Whether as witnesses, targets, victims or defendants, an ever-increasing number of people and business entities find themselves in official contact with various government agencies. Some are more aggressive than others, and the consequences of investigation or prosecution can be devastating.
Each client and case is unique, and this firm’s approach to each case is accordingly different. Sometimes the government simply lacks certain evidence that, once properly presented, terminates the investigation. Sometimes the government has the right case but the wrong person in its sights. And sometimes, there is no alternative to jury trial. Whatever the situation, our firm has been there before, on one side of the courtroom or the other.Frequently, the government’s perception of its target is incorrect for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the government is wrong on the law and sometimes the government is wrong on the facts. Either way, correcting the record generally requires an attorney’s involvement. This can be a difficult conclusion for a successful businessperson to reach, since so many self-made people have accomplished so much on their own skills. Unfortunately, many of those skills, so useful in business, produce contrary results when dealing with government agents.
When a person knowingly carries out, or attempts to carry out, a scheme or deception to obtain someone else’s money or property, he or she has committed fraud. Fraud can be committed in an infinite variety of ways, although there are several common categories.
Bank fraud is committed against a federally insured financial institution through many various means, such as providing false information on a loan application, forging checks or related financial papers, or manipulating one’s bank accounts so as to give the false impression that one is more financially solvent than he or she truly is.
Mail and wire fraud is committed when a person uses mail, the phone or the Internet to commit one of many types of crime as defined by the laws of the United States.
Tax fraud is committed when one acts illegally with the intent to evade paying taxes otherwise legally due. Examples include underreporting income, creating false deductions, tax shelter schemes and altering or destroying records.
Consumer fraud involves deception or misrepresentation in the advertising, marketing, sales or provision of goods or services to consumers.
Healthcare fraud is that area of fraud where a person misrepresents or deceives for profit, or in order to receive some benefit for oneself or another. Targets of law enforcement often include medical professionals, doctors, nurses, office managers, billing specialists, pharmacists and pharmaceutical companies, as well as organized crime groups. Examples include billing for medical supplies or services not provided, overbilling, upcoding or providing unnecessary medical procedures. In these cases, law enforcement is frequently assisted by insurance companies and government program auditors and inspectors.
Insurance fraud is most often committed through a claimant misrepresenting the nature or value of an insured loss.
Securities fraud often involves some type of investment-related deception such as a Ponzi scheme, pyramid scheme or endless chain. These cases frequently involve investment opportunities which ultimately fail for one stated reason or another.
Criminal activity related to the medical profession, often referred to as healthcare fraud, involves any criminal action committed by any medical practitioner, healthcare provider or medical institution It can also include patient-based fraud schemes, of which there are an infinite variety.
Increasingly, the California Legislature and the United States Congress have continued to pass new and confusing statutes and regulations defining certain irregular business activities as criminal that were formerly categorized as administrative or regulatory violations, and these activities can now lead to prison sentences. Potential violations of Sarbanes-Oxley, SEC reporting violations, violations of banking regulations, accounting irregularities, real estate transactions, and related business activities have come under increasing scrutiny of law enforcement officials.
The RICO Act (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) was enacted in 1970 as an attempt to prohibit the infiltration of legitimate enterprises by organized crime. While the original purpose of RICO was to prosecute members of organized crime, the broad language of the statute has resulted in the government bringing RICO cases against people not considered to be targets of the original Act. People from all walks of life have been RICO defendants, including doctors, anti-abortion protestors, video store owners, adult bookstore owners, anti-obscenity picketers, terrorists, politicians, major corporations, banks, Wall Street investment firms and husbands sued by ex-wives for defrauding them of marital property.
Corporations and small businesses can suffer significant losses through employee misconduct such as embezzlement and other bad acts. Overworked government agencies can sometimes be difficult to engage due to a variety of factors. A well-conducted internal investigation can increase the chances of prosecution or, in the alternative, can at least provide the client with full knowledge of the extent of the problem so that informed and intelligent decisions can be made either publically or confidentially.
Official misconduct generally involves a public official committing an act or refraining to fulfill a duty of office, with the purpose of benefiting the official or someone else, or harming or depriving someone else of a benefit. The official conduct must be a duty imposed by law and clearly a function of the position. Likewise, the official’s action or inaction must be clear-cut as intentional and not a mere lapse in good judgment.
Bribery would be an obvious example of official misconduct. Bribery is a crime for both the person offering the bribe as well as the official accepting the bribe.
A more subtle crime can occur when a simple quid pro quo transaction occurs. This would seem to criminalize the political horse-trading apparently common in the governmental environment. The fine distinctions between the legal and the illegal are made by state and federal prosecutors each of whom has a different perspective.
The investigation and prosecution of Government officials is a top priority of state and federal prosecutors. These matters often involve bribery accusations but can also involve other acts of official misconduct such as incorrect reporting of contributions or income or conflicts of interest in other financial matters.
Computer crime is criminal activity that directly involves the use of a computer. Traditional crimes such as theft, fraud, counterfeiting, forgery, larceny, child pornography, embezzlement and solicitation of sex, to name a few, could be categorized as computer crime if the person used a computer as a tool in committing the crime. Other computer crimes more intrinsically involve computer functions, such as:
Environmental crimes are actions or omissions that violate standards set by local, state and federal governments to safeguard the environment and protect human health.
Environmental crimes may be prosecuted against individuals or corporations that violate federal environmental statues that exist to preserve and regulate clean air, drinking water, pesticide use, atomic energy, toxic substances and solid waste disposal.
The most common tax crime is involves state or federal income tax evasion, committed either by failing to pay or file a tax return or filing with false information. Individuals, businesses, accountants or professionals preparing false tax returns can be charged with tax crime. Other common areas include tax shelter cases, failures to pay or accurately report various payroll taxes, excise taxes or tobacco taxes.
The law offices of William Portanova represent clients facing criminal charges of many types, primarily white collar crimes. However, some of our clients are referred by other clients or attorneys whose own clients have found themselves, for one reason or another, being investigated for or charged with committing misdemeanors or felonies.
These situations don’t always fit into a particular category of crime, but frequently involve good people suddenly faced with an accusation and consequently seeking legal counsel.
Someone’s son or daughter may be confronted with DUI or drug charges, or a businessperson is arrested following an uncharacteristic incident, often in the context of divorce proceedings. In these circumstances, our office will occasionally represent a client charged with crimes not ordinarily considered “white collar.” We are more concerned with the client than the allegation.
All prosecutions start with a simple investigation. Frequently, the ultimate target started out as a friendly witness who had no concerns about talking to the friendly investigator. Investigations are conducted by hundreds of different agencies of the federal, state and local governments. Proper legal representation should be obtained at the earliest moment.
Conversely, our office conducts its own investigations on behalf of our clients. These investigations are frequently conducted as part of a criminal defense strategy. However, this firm is also frequently retained by persons who have been victimized and have not received an adequate response from law enforcement. In these cases, our office can investigate the crimes and bring it to the attention of the appropriate law enforcement agency.
Most criminal cases are settled before trial. However, some trials simply cannot be avoided, especially where the government is flat wrong and refuses to acknowledge it. In these instances, trial by jury is the only viable option. Our office has an exemplary trial record, and William Portanova has been trying criminal cases from one side or the other for thirty years.