New ways to notify Binary Options victims to be implemented by the DOJ

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DOJ to use alternative methods for binary options fraud victims

The United States Department of Justice has been given an approval to search for new methods, in order to quickly notify victims of fraudulent binary options schemes. The “green light” was given by Theodore D.Chuang of the Maryland District Court. The victims of fraudulent binary options schemes were mostly connected to Lee Elbaz, the former CEO of the Israeli Yukom Communications.

The notification will be published on a website that is maintained by the Department of Justice. If you are not already aware Yukom Communications, was connected to massive Binary options scams that also involved US citizens. Therefore on Friday, January 18th, 2020, the Judge signed an Order, that gave the Government the responsibility to notify the victims as mentioned above.

Binary Options and bad history

You are probably already aware of the Binary options and CFD restrictions that ESMA has introduced to the EU market. However, not many people know as to why these trading methods needed to be completely banned, and here are the reasons. Lissa Mel, who was a co-conspirator with Lee Elbaz, was charged for conspiring a wire fraud. This meant that she conducted illegal marketing and sale of Binary options, which she masked with deceptive bonuses and the promise of high gains on these “investments”. Her case is one of many, that ESMA had to study.

Marketing & Sale of Binary Options

Yukom Communications was not directly involved in defrauding investors from their money, but they did have a big part in it. According to the reports, when Elbaz was the CEO of the company, they provided Binary Options marketing, traffic and customer “retention” services to two Binary Options “brokers”, BinaryBook and BigOption. Which were clearly scams, and Elbaz knew it. Therefore this makes her equally guilty as the owners of BinaryBook and BigOption.

Binary Options are a trading method that seems like it’s 50/50 when a trader is “investing”. However, it has been proven many times that the odds are weighed heavily against the investor. Even if the odds were fair, in most cases about 99% of the Binary Options brokers turned out to be scams back in the day when it was popular. Therefore in this day and age, every single broker tries to avoid the whole thing. The scams were the primary reason why ESMA cracked down on Binaries and there is absolutely no reason why they would absolve it now.

New ways to notify Binary Options victims to be implemented by the DOJ

The amount of fraud being perpetrated against businesses is getting worse, both in terms of the number of instances and the amount of money that is being lost, and some of that can be attributed to worsening economic times, according to research. Almost half of the companies around the world surveyed by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (www.pwc.com) in 2009 reported that they suffered one or more instance of economic crimes. The survey, which involved 3,000 executives of businesses large and small in 54 countries, found that 88 percent of U.S. companies that reported some type of fraud also reported declines in financial performances. In addition, three-fourths of the crimes against businesses in the U.S. were carried out by insiders.

For small and mid-sized businesses, the vulnerability to fraud can be compounded because of the sometimes informal nature and the fact that fewer staff members can result in less oversight — and a lack of checks and balances.
‘Small businesses tend to be very informal in nature. A lot of times they’re either formed with friends or family members, and all the formalities are not in place as they would be in a larger business,’ says Elena N. Lougovskaia, co-founder of Lougovskaia Boop, LLC (www.lougoboop.com), a law practice in Cleveland, Ohio, focused on business law and commercial litigation. ‘Employees wear many different hats and perhaps decision makers should be separated from people who sign the checks or one person should be responsible for signing check and a separate person should be responsible for accounting, processing invoices, and purchasing.’

The following pages will cover the types of fraud against business, how to detect fraud in your business, and how to set up policies and procedures to prevent your business becoming a victim of fraud.

How to Protect Your Business against Fraud: Types of Fraud against Business

The media is filled with stories of consumer victims of fraud. But the reality is that businesses, especially smaller enterprises, are more often the victims of fraud than consumers. The types of fraud can vary wildly, from accounting scams carried out by employees to fraudulent returns from customers to data theft by outsiders. Businesses have less protection than the consumer and, in some cases, can be held responsible in a business fraud scheme, owing liability to banks, shareholders, insurers, credit card processors and other entities. New laws also hold businesses accountable for liability in the event of some types of fraud perpetrated by third parties, such as data breaches.

Sources of Business Fraud
In order to understand the types of fraud that your business may be vulnerable to, you must first understand the different sources of these crimes. Most professionals agree that the top sources of business fraud, ranked in the order of frequency and cost, are as follows:

Employees and Officers
In previous surveys, PriceWaterhouseCoopers had found that the sources of crimes against business were evenly split between insiders and outsiders. But in the 2009 survey, the numbers tipped in favor of insiders carrying out the majority of crimes — in 76 percent of the cases in the U.S., according to the survey. The increased financial pressures in many companies have also prompted a rise in the amount of fraud committed by middle managers, which now accounts for 42 percent of internal frauds globally from 26 percent in 2007, the survey found. Meanwhile, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) (www.acfe.com) estimates that business organizations lose 5 percent of annual revenue to fraud by employees and officers.

‘Managers and small business owners have a tendency to trust their employees to a higher degree and, because they are doing more, they may not be as detail oriented as they should be,’ says Allan Bachman, education manager for the ACFE. ‘That level of trust is often betrayed. Sometimes employees start taking advantage of the fact that the boss isn’t looking and thinks I’m doing a great job.’

