A Russian national, Maksim Boiko, who was accused of operating a money laundering as a service (“MLaaS“) business, pleaded guilty in Pittsburg today, to one count of conspiracy to launder money. In this case, the MLaaS involved opening personal and company bank accounts to receive and then move money for criminals and opening Bitcoin accounts at various digital currency exchanges for the same purpose.
The MLaaS fee was between 40% to 50% – slightly higher than commissions charged by MLaaS operators in Hong Kong and China.
Cybercriminals hired Boiko to launder money
Boiko was among 20 eastern Europeans accused of being part of QQAAZZ, an organized criminal group that laundered proceeds of crime for cybercriminals around the world. He was arrested in Miami on January 20, 2020, attempting to enter the US.
The members of QQAAZZ are alleged to have moved tens of millions of dollars since 2016 to be laundered.
Boiko posted numerous photos on Instagram of an accumulation of cash from the US, Hong Kong and China, and of expensive sports cars. In an affidavit, the FBI deposed that Boiko also had photos of his accumulation of wealth on his Apple iCloud account.
Digital currency exchanges
Boiko held an account at the now-defunct BTC-e digital currency exchange and received 136 Bitcoin to his wallet address. Members of QQAAZZ held Bitcoin accounts at Binance, Coinbase, Bitstamp and Revolut that were used for money laundering.
The FBI deposed that Boiko used bank accounts in China, among other jurisdictions, to launder funds and communicated on an instant messaging platform called Jabber, used almost exclusively by criminals.
In order to provide the money laundering service, Boiko and other members of QQAAZZ, caused to be incorporated several private companies (shells) that had no purpose other than to be used to obtain a bank account in a lax AML jurisdiction. The MLaaS was advertised in Russia on Mazafaka as “a global, complicit bank drop service.”
Life of luxury
Other Insta posting of wads of cash from Canada
Interestingly, the wads of cash that Boiko posted on his Instagram account seem to pale in comparison to photos (such as the one below) posted by one or more Canadians on their Instagram account(s) who promoted an ICO run by Canadians called HabibiCoin.
According to a report by NATO on countering disinformation, foreign state actors and others, launched a series of disinformation campaigns in Europe in connection with Covid-19 in April, 2020, one of which involved disseminating false information that Canadian troops were responsible for infecting Latvia with the Covid-19 virus.
The disinformation campaign involved an elaborate scheme that manufactured a fake journalist’s interview in Latvia, fake documents published on social media and a statement alleged to be from Latvia’s Minister of Defence that was fabricated and sent from a fake email address. Presumably, the disinformation campaign was to elicit unrest.
Poland and Lithuania
At the same time, NATO says that two other similar disinformation campaigns were launched in Poland and Lithuania. In Poland, a forged letter from a Polish military leader was released purporting to criticize US troops. In Lithuania, a forged letter from NATO’s Secretary General was published alleging that NATO was withdrawing its troops from Lithuania.
False narratives were disseminated on social media accounts, including a fake social media account of a well-known journalist. The disinformation campaign went so far as to publish on YouTube, an edited speech given by NATO on an unrelated topic, repurposed to appear as if it was in respect of Covid-19, when it was not.
All of the pieces of disinformation were laundered through multiple news outlets and on social media – some wittingly and some unwittingly. The report by NATO highlights the fact that it is not simply the creation of false narratives that impacts international security that is of global concern, but the laundering of false information through trusted platforms.
Depending upon its content, disinformation falls within the category of a national security threat or an international security issue because it sows discord and undermines confidence and trust in our democratic intuitions. When there is distrust of democratic institutions, they are at risk of remaining resilient. Disinformation can pose immediate threats when it causes people to question information from government sources and make decisions that affect national well-being. A prime example is a population’s response to government directions during a pandemic.
Inventor of disinformation
It is sometimes believed that the KGB invented and/or mastered disinformation but that is not accurate or supported by intelligence research.
The modern inventor of disinformation campaigns and fake news to manipulate foreign governments and the public and to elicit military action was a Canadian named William Stephenson. He faked his name (his real name was William Stanger), his background, his past and his education and used it to land a top-level job working for MI6 during WWII. Stanger was close to James Bond creator Ian Fleming and many of the 007 characteristics we all know (such as a Vodka Martini shaken, not stirred) are based on William Stanger.
Although Canadian, Stanger engaged in deep disinformation tactics in the US (against the American people in favour of the British) to incentivize Americans and the US government to financially support the UK during WWII, and join the war. Because his conduct was in furtherance of efforts to defeat Hitler, history has been kind to Stanger and he was knighted at the request of Churchill.
In today’s world, neither Stanger nor his techniques would be publicly lauded, like they were back then. Political disinformation of the breath, reach and manipulative effect that Stanger practiced as a foreign agent to manipulate a country that was an ally, was on another level altogether. It is now accepted in the intelligence community that deep disinformation poses significant threats to the rule of law and erodes trust in government institutions.
According to prosecutors in Italy, a businessman in Malta and alleged IT specialist, Roberto Recordare, is under investigation for allegedly having laundered €500 billion in proceeds of crime for the ‘Ndrangheta, Cosa Nostra and Camorra Mafia groups and for planning to launder €136 billion more. Approximately €36 billion of the amount laundered was allegedly in cash. By sheer amount, Recordare may be the biggest money launderer of all time.
