UBS, Foreclosure Accord, Berezovsky, Commerzbank, MF Global in Court News
Kweku Adoboli, the former UBS AG (UBSN) trader who is accused of causing the largest loss from unauthorized trading in British history, pleaded not guilty to fraud and false accounting.
Adoboli, dressed in a gray suit and blue tie, pleaded not guilty to all charges at a hearing in London yesterday. A trial that may last as long as eight weeks was scheduled to start in early September.
Adoboli, 31, has been in custody since Sept. 15 when UBS asked London police to arrest him for causing a $2.3 billion loss. The case led to the departures of Chief Executive Officer Oswald Gruebel and the co-heads of the Swiss bank’s global equities business. The trial could be “really awful” for UBS, said Steven Francis, a regulatory lawyer in London.
“There’ll be an assessment of what training he was given” and of “the bank’s compliance procedures,” said Francis, a lawyer at Reynolds Porter Chamberlain, who isn’t involved in the case.
UBS isn’t able to comment on the case because “English criminal law limits what we can say about this incident,” Oliver Gadney, a spokesman for the bank, said in an e-mailed statement.
Adoboli, who was remanded into custody, is being held at Wandsworth prison in southwest London. One of his lawyers, Paul Garlick, told Judge Alistair McCreath he may request bail for Adoboli soon.
The loss allegedly caused by Adoboli came from trading in Standard & Poor’s 500, DAX (DAX) and EuroStoxx index futures, according to the Zurich-based bank. The risk from the trades was masked by fictitious positions, UBS said. Adoboli, who worked for UBS’s investment bank, also falsified records on exchange- traded-fund transactions, prosecutors have said. He was charged with fraud and false accounting dating back to 2008.
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Proposed 50-State Foreclosure Accord Deadline Set for Feb. 3
State attorneys general have until Feb. 3 to decide whether to sign a proposed nationwide settlement of foreclosure wrongdoing with banks including JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and Citigroup Inc. that may total as much as $25 billion.
State and federal officials have been negotiating an agreement with the largest mortgage servicers that would set standards for banks conducting home foreclosures while providing some mortgage relief to borrowers. Any accord would be separate from a state-federal probe of mortgage securitization started last week.
Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto wrote in a Jan. 27 letter to the Justice Department, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller, who is helping to lead negotiations, seeking more details on the deal. Masto said she needs answers to evaluate the agreement because the “sign-on deadline” of Feb. 3.
“I need this information as soon as possible to allow my office to continue to evaluate the proposal on behalf of the state of Nevada,” she wrote. Jennifer Lopez, a spokeswoman for Masto, confirmed the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Bloomberg News, and declined further comment.
State officials discussed the settlement last week as part of a Chicago meeting with federal officials after being sent information on its terms. Miller declined to comment at the time about whether there is a deadline for states to decide whether to accept it. Geoff Greenwood, his spokesman, didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.
At least one state attorney general -- Delaware’s Beau Biden -- has said he won’t sign on the deal as currently drafted. California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s office last week called it “inadequate for California.”
Hong Kong’s Tiger Court Fight Tests Regulator’s Offshore Reach
Hong Kong’s securities watchdog is fighting to defend the way it tackles offshore targets after losing the first round of its insider trading case against hedge fund firm Tiger Asia Management LLC, Bloomberg News’ Debra Mao reports.
The Securities and Futures Commission will try next week to overturn a court ruling that it can’t seek civil remedies from New York-based Tiger Asia under a law used to freeze the assets of suspected rule breakers. The regulator has invoked the law in at least three other pending cases.
The legal battle, which both the SFC and Tiger Asia’s founder Bill Hwang have pledged to take to Hong Kong’s top court, will determine whether the agency can sue independently for relief before asking government departments to bring criminal or civil market misconduct cases.
“Their first line of attack has been an injunction to freeze your assets,” said Nick Hunsworth, a disputes partner at Mayer Brown JSM in Hong Kong, of the city’s regulator. “If now they’re being told that wouldn’t work, it would impose on them a radical rethinking of their strategy.”