The most common types of insider frauds include theft of assets and accounting frauds, but this type of crime can also include other categories, such as fraudulent worker’s compensation claims. ‘If you’re in a no-fault worker’s compensation state, as long as they’re injured within the scope of employment, they can receive compensation for their injuries,’ Lougovskaia says. ‘That’s an area where employees could be taking advantage.’

Employees, managers, and directors have the inside track and understand how a business works. That’s why they are able to perpetrate so many different types of schemes — and how they can often go undetected. Bachman says that the biggest source of insider fraud against businesses involves purchasing and procurement of goods and supplies. Insiders may be buying more goods than a business needs and lining their own pockets or paying invoices to an external third party for fraudulent orders. Other common schemes, says Bachman, include creating fictitious vendors or no-show employees — who get paid for doing nothing. Accounts payable is another area where insiders may be skimming money by taking cash payments and failing to report them or replacing today’s payments with cash paid at later dates.

Customers
Customers can also be notorious for trying to perpetrate fraud against businesses. Whether writing bad checks, using stolen credit cards, returning items not purchased from a business, or filing fraudulent injury and liability claims, there are a whole host of schemes that customers can perpetrate that will cost your business money.

‘This is a very litigious society, so if you own a store or surface where customers walk or you have a parking lot, you are susceptible to people claiming they fell and injured themselves,’ Lougovskaia says. ‘If you don’t have any surveillance and safety procedures in place, you are susceptible to frivolous liability complaints.’

False return schemes are another type of fraud that tends to impact retailers. People sometimes bring back merchandise from one store to another or they bring back merchandise that has been used. ‘I’ve seen frauds where someone walks into a store and bought three pieces of merchandise, went out to their car and put the merchandise away, and came back into the store and picked the same stuff up and put it in a bag and walked out with it,’ Bachman says.

Contractors
Businesses are often the target of unscrupulous contractors’ overcharging, over billing, kick backs, failing to perform contracted work or service, and other actions.

Some vendors you hire may try to scam you by billing for work they never complete. ‘I can come into your company to provide carpet cleaning and you give me the alarm code and I come in once a month instead of once a week but bill for providing the service once a week,’ Bachman says. ‘Of you can short out services or goods because no one is paying attention. You order 50 chairs and I send 45. There are a lot of different ways of doing this.’

Third-Party Attacks
A growing number of types of fraud are being perpetrated by electronic means. Hacking, slamming (changing your telephone service without your knowledge), phishing (acquiring user names, passwords, credit card information), identity theft and other forms of business fraud are some of the most difficult to control. More businesses are being held accountable for data breaches perpetrated by third parties, as 45 states, the District of Columbia, and some U.S. territories now have laws on the books requiring companies to notify potential victims if their personal information has been stolen or otherwise compromised.

How to Protect Your Business against Fraud: How to Detect Fraud

Given that fraud against your business can impact the bottom line, it’s important to set up procedures to verify adherence to anti-fraud policies and to detect and deter possible business fraud. Lougovskaia says business executives should commit to talking control by developing an enterprise-wide, anti-fraud policy that:

  • Verifies that anti-fraud work practices are followed and detects fraudulent activity.
  • Develops written procedures that dictate work processes in critical areas.
  • Institutes checks and balances and divides key responsibilities.

Below are several ways to deter and detect fraud in your business:

Employee Tips and Reporting
An often overlooked, but excellent way to prevent fraud is to develop an anonymous way for employees to report suspected fraud and work practices that lead to fraud. Businesses that institute anonymous employee reporting detect fraud earlier and significantly limit financial losses. ‘You could have an anonymous tip box,’ Lougovskaia suggests. If you do opt for a tip box, you should take steps to ensure that the process isn’t abused to settle personal grudges. One way would be to appoint one individual to investigate all claims and ensure that anonymity is protected.

Internal Audits and Surprise Audits

Work processes, inventories, and accounting should be subject to regularly scheduled and announced internal audits. In addition, unscheduled — or surprise — internal audits also should be conducted. Work processes, inventories, and accounting can be altered in advance of regular audits, but knowing a surprise audit may occur removes temptation and increases the chance for fraud detection.

External Audits

At a regular interval, external auditors should be employed to review company accounts, contracts, inventory and work processes, Lougovskaia says. Depending on the size of your business and whether it is a publicly-held enterprise, this may be required by law. Thus, it makes sense to set up external audits early in the history of your business so compliance with applicable laws and regulations can be achieved as your business grows.

How to Protect Your Business against Fraud: How to Deter Fraud

There are ways to deter fraud. One of the most important steps a business can take is to create a system of awareness at the top level of management. ‘Never think that it can’t happen here,’ Bachman says. ‘Create a level of awareness throughout the organization that we’re watching for it. Make it clear in terms of deterrents that, if we catch it, we’re going to prosecute, both criminally and civilly.’ Civil action may be needed because people who have profited from ill-gotten gains may not have the cash on hand to return – they may have bought items, such as fancy cars or jewelry.

