A recent high profile case highlights the federal government’s ability to seize a convicted defendant’s accounts to satisfy an Order of Restitution after a conviction at trial or a guilty plea. The Second Circuit recently held that the retirement funds of Evan Greebel, the former convicted attorney and Martin Shkreli’s codefendant, could be seized in partial satisfaction of the restitution amount owed. Greebel was convicted in a separate 2017 trial for assisting his client Shkreli’s fraudulent taking of funds from Retrophin to pay Shkreli’s hedge fund debts, and for manipulating the stock price of Shkreli’s drug company. After conviction, Greebel was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay $10.4 million in restitution.

In its opinion, the Second Circuit upheld the trial court’s decision that Greebel’s 401(k) accounts at his former law firm were subject to garnishment in an effort to collect the restitution amount. The Second Circuit held that the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA) gives the government full access to retirement funds, and that ERISA’s prohibition on disbursing retirement funds to third parties is trumped by the MVRA.

It is well-established that under 18 U.S.C. § 3664(m)(1)(A), the Government may enforce a restitution order in the manner provided by subchapter B of Chapter 229, or 18 U.S.C. § 3613. An order of restitution may be executed in accordance with the practices and procedures for the enforcement of a civil judgment under federal law or state law or by all other available and reasonable means. 18 U.S.C. § 3613 (a) and (f).

The MVRA broadly permits the United States to enforce a restitution order “against all property or rights to property of the person fined.” Pursuant to §3613(c), once restitution is ordered, all the defendant’s property becomes subject to a lien in favor of the United States, and for purposes of debt collection, such lien is treated like a tax lien. §3613(c). Thus, any property the IRS can reach to satisfy a tax lien, a sentencing court can also reach in a restitution order – bank accounts, retirement funds, stock accounts and even Social Security benefits. Additionally, while periodic payments (usually monthly payments through the Probation Department) in satisfaction of a restitution order are limited to 25% of the defendant’s disposable income, one time lump sums payments, such as the garnishment of a retirement or bank account, are not limited.

The only issue left unanswered by the Second Circuit in Greebel was whether the government could seize all the funds, or whether it had to leave the defendant sufficient funds to pay the 10% tax penalty for early withdrawal of retirement funds. In many instances, the amount left to a defendant to pay tax penalties and taxes on garnishment of retirement accounts can be negotiated with the government.

Stahl Criminal Defense Attorneys have represented scores of clients facing restitution and forfeiture orders and garnishments. We actively and aggressively protect clients’ rights. To contact Mr. Stahl, call 908.301.9001 for the NJ office and 212.755.3300 for the NYC office, or email Mr. Stahl at rstahl@stahlesq.com