“Mastros set free in France, but U.S. may still go after them”

June 6, 2013

The Seattle Times on June 5, 2013 released the following:

“Appeals court says the 88-year-old developer and his wife won’t be extradited to the U.S., where they are charged with bankruptcy fraud.

By Sanjay Bhatt
Seattle Times business reporter

Fugitive Seattle businessman Michael R. Mastro may well live out the rest of his life as a free man in the foothills of the French Alps.

A French appellate court Wednesday denied on humanitarian grounds the U.S. Department of Justice’s request to extradite Mastro and his wife, Linda, said Jim Frush, a Seattle attorney who represents the 88-year-old former real-estate magnate at the center of one of Western Washington’s biggest bankruptcies.

“I spoke with Mike, who was understandably very happy and relieved and indicated to me that he and Linda were about to leave for dinner,” he said.

The Mastros had been under electronic monitoring and restricted to their apartment after 6:30 at night as part of an earlier French order.

A federal grand jury indicted the Mastros on charges of bankruptcy fraud in August 2011, two months after the couple disappeared from sight.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle declined to comment Wednesday on the French court’s ruling, saying only that it was examining its options, including a possible appeal.

It’s likely the Justice Department filed a “red notice” with Interpol, a global law-enforcement agency, that puts 190 countries on notice of the outstanding arrest warrant for the couple, said Douglas McNabb, an international criminal-defense lawyer in Washington, D.C.

If the Mastros try to leave France for any other country, they could be held there and possibly extradited to the United States to face the criminal charges, McNabb said.

But if the French court’s ruling isn’t appealed and the Mastros stay put in France, “the ballgame is over with,” he said.

The ruling of the appeals court in Chambéry can be appealed to the Council of State, France’s highest judicial body and roughly equivalent to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Juliet Sorensen, a law professor at Northwestern University who teaches international criminal law.

A treaty signed by the two nations in 1996 requires each to honor a request to extradite persons charged with certain offenses that are punishable in both countries.

But there are exceptions, including one that allows either nation to deny extradition if surrendering the person “might entail exceptionally serious consequences related to age or health,” according to the treaty.

The French appellate court ruled that extraditing the Mastros could have such consequences, and wasn’t persuaded by the Justice Department’s arguments to the contrary, Frush said.

Developer’s downfall

Mastro’s four-decade career as a prolific developer ended in a spectacular crash in 2009 when three banks forced him into bankruptcy court.

Mastro told the court he had nearly $587 million in liabilities, including more than $100 million he owed to individual investors and local groups such as the Italian Club of Seattle.

Against those liabilities, Mastro reported assets of $249 million, most of it debt others owed him.

State regulators also charged him with breaking the law by making false statements to “Friends & Family” investors and selling unregistered securities, charges that Mastro denied.

Mastro and his wife disappeared suddenly in June 2011 after they ignored a bankruptcy judge’s order to hand over two giant diamond rings worth more than $1.4 million.

They officially became fugitives a month later when warrants were signed for their arrest. But those warrants were for contempt of court, a civil violation, and experts said it would be difficult to extradite the Mastros without a criminal charge.

Then in August 2011, the U.S. Attorneys Office filed a sealed criminal complaint against the Mastros, charging them with bankruptcy fraud.

The complaint was made public last October after the Mastros were arrested near Lake Annecy, in the French Alps, where they had rented a succession of apartments.

The next month, a federal grand jury issued a superseding indictment containing 43 counts for bankruptcy fraud and money laundering.

The diamond rings, along with nearly 300 other pieces of jewelry, were seized in France in October after the Mastros were apprehended.

The collection is worth more than $3 million, according to the court-appointed trustee in Mastro’s bankruptcy case, James Rigby, who has recovered only a fraction of the money owed to creditors. The Mastros’ attorneys are fighting in court to stop the FBI from transferring some jewelry to the trustee.

The Mastros spent seven weeks in a French jail before a court placed them on supervised release with electronic monitoring pending an extradition proceeding.

Health concerns

In February, the three judges of the Court of Appeal in Chambéry ruled that the Mastros had been charged with offenses that were subject to extradition, but noted that lengthy incarceration likely would have serious consequences on their health.

The court’s 19-page ruling in February mentioned Mastro’s age and a serious head injury he suffered in a fall in Palm Desert, Calif., two years ago. The court also mentioned the “psychological frailty” of Linda Mastro, who is in her 60s, revealing that she attempted suicide shortly after the couple was arrested in France.

At a hearing in late May, the Justice Department’s representative told the French court that if the Mastros were extradited and convicted in the United States, they would not ask for more than two years in prison, Frush said Wednesday, citing information he received from Thomas Terrier, the Mastros’ attorney in France. Moreover, U.S. officials told the court the federal Bureau of Prisons was equipped to manage the Mastros’ health concerns, Frush said.

Terrier could not be immediately reached for comment.

Sorensen, the Northwestern University law professor, said the French government had discretion to extradite the Mastros despite the exception in the treaty, and said the Council of State had heard extradition appeals from the United States in the past.

Investor reaction

News of the French court’s ruling dismayed Kirkland resident Barry Bloch, one of the “Friends & Family” investors who loaned the developer money in return for pledges of interest payments.

“What a joke,” Bloch said after hearing from a reporter of the ruling.

Bloch and his wife, Teresa, loaned Mastro money and knew him for about four years before the developer’s fortunes unraveled.

“It didn’t bankrupt us, but it’s a sizable amount of money, and it’s disgusting that he isn’t brought to justice,” said Barry Bloch, 68.

He recalled an exchange with the developer at Mastro’s Seattle office on Rainier Avenue South as the real-estate market was imploding, but before the banks forced Mastro into bankruptcy court.

“I asked him how he sleeps at night, and he said, ‘I sleep like a baby.’ That spoke volumes,” Bloch said.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
International Extradition Lawyers Videos:

International Extradition – When the FBI Seeks Extradition

International Extradition – Wire Transfer – Email – Telephone Call

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We previously discussed the extradition treaty between the United States and France here.

————————————————————–

To find additional global criminal news, please read The Global Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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International criminal defense questions, but want to be anonymous?

Free Skype Tel: +1.202.470.3427, OR

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Mastros will fight extradition

October 26, 2012

The Seattle Times on October 26, 2012 released the following updated story:

“Former fugitives Michael R. and Linda Mastro have hired a French lawyer and intend to fight extradition to the U.S., their Seattle attorney said Thursday.

Bankruptcy fraud — the principal crime with which the former Seattle couple have been charged — may not be an offense subject to extradition under French law, James Frush said.

The Mastros, fugitives for 16 months, were arrested by French police at the request of the FBI shortly before 3 a.m. Seattle time Wednesday in a town on Lake Annecy, in the French Alps.

They appeared before a French judge Thursday and were ordered to remain in jail pending further proceedings, Frush said. Their next court appearance probably will be in about two weeks, he added.

Meanwhile, a federal grand jury in Seattle indicted the Mastros Thursday on 43 counts of bankruptcy fraud and money laundering — 37 more counts than they had been charged with previously in a criminal complaint issued in August 2011 that was the basis for their arrests.

Frush said the Mastros had been living in the Lake Annecy area for about a year. Le Dauphiné Libéré, a French newspaper, reported the Mastros had been renting a house under their own names in Doussard, on Lake Annecy.

The Mastros disappeared in June 2011 after failing to comply with a bankruptcy judge’s order that they turn over two giant diamond rings valued at $1.4 million. The judge later ruled the rings belonged to Michael Mastro’s creditors.

Mastro, 87, a longtime Seattle real-estate developer and lender, was pushed into one of Washington’s largest bankruptcies ever in 2009 after the recession undermined his real-estate empire.

His debts to unsecured creditors have been estimated at $250 million.

The new grand-jury indictment — product of a federal investigation that began nearly three years ago — charges that Mastro, anticipating bankruptcy, engaged in a series of illegal transactions aimed at putting several valuable assets off-limits to creditors.

Those assets included the rings and the Mastros’ Medina waterfront mansion, purchased for $15 million in 2006. A bankruptcy judge has since ruled the house, like the rings, rightfully belongs to creditors, and it has been sold.

The rings’ whereabouts still are unknown.

The Mastros also failed to disclose to court officials a bank account they used to make more than $761,000 in personal purchases after Mastro entered bankruptcy, the indictment says.

Those purchases included $107,000 in gold coins.

The indictment also alleges the Mastros made false statements about the assets under oath or penalty of perjury on numerous occasions.

Most of the information in the charges was developed by James Rigby, the court-appointed trustee charged with finding and liquidating Mastro’s assets and distributing them to creditors.

Frush said he doubts prosecutors can prove the Mastros engaged in an intentional scheme to defraud.

“Basically, they’re trying to criminalize activities that frequently occur in bankruptcy cases,” he said.

Federal officials said the Mastros flouted the law.

“The allegations against the Mastros are serious, and the FBI is committed to ensuring that they face those charges,” Steven Dean, assistant special agent in charge in the FBI’s Seattle office, said in a prepared statement.

Before the Mastros can be tried, however, they must be returned from France. And that may not be easy, or quick.

Bankruptcy fraud appears to be an offense subject to extradition under the treaty between the U.S. and France, said Douglas McNabb, an extradition attorney in Washington, D.C.

But if the Mastros exercise all their appeals, it could take a year or two before they are sent home, he added.

