“Over a Substantial Period of Time”: Utah Supreme Court Defines Test for Determining a Pattern of Unlawful Activity

Hill vs. Estate of AllredIn Hill v. Estate of Allred, the Utah Supreme Court articulated what it determined to be the proper test for determining whether there was a pattern of unlawful activity under the UPUAA. After moving to Utah from Michigan, Ms. Hill met the leader of a small religious group, Mr. Shugart. Ms. Hill asked Mr. Shugart to help her purchase the Desert Inn Ranch, which was listed for $1.5 million. A friend of Mr. Shugart’s, Mr. Matthews and a former real estate agent, Mr. Putvin agreed to help Ms. Hill purchase the property. Mr. Shugart delivered $1 million in cash, belonging to Ms. Hill, to Mr. Putvin and Mr. Matthews and directed them to proceed with the purchase of the ranch. In addition to the $1 million, Ms. Hill provided another $500,000 for the purchase of the ranch and paid Mr. Putvin $40,000 for his services. However, Mr. Putvin and Mr. Matthews never delivered the ranch or repaid any of the money.

Ms. Hill filed suit to recover her lost money alleging claims of civil conspiracy, constructive fraud, conversion, unjust enrichment, money laundering, fraudulent misrepresentation, racketeering (pattern of unlawful activity), and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Following a bench trial, the district court determined that the defendants had engaged in a civil conspiracy to deprive Ms. Hill of her money, the defendants had converted Ms. Hill’s money, and that they had made false representations to Ms. Hill as well. However, the court found that Ms. Hill did not meet her burden of proof on her claims of racketeering and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Ms. Hill appealed, arguing among other things that the trial court erred in holding that she did not meet her burden of proving a pattern of unlawful activity under her racketeering claim. Defendants cross-appealed.

On appeal, Ms. Hill argued that each unlawful act by defendants in furtherance of the conversion of her money constitutes an episode of unlawful activity and therefore a pattern exists. Defendants argued that the conversion of Ms. Hill’s money, though not accomplished in one single act, was only one episode of criminal activity and, therefore, did not constitute a pattern of unlawful activity. The district court agreed with defendants and held that their actions did not constitute a pattern of unlawful activity because there was only one episode of criminal activity, the conversion of Ms. Hill’s money.

“Over a Substantial Period of Time”

However, the Utah Supreme Court disagreed, and reversed the district court’s holding on Ms. Hill’s pattern of unlawful activity claim. According to the Utah Supreme Court, the proper test for determining a pattern of unlawful activity is the “continuity plus relationship” test articulated in H.J. Inc. v. Northwestern Bell Telephone Co., 492 U.S. 229 (1989). “The proper test for determining whether there was a pattern of unlawful activity is whether there was ‘a series of related predicates extending over a substantial period of time’ or a demonstrated threat of continuing unlawful activity and not whether there were multiple schemes.” (emphasis added). As a result, in order to sustain allegations of a pattern of unlawful activity, a prosecutor or civil plaintiff must prove that the defendant(s) engaged in a series of related predicates over a substantial period of time. In Hill v. Estate of Allred, the Utah Supreme Court found that a period of five years was enough to satisfy this requirement. But there is no bright line rule as to what constitutes such a “substantial period of time.” Nevertheless, the substantial period of time requirement imposed in Hill v. Estate of Allred is an element of the offense, and juries should be instructed accordingly. The test adopted in Hill v. Estate of Allred may require previous cases to be reexamined, and will undoubtedly impact UPUAA cases going forward.

Utah Passes White Collar Crime Registry Bill in a Flurry

Sean Reyes White Collar Crime RegistryWith only two days left in the 2015 legislative session, Utah lawmakers made history by passing the first white-collar crime registry bill in the United States. The Utah Senate unanimously voted to pass HB378, White Collar Crime Registry, with no debate. The Senate hastily pushed the bill through for final passage even though it had not undergone a second and third reading. The bill has now gone to Gov. Gary Herbert for his consideration. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Mike K. McKeil and Sen. Curtis S. Bramble.