Italian prosecutors said that they learned of Recordare’s activities in Malta through telephone interceptions. Allegedly, he laundered funds through Dubai, Afghanistan and other countries that he thought were removed from the visibility of the US Treasury.
Recordare is allegedly aligned with the ‘Ndrangheta and is from the ‘Ndrangheta region of Calabria. It is believed that the ‘Ndrangheta offered money laundering as a service to other Mafia organizations for a commission with Recordare as the laundering kingpin.
Planned to kill Italian prosecutor
During the intercepted telephone communications, the police say that Recordare discussed killing an Italian prosecutor with a bomb, triggering a common law duty to warn from law enforcement in respect of the prosecutor. During those calls, Recordare allegedly discussed his use of private companies in Malta to front laundering activities. Two private companies tied to him in Malta are Golem Malta Limited and Recordare Holding Limited.
According to this report, Recordare also planned to launder money using fake securities and fake humanitarian aid projects with funds routed through a lawyer. In 2017, he moved his documents to a cloud-based service based in Aruba, believing that the documents would be safe from law enforcement.
Recordare allegedly laughed about bombing death of Malta journalist
During the intercepted telephone communications, Recordare is alleged to have laughed about the assassination of Malta journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who died as a result of a car bomb and was recorded as saying that they were still picking up pieces of her in Malta. Ms. Galizia wrote a blog in which she covered financial crime and corruption in Malta.
Recordare’s two companies show up in the Paradise Papers database.
Malta is know for very lax anti-money laundering compliance. In 2017 through to 2018, it embarked on a tour of several countries, including Canada, to recruit Bitcoin and Blockchain companies to move their business there with the promise of light to no financial crime oversight, which is why today, there are still quite a number of Bitcoin digital currency exchanges and other digital currency enterprises physically or on paper, domiciled in Malta.
It can sometimes be hard to grasp the extent to which the Mafia operates its extortion racket against businesses, and the extent to which it controls so many businesses with threats of bombs, violence and death.
An Italian investigating Judge, Francesco Agnino, came across Mafia extortion activities that were so pervasive, the whole city of Foggia, was under the control of the fifth Mafia, the Società Foggiana. In order to provide visibility over the problem, he decided to publish the names of the businesses being extorted by the Società Foggiana with the amounts extorted, as part of an investigation that was revealed by law enforcement last week.
Monthly extortion payments
In Foggia, extortion payments by the Società Foggiana are called an insurance premium.
Among the extortions found by law enforcement were:
Fabbri SRL, an excavation company forced to pay €1,200 per month; and
Alessandro Carniola, a promoter forced to pay €1,500 per month.
Forced hires of Mafia family and friends
Some businesses were forced to hire employees who were members or friends of the Società Foggiana. For example, Daunia SpedizioniSRL, a transportation company, was forced to pay an undisclosed amount in extortion and hire three people aligned with the Mafia.
Rigging horse races
A horse jockey was forced to rig a standardbred horse race so that bets placed on a less favoured horse where the odds were higher, would pay out when the horse placed. Only the horse didn’t place and the Mafia threatened to kill the jockey and his son if he did not pay the Mafia back the money they would have made.
Two other jockeys who raced horses with best ranking finish times, were forced to rig standardbred horse races at the Ippodromo Del Sauri to make sure that their horses did not place so that the highest odds were paid out to the Mafia. Standardbred horse races tend to be favoured by Mafia for rigging because there is less oversight compared to thoroughbred horse racing. Different groups of Mafia have rigged horse races in the past. In 2017, the Palermo racetrack was suspended after law enforcement found evidence that the Cosa Nostra Mafia was rigging races and bets.
In Sicily, they also engage in illegal horse racing in the streets for money, a practice that involves drugging horses and forcing them to run for many miles, chasing them with scooters to terrorize them into continuing to run to exhaustion.
Every sector was paying extortion
The tentacles of the Mafia in Foggia were felt in the food services sector – at the local farmer’s market, a merchant from Cerignola was forced to pay €3,000 a month to the Mafia. Tamma, a pasta factory, was forced to pay the Mafia €3,000 per month and forced to hire associates of the Società Foggiana in the factory.
Bars, restaurants, cafes and funeral homes were all forced to pay extortion fees to the Mafia.
Despite Covid-19, the Società Foggiana has continued its extortion, robbery, murder, gambling and fraud activities. A report (here) by Le Iene, covers their Covid-19 activities. In April, they bombed an old age home because its owner would not pay an extortion fee.
According to the investigation, the different families of the Società Foggiana met to go over lists of businesses that were paying extortion fees, with a view to identifying any that were not part of the payment scheme so that they could be “attacked.”
A Christmas bonus for the Mafia
The investigators said that they learned that extortion is calculated per month but is collected only every three months and then once more for Christmas, as a Christmas bonus for the Mafia.
The investigation led to the arrests of several members of the Società Foggiana this month for extortion, violence, attempted murder and membership in the Mafia.
In a new accelerated criminal trial process, 25 members of the Società Foggiana were convicted and sentenced to terms of incarceration ranging from four months to 18 years.
The Società Foggiana is called the fifth Mafia because they are considered the fifth Mafia organized group to form. They are the most violent at this time and the least interested in being opaque.