The treaty says people can be extradited if they are charged with crimes punishable by at least a year in prison in both countries. Bankruptcy fraud carries such a sentence in the U.S., McNabb said, but he’s not certain if it does in France.

When word of the Mastros’ arrest broke Wednesday, Joe and Gayle Colello, of Seattle, opened a good bottle of white wine that night and toasted the news.

They were among about 200 individual “Friends & Family” investors in Mastro’s ventures, loaning the real-estate magnate a total of about $100 million in return for pledges of above-market interest payments.

Most of that investment has disappeared. Investors have gotten back about a penny on the dollar so far, and Rigby has said they probably won’t get much more.

“I’m glad they got him,” Joe Colello said of Mastro Thursday.

“He’s really caused tremendous hardship to a lot of families. He’s a man without a conscience.””

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
International Extradition Lawyers Videos:

International Extradition – When the FBI Seeks Extradition

International Extradition – Wire Transfer – Email – Telephone Call

————————————————————–

We previously discussed the extradition treaty between the United States and France here.

————————————————————–

To find additional global criminal news, please read The Global Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

————————————————————–

International criminal defense questions, but want to be anonymous?

Free Skype Tel: +1.202.470.3427, OR

Free Skype call:

           Office Locations

Email:


87-year-old Seattle developer, wife indicted

October 26, 2012

King5.com on October 25, 2012 released the following:

“SEATTLE (AP) — An 87-year-old Seattle real-estate developer and his wife, arrested in France after 16 months on the lam, were indicted Thursday on dozens of charges of bankruptcy fraud and money laundering.

The 43-count grand jury indictment accuses Michael Mastro and his wife, Linda, of fraudulently transferring interest in their $15 million home in the tony Seattle suburb of Medina; failing to disclose a bank account that contained hundreds of thousands of dollars; and lying about the whereabouts of two huge diamonds valued at $1.4 million, all to conceal those assets from creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding.

It also alleges the couple withdrew more than $760,000 from their secret account to pay for a variety of personal expenses, including payment on their Bentley and Rolls Royce automobiles.

The Mastros vanished 16 months ago, after a judge ordered them to turn over the 27.8- and 15.9-carat diamonds. French police arrested the pair Wednesday in Annecy, a lake town near the Swiss border in southeastern France.

“Those who flaunt the law and ignore our legal process will be held to account,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Annette L. Hayes said in a written statement. “Thanks to the unrelenting efforts of law enforcement both here and abroad, the Mastros have been arrested and will face the charges that the grand jury returned in their indictment today.”

Michael Mastro’s lawyer, James Frush, said Thursday the charges simply rehash allegations made during the bankruptcy proceeding. And, he suggested, if it was such serious criminal activity, the government could have charged them long ago.

“This is an attempt to criminalize behavior that occurred in this bankruptcy proceeding and that occurs commonly in others,” Frush said. “There’s a real lack of evidence that this was part of a scheme to defraud.”

Frush said of his client: “He got out over his skis in a bad real-estate market and like a lot of other people, went broke. But he’s not a criminal.”

Frush acknowledged that the Mastros refused to turn over the diamonds in violation of a court order. But he said that’s a civil offense, not a criminal one.

The indictment references many false statements the Mastros are accused of making with regard to the diamonds and other assets as part of the bankruptcy.

Mastro was a developer and money lender who oversaw commercial and residential projects worth an estimated $2 billion over a 40-year career. But the market’s crash left him short, and three banks forced him into bankruptcy in 2009. He owes more than $200 million to creditors, who are expected to receive just pennies on the dollar.

The Mastros are being held without bail in France, Frush said. He said they will fight extradition to the U.S.

Frush said the Mastros had been living under their own names in Annecy, where they had rented an apartment.

Many of the couple’s personal items have been sold at auction to repay Michael Mastro’s creditors. Dozens of designer handbags sold for up to $900 apiece, a baby grand piano sold for $17,000, and a Dale Chihuly chandelier sold for $35,000. Their 2007 Bentley convertible went for $92,500.”

————————————————————–

Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
International Extradition Lawyers Videos:

International Extradition – When the FBI Seeks Extradition

International Extradition – Wire Transfer – Email – Telephone Call

————————————————————–

We previously discussed the extradition treaty between the United States and France here.

————————————————————–

To find additional global criminal news, please read The Global Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition Defense, OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal, International Criminal Court Defense, and US Seizure of Non-Resident, Foreign-Owned Assets. Because we have experience dealing with INTERPOL, our firm understands the inter-relationship that INTERPOL’s “Red Notice” brings to this equation.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

————————————————————–

International criminal defense questions, but want to be anonymous?

Free Skype Tel: +1.202.470.3427, OR

Free Skype call:

           Office Locations

Email: