CEO of Medical Device Company Charged in COVID-19 Related Securities Fraud Scheme

The chief executive officer (CEO) of a California-based medical device company was indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with an alleged scheme to defraud investors by making false and misleading statements about the purported development of a new COVID-19 test, leading to millions of dollars in investor losses. 

Keith Berman, 67, the CEO of Decision Diagnostics Inc. (DECN), was charged by indictment, unsealed today, with one count of securities fraud and one count of making false statements.  The indictment alleges that, from February through December 2020, Berman engaged in a scheme to defraud investors by falsely claiming DECN had developed a 15-second test to detect COVID-19 in a finger prick sample of blood.  In truth, Berman knew his test was merely an idea and not a validated method of accurately detecting COVID-19, much less an actual product ready for manufacture and sale.  According to the indictment, Berman and DECN were in precarious financial condition in the lead up to the pandemic, and Berman wrote in internal emails that he needed a “new story” to “raise millions.” 

The indictment further alleges that Berman falsely told investors that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was on the verge of approving DECN’s request for emergency use authorization of its new COVID-19 test.  In truth, Berman knew that the company lacked the financial resources and insurance necessary to conduct the clinical testing required by the FDA to complete the application process, but concealed these material facts from and misled investors.  In an effort to exert political pressure on the FDA and obtain approval of the DECN COVID-19 test without conducting the necessary clinical testing, Berman hired a political consultant to lobby Members of Congress, telling Members of Congress in talking points that the FDA had “moth-balled” the company’s submission and that it remained “stuck in limbo” at or around the same time that Berman was telling investors that the test was on the verge of approval.  Between early March and April 23, 2020, DECN’s stock price rose by over 1,500 percent.   

The indictment further alleges that, as part of the alleged scheme, Berman used an alias, “plutoniumimplosion,” to repeat false and misleading statements to investors on Internet message boards, and lull suspecting investors into inaction by refuting allegations of fraud and threatening potential whistleblowers with civil or criminal sanctions.  Berman, using his alias, also projected that demand for the DECN test would be “close to 3 billion [test] kits” and claimed that DECN “is in the forefront no matter how loud the naysayers are . . . But then again the 5-6 message board posters [claiming the DECN test was fraudulent] may be right and Mr. Berman will find himself in prison.”  The indictment charges that Berman, in sworn testimony to the SEC, made false statements in which he denied ever posting on the message board.

An indictment is merely an allegation and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. 

Anyone with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 can report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721 or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.

The Fraud Section uses the Victim Notification System (VNS) to provide victims with case information and updates related to this case. Victims with questions may contact the Fraud Section’s Victim Assistance Unit by calling the Victim Assistance phone line at 1-888-549-3945 or by emailing Victimassistance.fraud@usdoj.gov. To learn more about victims’ rights, please visit: https://www.justice.gov/criminal-vns/victim-rights-derechos-de-las-v-ctimas. If you believe you are a victim who has invested in Decision Diagnostics, please visit:  https://www.justice.gov/criminal-vns/case/decision-diagnostics

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service and FBI investigated the case.  Trial Attorney Christopher Fenton and Assistant Chiefs Jacob Foster and Justin Weitz of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case. 