According to an investigation by a number of journalists with the Journal de Montréal (here), two casinos managed by Loto-Québec, a government agency, laid out the red carpet to well-known organized crime figures associated with the Cosa Nostra Mafia and Hell’s Angels.
Stefano Sollecito was VIP gambler
Their investigation found that Stefano Sollecito, said to be a well-known member of the Montréal Mafia and the son of Rocco Sollecito, gambled $2.5 million over the course of 2 to 3 years at the Casino de Montréal. Moreover, Sollecito was treated as a casino VIP client, and with deference by registered casino employees during phone calls obtained by the Journal de Montréal.
In 2019, Sollecito was one of the top ten gamblers at the Casino de Montréal a few months after being released from incarceration for gangsterism and cocaine trafficking charges. According to the investigation, although a well-known Mafia figure, Sollecito had bank accounts at the TD Bank and the National Bank, which he used to deposit cheques from gambling winnings.
The investigation found that Vito Rizzuto’s son, Leonardo Rizzuto, also gambled at casinos in Québec.
Journalist Eric Thibault, who participated in the investigation, said during a TV interview that organized crime at Québec casinos was not new. He said that the RCMP learned during Operation Colisée, a project to dismantle the Rizzuto criminal organization, that Francesco Del Balso, said to be a well-known member of the Rizzuto organized crime family, had spent $7 million gambling with Loto-Québec in three years and that Loto-Québec had issued him cheques totalling $2.5 million.
Hell’s Angels also at casinos
Members of the Hell’s Angels also were permitted to gamble at government casinos in Québec, including David Lefebvre and Gregory Woolley.
Hell’s Angels member Gregory Woolley was seen by the Sûreté du Québec meeting Ziad Ziade, a Lebanese organized crime figure, at a restaurant at the Casino de Montréal.
Sollecito was not simply allowed to gamble, he was also comped freebies at two Montréal area casinos as a VIP gambler including a free dinner for four, free golfing, free hotel rooms and free concert tickets.
The investigation by the Journal de Montréal reported that 18 organized criminal groups were found to have laundered money at casinos in Québec.
Mr. Thibault said that Loto-Québec’s response to the investigation was that it followed all the laws applicable to it operating a registered casino as a government agency.
Did Loto-Québec know?
You may be wondering – did the Loto-Québec employees know these were organized crime figures? In one segment (here) as part of the published story, Richard Martineau interviewed one of the journalists who broke the story, Félix Séguin, and asks that very question directly. Here’s how the conversation loosely went, translated from French:
Martineau: That’s what I wanted to ask you, as a question – did they know?
Séguin: Well, of course…let me tell you a little story. At one point, the security of the Montréal Casino observed Mafia figures coming in to gamble in the millions per year and they filed reports with the lottery corporation. The lottery corporation informed FINTRAC that it believed that the Mafia was frequenting the Montréal Casino to launder money. FINTRAC responded “Yes, the Mafia is using you to launder money.” With one hand, Loto-Québec was reporting the Mafia to FINTRAC; with the other hand they were giving them gifts so that they would continue to spend money there. Do you see a problem of ethics and governance?
Martineau: But this is a problem of money has no smell – come gamble at casinos because we have a mission to bring in the most amount of money possible for the coffers of the state. We’ll pinch our nose; we’ll close our eyes, and that’s it – incredible.
Séguin: What you just said there has a certain validity. In some countries and in provinces, we have nationalized gambling and regulate it, partly to make sure to keep Mafia out. In some places like Switzerland and Monaco, with regulated casinos what they do is super interesting – where they suspect a person is gambling with proceeds of crime, they charge a surtax on the funds to the Mafia gambler. And you know what? The Mafia figures actually pay the surtax to launder money! In Canada, we have nationalized gambling (government conducts and manages all gambling).
Martineau: A few years ago, I spoke to Revenue Québec and asked them that, if I was the Mafia, if I had to pay sales taxes. They said yes, the Mafia has to pay those taxes by filling out a form and disclosing what the source is from, let’s say, drug trafficking. I asked if Revenue Québec would report me to the police and they said no, that Revenue Québec is not “stouleur” (means a rat or a tattle-tale) and Revenue Québec will not stouleur you to the police because there is a wall between us and law enforcement.
Séguin: I’m less sure that is accurate.
Martineau: No, he told me that. I asked if I could deduct my trips to Colombia to buy drugs and equipment I bought to weigh drugs and he said “yes” those are your expenses. It was surreal.
Martineau: Look, Loto-Québec is like Hydro-Québec, a state agency within a state agency and they are opaque and its hard to get information because they protect it. You did a sacré job with this investigation (a “sacré job” with an investigation means a hell of an investigation).
Séguin: One of the issues we discussed in editorial meetings was if a Mafia passes a test of identity with Loto-Québec and the test is faulty and they did not catch that it was the Mafia, what sort of standards do you have? In British Columbia, they have a commission looking at casino money laundering called the Cullen Commission and it deals with the same type of strategy as happened in British Columbia, and when we showed the Commission the Loto-Québec documents they said it was “troubling and shocking.” Meanwhile, Loto-Québec said they practiced the highest standards.