Written procedures are necessary to develop internal consistency and to insure adherence to anti-fraud work practices and policies. At a minimum, the business should take the following steps:

  • Hiring practices and background checks. Background checks should be a precondition to employment. The business should secure written permission to conduct such investigations, which should include criminal background investigation, verification of education, right to work, licensure and past employment, Lougovskaia says. A credit check should be performed on employees who will handle cash or inventory.
  • Cash and receivables and accounting. A written cash and receivables handling policy should accomplish two goals. It should train employees to spot bad checks, counterfeit currency, and stolen credit cards and insure proper accounting. ‘The policy should address possible discipline for cash shortages and failure to strictly follow handling guidelines,’ Lougovskaia says. The policy should address the use of customer-provided information and the handling of vital customer data.
  • Inventory handling and tracking. A written inventory policy covers sales stock and company equipment. Pilferage is often an ‘entry level’ criminal enterprise. Contractors and employees engaged in this activity often perceive a weakness in inventory controls as an indication that fraud will not be detected. ‘What happens to those items from the time they get off the truck to the time they hit the store shelves?’ Lougovskaia says. Put those procedures in writing and give them to employees.
  • Contract and invoice reviews and procurement. Regular reviews of accounts payable invoices, purchase orders, and payments can eliminate various types of fraud. It is important for small businesses to be able to verify that contractors have performed the work that they bill for — before paying the invoice from that contractor. ‘You need to outline billing practices with your contractors and require them to itemize billing, including the names of employees involved and listing a quarter hour itemization for each task,’ Lougovskaia says. ‘You need to provide better oversight and you need to have it in writing.’
  • Critical data and corporate information. These days, every business that keeps sensitive data — whether about customers or employees or the company — need to have written data handling policies. These policies should spell out who has access to vital information, passwords, account numbers, databases, etc. Document retention policies should include scheduled, mandatory shredding of certain documents containing employee information or corporate data. Use confidentiality agreements and non-compete agreements for key employees.
  • Customer returns. Customer returns can be a significant source of fraud. Since most state consumer laws require a posted customer return policy, it makes sense to develop a written return policy that will eliminate fraud risk, Lougovskaia says. Elements of your policy might include that you require returns to take place where the item was purchased, require a receipt, and do not issue cash refunds for credit card or check purchases.
  • Visitor/customer injuries. There are ways of deterring fraudulent customer claims of accidents or incidents involving your business property. Retail establishments should consider installing video surveillance systems and having a handheld video camera ready in the event a customer falls on the premises to protect your business. If your business is not a retail establishment, you might consider requiring visitors to sign in and wear clearly identifiable badges. Tracking customer claims of injury via incident reports, and training employees to create reports immediately, cuts down on fraudulent injury claims.
  • Internet, e-mail, laptops, cell phones, and storage devices. Clearly defined policies need to establish that Internet access and e-mail remain the property of the business for business purposes. Eliminate all employee access to non-work e-mail and Internet sites, Lougovskaia says. Written guidelines addressing the use of business laptops, cell phones, and storage devices will reduce the possibility of critical corporate and customer data being lost or stolen.

How to Protect Your Business against Fraud: Creating Checks and Balances

Internal controls are one of the great fraud deterrents. Internal controls involve the processes by which a business operates and goals are achieved. In accounting, it refers to the reliability of financial reporting and compliance with laws and regulations. Setting up good controls is important for a business to detect and deter fraud.

‘A lot of organizations have an internal audit department, but small organizations can’t always afford that luxury,’ Bachman says. ‘But they do have accountants and other people in charge of keeping track of accounts.’ However, small businesses may have some weaknesses in terms of controls, such as putting the same employee in charge of making deposits and reconciling bank statements. Allowing one employee/department to perform multiple critical functions is inconsistent with preventing fraud. By dividing the responsibility of certain functions, a system of checks and balances is created and this creates an environment where fraud is less likely to occur. Lougovskaia says businesses should consider the following examples to establish better checks and balances:

  • Separate the person/department writing the checks from the person/department that reconciles the bank statement.
  • Do not let the person initiating a purchase order approve the payment regardless of position within the company.
  • Separate the functions of creating databases, maintaining databases and using the data. For example, the person responsible for generating payroll checks should not be entering employee data.
  • Require separate confirmation and storage of inventory records away from the location of the inventory and rotate responsibility for taking inventory.
  • Assign administrative access to the business data, web site, intranets, and email accounts to different individuals.

Implementing a fraud prevention plan requires commitment and also requires the business to provide the right tools and support to its employees. Businesses are better off if they build in deterrents, establish good controls, and provide oversight. It’s also important to encourage employees to have a conscientious attitude, says Bachman, such as: ‘Our business’ survival depends on employees being honest.’

Victims and Witnesses: Understanding Your Rights and the Federal Court System

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Victims of crime, and other people who have knowledge about the commission of a crime, are often required to testify at a trial or at other court proceedings. The federal criminal justice system cannot function without the participation of victims and witnesses. Complete cooperation and truthful testimony of all witnesses and victims are essential to the determination of the guilt or innocence of a person accused of committing a crime.

Crime victims and witnesses might experience feelings of confusion, frustration, fear, and anger. If you are a victim or a witness, the Victim-Witness Program of the United States Attorney’s office can help you understand the rights given to you by law.

