A word of caution from a suspicious lawyer on PPP Loans

A word of caution from a suspicious lawyer . . . .So instead of downsizing our massive behemoth of government bureaucracy, Congress passed the CARES Act, establishing the so-called Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which allows the SBA to guarantee 350 BILLION in loans to help small businesses. As of April 16, 2020, a total of 1,661,397 loans have been made through 4,975 lenders nationwide, eating up all the available money thus far.

Many businesses and investors believe they’re not going to have to pay back these loans. If you believe that, you don’t know government. But there’s way more at stake here than just being required to pay back a low interest loan. Way more. Expect the DOJ to turn their attention to small businesses in the very near future. They’re gonna “help” small business all right….

Take a look at the bill. It’s “Yuge.”

It’s gonna take more government officials to run this thing than would be necessary to run 10 or 12 third world countries. I’m skeptical about who’s paychecks are being protected here. But it’s not just the size of the program that gives me concern. More importantly, these loans have been rushed through, under the hysterics created by the government itself, as well as the media. What does one facing the apocalypse – basically, the scenario of riding motorcycles with spiked shoulder pads – represent on an emergency rushed bank loan application? Therein lies the question of the very near future.

Due to widespread shutdowns, we’re headed into an epic economic depression. That will be a depression for those of us in the private sector. At least at first. They can always take out more debt and print money. But that will collapse too without the forecast of an income stream of real money. The government will want its money from these PPP loans. The government always wants its money. Several quotes come to mind:

  • 1. “I’m from the government. I’m here to help.”
  • 2. “F*ck you, pay me.”
  • 3. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

The False Claims Act (FCA) is a federal law which imposes liability on persons and companies (see “small businesses“) who defraud governmental programs. This law includes a qui tam provision that allows people who are non-government employees (see lawyers and law firms) called “relators” to file lawsuits on behalf of the government. There’s another name for this: “whistleblowers.” Under the FCA, the relators / whistleblowers receive a portion of any recovered damages – generally 15 to 30 percent. This is the basis or all these pharmaceutical lawyer commercials you see on TV. Those lawyers are gonna jump all over this. We need only look to the last “bailout” from Obama’s TARP program in 2008. Just in 2015 alone, the DOJ recovered over 3.5 BILLION in damages under the FCA. And that was the “fourth consecutive year” for such large damages recoveries, as the DOJ proudly announced. It’s an annual expected component of the budget at this point.

Legal experts who practice in the area of the FCA are already warning other lawyers to expect a heightened focus on individuals and small businesses now that these new loans have been made on such a rushed basis. The DOJ recently restated its “commitment to use the False Claims Act and other civil remedies to deter and redress fraud by individuals as well as corporations.”

And it’s not just the private lawyers. Do you think the mountain of lawyers and investigators at the DOJ are going to sit idly by and do nothing? No, they’re ready to get back to work. Remotely of course. In fact, they’ll need even more resources and employees in order to combat the coming fraud crisis you’ll hear about. “With a new national crises at hand, and an even bigger commitment of federal assistance to combat it, expect a plethora of federal and state agencies to join the effort to police recovery spending. Indeed, oversight mechanisms in the act go beyond establishing the special inspector general and include establishing a Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, which is also charged with oversight.” Id.  

Now that’s an acronym that ought to scare the hell out of anyone involved in the application of these loans. I can see that on the side of a van pulling up next to front doors in a Polish ghetto, looking for whatever is deemed verboten.It’s not just the applicants, but the bankers as well, and anyone else connected to the process, or the business. The FCA lawyers and the DOJ, using a theory of mere “false certification” of application information, can go after individuals, small businesses, and the lenders who participated in the program. All it takes is to show false information included in the laundry list of certifications in the applications, including, but not limited to:

  • the recipients must use the funds to retain 90% of their workforce;
  • the recipients must remain neutral in union-organizing efforts;
  • the uncertainty of economic conditions as of the date of the application makes the loan necessary to support ongoing business operations;
  • the recipient INTENDS to restore not less than 90% of its workforce and to restore all benefits to workers no later than 4 months after the termination of the health emergency;
  • the recipient is not a debtor in a bankruptcy proceeding;
  • the recipient will not pay dividends to stockholders.

What is “necessary” and who gets to determine what was “necessary?” And who gets to determine what the recipient “intended?” If the FBI can make General Flynn into a convicted felon just by asking their questions in a certain tricky way, what can they do to you? Not only that, but these applicants are also certifying to all other information provided in these applications. Just take a look:

Government doesn’t word things in such a way as to be concise and clear so that everybody’s on the same page. They word things in such a way so that, if they want to get you, they’ll get you:

Who’s angus is on the line? It’s not just the person who signs the application, but many other potential individuals within a “small business”:

Lastly, to go after you civilly, rather than criminally, under the FCA, the DOJ doesn’t have the usual constraints of the Bill of Rights and the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. Instead, they only need to prove the civil standards of “deliberate indifference” and “reckless disregard.” You know, like what happens many times when you rush through an emergency apocalypse relief application. It’s just paperwork….

“If Congress can do whatever in their discretion can be done by money, and will promote the General Welfare, the Government is no longer a limited one, possessing enumerated powers, but an indefinite one, subject to particular exceptions.” – James Madison

Monroe County Jury Verdict in Elder Financial Abuse Case

Last week I tried a four day jury trial in the Circuit Court of Monroe County, West Virginia, for a 98 year old lady named Isadora Beavers. On July 23, 2013, she walked into my office in her black and white polka dot dress, and hat, and demanded to see me. She told me that she had a power of attorney whom she suspected was stealing from her. She told me that her power of attorney was also the Vice President of her bank, and that she had been unable to get copies of her bank statements. That same day I helped her revoke the power of attorney and, at her request, demanded copies of ten years of her bank records from her bank.

Shortly afterwards she fell and was admitted into the hospital. I visited her in the hospital and told her what I had found in the past few years of her bank records – primarily lots of “cash” checks. I asked her if she spent much cash. She told me no, that she grew up in the Great Depression era and was thrifty with her money. She did admit that she indulged in getting a fancy haircut every once and awhile. And she liked to eat at Shoney’s. I told her that a deed existed giving her power of attorney joint ownership of all of her real estate, with a right of survivorship. She said, no, that property was supposed to go to her family after her death.

Not long after she began to decline pretty quickly. She started to suffer from dementia. Family members arrived in the area and petitioned the court to become her guardians and conservators, which was granted. They later contacted me and asked me to get the real estate back so they could finance the best possible medical care for Isadora. We demanded the return of the real estate. The response from the ex-power of attorney was that she would deed the property back, but wanted a release from liability in exchange for it. Not surprisingly, this offended pretty much all of Isadora’s relatives, and they gave me the go-ahead to sue her.

Last week, we presented the overwhelming evidence to the jury. They returned with a plaintiffs’ verdict on all counts: fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, conversion and unjust enrichment. They awarded $326,771.06 in damages against the defendant, Betty B. Brown. That included $175,000.00 of punitive damages.

In my closing argument, I asked the jury to send a message that financial abuse of the elderly will not be tolerated. I believe they sent that message loud and clear.  By the way, all money collected is going to Isadora to fund her medical care and expenses.  The defendant is going to be reasonable for paying all of our attorney fees and expenses as well.

Media Reports:

Former bank exec is liable in elder abuse suit

Jury awards $325K to elderly victim of financial abuse

State woman to pay $325,000 in elder abuse case

In the courtroom with some of Isadora Beavers’ nieces and nephews immediately following the verdict:

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United Bank VP we sued to plead guilty in federal court

The State Journal ran a story today entitled “Guilty Pleas Expected in Development Scam” announcing that a former United Bank Vice President and loan officer who we sued as a part of our Walnut Springs Mountain Reserve civil fraud case, “R. Leon Cooper” has agreed to plead guilty to federal crimes as part of a plea deal.

The conduct supporting the plea has to do with fraud which occurred in the development of the “Lamplighter” subdivision in Lewisburg, WV.  The story also noted that:

As part of the guilty pleas, both Carter and Cooper agreed to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s office on further investigations. Both Carter and Cooper also will forfeit nearly $2 million in valued property.

