Mishandle a Fraud Search, and All That Fine Evidence Could Be for Nothing

When an investigation involves potential fraud, almost any document or record could be related to it. Prosecutors often need to show that transactions that appear to be legal were misleading or deceptive, which might not be apparent on the face of the documents. So the description in the warrant of what the government can seize in a white-collar case is usually quite broad, covering general categories of records and computer files created over a substantial period of time, but cannot be so vague that almost anything could be seized.

The government obtained warrants to search Mr. Wey’s company, New York Global Group, and his New York City apartment for evidence that he used other companies and investors as part of a plan to manipulate the shares of companies used for mergers with China-based businesses. The warrants listed 12 categories of documents that related to transactions with 220 individuals and companies, including the seizure of computers and other electronic devices that might contain records related to them.

The key to any warrant that covers so much material is to properly identify the specific crimes that were committed so that there is some limitation on what types of records can be seized. It was on this point that Judge Nathan found the warrant in Mr. Wey’s case had failed.

The primary flaw was that while the affidavit submitted by an F.B.I. agent to a magistrate judge gave a reasonable description of the crimes under investigation, that document was not incorporated in the warrant, or even attached to it, to establish the parameters for the search.

Because there were no apparent limits to what could be seized, the agents executing the warrants seemed to take just about everything they could get their hands on. In particular, Judge Nathan was troubled that agents took personal items with no apparent connection to the investigation, like X-rays of family members, children’s sports schedules, divorce…

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