The United States Attorney’s office is committed to ensuring that crime victims and witnesses are treated fairly by the criminal justice system. This pamphlet will provide answers to many of your questions and will help you understand your rights and responsibilities.

B. GENERAL INFORMATION FOR VICTIMS AND WITNESSES

  • Participants in the Criminal Justice System
    • Federal Judge
      The individual who presides over a court proceeding. Sometimes a federal magistrate judge presides over the proceeding. He/she has some, but not all, of the powers of a judge.
    • The United States Attorney (USA)
      The chief prosecutor for violations of federal laws of the United States. The USA is appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate. The United States Attorneys’ offices are part of the United States Department of Justice.
    • Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSAs)
      Government lawyers in the United States Attorneys’ offices who prosecute cases on behalf of the United States.
    • Victim-Witness Coordinator/Advocate
      The person(s) in the United States Attorneys’ offices who will assist you in your journey through the criminal justice system process.
    • Witness
      A person who has information or evidence concerning a crime and provides information regarding his/her knowledge to a law enforcement agency.
    • Victim
      An individual who has suffered direct physical, emotional, or economic harm as a result of the commission of a crime.
    • Defendant
      The person accused of committing a crime.
  • The Victim-Witness Program
    Each United States Attorney’s office has a Victim-Witness program which is staffed by at least one Victim-Witness Coordinator or Victim Advocate. The goal of the Federal Victim-Witness Program is to ensure that victims and witnesses of federal crimes are treated fairly, that their privacy is respected, and that they are treated with dignity and respect. Victim-Witness Coordinators and Victim Advocates work to make sure victims are kept informed of the status of a case and help victims find services to assist them in recovering from the crime.
  • Victims’ Legal Rights
    Below is a list of rights given to victims by the Crime Control Act of 1990. This piece of legislation provided crime victims with a “Bill of Rights.” Department of Justice employees are required to use their best efforts to ensure victims receive these rights. Victims’ rights laws apply to victims whether or not the victim testifies as a witness.
    • The right to be treated with fairness and respect for the victim’s dignity and privacy;
    • The right to be reasonably protected from the accused offender;
    • The right to be notified of court proceedings;
    • The right to be present at all public court proceedings related to the offense, unless the court determines that testimony by the victim would be materially affected if the victim heard other testimony at trial;
    • The right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case;
    • The right to restitution;
    • The right to information about the conviction, sentencing, imprisonment, and release of the offender.
  • Victim Services Required by Law
    • Victims are entitled to general information about the criminal justice process and notice of important case events, including notification about:
      • The status of the investigation of the crime (as long as this will not interfere with the investigation of the crime), the arrest of a suspected offender, and the filing of charges against a suspected offender.
      • The date, time, and location of each court proceeding that the witness and victim is either required to or permitted to attend;
      • The release or detention status of an offender or suspected offender.
      • The acceptance of a plea of guilty or nolo contendere or the rendering of a verdict after trial.
      • The sentence imposed on an offender, including the date on which the offender will be eligible for release.
      • Information regarding the corrections process, including information about work release, furlough, probation, and the defendant’s eligibility for each.
    • Victims are entitled to information about available services:
      • Information as to where he or she may receive emergency medical and social services and how and from whom to request these services.
      • Information about any restitution or other relief to which he or she may be entitled and how to obtain this relief.
      • Information about public and private programs that are available to provide counseling, treatment, and other support and how to obtain these services.
    • Victims are entitled to reasonable protection from a suspected offender:
      • The Department of Justice shall arrange for a victim to receive reasonable protection from a suspected offender and persons acting for or with the suspected offender.
      • Victims who attend court proceedings shall be provided with a place to wait which is removed from and out of the sight and hearing of the defendant and defense witnesses.
    • Victims are entitled to the following additional services:
      • Property belonging to victims and being held for evidentiary purposes shall be maintained in good condition and returned to the victim as soon as it is no longer needed.
      • In sexual assault cases, the cost of the victim’s physical examination, and testing and counseling for sexually transmitted diseases, shall be paid by the Department of Justice or the investigative agency. Sexual assault victims also have a right to request that the defendant be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Court Appearances
    There are many different stages involved with a case, including numerous hearings that you may be asked to attend. Despite the best efforts of everyone concerned, court hearings do not always take place on schedule. When possible, the Assistant United States Attorney handling the case will discuss any proposed scheduling changes with you. The United States Attorney’s office will also make every attempt to notify you in advance of any postponements or schedule changes.
  • How Cases are Resolved
    Although many criminal cases go to trial, many other criminal cases end without a trial. For example, a defendant may plead guilty to the crime, or the Government may dismiss the case (not try the case) for a variety of reasons. Different scenarios are discussed below.
    • Declination
      • When the United States Attorney chooses not to prosecute a particular case, this is called declination.
      • An Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) has the discretion to decline to prosecute a case based on several considerations, some of which the AUSA may not be able to discuss with you. The AUSA is ethically bound not to bring criminal charges unless the legally admissible evidence is likely to be enough to obtain a conviction. However, even when the evidence is sufficient, the AUSA may decide that there is not a sufficient federal interest served by prosecuting the particular defendant in a federal case. In many cases, the defendant may be subject to prosecution in another state, local, or tribal court (including a state court for the prosecution of juvenile delinquents) and prosecution in this other forum might be more appropriate than prosecution in federal court.
    • Dismissal
      • When the United States Attorney or the court chooses to dismiss the case after it has been filed with the court, this is called dismissal.
