Thursday, December 15, 2011

Convictions, Sentence Affirmed In "Pump & Dump" Stock Case

US v. Offill: Offill, an attorney and securities specialist, was contacted by another attorney , Stocker, in 2004 about how to issue stock without the need to register it. The two eventually engaged in a "pump and dump" scheme in which they inflated the value of stock they owned before selling it to members of the public at a great profit. Offill was charged with one count of conspiring to artificially manipulate stock prices and nine counts of wire fraud. After a jury trial, he was convicted on all counts. At sentencing, the district court imposed a sentence of 96 months in prison, well below the advisory Guideline range of 168 to 210 months.

Offill appealed, raising issues related to both his convictions and his sentence, all of which the Fourth Circuit rejected. As to the trial issues, the court first rejected Offill's argument that two of the Government's expert witnesses improperly addressed the ultimate issue in the case, making conclusions reserved for the jury. Although the testimony involved discussion of legal issues that were ultimately covered by the judge's instructions to the jury, the court found no abuse of discretion in allowing the testimony. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion by allowing lay expert testimony from two coconsiprators (including Stocker) about their own activity. The court also found no error in the admission of evidence of Offill's subsequent acts or the failure of the district court to give a multiple conspiracies instruction. As to Offill's sentence, the court first concluded that there was sufficient evidence to support the district court's decision that Offill should not have received a Guideline reduction for a minor role in the offense. The court also rejected the argument that Offill's sentence was unreasonable because it was longer than his codefendants (who pleaded guilty and cooperated with the Government). Finally, the court held that the district court properly calculated the loss attributed to Offill.

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