Carter is scheduled to enter his guilty plea Jan. 6 in Beckley. Cooper’s plea has been scheduled for Jan. 13 in Beckley.

Cooper was the former Fayette Planning Commission president involved in the failed River Ridge development in Fayetteville.

That development crumbled when sewer plans for the development were prematurely approved so loans Cooper facilitated through United Bank could be approved for property purchasers, according to lawsuits filed concerning that development.

Cooper also has been named in a civil lawsuit filed in the failed Walnut Springs development in Monroe County.

The Monroe County lawsuit is pending.

There also was a story in the Charleston Gazette yesterday that United Bank paid $15,000,000.00 in fraud settlements in 2009 alone.  And we wonder why the economy collapsed….  The Gazette also ran a story on Friday on the Cooper fraud.  The banks have been running absolutely wild.  We are still sorting out how many innocent U.S. citizens were harmed due to bank fraud in the mid to late 2000’s.  It is a big deal for these two West Virginia publications to start reporting on United Bank’s dirty laundry.  For those of you who don’t know, United Bank basically runs the state of West Virginia.  It is the “state’s largest bank” and many, many people and institutions in West Virginia are afraid of it.  But once the cat’s out of the bag, it’s out.  I suspect we will read more soon.

Ok, here’s more:  A Virginia businessman, Osama M. El-Atari, 31, pled guilty to bank fraud totaling $53,000,000 in fraudulent loans.  Guess who else was involved?  That’s right, United Bank.  A United Bank Vice President and loan officer (same general position as Cooper), Sissaye Gezachew, 32, was arrested and pled guilty to bank fraud for his involvement with El-Atari. See Washington Post article and FBI press release.  Banks do not exactly advertise these incidents, or even explain them, to their customers or shareholders.  In fact, they don’t even let their mortgagees who have been victims of fraud know about the fraud.  Rather, they pretend it never happened and demand their money.  Then they foreclose and threaten to garnish wages.  Of course you would still be safer with United Bank than dealing with United Bank of Africa.

Second Amended Complaint Filed in United Bank Case – 33 Plaintiffs

The Second Amended Complaint has now been filed in the United Bank / Walnut Springs case, on behalf of 33 plaintiffs.  The Complaint is 70 pages long and details as sophisticated scheme of bank and appraisal fraud, which now has been exposed in very specific detail.

Possibly the largest and most complex lawsuit against a West Virginia bank – ever.

One of the primary reasons I have posted so sparsely lately is due to my responsibilities on what is possibly the largest lawsuit against a West Virginia bank ever.  We have filed suit against the State’s largest bank – United Bank.  There are now several dozen plaintiffs who have joined the suit.  I agreed to hold off posting any details on the matter due to one major newspaper’s efforts at publishing an expose’ on the case.

After following the case for over a month, the reporter submitted a large article, which was to be published on the front page.  In true West Virginia fashion, United Bank was apparently able to pull the plug on the story, an order which apparently came from the corporate owner of the newspaper.  I have since learned that United Bank is the financial institution for that corporation.   Did they threaten to call in a loan?  Who knows.  It’s a great wake-up call when you learn these type of things – that the news you read in a newspaper is not necessarily all the news that is fit to print, but rather all the news fit to print which also fits the political agenda of the corporate owners.

Anyways, here is the latest Amended Complaint, which shows that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.  A new Amended Complaint is set to be filed within the next two weeks containing the numerous additional plaintiffs, which I will post after it is filed.

BREAKING NEWS: “Cattlegate Cons” Sentenced

[Note: at the polite request of innocent family members, I replaced the name of the least culpable defendant with ****.]

Surprisingly, it appears that I am the first to break this story – that the “Cattlegate Cons” were sentenced this morning by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas E. Johnston as follows:

O’Brien was sentenced to 97 months of active incarceration and 3.4 million dollars in restitution.

Henthorn was sentenced to 9 months of incarceration and a $75,000 fine.

***** was sentence to 5 months of incarceration and a $50,000 fine.

UPDATE: Apparently now there is a Charleston Gazette article confirming this now online.