      • The Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) may ask the court to dismiss a case that has been filed in court. The AUSA may do this because the court will not allow critical evidence to be a part of the case, or because witnesses have become unavailable. There are times when evidence that weakens the case may come to light after the case has started. In other instances, the court may dismiss a case over the objection of the Assistant United States Attorney if the court determines that the evidence is insufficient to find the defendant guilty.
    • Pretrial Diversion
      • When the United States Attorney decides not to try a defendant right away, or not to bring charges immediately, a defendant may be placed in a Pretrial Diversion Program.
      • Under this program, the United States and the defendant enter into a contract in which the defendant agrees to comply with certain conditions, and agrees to be supervised by the United States Probation Office for a period of time. If the defendant successfully complies with all of the conditions, no charges will be brought. However, if the defendant fails to meet a condition, charges may be filed.
      • The Pretrial Diversion Program is designed for those defendants who do not appear likely to engage in further criminal conduct, and who appear to be susceptible to rehabilitation. The objective of the program is to prevent future criminal activity by certain defendants who would benefit more from community supervision and services than from traditional punishment.
    • Plea Agreements
      • When the United States Attorney reaches an agreement with a defendant, a plea agreement is established. A guilty plea can take place at any time, and can even take place after trial has begun.
      • To the public and to many victims, plea bargaining has a negative image. In reality, it is a very good tool to resolving a case and making sure a conviction is certain. Criminal cases always involve risks and uncertainties. A jury verdict of guilty is never a sure thing. With a plea agreement, a conviction is guaranteed, and a sentence is imposed. By pleading guilty, the defendant waives his or her right to trial.
    • Trial
      • Many cases do go to trial. Trials are discussed fully later in Section III, What Happens in Felony Cases.
  • Answers to Commonly Asked Questions
    • The criminal justice process can be complex and lengthy. Federal and tribal law enforcement agencies, and staff from the United States Attorneys’ offices will provide you with a variety of notification and assistance services to keep you informed on the status of your case.
    • The Victim-Witness Coordinator at the United States Attorney’s office will be your main contact throughout the prosecution phase of the case. Please contact the Coordinator if you have any questions.
    • Listed below are answers to some questions that are frequently asked by victims and witnesses.
      1. What kind of support services or assistance can the Victim-Witness Coordinator offer?
        • Referrals
          Victim-Witness Coordinators can provide victims with referrals to existing agencies for shelter, counseling, financial compensation, and other types of assistance services.
        • Accompaniment to court
          In certain cases, the Victim-Witness Coordinator or Victim-Witness Advocate may be available to accompany you to court to provide support.
        • Assistance with employers or creditors
          If your participation in the prosecution causes you to be absent from work, the Victim-Witness Coordinator can, at your request, contact your employer and explain your role in the case. Likewise, if the crime, or your participation in the prosecution makes you unable to pay your bills on time, the Victim-Witness Coordinator can, at your request, contact creditors for you, or assist you in doing so yourself. While creditors are not obligated to take your participation in the case into consideration, they may chose to do so, particularly if there is a possibility that you may receive restitution from the defendant.
      2. How will I find out information about the case?
        • The United States Attorney’s office will provide you with information throughout the progress of the case including notification of the filing of charges against a suspected offender or the dismissal of any or all charges; notification of a plea agreement; notification of the date set for sentencing if the offender is found guilty as well as the sentence imposed.
        • The Victim-Witness Coordinator will routinely provide information or assistance concerning transportation, parking, lodging, translators, and related services. In addition, every effort will be made to inform you about changes in the court’s schedules.
        • If you have questions about the case in which you are involved, you are welcome to call the Victim-Witness Coordinator or the Assistant United States Attorney who is handling the case. The Assistant United States Attorney may also be contacting you for information at various stages of the proceedings.
      3. How can I tell the court how this crime has affected me?
        • During a trial, it may seem as if most of the attention is paid to the defendant and not to the affects the crime has had on the victim. However, if the defendant is found guilty or pleads guilty, the victim has several opportunities to let the court know how the crime affected his/her life. A victim may submit a victim impact statement, a written statement of the affects of the crime and his/her feelings about the crime, to the probation officer. This statement will be included in the pre-sentence report prepared by the probation officer for the judge prior to sentencing.
        • Victims may attend the sentencing hearing, and victims of violent crimes or crimes involving sexual abuse will also have the opportunity to address the court at this time. This is called victim allocution, and is discussed further in Section III,(A)(8) “The Sentencing Hearing.” The Assistant United States Attorney or the Victim-Witness Coordinator will tell you if such an opportunity exists for you, and will talk to you about the aspects of a presentation.
      4. How do I know when the offender in my case may be released from prison?
        • Federal Bureau of Prisons Notification Program
          If the defendant is sentenced to a period of time in a federal prison, victims may choose to enroll in the Bureau of Prisons notification program. Once enrolled, you will receive information directly from the Bureau of Prisons. You will be notified of the death, escape, or furlough of the inmate, and you will be notified if the inmate is transferred to a halfway house. Finally, you will be notified of the inmate’s eventual release date. The Victim-Witness Coordinator will provide victims with the information needed to enroll in this program. Once you are enrolled in the Bureau of Prisons notification program, you must keep the appropriate officials notified of any address or telephone number change so that they may readily contact you with information about the defendant’s status.
        • Victim contact information is placed in the inmate’s central file. This information is kept confidential and the inmate does not have access to this information.
      5. What do I do if I am being threatened by the defendant or others acting on behalf of the defendant?
    • If anyone threatens you at any time while you are involved with the case, or you feel that you are being harassed because of your connection to the case, you should immediately notify the federal law enforcement agency conducting the investigation or the
      United States Attorney’s office. These telephone numbers are listed in your telephone directory under United States Government. In emergency situations, always contact your local law enforcement (911) first.
  • What is a bond and what factors are considered when releasing a defendant?
    • There are two main factors the court considers when deciding whether or not to release a defendant pending trial:
      • Risk of flight, and
      • Risk of danger to the community.
    • If the court is satisfied that the defendant will appear in court and that the defendant does not pose a threat to the community, the court may release the defendant while he or she is awaiting trial.
    • Sometimes the court may require the defendant, or someone acting on his/her behalf, to post cash or property which is known as a bond; or it may simply require the defendant to promise to appear. Since most federal criminal defendants are released on bond pending trial, you should not be surprised if you happen to see the defendant prior to trial.
    • If you have any concerns about the conditions of the defendant’s release, please discuss them with the Assistant United States Attorney handling the case.
  • Can I observe the trial?
    • Witnesses: As a general rule, witnesses are not permitted to watch court proceedings. This rule helps to ensure that a witness’s testimony is based solely on his or her own knowledge, and not on things he or she heard another witness testify about or on things he or she heard the judge or the lawyers say during court proceedings.
    • Victims that are testifying at the trial: Although victims have a right to attend public court proceedings, they lose this right if a judge decides that the victim’s testimony would be affected by hearing other testimony at the trial.
    • Victims that are not testifying at the trial: Not all victims are required to be witnesses at the trial. According to the Victims’ Rights Clarification Act of 1997, the judge is not allowed to order a victim to be excluded from the trial simply because that victim may testify or allocute at the sentencing hearing.
  • Am I entitled to a witness fee for every day that I am required to appear in court in connection with the case?
    • Victims will only receive a witness fee for the days they testify. If they are not testifying and are there only to observe the proceeding, they will not receive a witness fee.
  • Can I discuss the case with others?
    • Defense attorneys and investigators working for defendants often contact victims and witnesses. It is not unusual or inappropriate for the defense lawyer or an investigator for the defense to contact you for an interview. While you may discuss the case with them if you wish to do so, you do not have to talk to them. The choice is entirely yours. Below are some general suggestions and tips when discussing the case.
    • Please let the United States Attorney’s office know if you have agreed to be interviewed by the defense attorney or investigator. You may want to bring an additional person, chosen by you, to witness the interview.
    • Always tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
    • The Assistant United States Attorney may discuss some parts of the case with you to inform you and prepare you for testifying. However, there may be some instances when the Assistant United States Attorney may not be able to answer some of your questions because it may endanger the case or other witnesses.
    • After you testify in court, you are not allowed to tell other witnesses what was said during the testimony until after the case is over. Please do not ask other witnesses about their testimony, and do not volunteer information about your own testimony.
    • Know to whom you are talking when you discuss the case. We encourage you not to discuss the case with members of the press before or during the trial as the defendant’s right to a fair trial could be jeopardized by any publicity.
  • My property is being held as evidence. How, and when, can I get it back?
    • Sometimes, law enforcement officers hold property belonging to victims and witnesses as evidence for trial. If your property is being held as evidence and you would like to try to get your property back before the case is over, notify the law enforcement officer or the Assistant United States Attorney who is handling the case.
    • In some, but not all cases, arrangements can be made for early release of property. In any event, at the conclusion of the case, your property should be returned to you promptly. In those instances where this is not possible, the Assistant United States Attorney will explain the reasons for not returning the property.
  • How can I get my money back?
    • Many people lose money as a result of being victimized. There are two possible ways for you to recover your losses; there is, however, no guarantee that your losses will be recovered.
    • Compensation
      • Crime victims’ compensation programs are administered by each state, territory, and the District of Columbia and provide financial assistance to victims and survivors of victims of criminal violence who are not otherwise covered by insurance. These funds are intended to cover:
        • Medical expenses, including expenses for mental health counseling and care
        • Loss of wages resulting from a physical injury
        • Funeral expenses for a death resulting from a compensable crime
        • Eyeglasses or other corrective lenses
        • Dental services and devices
        • Prosthetic devices
      • Each compensation program has its own rules regarding the types of losses for which victims may recover and the amount of money victims may recover. Also, each compensation program has its own instructions for applying for crime victims’ compensation. Consult with your Victim-Witness Coordinator to determine how to apply for compensation.
    • Restitution
      • After a defendant is convicted of certain types of crimes, the judge may order the defendant to pay restitution as part of the sentence. Restitution occurs when an offender gives back the thing(s) he or she stole (or damaged) or when the offender pays the victim for his or her loss. Restitution can be either discretionary or in some cases the judge is required by law to award the victim restitution for the full amount of the victim’s losses. Examples of these cases include child support recovery, sexual abuse, domestic violence, telemarketing fraud, sexual exploitation and other abuses of children, consumer product tampering, most violent crimes, and most crimes against property, including fraud.
      • Receiving Restitution Payments:
        You will normally receive your restitution payments from the Clerk of the District Court. The defendant should not make payments directly to you. The court clerk of courts maintains a record of payments and disbursements on all court-ordered restitution for accountability purposes. You may receive one large lump sum payment, but more than likely you will receive smaller payments from time to time. This will depend on the defendant’s ability to repay the restitution and on the number of other victims involved.
      • It is your responsibility to keep the U.S. District Clerk of Court informed of your current address. If you move, you should contact the Clerk of Court immediately so that any restitution payments can be forwarded to you at your new address.

