Stated differently, it seems that Enmark, Supermill and CNC Associates could have been employed as laundering links in a money laundering circuit. After Mr. Haas’ plea agreement, Mr. Haas was sentenced on November 5, 2007 to two years in prison for violating 18 U.S.C § 371. Mr. Haas additionally paid a $5 million dollar fine and over $70 million dollars in back taxes owed for 2000 and 2001.

¹ See p.4 at “Trade-Based Money Laundering,” Copyright © FATF/OECD. All rights reserved.

Image: Nomad_Soul/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2007-2016 Fred L. Abrams

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

Bank Deposit Image

In some situations, the transfer of large sums of cash is a red flag that assets have been hidden by money laundering. Government authorities therefore require banks to report their customers who transfer or exchange large sums of cash. For example, banks in the United States are required to report bank customers who deposit or withdraw more than $10,000 in cash. The banks fulfill this requirement by electronically filing a Currency Transaction Report.

A bank customer trying to evade the filing of a Currency Transaction Report can be prosecuted for structuring, (a.k.a “smurfing”), in violation of 31 U.S.C. § 5324. Opinion blogger Radley Balko talks about some of these prosecutions at “The federal ‘structuring’ laws are smurfin’ ridiculous.” As discussed by “An Asset Search Over Corruption Proceeds,” prosecutors accused former Russian diplomat Vladimir Kuznetsov of violating structuring law(s).

At Count Two pp. 6-9 of Mr. Kuznetsov’s superseding indictment, prosecutors alleged Mr. Kuznetsov had structured deposits he made in New York City at Chase Manhattan Bank & the United Nations Federal Credit Union. The following case study also discusses structuring.¹  It analyzes how a group of criminals hid illicit drug proceeds by structuring deposits, smuggling cash & going offshore:

Image Egmont Case 06082

Image of hand with money: Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

¹Case Study/Case Ref: 06082 Courtesy Of The Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams