Where Did You Go, Batman? Martin Shkreli, Congress, the Fifth Amendment and You

It does not help that the most recent symbol of the Fifth Amendment is The Joker:

The First Amendment.

The First Amendment.

The Fifth Amendment.

The Fifth Amendment.

 

There has been plenty of news coverage about Martin Shkreli, “pharma bro” and alleged securities fraudster, and his appearance before Congress.  (Examples are herehere and here).   The proceeding itself was snarky, entertaining and time-wasting:


Congressional testimony is political theater, no more and no less, but some observations are in order for us non-Joker citizens, as well.

As a refresher, it never hurts to take a look at what the Constitution actually says:

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

White-collar lawyer Sara Kropf has an excellent post here on Shkreli’s invocation of his Fifth Amendment rights.  She notes:

Congress does this All. The. Time. And every time it is a colossal waste of time and taxpayer dollars. If Congress wants to investigate drug prices, then do that. But don’t haul someone before a committee to testify, knowing that he will take the Fifth. It’s a constitutional right, for goodness’ sake. There’s an ongoing criminal investigation, and any lawyer worth her salt would tell him to take it.

Read the entire post: Why Does Congress Put Witnesses Through This Charade?

Law professor, former AUSA and blogger Randall Eliason has an extensive piece here about various aspects of the Shkreli saga:

Shkreli’s attorney made it clear in advance of the hearing that Shkreli would invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. That was no surprise. Even though the hearing was not specifically about Shkreli’s criminal case, there would be too much risk that something he said might end up facilitating his own prosecution. Almost any lawyer would likely give him the same advice.

Shkreli’s lawyer asked that his client be excused from attending the hearing, since he was not going to be able to answer questions. But Congress insisted that he appear, threatening him with additional criminal sanctions if he ignored the subpoena. And so, in a familiar Washington theater production, Shkreli sat before the committee, with his attorney in the “I am not a potted plant” seat directly behind him, and repeatedly invoked his right to remain silent in response to every question.

Read the entire post: The Ongoing Legal Saga of Martin Shkreli.

For corporations, executives and businesspersons of all stripes, there is a great deal to learn from Congressional investigations:

As the former Special Counsel to House Committee on Banking and Financial Services for the Whitewater investigation involving President and Mrs. Clinton,  I have written before about the perils (and weirdnesses) of Congressional testimony: Lessons From An Ex-Congressional Lawyer:

Although the Congress respects constitutional privileges (e.g., the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination), it does not officially recognize common-law protections such as the attorney-client privilege or the work-product doctrine.  Rather, many committees will often take the position that recognition of such privileges is discretionary with the committee.  As a practical matter, however, committee counsel and staff will often accept a well-grounded privilege claim.  Companies that are the target of major parallel investigations will often waive common-law privilege, either to show good faith and cooperation, or as part of a settlement with the government.

Unlike a criminal defendant, a witness before a Congressional committee cannot refuse to testify altogether, but  must rather invoke the privilege in response to specific questions.

Very '90s.

Very ’90s.

Remarkably, the theater can be simultaneously stressful and boring:

Because most people are familiar with Congressional investigations only through television, they assume that if they are caught up in an investigation they will be summoned to testify before a committee like John Dean or Oliver North, with cameras clicking amid vigorous partisan drama.  Although your client may indeed be called to testify in a public hearing — and you should prepare as though your client will be called — it is more likely that constraints of time, the demands of the media, and political pressure and compromise having little to do with your client will result in your client never being called.  If your client testifies, remember that in many instances the committee members’ “questions” are not actually designed to elicit information from the witness.  Rather, questioning is often more like speech-making designed to maximize camera time on the questioner or to score political points against the opposition.

Despite Mr. Shkreli’s cartoonish image – and it may be nothing more than that, just an image – there is something refreshing when one witnesses defiance, with constitutional grounding, in the face of massed political power. The Members’ frustration arose not so much from Shkreli’s attitude as from the fact that the Members knew they lacked the political will to actually hold him in contempt (and then to try and convince the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia to prosecute him).

That lack of will, coupled with the fact that Congressional hearings are political theater, means that such events are not the best teaching grounds for lawyers or clients.  Nevertheless, we can all learn a few lessons from Mr. Shkreli.

Getting carded, back when there was no casual Friday.

Getting carded, back when there was no casual Friday.

First, don’t be a chicken about keeping your mouth shut: your business, your family and your liberty depend on it.  People in business, whether senior executives, middle managers or line employees, recoil from the notion of refusing to answer questions from any representative of the Government (including Members of Congress).  Separately, I have elsewhere described this impulse as The Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Syndrome:

“Everyone will think I did it” is a common theme, as is “I can just explain it so they can understand it.”  The former statement is likely true, but it is irrelevant if you can avoid prison or a business-crippling indictment, fine or government-contracting debarment.  The latter statement is almost never true: by the time a Government agent wants your statement, he or she already has a pretty good idea of what he or she understands.

And let your lawyer toot your horn.

And let your lawyer toot your horn.

Second, in declining to speak to the Government, be civil and professional, but cool.  “Cool” not like, say, Miles Davis, but “cool” as in “calm” or “settled.”  Investigators, agents and regulators can be very persistent and can make you feel as if it’s un-American to not speak with them.

Third, follow your lawyer’s instructions.  It is surprising how many otherwise prudent, savvy businesspeople will keep talking after their lawyer has counseled them to not do so.  In the Times video embedded above, even Mr. Shkreli says that he he will follow his lawyer’s advice.

Go thou forth and do likewise.

Lawyer up

 


The Freedom of Little Joe Cartwright: Tax Crime, Edgar Allan Poe, Noir Film and Lacrosse

Notes for the week.

Prosecuting Individuals

Federal criminal tax lawyer Jack Townsend blogs at Federal Tax Crimes.  Here is his note on Prosecuting Corporate Employees, particularly in the tax context:

I have previously blogged on Professor Brandon Garrett (UVA Law) who have carved out an academic niche on how the Government deals with corporate crime, particularly large corporate crime (the too big to jail group). See e.g., Judge Jed Rakoff Reviews Brandon Garrett’s Book on Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise with Corporations (Federal Tax Crimes Blog 2/10/15), here. At the risk of oversimplifying his arguments, I summarize them in part relevant to this blog entry: When the Government goes after corporate misconduct, it too often focuses only on the corporation in terms of criminal sanctions and not the individuals, particularly those higher up the chain, who committed the underlying conduct. Corporations cannot go to jail; individuals can. Prosecuting and convicting individuals in addition to corporations could, he thinks, provide more front-end incentive for individuals to forego illegal conduct within the corporations. However, as fans of tax crimes know at least anecdotally, it is hard to convict higher level corporate officers for conduct that their underlings actually commit. The poster child example is the acquittal of Raoul Weil, a high-level UBS banker who “remoted” himself from the dirty work of actually servicing U.S. taxpayers seeking to evade U.S. tax. See e.g., Raoul Weil Found Not Guilty (Federal Tax Crimes 11/3/14; 11/6/14).

Mr. Townsend goes on to discuss the DOJ’s Yates Memorandum and new work by University of Virginia law professor Brandon Garrett.  Professor Garrett’s website (Federal Organizational Prosecution Agreements) is the best compendium of deferred-prosecution and non-prosecution agreements.

Michael Landon ("Little Joe Cartwright") being served with a subpoena (1968)

Michael Landon (“Little Joe Cartwright”) being served with a subpoena (1968)

Another useful Townsend post addresses a common issue — the Government’s attempt to muzzle the recipients of subpoenas:

In United States v. Gigliotti, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS _____ (ED NY 12/23/15), here, Judge Dearie denied a motion to suppress evidence obtained pursuant to grand jury subpoena that unlawfully contained the following:
YOU ARE HEREBY DIRECTED NOT TO DISCLOSE THE EXISTENCE OF THIS SUBPOENA, AS IT MAY IMPEDE AN ONGOING INVESTIGATION.

Sound familiar?  Read the entire piece at Judge Criticizes Prosecutor’s Use of Language Directing Secrecy for Receipt of Grand Jury Subpoena.  We have written about the grand jury previously herehere and here.  If you are to young (or too old) to remember Bonanza on TV, here is a refresher.  Here is an episode from 1960 entitled — appropriately, for White Collar Wire readers — “Desert Justice”:

Head-on-a-platter and all that.

Head-on-a-platter and all that.

Or Not Prosecuting Individuals?

White Collar Wire should have sent a Christmas goose to Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who wants more white-collar types to get indicted: 2015 Spurred Billions in Bank Fines, But Not Enough for Warren.  In particular:

In a 10-page report titled “Rigged Justice: 2016,” the U.S. Senator’s staff cited 20 cases in which they say prosecutors showed “timidity” by not pursuing individuals for civil or criminal misdeeds. No executives at Citigroup Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., or Deutsche Bank AG were accused of wrongdoing in cases alleging rigged currency markets and the misleading of investors, her office wrote in the document released Friday. The investigations led to their companies paying billions of dollars in penalties.

Senator Warren will have none of the Yates Memo, thank you:

The report even dismisses a recent U.S. Justice Department announcement, known as the Yates memo, in which Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates heralded a new direction by telling prosecutors to embark on investigations by focusing on people, not companies. “Both before and after this DOJ announcement, accountability for corporate crimes has been shockingly weak,” Warren’s office wrote.

“Shocking to whom” is a good question, but it’s all good for the white-collar bar.  Here is her report.

Good Practices and Bad

A miscalculated penalty, perhaps.

A miscalculated penalty, perhaps.

From the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation and Jon Eisenberg, a partner in the Government Enforcement practice at K&L Gates LLP, here is a useful article (with cases and charts) about the SEC’s use of civil monetary penalties.  Tellingly, and sadly, the authors point out that “these decisions might not survive appellate scrutiny . . .  but very few respondents appeal their sanctions all the way to the D.C. Circuit.”

 

 

Hall monitor?

Hall monitor?

Deferred-prosecution agreements often impose corporate monitors.  Should the reports of such monitors be kept confidential?  A federal judge ordered the release of the HSBC monitor’s report, over the object of both HSBC and DOJ:

A federal judge has ordered the release of a report detailing how well HSBC Holdings Plc has complied with anti-money laundering requirements imposed by U.S. regulators when the British bank was fined $1.92 billion three years ago.

Thursday’s order by U.S. District Judge John Gleeson in Brooklyn is a defeat for HSBC and the U.S. Department of Justice, which complained the release could make it easier to launder money, including for terrorism, and discourage cooperation with law enforcement.

“This case implicates matters of great public concern and is therefore one which the public has an interest in overseeing,” Gleeson wrote, citing the public’s constitutional right of access under the First Amendment.

I cannot speak to the terrorism angle, but cooperation (and thus, monitoring) both work best when company employees have some comfort that what they say and do will be held in confidence, at least within reasonable parameters.  The public’s oversight interest is real, but surely an organization that has paid billions in fines and is living with a monitor is being “overseen” to a reasonable extent, especially when that oversight requires continued cooperation to be effective.

Read the entire article here: HSBC money laundering report must be made public.  To read our earlier posts about DPAs and monitors, go herehere, and here.

Crime Fiction

Digital content, quoth the raven.

Digital content, quoth the raven.

From the good folks at The Rap Sheet, a piece on the nominees for the 2016 Edgar Awards.  Here is the complete list from the Mystery Writers of America.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)

It is not a raven, but there is a bird in  Thomas Hardy’s poem “The Darkling Thrush”:

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

Crime Noir and Miles Davis

It's Miles. It's cool.

It’s Miles. It’s cool.

On the subject of crime, Apple Music must have intuited that I like noir-ish fiction and cool jazz.  It directed to me a set of Miles Davis that included “Ascenseur pour l’echafaud” (1958), a French crime film by Louis Malle released in the States as Elevator To The Scaffold (or Lift To The Scaffold in the U.K.)  Davis’s horn on the title track is as evocative as it gets, as seen here:

 

ESPN's 30-for-30

ESPN’s 30-for-30

Wishing It Were Fiction: Duke Lacrosse and Due Process

On Sunday, March 13, at 9 p.m. ET, ESPN’s acclaimed “30 for 30” film series will present Fantastic Lies, a film about the the Duke lacrosse case.  Here is an interview with the producer, Marina Zenovich.

Damage done.

Damage done.

We have written about the Duke lacrosse case before, here and here.

 

Depends on how we sell it.

Depends on how we sell it.

In opening statements and closing arguments, the genuine is good.  The cornball or the obscure, on the other hand, are bad.  The same is true of our written work.  As noted by Philip Corbett, master of the After Deadline blog in the New York Times:

[A]n overreliance on anecdotal openings — especially the classic “stranger in the lead” approach — can make our prose feel shopworn rather than vivid. This is particularly true when readers encounter unfamiliar names at the top of two or more adjacent stories, whether in print or online.

 

Read the entire piece: Here’s Someone You Never Heard of. Read On.