C. WHAT HAPPENS IN FELONY CASES

This section explains the way felony cases move through the court system. Witnesses and victims are not needed at every step in the process and not every case follows all of the available steps. In fact, many cases end before they reach trial. Even so, it may be useful for you to be familiar with all the steps that the case in which you are involved might go through.

Any offense punishable by death or imprisonment exceeding one year is a felony.

  • The Filing of a Criminal Complaint
    Some felony cases begin when the United States Attorney’s office, working with a law enforcement officer, files a criminal complaint before a United States Magistrate Judge.
    • What is a criminal complaint?
      The complaint is a sworn statement of facts stating that there is probable cause to believe that the accused person has committed a crime and violated the laws of the United States. If the Magistrate Judge accepts the complaint, a summons or arrest warrant will be issued for the defendant, if he or she has not already been arrested.
    • Is there anything that I should do to help in preparing the complaint?
      Victims and witnesses of federal offenses may be interviewed by a law enforcement officer prior to the filing of a complaint. In those situations, the officer will report the victims’ or witnesses’ statements to the Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the case. The Assistant United States Attorney may or may not decide to interview the witness in person.
  • The Initial Appearance
    • What is an initial appearance?
      The initial appearance is the defendant’s first hearing after arrest. It takes place before a United States Magistrate Judge, usually the same day the defendant is arrested. There are three purposes for this hearing. At the initial appearance, the defendant is advised of his or her rights, and the charges are explained. Next, the defendant is assisted in making arrangements for legal representation. The court may appoint an attorney for the defendant if necessary. Finally, at the hearing, the court determines whether the defendant is a danger to the community or a risk of flight, and whether he or she can be safely released.
    • Am I supposed to attend the initial appearance?
      Witness testimony is typically not needed at the initial appearance. However, you may attend if you so desire.
    • Could the defendant be released after his or her initial appearance?
      Although some defendants are detained (held without bond), many defendants charged with a felony are released at the end of this hearing. They, or someone acting on their behalf, have either posted money to guarantee their return for trial and other hearings, or they have been released on conditions which include their promise to return for future hearings or the trial. The conditions of bond may include a requirement that they not personally contact victims or witnesses in the case.
    • Victims of Domestic Violence
      If you are the victim of a federal domestic violence offense, you have the right to address the court at the initial appearance. You will be allowed to tell the judge whether or not you believe the defendant poses any threat to you if he or she is released.
    • In all types of cases, if you have any concerns about the conditions of the defendant’s release, please discuss them with the Assistant United States Attorney handling the case.
  • Grand Jury Proceedings
    Some cases begin with grand jury proceedings rather than with the filing of a criminal complaint.
    • What is a Grand Jury?
      • A grand jury is a group of citizens who meet to examine the evidence against individuals who may be charged with a crime. The grand jury’s work is done in complete secrecy. Only an Assistant United States Attorney, a stenographer, and the witnesses subpoenaed to deliver grand jury testimony are allowed in the grand jury room.
      • After hearing the evidence presented by the Assistant United States Attorney, the grand jury will decide whether there is probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed. If the grand jury decides that there is probable cause to believe that the defendant has violated a criminal law of the United States, they will return an indictment. If the grand jury finds that this is not true, they will return a “no bill.”
    • What is my role in the Grand Jury proceeding?
      • Although a grand jury proceeding is not a trial, it is a serious proceeding. Witnesses are placed under oath, their testimony is recorded, and their testimony may be used later during the trial. It is important to carefully review what you remember about the crime before testifying before the grand jury. You must tell the truth. Before testifying before the grand jury, you will probably meet with the case agent or the Assistant
        United States Attorney.
      • The grand jury does not necessarily call every witness to testify. Sometimes the grand jury will return indictments on the basis of an agent’s testimony alone. If you are called to testify, the Assistant
        United States Attorney should be able to give you an approximate time when your testimony will be heard. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to schedule testimony to the minute. Your appearance may involve waiting to be called before the grand jury, so you should bring some reading material or other work along with you. You should be aware that if you are testifying at trial, your statements made to the grand jury must be disclosed to the defendant.
  • The Arraignment
    • What is the Arraignment?
      At the arraignment hearing, the charges in the indictment are read to the defendant, and his or her bail conditions are reviewed by the court. The defendant is given an opportunity to plead guilty or not guilty to charges at this time.
    • What is my role in the arraignment?
      Witnesses are usually not needed at this hearing.
  • Hearings on Motions
    • What are motions?
      Before the trial, the court may hear requests, known as “motions,” by the defendant or the United States. Examples of these may include motions to suppress evidence, to compel discovery, or to resolve other legal questions.