You can read the original series of stories from the Journal de Montréal website here. The journalists’ investigation and their writing of the stories that flowed from it really is a sacré job.
Last month, Strachans SA, pleaded guilty in the US to hiding income and assets in offshore bank accounts, and in various corporate entities from tax authorities for its clients. Strachans SA was an accounting and financial services firm based in Jersey and Switzerland. In 2013, it became news-worthy when it and/or one of its shareholders were accused of the disappearance of US$34 million owned by Crocodile Dundeestar Paul Hogan, that it had helped Hogan park in offshore bank accounts.
Strachans SA created trusts, foundations and companies in offshore jurisdictions for clients and acquired banking for them using those corporate documents at financial institutions around the world. Interestingly, it earned US$4.7 million in fees in five years from 60 US residents, and other fees from non-US residents. One of its founders was an accountant named Philip Egglishaw.
Offshore advisory services
Offshore entities created by professional facilitators to hide money and defeat the rule of law on behalf of clients, must acquire assets from the evading clients and must be able to facilitate those evading clients to subsequently have access to those funds (sometimes referred to as repatriation of funds), both in ways that obfuscate the trail of money so that no law enforcement agency has visibility on the assets and the person behind the assets. That’s essentially the service they offer.
One can think of it as a two-way street for investigations purposes in terms of the movement of money – the professional services firm sits in the middle as the conduit for the intake of wealth being exited from country “A” and then is the conduit for the shipping back of that wealth in tranches to country “A” over the course of several years. The shipping back of wealth is the part that is high risk for these type of bad actors and that part of their services is where more resources are expended in creating layers to obfuscate money movements.
Fake loans, fake consulting contracts and dummy invoices
In order to manage that part of the services that involved repatriation of client funds, Strachans SA admitted that it created fake loans, fake consultancy agreements and dummy invoices for clients.
For example, under the fake consultancy arrangements, a Strachans SA entity would fake hire the client for services that were never rendered, creating a false reason to send the client’s money back to them in a tranche as fake consulting fees when the client needed some portion of funds to spend.
Entertainment guru Glenn Wheatley, who was one of Strachans SA’s clients in Australia said he used the fake loan scheme to repatriate money he had hidden offshore. The way he described repatriating his hidden money from Switzerland to Australia was as follows: “all I had to do was approve the transaction. The lawyer sent the money off, deducted his secret fee and arranged for the money to come back as a loan.”
In a Strachans SA proceeding in Australia, a Supreme Court judge referenced one document written by a law firm describing a repatriation scheme, which gave instructions that 25% of client funds moved to an entity to be repatriated were to be retained. While it’s not clear, 25% appears to be the secret fee that Wheatley says was payable, and if that is the case, it suggests that a law firm extracted a 25% cut to launder money and created the documentation to paper the money laundering transaction.
Credit cards in fake names
Certain clients of Strachans SA said that Strachans SA arranged for them to be given branded credit cards issued by MasterCard or Visa in fake names to use as a method to repatriate their funds from Switzerland.
The issuing and mailing of credit cards to other countries, and more particularly charge cards, are a significant money laundering vehicle often used for sanctions avoidance and to evade currency controls.
Strachans SA also placed some client funds in the personal bank accounts of the shareholders of Strachans SA, and in essence its shareholders then became the personal bankers of the clients, holding their funds to make sure that tax authorities would not suspect its provenance.
The Strachans SA offshore services scheme first came to light in Australia.
In 2004, the Australian government seized a laptop owned by Egglishaw. The laptop contained the files of the clients of Strachans SA and communications among clients and the firm. Egglishaw brought a motion for the suppression of the information on the laptop and lost. Based on the information obtained by Egglishaw, the government commenced a criminal investigation into suspected money laundering and fraud by Australian residents using Strachans SA and a bank it owned called Corner Banca SA in Lugarno, Switzerland.
On June 9, 2005, Australian federal police executed 48 search warrants over two days at law firms and accountant’s offices who were involved directly, or indirectly through clients of Strachans SA, and at the homes and offices of clients of Strachans SA.
Authorities had at first attempted to obtain information from law firms and were met with barriers of claims of privilege. They then obtained search warrants for client files on the basis of the exceptions to privilege and confidentiality over client files (arises when advice is sought or obtained in furtherance of unlawful conduct, wittingly or unwittingly involving a law firm).
Philip de Figuereido
A director of Strachans SA, Philip de Figuereido, was extradited to Australia from Jersey for money laundering and fraud, and spent a few years in jail. He then returned to Europe.
Egglishaw was charged with various offences in Australia connected to Strachans SA. He was alleged to have masterminded a US$2 billion offshore fraud scheme. He disappeared from Australia.
In 2013, an Interpol red notice was issued for his arrest.
On May 3, 2017, Egglishaw was located in Italy and arrested. He was released by an Italian court which held that the charges against him for fraud and money laundering had taken too long to be prosecuted.
In 2017, a reporter located Egglishaw apparently living a lavish lifestyle at a mansion he had purchased in 1999, on the French Riviera in the town of Saint Paul-de- Vence near Nice. The mansion features a swimming pool, tennis court and manicured grounds and Egglishaw owns a Bentley, a Lamborghini, a black Mercedes and an Audi sports car. His brother, another shareholder of Strachans SA, allegedly owns a villa in Nice a few miles away.
Litigation involving Strachans SA over MLATs and trust documents
In 2012, Strachans SA was successfully sued in Jersey by the beneficiary of a family trust that it had set up for a client who was seeking information, as a beneficiary, on funds held in trust. The beneficiary was concerned by the investigation of Strachans SA by the Australian Crime Commission and the arrest of its director, Philip de Figuereido, and feared that the assets of her family trust had been misappropriated. Egglishaw refused to provide trust account information to her. Strachans SA and a trust company called Roker Trustees, who worked with Egglishaw, took the position that unless the beneficiary indemnified them in respect of their conduct of the file, and the funds they managed, she was not entitled to trust information. Strachans SA and Roker Trustees were not successful in the litigation to hide trust statements from a beneficiary.
In 2008, Strachans SA sued the Australian government over its use of MLATs with Switzerland for information on its affairs in that country. MLATs are agreements between countries for the provision of information where the conduct of a legal or natural person in the requesting country involves criminal offences but MLATs have been misused for information in connection with investigations into regulatory offences to obtain information.
In this case, Switzerland pushed back in respect of the MLAT request and sought evidence that the alleged conduct was criminal (in criminal legislation) and was conduct that could be proven to be attached to the person(s) who were the target of the MLAT. Records and information obtained by MLATs that are not compliant with the terms of MLATs or national laws, can be challenged and derail a prosecution or later overturn a conviction because the evidence is tainted (poisonous tree doctrine(1)). Switzerland ultimately refused to proceed against Egglishaw because of the inability to tie the conduct to criminal offences under national criminal legislation provably attributed to Egglishaw.
Interestingly, one of the key points of argument in the MLAT litigation commenced by Strachans SA was correspondence by law firms giving instructions to Strachans SA for the movement of money for repatriation via fake documents and the 25% retainer that was to be deducted from funds back to the clients. The Australian government provided, among other things, these types of law firm communications to establish that the conduct constituted criminal offences under criminal statutes and ergo met the terms of the MLAT. Strachans SA argued that the communications were documents from law firms, not them and to the extent it evidenced criminality, it was in respect of the authors of the documents, not them. The Court agreed with Strachans SA on that point.
You can read more about the leading case on MLATs here. That case, Elgizouli v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, which involved the ISIS Beatles, was brought about when the mother of one of the ISIS Beatles learned years after the fact that an MLAT request had been used to provide information about her son to the US government. Despite the passage of years, she was able to bring a judicial review application to prevent the use of written records and information in respect of her son being shared with the US government.
MLATs can be challenged on two fronts – by a natural or legal person in the requesting country arguing that the originating MLAT suffers some legal impediment to be effective (like Strachans SA did) under the laws of the requesting country, or in the receiving country arguing that the receiving MLAT, if complied with, violates the rights of the natural or legal person targeted under the receiving country’s laws (like Ms. Elgizouli did). They can also be challenged by a legal or natural person if an MLAT was used inappropriately to share or obtain information irrespective of the outcome of an investigation, or if too much information was sought or obtained that falls outside the four corners of the intended purpose of an MLAT.
(1) The fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine is 100 years old and arose in Silverthorne Lumber Company v. US, after LE seized corporate records without legal authority and photographed them. In 1910, US Courts held that evidence obtained without legal authority cannot be used in trials (Weeks). Silverthorne Lumber later established that evidence obtained without legal authority could not be used at all (not just not for trials). The doctrine is still alive today as part of American jurisprudence and is subject to some exceptions.
In case you missed it, in the middle of the first wave of Covid-19, James Rosemond, who is aka Jimmy The Henchman, lost his last appeal of his third conviction for charges of murder-for-hire and is now serving seven life sentences in US federal prison.
Rosemond founded Czar Entertainment in 2003, and managed the careers of several big names in the entertainment industry, including Akon, Mike Tyson, Sean Kingston and The Game.
Drug trafficking and money orders
Several years after starting his music company, he was charged pursuant to a thirteen-count superseding indictment, along with several co-defendants, charging that he had led and operated a criminal enterprise since 2007 which generated more than US$11 million a year in proceeds from cocaine distribution and that he had laundered the proceeds of crime.
Rosemond’s narcotics trafficking operations moved cocaine and proceeds of crime between LA and New York. The method in which he laundered money was through the US Postal Service in which cash proceeds were converted into money orders. Rosemond used those money orders to pay rent and tuition.
He was later charged with arranging a murder-for-hire.
In 2007, members of a rap music group known as “G-Unit” assaulted Rosemond’s son outside his New York apartment. G-Unit was run by rapper 50 Cent.
In 2009, Rosemond recruited a crew to kill Lowell Fletcher, one of the G-Unit members who had assaulted Rosemond’s son, in retaliation. Fletcher was killed on September 27, 2009, with a handgun owned by Rosemond.
Rosemond was tried three times for the murder-for-hire of Fletcher. However, the first trial was declared a mistrial. He was convicted in the second but the conviction was vacated by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. He was convicted in the third trial and in May 2020, lost an appeal of that conviction.
Lawyer conflicts from representing a criminal unit and one of its members
In 2011, the Rosemond case became note-worthy as well over complex issues that arose over potential lawyer conflicts.
What happened, in part, was that the government made arguments pursuant to Wheat v US and its progeny to have Rosemond’s lawyer disqualified for reasons of institutional integrity.
It argued, among other things, that Rosemond’s lawyer would be in the position of an unsworn witness, partly because of the fact that his law firm received a large payment for legal services in trust from funds that could not be attributed to revenues from Czar Entertainment or Rosemond. That placed the law firm in the position of being a witness against its own client in respect of the payment it had received. Since it was possible that it would be a witness, it could not also act for the client.
House counsel doctrine for organized crime members
Another lawyer conflict arose by virtue of the fact that the government argued that Rosemond’s lawyer was what are called “house counsel” in Mafia and criminal enterprise cases – meaning in essence that the law firm was akin to an in-house counsel, corporate lawyer, except to unincorporated entities (called criminal units) that form crime organizations.
In this case, the law firm – the “house counsel” – acted for the Rosemond enterprise (the criminal unit) and then crossed-over and acted individually for Rosemond (the person). It was the “house counsel” because it had acted, in the past, for more than one of the defendants in the ad hoc criminal enterprise, which in this case was the drug trafficking activities of Rosemond and his partners. Moreover, in the specific prosecution, one of the lawyers of the firm had met with a witness to discuss the government’s investigation, which meant that it could not then act for Rosemond. The multiple representations and the crossing-over placed the law firm in a conflict.
In a Canadian version, the same would apply for law firms that act for the Hell’s Angels, for example. Issues arise if they then act for any one of the individual members of that organization under the conflicts rules associated with the “house counsel” doctrine. To be clear, the “house counsel” doctrine necessarily starts with the law firm acting individually for one person of a criminal group – not the organization per se – and kicks in once the law firm acts for a second member. Lawyers may cross-over into conflicts without knowing that there is a house counsel doctrine that governs conflicts in respect of criminal enterprises, even if they are ad hoc, as in the case of Rosemond’s group.
The underlying conflicts rule when it comes to legal and natural persons is that a firm is not supposed to defend both a legal person (a company) and its directing minds (directors and officers) or members (shareholders or gang members) whether the defence is in a criminal, civil or regulatory matter.
Another conflicts problem arose in that the lawyer’s firm had previously acted for one of the parties besides Rosemond in the proceeding and that necessarily meant that the law firm’s interests diverged – the law firm could not honor its obligation to the former client not to act adverse in interest to it while it was subsequently representing Rosemond (the current client) in a litigation – the positions were not reconcilable.
Convictions have been overturned when law firm conflicts are present and lawyers have not disclosed them; ceased to act; or obtained, if possible, waivers in respect thereof, which is why governments move early to remove lawyers from acting when they may be in, or appear to be in, a conflict of interest that may jeopardize a proceeding and the rights of any one defendant.
Not surprisingly, one of the grounds of appeal later argued by Rosemond during one of his many appeals was that he was denied the right to a lawyer (and law firm) who was conflicts-free.
There have been at least three “house counsel” doctrine cases that are known – perhaps more that were never reported, and the doctrine mostly is used in the US where government and defence lawyers, and Courts very strictly apply conflicts rules because of a greater awareness that a breach of conflicts rules can completely de-rail a criminal prosecution and overturn a conviction.
One of the very first “house counsel” lawyers went on to become, decades later, the defence lawyer for the leader of the largest criminal enterprise at one time – El Chapo.
When clients lie to government
The defence of Rosemond in respect of his drug trafficking trial was extraordinarily complex, partly because Rosemond had lied to the government and thus his lawyer was faced with the reality that lawyers are prohibited from assisting clients to be untruthful in their testimony. The lies made by Rosemond, which impacted and limited his options as a defendant, were described by the Court as the hand his lawyer was dealt from the client’s gamble to go down a path of being untruthful to government agencies.
This week, the British Columbia Securities Commission (the “BCSC“) issued a cease trade order (“CTO“) in respect of the securities of Blok Technologies Inc., (“Blok“) a British Columbia issuer. The CTO was issued for a failure of the issuer to make certain required periodic financial filings on Sedar.
Blok is part of the so-called Bridgemark Group scandal, which is a securities law enforcement action by the BCSC against 11 issuers, placees, shareholders and alleged consultants of certain issuers which alleges in essence that funds raised by private placements went to alleged consultants who were paid lump sums of money in advance for consulting services yet allegedly performed no work.
Two issuers admitted consultants did not perform services
Two of the eleven issuers have thus far admitted they paid the so-called consultants from funds raised via private placements for the performance of no work. Many of the same persons, whether as legal or natural persons, cross-over into several of the issuers.
Late filed material contracts
In July 2019, we summarized some of the allegations against Blok (here). As at that date, no material contracts had been filed on Sedar in respect of the consultants or the pre-payment of some consulting fees, and its listing application did not disclose such information. Since then, Blok late filed consulting arrangements on Sedar.
According to those late filings, Blok entered into 23 consulting contracts for services, some of which involve pre-payment before services were rendered and many of which were for the duplication, triplication or more, of the same services. For example, many consultants were paid for the same described services such as web services, corporate services or M&A services. The chart below summarizes some aspects of the contracts in respect of Blok.
Who had consulting agreements?