Though Hong Kong criminalized market manipulation offenses such as insider trading in 2003, prosecuting suspected offenders has been a challenge in a market where overseas investors made up 46 percent of equities trading turnover for the 12 months preceding September 2010, according to the most recent Hong Kong stock exchange data.
Almost one in four companies listed in Hong Kong are neither incorporated nor domiciled within the jurisdiction, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Mainland Chinese companies made up 46 percent of the exchange’s market capitalization through the end of December, according to stock exchange statistics.
“If a person is not in the jurisdiction but their assets are, then the court can decide whether there are grounds to freeze them,” Mark Steward, the SFC’s enforcement director, said in an interview. “Clearly we are attacking some vested interests who have a lot to lose if we succeed.”
Steward said the commission is focused on putting counterparties and other victims of market misconduct back into the position they were in before any questionable transactions took place. “We can’t say the job is done until victims have been remediated,” he said.
The case is Securities and Futures Commission and Tiger Asia Management LLC, Sung Kook Hwang Bill, Raymond Park, William Tomita, CACV178/2011 in the Hong Kong Court of Appeal.
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California’s Harris Seeks to Improve Mortgage Deal With Holdout
California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s holdout position in a proposed agreement with banks over foreclosure practices may reap financial and political rewards at the cost of prolonging some constituents’ suffering, Joel Rosenblatt reports.
Her strategy has created an obstacle in the negotiations between state attorneys general and the five largest U.S. mortgage servicers over a nationwide probe. By Harris’s own reckoning, her reluctance to sign onto a deal and any investigation she might pursue risk deepening the “blight and despair” for many of the 2.2 million California homeowners whom she has said are “holding on by their fingernails.”
Still, she is pushing a broader probe of banks’ mortgage practices, including securitization of the loans. The gambit may lead to more favorable terms in a proposed multistate agreement said to be worth as much as $25 billion, and might carry Harris, a rising star in the Democratic Party, to higher office, both a state political observer and law professor said.
“If she just goes along with other attorneys general, it’s not her achievement” said Bruce Cain, a professor of politics and executive director of the Washington Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “It’s hard to claim credit for something that was a group effort.”
By holding out, Harris stands to “put her own mark on it,” Cain said. “It’s a risky strategy but if it works out well for her then this is something she’ll be able to use in her future campaign for governor.”
State and federal officials have been negotiating a settlement with Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Citigroup Inc. (C), Wells Fargo & Co. and Ally Financial Inc. (ALLY) The nationwide foreclosure probe, begun in October 2010, was triggered by revelations that companies were using faulty documents in seizing homes.
The proposed accord would set requirements for how lenders conduct home foreclosures and mandate that the banks fund loan principal writedowns for homeowners and provide refinancings, said a person familiar with the matter who didn’t want to be identified because the terms aren’t public.
Dan Frahm, a spokesman for Charlotte, North, Carolina-based Bank of America, declined to comment on Harris’s role in the settlement talks. Tom Kelly, a spokesman for New York-based JPMorgan, Mark Rodgers of New York-based Citigroup Inc., Vickee Adams of San Francisco-based Wells Fargo and Gina Proia of Detroit-based Ally Financial also declined to comment.
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Berezovsky Said to Gain Hold on $600 Million of Anisimov Cash
Boris Berezovsky won a London court order placing $600 million from billionaire Vasily Anisimov’s sale of a stake in Russia’s largest iron-ore producer into an escrow account, said three people with knowledge of the matter.
Anisimov can’t touch almost a quarter of the $2.5 billion that state-controlled VTB Group paid for his 20 percent of mining company Metalloinvest Holding (METIN) after the U.K. High Court ruling in December, the people said, declining to be named because the ruling isn’t public.
Berezovsky, the self-exiled former billionaire adviser to President Boris Yeltsin, filed a claim in 2009 to recover money he said he loaned Anisimov to buy a mining asset that became part of Metalloinvest, two of the people said.
The court allowed the sale to VTB, Russia’s second-biggest lender, while forcing $600 million into the special escrow account until a decision is made on the case, the people said. The trial will begin in October, an external press official for the businessman said by e-mail, declining to comment on the funds and asking not to be identified.
Anisimov’s legal counsel and VTB’s press service declined to comment when called by Bloomberg.
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UBS Clients Kerr, Quiel, Rusch Charged in Offshore Tax Case
Three former UBS AG clients, including two who ran venture capital firms, were indicted on charges of using secret offshore accounts to hide millions of dollars in assets from U.S. tax authorities.
Stephen M. Kerr and Michael Quiel, who separately ran venture capital firms, were charged in an indictment made public yesterday in federal court in Phoenix. A former San Diego attorney, Christopher M. Rusch, was arrested Jan. 29 in Miami after being expelled from Panama at the request of the U.S. government.
Kerr, who ran CCN Worldwide Inc., had accounts worth more than $5.6 million in 2007 that he failed to report to the Internal Revenue Service, according to a Justice Department statement and the Dec. 8 indictment.
Quiel, who ran Legend Advisory Corp., had accounts valued at more than $2.6 million in 2007 that he also failed to report to the IRS, according to prosecutors and the indictment. He was arrested yesterday in the Phoenix area.
Rusch had signature authority over secret accounts held by Kerr and Quiel, and helped facilitate their transactions, prosecutors said. Rusch also had secret offshore accounts in the names of others at UBS and a Panamanian bank, prosecutors said.
The case is United States v. Stephen Kerr, 11-cr-2385, U.S. District Court, District of Arizona (Phoenix).
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Clariden Sued in Singapore Over Minor’s Risky Trades in Futures
Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN)’s private banking unit Clariden Leu induced a 19-year-old minor to make risky trades in futures contracts and should be liable for the losses incurred, according to a lawsuit filed in Singapore.
Ian Ow and his father Ow Weng Fye sought to recoup S$896,871 ($715,607) from Clariden Leu and their former banker Aaron Chwee in a lawsuit filed at the Singapore High Court. A closed hearing is scheduled for next month.
“The trades were carried out through the instigation of Chwee without any consultation with WF Ow,” the Ows said in their lawsuit. “Clariden did not take reasonable care as any prudent bank would have.”
Ian Ow, who was considered a minor under Singapore law when he traded in Singapore MSCI futures contracts in 2007, was convinced by Chwee that Clariden had the systems in place to make trades which would be profitable and risk free, according to court papers. The age of majority in Singapore for purposes including voting is 21. It was lowered to 18 for entering most contracts in 2009.
Adrian Tan, the Ows’ lawyer, declined to comment as did Chwee. Clariden declined to comment.
Both father, who was a former executive director at Millennium Securities in Singapore, and son were “sophisticated and knowledgeable investors,” Clariden said in its defense. Ian Ow’s trades are also binding as he was no longer considered a minor under Swiss laws at the time of the trades in question, the bank said.
The case is Ow Tuc Yun Ian and Ow Weng Fye v Clariden Leu Ltd and Aaron Chwee S752/2011 in the Singapore High Court.
FDIC Sues Former Officers of Merced’s County Bank Over Loans
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. sued former officials of County Bank in Merced, California, part of Capital Corp. of the West, claiming their mismanagement caused $42 million in losses through bad loans.
Named in the suit, filed Jan. 27 in federal court in Fresno, were former County Bank Chief Executive Officer Thomas T. Hawker; John J. Incandela, Dave Kraechan, and Edwin Jay Lee, who are former vice presidents; and Edward Rocha, the former chief operating officer and bank president.
“Defendants caused or allowed County to make imprudent real estate loans,” the FDIC said in the complaint.
The bank, which was established in 1977 and provided residential construction loans in California’s central valley, failed in 2009, according to the complaint. The FDIC is receiver for the bank.
