Where in the world is William Scott and does he know there’s a warrant for his arrest on money laundering charges?
The questions are tied to an opinion today in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided against the government in seizing nearly $7 million from Scott, who prosecutors allege is unlawfully remaining abroad to avoid prosecution in the United States for his role in running an offshore Internet gambling operation.
A three-judge appellate panel ruled today there’s still a factual dispute about whether the fugitive disentitlement statute applies to Scott. Scott voluntarily left the United States in 1992—six years before a criminal complaint was filed against him. Fugitive disentitlement laws allow the government in civil cases to seize money from a person who is accused of evading prosecution in criminal court.
Judge Thomas Griffith wrote the 19-page opinion with Senior Judges Harry Edwards and Stephen Williams. The judges have pushed the case back to U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for further proceedings.
Prosecutors contend Scott pumped unlawfully-obtained funds through American banks into an account at the Royal Bank of Scotland under the name Soulbury Limited. Justice lawyers filed court papers in D.C. federal court in 2003 to forfeit nearly $7 million from Soulbury. A warrant to seize the money was executed at Harris Bank International, in New York. An indictment against Scott alleging money laundering was unsealed in 2006.
In 2007, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth agreed with Justice lawyers when he determined Soulbury would be free to assert a claim to the funds if Scott surrendered. Court records indicate he may have taken up residence in Antigua. Justice lawyer A.J. de Kluiver of the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section argued in a brief: “Had the real claimant, Scott, come forward from the shadows, he could have rightfully filed a claim in the civil forfeiture proceedings.”
Justice Department lawyers, the appeals court ruled, have failed to prove Scott had notice of the warrant for his arrest. And there remains a factual dispute about Scott’s intent to avoid criminal prosecution considering he left the country voluntarily. The judges said Scott's "renunciation of his U.S. citizenship is insufficient without some evidence that he took this action to avoid extradition."
McDermott, Will & Emery lawyers represented Soulbury in district court. Soulbury's appellate lawyers—Juan Chardiet and Daniel Press of Chung & Press, in McLean—argue Scott doesn’t want to return to the U.S. regardless of pending charges. Chardiet and Press were not immediately available for comment. “Put in very plain terms, the government grabbed these funds without a legal basis and then availed itself of the stay granted by this court to shield itself from the obvious shortcomings of the complaint,” Chardiet wrote in an appellate brief.