Table Notes: (3) The payment to 1113300 BC Ltd. of stock options was at $0.10 per option and may have been what are called in-the-money stock options by up to an amount of $0.18 each option. Based on the closing price of the stock of Blok as at August 7, 2018, an exercise of the options awarded to this consultant was equal to $135,000 if exercised after deducting the payment of the exercise price. An in-the-money stock option occurs when the exercise price is lower than the closing price of the stock so that the person is said to be in the money and no longer has to be incentivized. To grant a significantly below FMV stock option, a director’s consent resolution is required, as is the consent of the listing agency and often the regulator and a lawyer must then provide a securities law opinion in respect thereof for options grants. (5) The payment to Link Media LLC was in USD. As at the contract date of August 8, 2018, it was equal to $227,902.50.
Almost $5 million paid to consultants
The total amount paid, or payable, to these consultants by Blok seems to have been $4,795,402.50.
On an annualized basis, the four highest paid were Tavistock Capital Corp., Kendl Capital Limited, Hunton Advisory Ltd. and 1113300 BC Ltd.
Fourteen of the consultants executed a precedent consulting agreement (pre-drafted) with terms that are, in substance, verbatim. Each of those fourteen agreed to indemnify Blok and third parties in connection with the consulting agreements for any lawsuits, claims, demands and proceedings, including legal fees for, inter alia, a breach of the consulting agreements or negligence arising in respect thereof, and in addition, to indemnify for omissions in providing contractual services. The BCSC position in the Bridgemark case allegations are that there was altogether a complete omission to provide services by many consultants.
The indemnity provisions surprisingly, do not cap liability at the amount paid under the consulting agreements and therefore, the indemnity amounts that can be sought are limitless and are at least equal to amounts suffered by claimant shareholders, the issuer and the regulator.
Normally, in a consulting agreement involving an issuer, the consultant indemnifies and saves harmless the issuer from and against all claims, actions, losses, expenses, costs or damages of every nature and kind which the issuer may suffer as a result of a breach of a consulting agreement by a consultant or the negligence of the consultant but the contract normally limits that by providing that the liability for any amount or claim, regardless of the form of action, whether in contract or in tort, cannot exceed the greater of the amount of insurance recoverable by the consultant for a claim and the contract amount.
With respect to Blok, each consultant confirmed in writing that it received, or was aware that it could avail itself of receiving, independent legal advice before signing the contracts under which they agreed to indemnify the issuers and third parties.
Schedule Bs created together?
The same fourteen consulting agreements late-filed on Sedar a year ago have an oddity about them. The last page of each agreement, its Schedule B setting out the compensation, presents as a different document – more specifically – presents as if all the Schedule Bs of all the fourteen agreements are one document at the end of each of the fourteen agreements.
They present that way because of what are called law firm footers. Law firms use numerical and sometimes alpha-numerical footers which are different as between firms. In the industry, one can know which law firm created or saved, certain documents by footers.
Footers are document filing and location tools, used so that lawyers can find their own documents in a system. They are auto-generated by document management software that works with word processing software.
The Schedule Bs in the 14 consulting agreements all have the exact same footer and version, namely 32678251.2 (.2 means it was the auto-generated second version of document 32678251).
But only Schedule Bs have a footer – the first 13 pages of every consulting agreement each have no footers at all. And in contrast, page 14 of each consulting agreement has the same footer, suggesting that the compensation schedules were subsequently created as one document separate and apart from the consulting agreements.
Why only one page of the 14 page consulting agreements, the Schedule Bs, of the 14 consulting agreements all have the exact same footer, down to the version, is a mystery. An example of the Schedule Bs of three of the 14 consulting agreements with the same footer is provided below.
No material consulting contracts filed by Cryptobloc yet
Not all the issuers in the so-called Bridgemark scandal have filed their material contracts on Sedar in respect of consultants, as required, which prevents shareholders from having visibility on those arrangements. Cryptobloc, for example, which has undergone two subsequent name changes and is now in the battery business, has not filed its material contracts for its consultants on Sedar. It continues to be listed, though, announcing the raising of more funds from investors and the entering into of new contracts, which are also not filed on Sedar.
According to a seasoned former agent with HSI, who gave an interview to the Courier Journal, private jets are being used to move drugs and bulk proceeds of crime in cash for the Sinaloa cartel in Mexico, without much in the way of processes to give law enforcement visibility.
“The next time you look up and see a private jet, wonder to yourself: ‘Where’s it going? Where’d it come from, and what’s on board?’ “There’s a good chance it could be illicit narcotics”, the former HSI agent is quoted as saying in the Courier Journal article.
Security measures do not exist at secondary little airports that manage private jet passengers, luggage and cargo globally. According to the article, another HSI agent testified in a Court proceeding that private airports have “no security, no drug-sniffing dogs, no police and no TSA.”
The lack of security and oversight at private jet terminals creates gaps that criminal actors can and do exploit.
For example, Robert Carlson Jr., a California computer network specialist, used private jets and private little airports for a second job – to move over US$1 billion of drugs and cash across the US for the Sinaloa cartel. He was arrested in 2017, after police received a tip. He eventually pled guilty and is incarcerated in the US.
The company in Oregon that had rented its jet to Carlson Jr., lost it when it was seized and forfeited to the government.
