Articles Posted in Breach of Fiduciary Duty

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Although bitcoin’s meteoric rise in price and prominence has some people wondering if it’s a bubble, the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and CBOE Futures Exchange agreed to start trading in the digital currency in December. Just a few months later, the first criminal lawsuit over bitcoin was filed against a Chicago trader.

At 24 years old, Joseph Kim, who was working as an Assistant Trader for a Chicago firm called Consolidated Trading, was accused of stealing $2 million from his employer from September to November of 2017 – right before bitcoin became eligible for trading in the local exchanges. In fact, it may have been the preparation for trading on the exchanges that alerted the firm to Kim’s alleged illegal activity.

According to the complaint, Kim allegedly funneled millions of dollars in the form of bitcoin and Litecoin from the firm’s funds into his possession. He allegedly used the digital currency to cover his personal trading losses, then lied about the funds to cover up his illegal activities. The firm’s management discovered Kim’s alleged misappropriation of their funds and charged him with fraud.

A short hearing was recently held regarding the allegations of stolen digital funds. Kim was charged with wire fraud, but he has not yet entered a plea. His bond was set at $100,000, and if he gets released on bond, he is not allowed to travel outside of northern Illinois, except to Arizona, where he owns a home. The bond deal also prohibits him from communicating with his former co-workers. Kim agreed to all terms of the bond deal and readily surrendered his passport. Continue reading

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Sometimes things happen outside a business owner’s control that affects the business. It’s understandable, but that does not justify failing to reveal to investors if the company is suffering financially as a result. In fact, executives and board directors of publicly traded companies are required to disclose the financial state of the company to their investors on a regular basis.

After the documentary, “Blackfish,” was released, SeaWorld’s business suffered significantly, but executives and board directors allegedly refused to reveal to shareholders the effect the documentary was having on the amusement park’s business.

The documentary details the story of Tilikum, a performing killer whale that was held captive in amusement parks for decades, including SeaWorld, where he famously killed a trainer – the first trainer to die at SeaWorld, although not the first time Tilikum had been involved in a death in a marine park.

Contrary to their name, killer whales have never been known to kill humans in the wild, leading many to wonder what causes them to attack when in captivity. The film examines the lives Tilikum took, before they were cut short, the cruel treatment of killer whales held in captivity, and the pressures of the sea-park industry, which makes billions of dollars every year. Continue reading

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Persons convicted of federal financial crimes who are ordered to pay restitution cannot expect their retirement funds to be off-limits to the government.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that a defendant who committed mail fraud could be required to pay court-ordered restitution out of his retirement account because it was not protected as earned income. (United States v. Rafi Sayyed, No. 16‐2858 (7th Cir. 2017))

Rafi S. pled guilty to federal mail fraud for receiving kickbacks from contractors as an executive for the American Hospital Association. He was ordered to pay $940,000 in restitution to AHA pursuant to the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act. In post-conviction proceedings, the federal government sought to enforce the judgment by accessing some $327,000 in non-exempt funds that Rafi held in two retirement accounts.

Rafi objected on the grounds that the funds were exempt “earnings” subject to the 25-percent garnishment cap of the Consumer Credit Protection Act. The district court found that because Rafi, who was 48 at the time, had the right to withdraw all his funds at will, the funds were not “earnings” exempted under CCPA. Continue reading

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Despite stepping down as CEO of Uber, the ride-sharing start-up he founded, Trevor Kalanick’s troubles are far from over. On top of allegations that the company mistreats its drivers, discriminates against and sexually harasses women at work, and stole trade secrets from another ride-sharing service, Kalanick is now being sued by Benchmark, one of Uber’s investors.

In 2016, Kalanick proposed an amendment to Uber’s charter, giving him the right to nominate three new directors to the start-up’s eight-member board. At the time, Kalanick got Benchmark to approve the amendment, but Benchmark is now saying Kalanick deliberately misrepresented key information regarding the company and the amendment, and is now asking for the amendment to be voided.

Six years ago, Benchmark invested in what was then a tiny ride-sharing start-up, called Uber. It bought a 20% stake in the company, which has since grown to be worth billions of dollars. Kalanick and Gurley (and, by extension, Uber and Benchmark) remained close for years until Kalanick and Uber started getting hit by one scandal after another. At that point, Gurley began to put some distance between himself and Kalanick, finally joining other investors to push Kalanick out as CEO of the company.

Although he was forced to give up his seat on the board when he stepped down as CEO, Kalanick immediately reappointed himself to one of the board seats he controls as a result of the amendment he had added last year, and he still holds a 10% stake in the company. It’s not as much as Benchmark’s 13% stake, but it’s enough to make life at Uber difficult for anyone who opposes Kalanick – something he has allegedly set out to do. Continue reading

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If someone leaves their employer to start their own company (which then gets bought by a competitor of their former employer), can it be a coincidence when that person just happens to end up working for a competitor a few months later on the same material he had been helping his former employer develop?

What if it wasn’t a coincidence? What if it was all an elaborate plot for the competitor to poach the employee, as well as internal documents containing invaluable trade secrets from his former employer?

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is seeking a court order for documents it thinks will prove that’s exactly what happened when Anthony Levandowski left his job at Google to start his own company, Otto, which was quickly bought by Uber.

Levandowski was working on lidar technology (the technology that allows self-driving cars to navigate their environments) for Waymo, Google’s own ride-share company, before leaving to start Otto in early 2016. Otto was a company that made self-driving trucks, and just a few months after its creation, it was bought by Uber for a few million dollars and Levandowski became the head of Uber’s self-driving department. Continue reading

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Getting taken to the cleaners by a dishonest employee or contractor is headache enough for any business, but having  no fraud coverage insurance coverage is a world of hurt.  Businesses are well advised to analyze their policies carefully to make sure they have proper coverage.

In the case of an Indiana telecom company called Telamon, its two different insurance policies provided no relief, according to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (Telamon Corp. v. Charter Oak, No. 16-1205, 7th Cir. (2017)). Telamon engaged independent consultant Juanita B. to provide services, and her role eventually expanded well beyond the original agreement. She was named vice president of major accounts and became senior manager for the company’s business in New York and New Jersey. In that capacity, she oversaw the removal of old telecommunications equipment from AT&T sites to sell to salvagers. Juanita pocketed the profits, for a total of $5.2 million in losses for the company by the time it discovered her scheme.   Continue reading

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A recent shareholder suit challenging the sale of a Chicago-based company to IBM was dismissed by a Delaware chancery court because the merger was supported by an informed and uncoerced vote of 80% of stockholders. When IBM acquired healthcare software developer Merge Healthcare, Inc., in 2015 for $1 billion, a group of Merge stockholders brought a class action complaint against Merge for what they charged was an improper sale process. The plaintiffs alleged the directors breached their fiduciary duties of loyalty and care due to self-interest in the transaction. (In Re Merge Healthcare Inc. Stockholder Litigation, Consol. C.A. No. 11388-VCG, Del. Chancery Court, 2017.)

The class action sought damages resulting from IBM’s acquisition of Merge’s publicly owned shares, which was supported by nearly 80% of Merge stockholders. On August 6, 2015, Merge’s board entered into an agreement granting the company’s common stockholders $7.13 in cash for each of their shares, a 31.8% premium to the market price. Preferred stockholders received $1,500 cash per share. The merger was completed on October 13, 2015, at an approximate value of $1 billion.

As part of the merger, certain Merge managers, including one of the defendant board members, entered into employment or transition arrangements with IBM. Continue reading

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Because stock trading is full of opportunities for traders to take advantage of their positions, the law takes accusations of fraud very seriously, but it works the other way, too. Traders have to work hard to protect their reputations because their livelihood depends on it. As a result, stock traders tend to react quickly if they’re ever accused of insider trading or any other forms of fraud.

According to a recent defamation lawsuit, Allstate allegedly falsely accused four traders of illegally taking advantage of their insider trading knowledge by intentionally timing trades in such a way that would inflate their own bonuses. Daniel Rivera, the managing director of Allstate’s equity division, along with three senior portfolio managers, were the four employees accused and fired as a direct result of those accusations.

In October 2009, Allstate announced the work of its equity division would be outsourced to Goldman Sachs. In December of that same year, it fired Rivera and his three senior portfolio managers (Kensinger, Meacock, and Scheuneman) for allegedly violating Allstate’s code of ethics. Because the four employees were supposedly fired with cause, they were not eligible for severance pay. The timing is certainly suspicious, but if Allstate did this as an to save money and avoid paying four senior employees their severance packages, the plan, if this was the plan, a fact which Allstate surely denies, then the plan backfired. Continue reading

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The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently held that client victims of a lawyer’s fraud take precedence over a commercial lender in being paid out of funds owed to the lawyer’s firm. Attorney William C. of Indiana-based Conour Law Firm, LLC is serving a 10-year prison term for stealing $4.5 million from clients’ trust funds. His victims obtained a judgment against him in 2014. Timothy D., an attorney at Conour, had previously left to join the Ladendorf Firm, bringing 21 Conour clients with him who eventually generated over $2 million in fees. William’s victims, as well as the Conour Firm’s lender, ACF 2000 Corp., claimed the right to a portion of those funds. Writing for the Seventh Circuit in ACF 2006 Corp v. Devereux, No. 15-3037 (7th Cir. 2016), Judge Easterbrook summed up the ensuing battle: “This appeal presents a three-corner fight about who gets how much of that money.”

At issue was how much of the $2 million belonged to the Conour Firm for the services it performed before Timothy D. left, and how those funds should be divided between the victims and ACF 2000. At trial, the federal district court concluded that the Conour Firm was entitled to some $775,000 under principles of quantum meruit, and that ACF had priority of payment over the victims. Continue reading

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A plaintiff seeking to recover on a breach of fiduciary duty claim against a business partner must be able to show more than just evidence of his partner’s bad conduct, but must also demonstrate that he suffered measurable damages as a result of the conduct.

For almost a decade, JAP, Inc. and Today’s Sushi Corp. jointly owned and operated trendy Chicago eatery Sushi Wabi, cashing in on the burgeoning national sushi craze. In 1998, Angelo G., owner of JAP, and Angela L. and Susan T., owners of Today’s Sushi, entered a limited partnership agreement to open the Randolph Street restaurant, with each entity owning about half of the enterprise. The venture capitalized on Angela and Susan’s experience operating sushi restaurants, with JAP providing most of the investment funds. The partnership agreement gave each partner full power of management and control of the operation of the business by unanimous consent. Angelo’s brother Franco was made manager of Sushi Wabi and put in charge of daily decision-making, with Angelo to be consulted on “major” decisions. Things soured when Angela and Susan attempted to remove Franco as manager. JAP brought breach of fiduciary duty and conversion claims against the pair, and filed for an accounting and dissolution of the partnership. In its complaint, JAP alleged 19 separate bases for breach of fiduciary duty and demanded consequential and punitive damages. Continue reading