“Management repeatedly disregarded the bank’s credit policies and approved loans to borrowers who were not credit worthy” or lacked sufficient collateral, the FDIC alleged.
The former officers either had no phone number listed or had an unlisted number, and couldn’t immediately be located for comment on the lawsuit.
The case is FDIC v. Hawker, 12-CV-00127, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California (Fresno).
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Dresdner Bonus Cut Was ‘Right Thing to Do,’ Blessing Says
Commerzbank AG (CBK) Chief Executive Officer Martin Blessing told a court he “didn’t like” a guaranteed bonus pool for Dresdner Kleinwort bankers and cut the awards because of special circumstances arising from the financial crisis.
Blessing, 48, testified yesterday in a London lawsuit filed by more than 100 former Dresdner Kleinwort bankers suing Commerzbank for slashing bonuses by at least 90 percent after taking over Dresdner in 2009. Stefan Jentzsch, Dresdner’s former CEO, had promised to set aside 400 million euros ($525 million) for discretionary pay, the bankers claim.
Commerzbank argues it was reasonable to reduce bonuses following the record loss by Dresdner’s investment banking unit in 2008. Blessing, who oversaw Commerzbank’s January 2009 acquisition of Dresdner and its 18.2 billion-euro bailout during the credit crunch, said he had to consider the interests of other employees, shareholders and the general public.
“From my point, I behaved honorably,” said Blessing. “But from their point, I probably disappointed them.”
Blessing said he discussed the 400 million-euro pool with Jentzsch in 2008, before the takeover was completed. “I stated, I don’t like this thing,” he said. Because the promise had been made by Dresdner’s management, “there was no way we could have changed it or done anything about it.” Jentzsch is scheduled to testify later in the trial.
Commerzbank spokesman Andrew Walton declined to comment outside court.
The German lender has spent an estimated 4 million pounds ($6.3 million) on legal fees fighting the Dresdner bankers’ lawsuit, Hochhauser said.
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Stanford Deputy Sought to Falsify Returns, Witness Says
Laura Pendergest Holt, former chief investment officer of Stanford International Bank Ltd., asked a company research analyst to change negative investment returns to positive ones that could be given to bank owner R. Allen Stanford, the analyst said.
Mark Collinsworth, who then worked for Stanford Financial Group Co., testified yesterday in Houston federal court that Holt made the request in March 2008 after showing him an e-mail she said she received from Stanford. The financier was requesting performance results for part of the bank’s investment portfolio.
“She showed me the e-mail on her iPhone and said, ‘I’m going to forward this to you but I want you to make the numbers positive,’” Collinsworth, a government witness, said during cross-examination in the second week of Stanford’s $7 billion criminal fraud trial.
“I thought, surely she wouldn’t ask me to change negative numbers to positive numbers,” he said. Collinsworth said he refused to make the changes and didn’t know if Stanford was presented the correct investment results at a meeting the next day. “I was not going to lie to the owner of the company,” Collinsworth said of why he sat silently at the meeting with Stanford and was relieved not to be called upon.
Stanford, 61, who was indicted in June 2009, is charged with 14 counts including mail fraud, wire fraud and obstruction of an SEC probe. He denies the charges.
The case is U.S. v. Stanford, 09-cr-342, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Texas (Houston).
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Ex-Secret Service Official Acquitted of Foreign Bribes
A former deputy assistant director of the U.S. Secret Service, R. Patrick Caldwell, was one of two security-industry executives acquitted by a federal jury in a foreign bribery case in Washington.
Caldwell, who is also a former chief executive officer of Protective Products of America Inc., and John “Greg” Godsey were found not guilty yesterday on charges they agreed to make payments to a federal agent posing as a representative of the west African country of Gabon.
Both men faced as long as five years in prison had they been convicted. U.S. District Judge Richard Leon told the jury, which deliberated for eight days, to continue considering charges against three other trial defendants.
