Utah man pleads guilty to four counts of securities fraud and one racketeering count of UPUAA
64 year old Douglas P. Beecher admitted collecting about $2.85 million in investments from at least 14 investors under false pretenses and without a legal license. Beecther, an established accountant, promised investment with “well-vetted companies” guaranteeing an 8 percent interest rate and the ability to fully withdraw with 30 days notice.
Beecher admitted to selling stock/investment contracts despite not being licensed with the Utah Division of Securities
Many victims did receive some returns on their money, but were still owed substantial sums by last year when Beecher started sending investors letters apologizing for misusing funds and promising to repay them somehow. Sentencing has been delayed until December to allow Beecher to make what additional restitution payments he can. According to Assistant Attorney General Michael Palumbo, the amount still owing is about $1.05 million.
Christensen & Jensen’s Commercial Litigation practice group pursue and defend “Utah Pattern of Unlawful Activity Act” (UPUAA) claims in state and federal courts and in arbitration. Whatever your involvement with the UPUAA, Christensen & Jensen can advise you on the best legal strategy.
In order to sustain a conviction under the UPUAA, the State must prove 1) the defendant is engaged in a pattern of unlawful activity and 2) the defendant is involved in an enterprise.
In order to sustain a conviction under the UPUAA, the State must prove 1) the defendant is engaged in a pattern of unlawful activity and 2) the defendant is involved in an enterprise. Often times the pattern of unlawful activity is easily proven, but proving the existence of an “enterprise” can be more challenging for the State. The UPUAA comprehensively defines “enterprise” as:
[A]ny individual, sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, business trust, association, or other legal entity, and any union or group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity, and includes illicit as well as licit entities.
Thus, an “enterprise” for purposes of the UPUAA can be anything from an individual to a group of individuals to a corporation or association, whether legal or illegal. Even still, the question of what constitutes an entity under the various sections of the UPUAA isn’t as easily answered.
In 1988, the Utah Supreme Court, while the issue was not squarely before it, implicitly ruled that the same set of facts could be used to prove the pattern of unlawful activity as well as used to prove the existence of an enterprise. In State v. McGrath, the court rejected the defendant’s argument that there was insufficient evidence to prove the existence of an enterprise under the RICE Act, the predecessor to the UPUAA. In so ruling, the evidence relied on by the court to find a pattern of unlawful activity and the existence of an enterprise was the same, the defendant’s cocaine trafficking. According to the court’s opinion:
These facts show an ongoing enterprise the purpose of which was to traffic in controlled substances. Defendant’s participation in this enterprise, when combined with his acts constituting a pattern of racketeering activity, establishes the necessary elements to convict….
Almost ten years later in 1997, in State v. Hutchings, the Utah Court of Appeals clarified the supreme court’s previous statements in McGrath. In Hutchings, the court of appeals was squarely tasked with answering the question of whether a UPUAA defendant can also constitute a UPUAA enterprise under section 76-10-1603(1), (2), or (3). The court began by examining U.S. Supreme Court and federal circuit court precedent on the issue, which generally found that “the same set of facts used to prove a pattern of racketeering activity may be used to prove a RICO enterprise.” The court then turned to Utah law, which it determined had already “implicitly ruled [in McGrath] that the same set of facts used to prove the pattern of unlawful activity can be used to prove the existence of an enterprise.” As such, the court of appeals agreed with the majority of federal courts and the Utah Supreme Court’s previous implicit holding in McGrath and found that the same set of facts could be used to prove a pattern of unlawful activity and an enterprise.
The court of appeals next turned to the various provisions of the UPUAA to determine whether the whether the “person” under section 76-10-1603(1), (2), or (3) can be the same entity as the “enterprise.” The court held that, for purposes of section 76-10-1603(1), “the liable ‘person’ and the ‘enterprise’ can be the same entity,” under section 76-10-1603(1), as long as the “person” is “actually… the direct beneficiary of the pattern of racketeering activity.” Similarly, the court held that with respect to subsection (2) “the ‘person’ and ‘enterprise’ within section 76-10-1603(2) need not be separate and distinct.” However, the court wasn’t willing to extend the same reasoning to subsection (3). According to the court:
[We] hold that for the purposes of section 76-10-1603(3), the “person” and “enterprise” must be separate and distinct entities. We, too, would be stretching the interpretation of the language in section 76-10-1603(3) to impose liability on both the culpable person and the enterprise. “The enterprise is mentioned in the section only as the instrument of the person doing the racketeering, and there is no suggestion that the enterprise also may be liable, even if it is a wholly illegitimate operation.”
As a result, under Utah law in order to sustain a conviction under subsection (3), the State must prove the existence of an “enterprise” that is distinct from the defendant themselves. Furthermore, the court went on to examine whether the sole proprietorship at issue in this case could constitute an “enterprise” for purposes of subsection (3). The court of appeals determined that as it related to the sole proprietorship at issue in in this case, “the man and the proprietorship really are the same entity in law and fact.” As result the State had failed to pass the distinction test.
While the Utah Supreme Court has declined to require distinction between the individual and the entity under subsections (1) and (2), it does require the state to prove the existence of more than a one-man show under subsection (3). Defendants facing charges under the UPUAA need to be cognizant of this fact, and must take steps to ensure their counsel argues that point to the court, and that the jury is properly instructed on the issue at trial.
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