Three Orlando area lawyers suspended, including former Cay Clubs attorney

Three Orlando area lawyers have been suspended in the most recent action by the Florida Bar, including one that provided legal advice to the Cay Clubs Ponzi scheme in the Florida Keys.

The following details were provided by the Florida Bar and court records:

William Scott Callahan, Winter Park, was suspended for one year, retroactive to April 20. Callahan was subpoenaed and agreed to cooperate in a federal fraud investigation involving the Cay Clubs vacation rental scheme. He had been a partner at a law firm that handled closings for the company. In the course of his duties supervising the closing agents, Callahan violated Bar rules.

According to court records, Callahan made misleading statements, and when he learned the principals of the company were omitting pertinent information from the closing documents, he failed to warn them, failed to obtain additional legal opinions and failed to withdraw from further representation. Callahan received immunity from prosecution in return for providing information. (Florida Supreme Court Case No. SC17-539)

Michael Kevin Rathel, Orlando, suspended for one year. According to the Florida Bar and court records, Rathel bought a house after persuading the seller to hold a second mortgage for $100,000 needed by Rathel to pay the purchase price. Rathel promised to repay the seller and pledged his current home as security for the mortgage. Rathel sold his current home without telling the seller or repaying the seller’s second mortgage. Commencing in or about 2010, Rathel failed to file and pay his personal federal and corporate tax returns in a timely manner. In another matter, Rathel failed to timely respond to an inquiry about a Bar complaint. Suspension is effective 30 days from a March 23 court order. (FSC Case No. SC16-1024)

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/brinkmann-on-business/os-bz-florida-bar-suspensions-20170530-story.html

Photo: Florida Bar

 

South L.A. charter school founder charged with embezzlement, money laundering

The head of a now-defunct South L.A. charter school has been charged with embezzlement and money laundering, accused of funneling roughly $200,000 from the school to a company she owned, prosecutors said Thursday.

Kendra Okonkwo, 51, was charged with misappropriation of public funds, grand theft by embezzlement, money laundering and keeping a false account, according to a news release issued by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. Her son, 29-year-old Jason Okonkwo, is accused of approving fake invoices to further the plot and faces the same charges, prosecutors said.

Kendra Okonkwo founded the Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists near the Watts neighborhood in 2006, but the school quickly became a target of regulators and lost its charter in 2016. She and her son were arrested in Los Angeles on Thursday morning and remain jailed in lieu of $145,000 bail, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Dana Aratani, who is prosecuting the case.

From January 2012 to March 2014, approximately $201,000 was transferred from the school to an unnamed business run by Okonkwo, according to the district attorney’s office. The money was then transferred to her personal bank account, prosecutors said.

Her son approved a number of fake invoices, purportedly for the purchase of school supplies and food from his mother’s “shell company,” that documented the transfer of money, prosecutors said.

Okonkwo did not immediately return a call seeking comment, and it was not immediately clear if she or her son have retained attorneys.

Both face up to six years in prison if convicted. A court date has yet to be scheduled.

The school operated under the authority of the Los Angeles Unified School District until 2011, when the district declined to renew the school’s charter, citing violations of education code and conflicts of interest.

Okonkwo agreed to step down as the school’s director as part of an agreement with the county to stay in operation, but she named several relatives and associates to key positions at the school.

That move, according to the findings of a 2014 state audit, allowed her to retain control and benefit from transactions at the academy.

According to the audit’s findings, Okonkwo, her family members and close associates received about $2.6 million in payments from the school. None of the employees in question indicated any financial interest in school affairs on required conflict-of-interest statements, the audit said.

Among the audit’s findings, the organization leased two properties owned by Okonkwo’s holding company, paying more than $1 million in rent over six years. The school also paid Okonkwo $228,665 in severance, unused vacation and a vehicle lease despite a lack of documents to support the amount.

The audit also found the school had paid more than $158,800 to a company owned by a relative of Okonkwo. The payments were supposedly for school supplies, but state auditors could not confirm that the school received any of the materials for which it paid.

Aratani said prosecutors began reviewing Okonkwo’s conduct and business dealings after the audit results were released. An arraignment could take place as early as Friday, he said.

