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

Former Prosecuting Attorney of Pocahontas County Indicted. Update: Kanawha Prosecuting Attorney also charged and currently “embattled”.

I don’t usually post many news headlines anymore, unless they involve my cases.  But, here goes.

The former prosecuting attorney of Pocahontas County, West Virginia, Donna Price, was just indicted.  She joins another now-former elected prosecuting attorney in West Virginia in recent prosecutor indictments (Michael Sparks out of Mingo County).  Prosecutors all over the state are probably loosening their collars.

Apparently she is being charged with embezzlement.  I have no idea what actually happened, so I’ll just point out that she is innocent until proven guilty.

And I have posted about her before.  In one of my most popular posts ever – from back in 2009 – Cops and Prosecutors Part Deux.

Local News Story Link.

Link to a copy of the Indictment.

Just as a side note: the former assistant prosecuting attorney of Pocahontas County mentioned in the “Part Deux” post, J.L. Clifton, was also indicted last year, as per this article.

Edited to add:  Also, if you didn’t get your fill of reading about West Virginia prosecutors who are being prosecuted, check out these articles about Kanawha County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Plants.  Yes he is being prosecuted.  No he won’t resign.

Kanawha Prosecutor Arrested.

Some Worry Kanawha County Prosecutor Has Lost Credibility.

New Questions Surrounding Ethics of Mark Plants.

Kanawha Prosecutor Defies Calls to Resign.

 

Maybe it’s time for Cops and Prosecutors Part III – 2014 Update.

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.

Busy with high-profile civil cases…. (and a new daughter)

It’s been a while since I last posted.  There is a good reason for that.  The reason is that unfortunately, my primary profession is the practice of law rather than writing.  I have been busier than ever before in the last month or so.  For one I had a healthy baby daughter two weeks ago, and she surprisingly loves to sleep through the night, so she is so far no trouble at all (I know, knock on wood).  Additionally, I have been working on a number of high profile cases, some of which you may be reading about in the media in upcoming days.

One of my cases is already in the news, and unfortunately for my ego I suppose, the only way you would know that I was involved in it would be to read the Complaint, or to read this, since the media has thusfar deprived me of any credit whatsoever.  Anyways, myself and attorney Michael Clifford of Charleston (see Leavitt case), filed a lawsuit against the Parkersburg Police Department, as well as the individual officers involved, last week in federal court.  This is a 1983 action for wrongful arrest, excessive force, etc.

There will be a better and more detailed article coming out on this case, after which I will post a link to it here.  The facts are egregious, and involve the new classification of homophobic crimes as hate crimes.  For now, here is the original story from the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, which interestingly multiplied automatically when it was picked up by the AP.

If anyone else knows someone, or has themselves been arrested,harassed or discriminated against by the Parkersburg Police Department due to their sexual orientation, please let me know, preferably as soon as possible.

As I said, this is not the only high profile case I have been working on.  There is going to be another police liability case filed here in the next week or so, this time in Southern West Virginia, and there is an additional case involving white collar fraud I have been spending most of my available time on which is extremely interesting and which I will detail when the time is right.  So don’t hold it against me if I cannot find time to post as often as I used to.

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.

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

Update on Greenbrier County “Cattlegate” Cons

The Register-Herald published a rather lengthy and informative article about Greenbrier County’s “Cattlegate” scandal this morning. I have posted on this matter several times thus far, here, here, here, here and here, and I have noticed a lot of interest in this case from the sheer amount of search engine traffic directed to my site from searches about these individuals. I suppose that some people were relying on me to post an update to this matter since the sentencing was supposed to already have happened. But I really didn’t have any idea what was going on. But, I knew that Register-Herald reporter Christain Giggenbach was on top of it, so I need only wait until he published an article, which I knew he surely would – and this morning he did.