It’s surprising that Carlson Jr. was not discovered earlier. His lifestyle was inconsistent with his employment. For example, Carlson Jr. had a US$8 million mansion and a Ferrari, ostensibly bought on his computer networking salary. A co-defendant of Carlson dealt with laundering the proceeds of crime in bulk cash for the Sinaloa that was moved by private jets throughout the US.
Narco jets crash and burn in Belize and Mexico
In February, 2020, in Belize, a narco jet landed in Belize. It was flying “dark”, meaning its identification and tracking data were off. Its pilot and crew disappeared but it had 69 bales of cocaine onboard, which was seized by the government.
In 2019, another “dark” private jet made a rush landing in Belize along a private road. The jet broke in two shortly after the rough landing and the operators vanished with whatever was onboard. In terms of typology, it is believed to have been a narco jet, used to move narcotics and proceeds of crime.
This summer, in Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, a cartel performed an emergency jet landing and then set fire to the jet on a country road to avoid its seizure. It was detected by the Mexican military after it entered Mexican air space. Not far from the burning narco jet, officials found 13 sacks of cocaine weighing 850 pounds, with an estimated value of US$4.9million.
Despite its small economy and having no corporate head offices, Vancouver, Canada, has a vibrant private jet sector that sustains many private and luxury jets business operators. Private jet trips from Vancouver are often destined for Vegas, Colombia and Mexico.
Using private jets to move proceeds of crime isn’t new. In 2014, a Canadian was indicted in Michigan, arrested and subsequently convicted for money laundering, with and through his American lawyer, using, among other mechanisms, private jets to move bulk cash to the offshore tax havens of Panama and the Bahamas.
On October 19, 2020, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN“) assessed a US$60 million penalty (here) against Larry Dean Harmon, the owner of two Bitcoin mixing and anonymizing services called Helix and Coin Ninja LLC. FinCEN found that the two entities were operating as unregistered money services businesses (“MSB“) which exchanged currencies, including Bitcoin, conducted financial transactions and provided services to mix, tumble and anonymize financial transactions.
Anonymous payments for narco traffickers
For a three year period from 2014 to 2017, through Helix, Harmon’s entities pulled in over US$311 million and conducted at least 356,000 Bitcoin transactions. In total, Harmon oversaw over 1.2 million financial transactions without complying with the Bank Secrecy Act financial crime obligations as an MSB. FinCEN found that Helix processed US$121,511,877 darknet Bitcoin transactions. FinCEN’s investigation into the activities of Helix revealed that it processed payments for narco traffickers, fraudsters, those engaged in counterfeiting and other criminals.
Indictment against Harmon
Earlier in the year, an indictment against Harmon was unsealed in respect of his Bitcoin mixing services and in connection with a darknet search engine called Grams, that was part of Helix, that allegedly worked with the now-defunct illegal Canadian darknet site, AlphaBay, to launder money. The indictment alleges that Harmon operated a money laundering service and promoted and obfuscated the proceeds of crime derived from drug trafficking and other darknet illegal activities.
The Grams darknet site provided an index that allowed bad actors to sell stolen ID products, weapons and narcotics.
FinCEN found that Harmon’s entities provided services to just about all of the darknet vendor sites including Silk Road 2, Oasis Market, Russian Anonymous Marketplace, Middle Earth Marketplace, Hydra Market, Hansa Market, DutchDrugz Market, Dream Market, Black Bank Market, Agora Market, Valhalla Market and Wall Street Market and to darknet vendors that sold child pornography and child exploitation material using Bitcoin. It also did business with BTC-e, also shut down by law enforcement (although one of its co-founders resurfaced as part of PRIZM coin which surprisingly, one can buy in Canada at a registered MSB (here)).
Bitcoin tumbling and mixing services make tracing the flow of funds next to impossible and deprive people of the ability to take any action against parties that use those services when they have been defrauded, or suffer other legal losses.
With respect to Canada’s AlphaBay, it was shut down by US law enforcement (here). AlphaBay operated the world’s largest darknet illegal site accessible on TOR that resulted in the death of several teenagers from fentanyl overdoses. Its Canadian owner, Alexandre Cazes, was arrested by US law enforcement and committed suicide in custody before being extradited.
Stated belief that illegal drugs are victimless; a legal right
In an interview on this website, a person identified as the founder of Grams and Helix, described Helix as the definitive Bitcoin cleaner and represented to the public that for a 3% fee, he will “clean your Bitcoin” and made this statement: “victimless crimes, such as using drugs, is everyone’s right and is the purpose of the darknet” and that he “likes being on the frontier of the Internet’s dark side.”
The super narcotics kingpin and major money launderer, Ross Ulbricht, made similar comments about access to illegal drugs being a legal right. He was sentenced to two life terms of imprisonment plus forty years with no possibility of parole, a sentence that was intended to send a message to others (presumably those providing similar darknet services) so that they “understand without equivocation” that if they break the law like Ulbricht, “there will be very, very severe consequences.” (see Q&A on Ulbricht’s trial here).
In terms of threat actors in the Bitcoin mixing and tumbling space, the marketplace is beginning to see some actors who ran Bitcoin mixing and tumbling services reinvent themselves as ostensible legitimate operations under new brands with attempts to align with international law enforcement agencies and financial crime standard-setting bodies.