“Justice was done, but it cost Greg Godsey two years of his life in a case that should never have been brought,” Godsey’s lawyer, Michael Madigan of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, said yesterday in an interview.
“We are very grateful for the verdict,” Caldwell’s lawyer, Eric Dubelier of Reed Smith LLP in Washington, said in an e-mail.
The trial, which opened Sept. 28, is the second in a 22- defendant kickback conspiracy case stemming from a fake $15 million weapons deal. It’s the biggest prosecution of individuals accused of violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. A trial of four others arrested in the sting ended in a mistrial in July after a jury failed to agree on a verdict.
Laura Sweeney, a Justice Department spokeswoman, declined to comment on the verdict, saying the jury was still deliberating.
The government said the defendants agreed to pay a $3 million commission for the business, half of which they were told would be passed on to the country’s defense minister.
Three of the original 22 defendants have pleaded guilty while trials for the remaining 13 are pending.
The case is U.S. v. Goncalves, 09-cr-00335, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
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Asset Acceptance Unit to Pay $2.5 Million in FTC Settlement
Asset Acceptance Capital Corp. (AACC) agreed to pay a civil penalty of $2.5 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges it deceived consumers while trying to collect old debts.
The company’s Asset Acceptance LLC unit agreed to tell consumers whose debts may be too old to be legally enforceable that it won’t sue to collect on that debt, the FTC said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
Under the proposed settlement order, Asset Acceptance must also investigate disputed debts and ensure it has a reasonable basis for claiming that the consumer owes the money before continuing collection efforts, the agency said.
“This FTC settlement signals that, even with old debt, the prohibitions against deceptive and unfair collection methods apply,” David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection, said in the statement.
Asset Acceptance, based in Warren, Michigan, pays pennies on the dollar for debts owed to credit card companies, health clubs and telecommunications and utilities providers, as well as other debt buyers, according to the FTC. It has bought tens of millions of consumer accounts, targeting those more than a year past due that other collectors have pursued. Some of this debt is too old to be legally enforceable under state statutes, the FTC said.
Asset Acceptance said the settlement won’t have a “material adverse effect” on its business and doesn’t represent any admission of the FTC’s claims, according to a statement posted on Business Wire. The company said it agreed to “undertake industry-leading consumer protection practices” under the accord.
The case is U.S. v. Asset Acceptance LLC, 12-cv-182, U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida (Tampa).
Yazaki, Denso Agree to Price-Fixing Conspiracy Guilty Plea
Yazaki Corp. (YAZZ) and Denso Corp. (6902) agreed to plead guilty and pay a total of $548 million in criminal fines for their role in a price-fixing and bid-rigging conspiracy involving sales of auto parts in the U.S., the Justice Department said.
Four Yazaki executives, all Japanese, also agreed to serve prison sentences in the U.S. ranging from 15 months to two years, the department said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.
Yazaki, a closely held company based in Tokyo, agreed to pay a $470 million fine, the second-largest criminal fine for a violation of the Sherman Act antitrust law, the department said. Aichi, Japan-based Denso agreed to pay a $78 million fine.
The conspiracy to rig bids and fix prices of auto parts, including instrument panels and fuel senders, had been going on for as long as a decade, according to court documents filed by the Justice Department yesterday in federal court in Detroit.
“The Antitrust Division will continue to work with the FBI and our law enforcement counterparts to root out this kind of pernicious cartel conduct that results in higher prices to American consumers and businesses,” Sharis Pozen, acting assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division, said in the statement.
“We’re focused on our future and happy to have this chapter closed,” said Misty Matthews, a spokeswoman for Yazaki. In a statement on its website, Yazaki said it has cooperated fully with the Justice Department investigation and would cut the salaries of its chairman and president by 50 percent for three months “as a reflection of remorse.”
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Christie Backs Nominee Kwon After Family’s Legal Settlement
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie defended his choice of Phillip Kwon to serve on the state Supreme Court after a liquor store run by Kwon’s family forfeited almost $160,000 to settle a U.S. civil lawsuit over $2 million in cash deposits.