ANOTHER UPDATE: The Register-Herald has now published a lengthy article on the sentencing yesterday.  Reporter Christian Giggenbach noted in the article that Judge Johnston made some interesting observations about the case during the sentencing hearing.

Johnston also railed on Henthorn, 46, of Lewisburg, for abusing his position of trust in the banking community. He also insinuated this was probably not the only illegal act Henthorn had committed.

“You were living a privileged life and you threw that away,” Johnston said. “This is an example of what can happen when you allow greed to overcome you.”

Henthorn also apparently attempted to get his probation officer to remove negative letters that were going to the judge.

Former FNB board member James C. Justice II of Beckley was among family and church members who wrote letters in support of Henthorn. One document filed by a court official indicated the defendant called his probation officer on June 4 and asked her if “she would remove the negative” letters from his support file.

“The probation officer responded she would not do so … Mr. Henthorn was obviously upset by this answer and ended the conversation soon thereafter,” wrote U.S probation officer Peggy Adams.

Can you believe the arrogance of this guy?  Judge Johnston also questioned why First National Bank of Ronceverte was suspiciously absent from this entire ordeal – despite the fact that their President and Board members caused this whole mess.  According to the article:

Johnston also asked a rhetorical question about Henthorn’s former employers.

“I’m puzzled by the fact that First National Bank has not participated at all in this hearing,” the judge said. “I expect the whole story has yet to be told.”

However, there was a former board member and one former president of First National Bank there supporting Henthorn and *****, respectively (see Justice above).  According to the article:

****** had about 15 friends and family members present for the hearing, including former state Commerce Secretary and ex-FNB president Tom Bulla, who Johnston vocally noted had come to support ******. Johnston said individuals filed more than 100 letters of support for ******, “the most I’ve ever seen in a case.”

So, “FNB” was not completely absent, they were represented by former officials – who were there to ask the judge to be lenient.  I would note that one of those former officials himself resigned from the board only shortly before ***** and Henthorn themselves resigned from “FNB,” which was reported publicly, but not explained.  Don’t you just love banks?  Their only motivation is money, and even when their hands are publicly caught in the cookie-jar, they can just switch presidents and board members, and continue on foreclosing on people’s homes who do not have connections to the Board, and making sweetheart loans to crooks like O’Brien, who do have connections to the Board.  For too long citizens have been abused by bank boards using their positions to help their buddies and harm innocent folks.  A bank would slit your throat if they thought they could make a buck.  And lawyers get a bad name….  

To *****, Judge Johnston had this to say:

“You participated in a sorry effort to cover this up … which almost resulted in an obstruction charge,” Johnston said. 

“Is this the way business is done in Greenbrier County? By being present when a bribe is slid across the table to a bank president?

Johnston then asked why ***** would have risked so much by setting up the bribes, but then not receive any money in return. Johnston also suggested this was not ***** first brush with illegal activity. Forbes told the court ***** turned down bribe money when approached by O’Brien.

“Why would a man of your experience get involved with this?” Johnston asked.

Lastly, the Register-Herald article noted that the case is still being investigated, and that the defendants will most likely enter prison within the next 30 to 45 days.  It will be interesting to see whether Judge Johnston is right that “the whole story has yet to be told….”

Note: There also is a new Charleston Gazette article this morning.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Greenbrier County’s “Cattlegate” not typical fraud case?

Regarding the Greenbrier County “Cattlegate” case, the Register-Herald published an article this morning detailing defendant Kevin O’Brien’s presentencing memorandum filed by his defense attorney, in which his attorney states that this was not a typical fraud case because “many of his victims’ losses were unintended.”

Since when are ponzi schemes and check kiting not typical? It sounds like every other “white-collar” federal fraud prosecution that hits the headlines. I guess the word to pay attention to is “many.” There were a lot of victims, some of which were obviously intended. When you “sell” some poor sap a herd of cows that either don’t exist, or that you have already sold to someone else, you darn well intend to cheat that person out of their investment. Of course there were others that he didn’t know about. When you cheat someone, you also cheat others who were depending on the person you cheated. Although you may not intend to directly cheat those people, it is absolutely foreseeable that others will be affected and harmed.

O’Brien’s attorney argues that he will never be able to operate the same type of scams again because of the media coverage surrounding the case.

