Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Second Circuit on "willfulness."

Mark P. Kaiser, once the marketing chief for U.S. Foodservice, received a seven year sentence in 2007 for his role in a securities fraud that, according to the prosecution, overstated earnings by $800 million between 2000 and 2003.

Here's an AP report on the sentence at the time.

Kaiser appealed his conviction on several grounds, one of which was that under 32(a) of the 1934 Exchange Act, contrary to the usual bromide, ignorance of the law is an excuse. Section 32(a) of the Act criminalizes only "willful" violations of most of that Act's provisions. See p. 264 of that PDF.

The good news for Kaiser is that he won his appeal and his conviction has been vacated.

But he did not win on the willfulness theory. He won because the trial judge failed to give a crucial instruction on another issue.

The court -- a panel of the 2d circuit Court of Appeals -- was unimpressed with the defendant's contentions on the statutory meaning of willfulness -- and indeed apparently unimpressed with its own precedents on this point. Solomon Wisenberg at the White Collar Crime blog explains it well, here.

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