Apparently the sentencing was supposed to have taken place this morning, but it was continued, though there were no motions filed by either the prosecution or the defense. Well why was it continued? Apparently these angelic creatures have turned stool pigeons and are collaborating with authorities in investigating other individuals. But since all these canaries are proven liars, I’m not sure what their help is worth, and investigators better not give their words more than a micro-ounce of a grain of salt. The history books are full of tragedies which have occurred through the utilization of this type of snake-in-the-grass testimony. For example, see this post from Glen Graham at the Oklahoma Criminal Defense Blog.

The sentencings were continued to October 17 at 10:30 a.m. before U.S. District Court Judge Thomas E. Johnston in Beckley’s Federal Courthouse.

So what kind of sentences are they looking at? A lot of people have commented to me that this bunch is going to get away with probation, but that will not happen. They may however, get some type of home confinement, or mixed sentence. With respect to O’Brien, a presentencing memorandum filed by Assistant U.S. Attorney L. Anna Forbes recommended a prison sentence up to 10 years, but “indicated the defendant has provided more information about possible criminal conduct of others who may have filed claims in his multi-million dollar bankruptcy case.” Lastly, she writes to the Court that “a sentence within the advisory guildine range of 97 to 121 months of imprisonment is appropriate.” So fear not, even with his sleazy finger-pointing, he will be doing time.

With respect to Henthorn and *****, the AUSA recommended 6 to 12 months, while their lawyers are arguing for home confinement or a mixed-type of sentence – and they are apparently strenuously snitching as much as the feds will allow, in order to get what they want. Mind you, that all of these defendants already snitched on each other – one even reportedly wearing a wire in a conversation with the others.

I know that there are a lot of people out there, in Greenbrier County, Monroe County – and across the fruited plain – who want the Judge to stick it to them. The AUSA noted in her memorandum that:

“One of the victims is a single-mom with a couple children in college, another is a Virginia cattle farmer with a small farm who lost so much money and was so ashamed by his financial predicament that he could not, for a long time, bring himself to tell his wife about what the defendant had done,” Forbes wrote. “Many of the victims attempted to pursue claims in bankruptcy, a process that left some with unsatisfactory settlements, large legal fees and a sense, because of the perceived misconduct by other creditors, that they had not been treated fairly by the bankruptcy system.”

So this is a great group of guys. Real quality people, and I wish them luck on the 17th.

– 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.

McDowell County Pharmacist Admits Crimes Tied To Gambling

From the Charleston Gazette today:

Yesterday Saad Kamil Deeb, a Welch Pharmacist, pled guilty to a 3 count information, charging him with enlisting others to help him conduct transactions at a McDowell County bank so that he could move large amounts of money without triggering a Currency Transaction Report. A financial institution is required to file such a report with the Internal Revenue Service for any transaction over $10,000.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Hunter Smith said that between 2001 and 2005, Deeb became heavily involved in gambling on sports, betting large sums of money and even placing bets on behalf of his friends.
Whether he won or lost, his gambling proceeds or debts were paid in cash, Smith said. Usually, the amounts would approach $100,000 before Deeb or his bookies paid up, he said. “Mr. Deeb did not want the IRS to know that he was engaged in large cash transactions,” Smith said. So he and the others would keep their transactions under the $10,000 ceiling, Smith said, sometimes transferring just under that amount to various accounts several days in a row. According to the information, Deeb and his associates moved more than $871,000 that way over a four-year period. Deeb also admitted skimming cash from the pharmacy and filing false tax returns in 2003 and 2004, failing to report roughly $300,000 in income for each year, resulting in a tax loss of $175,000. Deeb has since filed amended reports and caught up on the taxes he owes, Smith said.

Who knew that a small town pharmacy could make that much so as to skim $300,000 per year for a gambling habit (addiction)? It makes you wonder who is at fault for the high prices of prescription drugs… My grandfather was a small town pharmacist, and for part of my life I grew up in his pharmacy. Things must have changed a lot since then… or maybe that is just par for the course in McDowell County….

– John H. Bryan, West Virginia Attorney.