Kwon, 44, was nominated last week and would be the first Asian American on the court if confirmed. Kwon’s mother and wife own a liquor store in Mount Vernon, New York. Prosecutors sued two bank accounts in June 2011 and seized $290,236, claiming the business illegally “structured” 222 cash deposits so that they were below the $10,000 threshold to avoid triggering the required filing of currency transaction reports with U.S. authorities.
The business, KCP Wines & Liquor Corp., settled last month with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Brooklyn, New York, forfeiting $159,630 without admitting wrongdoing. The case “didn’t involve Kwon in the least,” Christie, a first-term Republican, said at a news conference in Trenton.
“I have complete confidence in Phil and his integrity, and this doesn’t reflect on that at all,” Christie said. “I’m anxious for the Senate to schedule their confirmation hearings, and if there are any questions about that, there will be a full opportunity to ask about it.”
Kwon, the first assistant attorney general in New Jersey, worked for 10 years as a federal prosecutor, including the seven-year period when Christie was the U.S. attorney. Kwon declined to comment on the case.
George Stamboulidis, an attorney for the business, said it reported all cash receipts to the Internal Revenue Service and paid all required taxes.
“Put simply, there was nothing illegal or improper about the source of the deposits, and taxes were fully paid,” said Stamboulidis of Baker & Hostetler LLP in New York. “The business wasn’t structuring cash deposits. Phil had no ownership interest in the store and was not involved in this matter in any way.”
The forfeiture case is United States v. Any and All Funds on Deposit in Hudson Valley Bank, 11-cv-2849, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of New York (Brooklyn).
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Christie Says Supreme Court Nominee Won’t Rule on Gay Marriage
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said his pick to be the first openly gay justice on the state Supreme Court won’t rule on issues involving same-sex marriage.
Christie, a first-term Republican, said the nominee, Bruce Harris, told the governor that he has advocated for gay marriage personally and as a politician.
“If confirmed to the court he would recuse himself from that matter because he did not want there to be the appearance of bias on his part on that issue,” Christie told reporters in Trenton yesterday. “My perspective on that issue was to put it aside because he’s not going to rule on that if he goes to the court.”
MF Global Judge Picks Law Firm for Class Action Over Pay
The judge handling the MF Global Holdings Ltd. (MFGLQ) bankruptcy appointed an interim law firm for a potential group lawsuit over back pay, saying he expected the firm to coordinate with lawyers working on other cases against the defunct company.
Outten & Golden LLP, the New York firm named as interim lead counsel, has been advising Todd Thielmann and Pierre-Yvan Desparois, who sued MF Global in November to recover 60 days’ wages and benefits for themselves and other employees. They joined with plaintiffs in two other would-be class-action suits, asking the judge to pick a lead law firm and dismiss a fourth suit filed after theirs. The judge agreed to their requests in a court order signed yesterday.
The suits were filed after the liquidator of broker-dealer MF Global Inc. (MF) dismissed 1,066 employees as part of the shutdown of the firm. Employees (MFGLQ) didn’t get 60 days’ advance written notice of the firings, as required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, according to filings in Manhattan bankruptcy court. Under bankruptcy law, wage claims may get priority status, with a possibility of being paid in full.
Explaining his order, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn wrote that lawyers for the four sets of plaintiffs “are engaged in a vitriolic battle about which cases will proceed forward and who will serve as interim counsel” while they seek approval for class-action status.
Outten has fought about 50 so-called WARN Act cases and has a website dedicated to such litigation, Glenn said in the order. The interim appointment doesn’t mean Outten will lead a class action, if the case is certified as such, he said.
The MF Global parent filed for bankruptcy with almost $40 billion in debt on Oct. 31 after making bets on European sovereign debt and getting margin calls.
The employee suit is Thielmann v. MF Global Finance USA, 11-02880, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).
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