“Because (his) criminal prosecution has received a tremendous amount of media coverage in his community, it is highly improbable that individuals will place the trust in him necessary to engage in the same criminal conduct upon his return to the community.”

Yeah, but what if he moves to Florida? I guarantee that nobody there has ever heard of him. He could change his name, or use a pseudonym – and Florida is the third largest cattle-producing state. He could go right back into business. He obviously has no qualms about running a scam. He probably only regrets getting caught. If ever in the future he things he can do something like this again and get away with it, do you think he will hesitate? People would have no idea about his prior prosecution. But maybe if he serves a long stretch in federal prison, his desire to be a free man will overwhelm his greedy criminal tendencies.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney

Contractor Prosecuted in Raleigh County – and thats a good thing…

From the Register-Herald today:

Matthew Peelish, a Raleigh County contractor, pled guilty to 3 counts of felony obtaining goods by false pretenses for taking money from people and not completing the work, and for obtaining materials from local merchants on an account and refusing to subsequently pay. The Court held him to task and sentenced him from 2 to 20 years.

This is extremely common here in Monroe and Greenbrier county, yet no one is ever prosecuted for it. Everyday people are prosecuted for some ridiculous things, and in these situations, you have real victims that lost real money. Yet 9 times out of 10, they have to resort to a civil action, which leaves them trying to collect a judgment years into the future, or worse, from a trustee in bankruptcy. The problem often cited by prosecutors is that it is difficult to show the requisite intent (intent not to pay at the time the goods are taken or money accepted) to prove the charges. But then again, since when do judges or juries hold prosecutors to their burden of proof anyways?

It really hurts a local business when a deadbeat contractor runs up an account of 5, 6 or 7 thousand dollars and then skips out on the bill. It should be prosecuted. Bravo to the Raleigh County Prosecuting Attorney.

You can read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

Sentencing Continued in Greenbrier County “Cattlegate” Case

I apologize for not posting much this week, but it has been one of those end-of-the-month weeks…

As I had previously detailed, the sentencing for O’Brien, Henthorn and **** was scheduled for Friday, June 30, but now has been continued until sometime in the fall. This was likely a joint motion as probation officers had likely not completed their presentencing reports, which the lawyers must rely on and respond to accordingly, depending on what they contain. It’s important to remember that in federal court, the most frequent claim for legal malpractice comes out of mis-advice given by attorneys, to their clients, regarding the federal sentencing guidelines, so it is important to get it right the first time.

For those of you who don’t know, this is just a case that probably repeats itself in all other small towns across the country. You have good country folks who work hard to earn a living. Then you have the fat cats, who get high-on-the-hog by ripping off the working folks. Most times they are greedy, compulsive, narcissistic liars who have an obsession with all things underhanded. They will do anything for money – anything that is, except for actually earn it. They look down at the working peons as a bunch of suckers who were not blessed with the infinite wisdom they were born with, when in reality they were just born as spoiled rich kids with a lack of morals and manners.

It still blows my mind that this bank CEO, and they almost always become extremely rich legally, would throw his life away for $10,000 worth of bribes… In all likelihood, this was not the first time, there probably were many other bribes passed under the table, and that was what made it worth it in his mind, not this particular bribe.

You can read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

More Corrupt Public Officials in WV…

This is another one of those “only in West Virginia” news items…

From the Charleston Daily Mail today:

Nicholas County emergency services director, Alfonso J. Derito, Jr., of Richwood, was charged with using county money to pay for hotel rooms for sexual liaisons with a female coworker, and apparently car repairs in order to more efficiently provide transportation to and from said hotel, as well as male sexual performance products, also to assist with said liaisons.

There is an affirmative defense though: The job-description did not adequately define “emergency services,” and Mr. Derito was, in his mind, providing an emergency service to his co-worker. Furthermore, the county provided him a county credit card to assist with all matters involving his rendering of emergency services, including enhancing job performance, providing more efficient transportation, and providing a more comfortable work environment.

According to the article, “Both admitted to going to the hotel on at least three occasions to sit and talk.” What more can I say?

You can read the full article here.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.