Showing posts with label indictment. Show all posts
Showing posts with label indictment. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Motorcycle Club Trademark Facing Unprecedented Law Enforcement Tactic

Law enforcement efforts to "break" an outlaw motorcycle gang have morphed into a bizarre and groundbreaking trademark dispute, which some legal commentators contend is an unprecedented and possibly unconstitutional overreach by law enforcement.

The dispute's origins began in October 2008, when a federal Grand Jury sitting in Los Angeles indicted 80 members of the Mongols Nation, LLC, a motorcycle club, for a variety of crimes including murder, narcotics distribution and conspiracy.  Agents for the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) raided locations in six estates and arrested several dozen Mongols members, seizing guns, motorcycles and drugs.

At each location where ATF agents served arrest warrants, they also sought out and seized members' personal jackets, patches and other items bearing the Mongols' trademarked logo.

The Special Agent in charge of the ATF's Los Angeles field office, pointed out the significance of the Mongols trademark to the prosecution.  

"They live by that Mongols patch," he reportedly said.  "We take what's most dear to them....We're gonna break their back.  We'll do whatever we have to do to stop the violence."

Ultimately, everyone named in the indictment pleaded guilty and received sentences ranging from several months to many years in prison.

But an interesting wrinkle arose during the prosecution of the 2008 case. Federal Judge Florence Cooper ruled that the federal government had no right to seize the Mongols trademark.

Judge Cooper later passed away in 2010, and the trademark aspects of the dispute were then assigned to Judge David Carter who agreed that the trademark was inappropriately seized, but suggested a proper way to do it properly to the federal authorities. That approach would require a new indictment because the forfeiture remedy under the RICO Anti-Racketeering statute was not plead in the prior indictment.

As a result, Judge Wright, who heard the 2008 case, is now hearing the trademark dispute in the context of a more recent 2013 indictment that charges racketeering.

Now, the attorneys for the Mongols have sought to disqualify Judge Wright, claiming that he is unfairly "biased" against their clients.  At the core of their motion is an off the cuff comment that Judge Wright made on the record about how he "reluctantly" ruled in the Mongols favor on the trademark issue previously.

The interesting issue is that the federal government is not only claiming that it is entitled to seize the trademark registration originally owned by the Mongols, but that it is entitled to seize physical items and personal effects that utilize the logo such as jackets and patches.

Essentially, the government is attempting to hijack the seizure aspect of anti-counterfeiting remedies and utilize it for punitive measures.  That approach raises very interesting-- and disturbing--constitutional issues, say legal commentators.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Counterfeit UL Stickers End in Conviction and Bankruptcy For GuildMaster

Example of a Counterfeit UL Sticker
Missouri-based furniture and home decor company GuildMaster was sentenced in federal court after pleading guilty to importing thousands of lamps marked with counterfeit "UL" (Underwriter Laboratories) certification mark stickers.

UL is an independent product safety certification organization accredited for safety testing by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

If a product carries an authentic UL certification mark, it means UL found that representative product samples met UL's safety requirements. These requirements are primarily based on UL's own published standards for safety. According to the UL website, this type of mark is seen commonly on appliances and computer equipment, furnaces and heaters, fuses, electrical panel boards, smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems, personal flotation devices, bullet resistant glass, and thousands of other products.

A counterfeit UL sticker has the potential to mislead consumers into believing an electrical item has met the UL's safety requirements, when it may not have.

GuildMaster's website proclaims that "it is every company's responsibility to operate in a manner that is respectful of people and the planet." The company further claims that it has an "open book management" philosophy, in which it encourages its employees to "think and act like owners."

Nonetheless, in December 2011, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials reportedly discovered that thousands of lamps that were being imported into the U.S. from China by GuildMaster were emblazoned with counterfeit UL labels.

According to a press release issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office, GuildMaster, which was formerly a client of UL, stopped producing its own lamps in 2005. Since 2005, GuildMaster has purchased lamps manufactured in China and imported them into the United States under the GuildMaster label.

GuildMaster maintains that none of its agents or employees had personal knowledge that they violated U.S. laws by importing the lamps. However, GuildMaster acknowledges that the knowledge and actions of its subsdiary's employees and agents are fairly attributed to GuildMaster.

Before the federal seizures, GuildMaster admitted that it did not inspect lamps coming from China to ascertain the authenticity of the "UL" certification marks placed upon the lamps. GuildMaster acknowledges that had it inspected the lamps, its employees would likely have seen counterfeit and unauthorized UL marks.

The sentence imposed in federal court requires destruction of nearly two million dollars worth of the lamps, and 5 years of probation.

Following the indictment, GuildMaster had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. It is unclear if the sentence imposed will affect the company's continued existence, as GuildMaster had recently filed a request to extend time to file its bankruptcy exit plan, citing the government's demands that the lamps be destroyed.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Online Currency Exchange Indicted By Feds for Laundering Over $6B

The operators of a global currency exchange ran a multi-billion money-laundering operation online, an Internet hub for criminals trafficking in everything from stolen identities to child pornography, federal prosecutors in New York announced today when an indictment was unsealed in federal court.

Liberty Reserve, the currency exchange, allegedly operated beyond United States and international banking regulations in what prosecutors call a shadowy netherworld of virtually anonymous cyberfinance.

Liberty Reserve traded in "virtual currency," and provided anonymous and accessible banking services increasingly sought by criminal networks, including counterfeiters, law enforcement officials claimed.

The charges were announced at a news conference by Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  The charges detailed a complicated system designed to allow people to move sums of money around the world with virtual anonymity, according to an indictment, which was unsealed in federal court in Manhattan today.

Over a seven year period, Liberty Reserve was allegedly responsible for laundering billions of dollars, having conducted over 55 million transactions that involved customers all over the world, including more than 200,000 in the United States, according to federal prosecutors.

Just as PayPal revolutionized how people shop online, Liberty Reserve sought to create a similarly convenient way for criminals to make financial transactions, law enforcement officials explained.

“As alleged, the only liberty that Liberty Reserve gave many of its users was the freedom to commit crimes — the coin of its realm was anonymity, and it became a popular hub for fraudsters, hackers and traffickers,” Mr. Bharara said at the news conference. 

“The global enforcement action we announce today is an important step toward reining in the ‘Wild West’ of illicit Internet banking. As crime goes increasingly global, the long arm of the law has to get even longer, and in this case, it encircled the earth.”

Liberty Reserve was incorporated in Costa Rica in 2006 by Arthur Budovsky, who renounced his United States citizenship in 2011, and was arrested in Spain on Friday. He was among seven people charged in the case; five of them were under arrest, while two remained at large in Costa Rica.

In addition to the criminal charges, five domain names were seized, including the one used by Liberty Reserve. Officials also seized or restricted the activity of 45 bank accounts.

Prosecutors cited “blatantly criminal monikers” used by Liberty Reserve clients, like “Russia Hackers.” Essentially, all a customer needed to open an account was an e-mail address.

While Liberty Reserve was incorporated outside the United States, federal officials used a provision in the Patriot Act to target the organization and other financial institutions with whom they conducted business. It was the first time the provision had been used to prosecute a virtual currency provider.

Liberty Reserve did not take or make cash payments directly and instead used “third-party ‘exchangers,’ ” according to the indictment. These exchangers would take and make payments, and then credit or debit the Liberty Reserve account, allowing Liberty Reserve to avoid collecting any banking information on its clients and not leave a “centralized financial paper trail,” the indictment also said.

The exchangers, the indictment said, “tended to be unlicensed money-transmitting businesses without significant government oversight or regulation, concentrated in Malaysia, Russia, Nigeria and Vietnam.”

The people who accepted Liberty Reserve’s currency were “overwhelmingly criminal in nature,” according to the indictment.

“They included, for example: traffickers of stolen credit card data and personal identity information; peddlers of various types of online Ponzi and get-rich-quick schemes; computer hackers for hire; unregulated gambling enterprises; and underground drug-dealing Web sites,” according to the indictment.