Last year, Okonkwo agreed to pay $16,000 in fines as part of a settlement with the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission after she was found to have established leases for the school at buildings she owned and used public funds to renovate those properties.

“In this matter, Okonkwo engaged in a pattern of violations in which she made, used or attempted to use her official position to influence governmental decisions involving real property in which she had a significant financial interest,” the commission said last year.

When the county began the process of revoking the school’s charter in 2014, Okonkwo claimed she was being “slandered.”

“I’m not a soldier; I’m not a politician. I’m just an educator,” she said at the time.

http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-charter-school-founder-charged-20170518-story.html

Photo: My News LA 

Russia probe: Senate requests Trump documents from agency that monitors money laundering

The Senate panel has requested information about President Donald Trump and his top aides from a financial intelligence unit in the Treasury Department that imposed a $10 million civil penalty on Trump Taj Mahal in 2015 for multiple violations of money-laundering laws.

The Senate Intelligence Committee wants to see any information relevant to its Russia investigation the Treasury agency has gathered, including evidence that might include possible money laundering, according to a committee aide who spoke on condition of anonymity. Also at issue: to what extent, if at all, people close to Vladimir Putin have invested in Trump’s real estate empire.

The request, made in recent weeks, comes as part of the Senate’s investigation into whether Trump associates colluded with Russian meddling in the U.S. election. The FBI is also investigating that issue, but that probe is now under a cloud after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey.

 White House spokesman Michael Short said the president is confident the investigation will exonerate his campaign.

“There’s a process, and that process is moving forward, and we’re confident that once it’s complete everyone will again see that there is no `there,’ there when it comes to alleged collusion.”

Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has assisted in the ongoing FBI counterintelligence investigation into Trump administration ties with Russia, multiple U.S. officials have said. A former senior Treasury official said that agency would have the authority to demand from any bank with a U.S. branch, including foreign banks, relevant records of transactions by Trump, his family members or his associates. FinCEN also maintains databases of reports of suspicious and cash transactions.

Trump’s ownership in the Taj Mahal was sharply reduced in 2009 when he resigned as chairman of the company owning the Atlantic City casino after it was reorganized in a bankruptcy. His remaining stake was wiped out when the company was acquired in 2014 by billionaire financier and Trump advisor Carl Icahn, who shut down the casino in October.

FinCEN imposed a $10 million civil penalty in 2015 against Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort for “willful and repeated violations of the Bank Secrecy Act,” and ordered the casino to conduct “periodic external audits to examine its anti-money laundering” compliance program and “provide those audit reports to FinCEN,” according to a Treasury Department statement announcing the penalty.

FinCEN “collects and analyzes information about financial transactions in order to combat domestic and international money laundering, terrorist financing, and other financial crimes,” the agency says on its website.

The Senate committee’s request covers any potentially relevant information about Trump, his family, his businesses and his associates, the aide said. Such a request presumably would cover copies of the Taj Mahal audits.

In a consent order, Trump Taj Mahal admitted to having “willfully violated” reporting and record-keeping requirements under the federal Bank Secrecy Act from 2010 to 2012.

FinCEN’s complaint said violations had been revealed by the Internal Revenue Service as far back as 2003. In 1998, FinCEN assessed a $477,700 civil penalty against Trump Taj Mahal for currency transaction reporting violations.

“Trump Taj Mahal received many warnings about its deficiencies,” then-FinCEN Director Jennifer Shasky Calvery said in the 2015 statement. “Poor compliance practices, over many years, left the casino and our financial system unacceptably exposed.”

The penalty became an unsecured claim in Trump Taj Mahal’s bankruptcy proceeding, which was originally filed in September 2014.

Under the Bank Secrecy Act, casinos are required to report suspicious transactions of $5,000 or more. Trump Taj Mahal failed to file about half of the required suspicious activity reports during periods covered by two reviews by the Internal Revenue Service, according to the consent order.

http://www.cnbc.com/2017/05/10/russia-probe-senate-requests-documents-from-money-laundering-watchdog-agency.html