    • Do I have to participate in hearings on motions?
      If you are needed at a motion hearing, you will be notified by the United States Attorney’s office.
  • The Trial
    In many felony cases, the only contact witnesses have with the prosecutors comes during trial and preparation for trial.
    • How will I know when I am supposed to testify at trial?
      Normally, when the trial date has been set, you will receive a subpoena. You may face serious penalties for failing to appear as directed on that subpoena. Check your subpoena for the exact time and place at which you should appear. If for any reason you are unable to appear as the subpoena directs, you should immediately notify the Assistant United States Attorney who is working on the case.
    • Why are trials sometimes delayed?
      Felony trials usually proceed as scheduled; however, sometimes a trial may be delayed. There are a number of reasons why a trial is delayed or postponed. The defendant may plead guilty at the last minute; if this happens, the trial will be canceled. At other times, the defendant or the Assistant United States Attorney asks for, and is granted, a continuance to a future date. Sometimes the trial has to be postponed a day or more because other cases being heard by the court have taken longer than expected. The United States Attorney’s office will do everything it can to notify you of any postponement in advance of your appearance at court.
    • Will I have to wait before I testify?
      Although all of the witnesses for trial are usually asked to appear early in the day, it is not uncommon to have to wait for some period of time before being called to the courtroom to give testimony. For this reason, it is a good idea to bring some reading material or other work to occupy your waiting time.
    • Who will question me?
      Usually, you will first be questioned by the Assistant United States Attorney. Then the defendant’s attorney has the right to question you. The Assistant United States Attorney may then ask follow-up questions. The defendant will be present in court. The judge may also ask you questions.
    • Can I talk about my testimony?
      After you have testified in court, you should not tell other witnesses what was said during the testimony until after the case is over. Thus, you should not ask other witnesses about their testimony, and you should not volunteer information about your own.
  • The Sentencing Hearing
    • What is a sentencing hearing?
      If the defendant is convicted, the judge will set a date for sentencing. The sentencing hearing offers victims several important opportunities to tell the court how the crime has affected them. These opportunities are called victim impact statements and allocution.
    • How can I tell the court how this crime has affected me?
      • Victim Impact Statement
        When the defendant is convicted, by plea or by trial, the victim may submit a “victim impact” statement. This statement is a written description of the victim’s physical, psychological, emotional, and financial injuries that occurred as a direct result of the crime. Generally, the victim impact statement form will be provided to the victim by the Victim-Witness Coordinator, the AUSA, or by the probation officer. The defendant and his/her attorney typically see the Victim Impact Statement.
      • Pre-Sentence Report
        The probation officer will incorporate information from the Victim Impact Statement into a pre-sentence report that he/she must submit to the court before the defendant is sentenced. A pre-sentence report is a document completed by the Probation Office which details the defendant’s criminal history, the defendant’s background, and the impact of the crime. This pre-sentence report will become a formal part of the court record and as such will be seen by the defendant and his or her attorney.
      • Victim Allocution
        If you are the victim of a violent crime or a crime of sexual abuse; the close family member of a child victim, deceased victim, or an incapacitated victim; you will have an opportunity to inform the court about the crime’s impact on you. The defendant will be present when this occurs.
    • How does a judge choose an appropriate sentence for the defendant?
      Only the judge has the power to impose a sentence. Judges follow federal sentencing guidelines when issuing a sentence. These guidelines exist to assure that sentences are relatively uniform and fair. Sentencing alternatives permitted under the guidelines include placing the defendant on probation, which allows the defendant to be released into the community under supervision of the court for a period of years. Alternatively, the judge may sentence the defendant to a period of incarceration and/or may impose a fine on the defendant. The judge may also formulate a sentence involving a combination of these sentencing alternatives.
    • Can I be compensated by the defendant for the damages he/she caused to me?
      Restitution is the payment of money by the defendant to the victim or to the court for damages caused by his/her actions. The court will issue an order of restitution in cases where restitution is mandatory and will consider issuing a restitution order in cases where restitution is discretionary. (See, Section II(G), Answers to Commonly Asked Questions, “How can I get my money back?”) If you are a victim, you should cooperate fully with the United States Probation office in preparing a Victim Impact Statement regarding the impact of the crime and the need for restitution.

We hope that this information answers many of your questions as to how the federal criminal justice system operates and your rights as a victim or your role as a witness. Victims and witnesses have important responsibilities in the criminal justice system, and full cooperation is essential for the criminal justice system to operate effectively. Your contribution of time and energy is appreciated by everyone in the United States Attorney’s office.

If you have any other questions or problems related to the case, please contact the Victim-Witness Coordinator or the Assistant United States Attorney assigned to the case.

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