However, the bill has long been the brainchild of Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes. In a recent news release regarding the bill’s introduction, Reyes said:

Utah’s unique personal interweavings and close relationships offer a rich environment for predatory behavior and financial crimes in our state. We trust those in our neighborhoods, in our churches, in our social circles and in our professions … This registry will make already public information much more accessible for the average citizen in this digital age.  It will inform anyone performing a simple name search if they are investing with someone who has previously been convicted of financial crimes …  And this tool will hopefully curtail some of the billions of dollars lost in Utah to investment fraud and other financial crimes.  This will be a tremendous outcome for citizens if passed.

But while the registry may make it easier for citizens of Utah to protect themselves against affinity fraud and other white-collar crimes, what does it mean for those who are facing and/or have been convicted of white-collar criminal charges?

The bill gives the AG’s Office the sole authority over the Utah White Collar Crime Offender Registry. It provides how the AG’s office is to disseminate information from the website to the public. It lists the criminal offenses for which a person must register, which include offenses specified in the UPUAA. However it also provides for a registration exception for persons convicted after December 31, 2005. Furthermore, the bill allows registered persons to petition to have his or her name removed from the Utah White Collar Crime Offender Registry.

Within 45 days of a conviction, any attorney general, county attorney, or district attorney is to inform the AG’s office of the conviction along with providing the crimes for which the offender has been convicted, a description of the offender’s targets, and any other info the AG’s office determines relevant. The AG’s office inputs the offender information into the Utah White Collar Crime Registry website, which is then disseminated to the public. The website provides to the public: 1) all names and aliases of the offender; 2) a physical description of the offender, including date of birth, height, weight, and eye and hair color; 3) a recent photo of the offender; and 4) the relevant white-collar crimes the offender has been convicted of.

A first time offender listed on the registry shall remain on the registry for ten years. A second time offender shall remain on the list for an additional ten-year period. And a third time offender will remain on the registry for a lifetime period. However, an offender who has been convicted of a relevant offense after December 31, 2005 is not required to register so long as they have complied with all court order orders, paid all fines and restitution, and not been convicted of any other crimes.

Finally, the bill provides for a mechanism by which an offender may petition to be removed from the Utah White Collar Crime Offender Registry after five years so long as the offender has completed all treatments ordered by the court or Board of Pardons, the offender has not been convicted of any other crimes, excluding traffic offenses, the offender has paid all restitution ordered by the court, notice has been given to all the victims and the prosecutor, and the offender has not been found to be civilly liable for which fraud, misrepresentation, deceit, breach of fiduciary duty, or the misuse or misappropriation of funds is an element. Within 30 days of receiving the petition, the prosecutor shall provide to the court a presentence report, any evaluation done as part of sentencing, and any other information the prosecutor deems relevant. The victim(s) may respond to the petition by filing a recommendation or an objection within 45 days after the mailing of the petition to the victim. The court then reviews the petition and all submitted documents and holds a hearing if requested by the prosecutor or the victim. Then, “[i]f the he court determines that it is not contrary to the interests of the public to do so, the court may grant the petition and order removal of the offender from the registry.”

While the bill passed unanimously with no debate, is such a registry the solution to deter future financial crimes? At least one Utah lawmaker isn’t ready to go so far as branding these white-collar criminals. Utah Representative Fred C. Cox is concerned about the stigma that such a branding would create. He said in a speech from the State House floor that “these are important crimes that we want to protect individuals against, but I’m not ready for a scarlet A, or whatever letter would be involved.” The comments of Rep. Cox raise the question of whether the registry is really about protecting the citizens of Utah, or if it is more about “shaming” those convicted of white-collar offenses. It remains to be seen if Gov. Herbert will sign the bill into law, and if so, time will only tell if the registry is really a resource to protect Utah citizens against white-collar crime. Those recently convicted of white-collar crimes will undoubtedly be watching the Governor’s office very intently in the following weeks to see whether they will be required to register with the State’s database.