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice.  Learn mode about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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    The owners of over a dozen New York-area pharmacies were charged in an indictment unsealed today for their roles in a $30 million health care fraud and money laundering scheme, in which they exploited emergency codes and edits in the Medicare system that went into effect due to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to submit fraudulent claims for expensive cancer drugs that were never provided, ordered, or authorized by medical professionals.
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  • Bangladeshi National Sentenced for Conspiracy to Bring Aliens to the United States
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    A Bangladeshi national formerly residing in Monterrey, Mexico, was sentenced to 46 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for his role in a scheme to smuggle aliens from Mexico into the United States.
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  • Justice Department Sues to Block Visa’s Proposed Acquisition of Plaid
    In Crime News
    Today, the Department of Justice filed a civil antitrust lawsuit to stop Visa Inc.’s $5.3 billion acquisition of Plaid Inc. Visa is a monopolist in online debit services, charging consumers and merchants billions of dollars in fees each year to process online payments.  Plaid, a successful fintech firm, is developing a payments platform that would challenge Visa’s monopoly. 
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  • Vermont Man Charged with Hiring Person to Kidnap and Kill a Man in a Foreign Country, and Producing and Receiving Child Pornography
    In Crime News
    A federal grand jury in the District of Vermont returned a third superseding indictment today against a Burlington man for conspiring to kidnap and kill a man in a foreign country, murder for hire, and five child pornography offenses.
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  • Two Former Deutsche Bank Traders Convicted of Engaging in Deceptive and Manipulative Trading Practices in U.S. Commodities Markets
    In Crime News
    A Chicago federal jury found two former employees of Deutsche Bank, a global financial institution, guilty today of fraud charges for their respective roles in fraudulent and manipulative trading practices involving publicly-traded precious metals futures contracts.
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  • Texas Clinic Owner and Clinic Employee Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Unlawfully Prescribe Hundreds of Thousands of Opioids
    In Crime News
    A Houston-area pain clinic owner and a clinic employee who posed as a physician were sentenced to 240 months and 96 months in prison, respectively, today for their roles at a “pill mill” where they and their co-conspirator illegally prescribed hundreds of thousands of doses of opioids and other controlled substances.
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  • United States Antitrust Agencies Co-Host the 19th Annual International Competition Network Conference
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are co-hosting the International Competition Network’s (ICN) 19th annual conference, which opens today and runs through Thursday, September 17, 2020.  Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim and FTC Chairman Joseph J. Simons are leading the U.S. agencies’ participation in the ICN’s first virtual conference.  Assistant Attorney General Delrahim and Chairman Simons will deliver opening remarks and speak on the conference’s showcase program addressing the challenges of enforcement in the digital economy.
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  • Financial Company Bankruptcies: Congress and Regulators Have Updated Resolution Planning Requirements
    In U.S GAO News
    Since 2015, Congress has not changed parts of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code (Code) related to financial companies or the Orderly Liquidation Authority (OLA). However, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Federal Reserve) have updated the resolution planning process to better match resolution planning requirements to the risks of companies. OLA is a regulatory alternative to bankruptcy for resolving failed, systemically important financial institutions, and resolution plans describe how a financial company may be resolved in an orderly manner if it fails. In November 2019, FDIC and the Federal Reserve finalized amendments to the Resolution Plans Required rule, establishing different filing cycles and content requirements for resolution plans based on the asset size and risk profile of companies. Regulators also finalized other rules related to OLA and resolution planning and proposed several additional rules. The 2007–2009 financial crisis and the failures of large, complex financial companies led some financial and legal experts to question the adequacy of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code for effectively reorganizing or liquidating these companies. These experts, government officials, and members of Congress responded by proposing changes to the Code and the supervisory process leading to a bankruptcy filing. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act) established OLA as a regulatory alternative to bankruptcy. Under OLA, the Secretary of the Treasury may appoint FDIC as a receiver to resolve systemically important financial institutions. In addition to OLA, the Dodd-Frank Act requires financial companies to file periodic resolution plans with the Financial Stability Oversight Council, Federal Reserve and FDIC describing how they could be resolved in an orderly manner in the event of material financial distress or failure. The Dodd-Frank Act also includes a provision for GAO to study, at specified intervals, the effectiveness of the Code in facilitating the orderly liquidation or reorganization of financial companies and ways to make the orderly liquidation process under the Code more effective. This report examines (1) proposed or enacted changes to the Code related to financial companies and OLA since 2015, and (2) regulatory actions related to resolution planning and OLA. GAO reviewed proposed legislation, regulations, prior GAO reports, and agency reports and presentations on financial company bankruptcies, OLA, and resolution planning. GAO also reviewed comment letters to the 2019 proposed Resolution Plans Required rulemaking. GAO interviewed officials from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, FDIC, and the Federal Reserve. GAO also interviewed six industry stakeholders, including academics, a consumer group, industry associations, and former regulatory officials, about the 2019 Resolution Plans Required Rule. For more information, contact Michael Clements at (202) 512-8678 or ClementsM@gao.gov.
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  • Remarks As Prepared For Delivery By Katharine T. Sullivan Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Office Of Justice Programs At The Announcement Of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Grants
    In Crime News
    Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you all for joining us. I’m Katie Sullivan, the Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs in the U.S. Department of Justice. I’m thrilled to be here today with the outstanding U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Scott Brady. I’m also very pleased to be joined by Dr. Mary Ellen Glasgow, Dean of the Duquesne School of Nursing, and Dr. Alison Colbert, Associate Professor in the Duquesne School of Nursing. You’ll hear from each of them in just a moment. I also want to introduce my wonderful colleague, Jessica Hart, the Director of the Office for Victims of Crime, which is part of my agency.
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  • Forced Labor Imports: DHS Increased Resources and Enforcement Efforts, but Needs to Improve Workforce Planning and Monitoring
    In U.S GAO News
    Since 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), has increased its resources to enforce a prohibition on importing goods made with forced labor, but has not determined its workforce needs. CBP formed the Forced Labor Division in 2018 to lead its efforts, and increased expenditures for the division from roughly $1 million in fiscal year 2018 to $1.4 million in fiscal year 2019. However, CBP has not assessed and documented the staffing levels or skills needed for the Forced Labor Division. For example, the division suspended some ongoing investigations due to a staff shortage and has plans to expand and train its workforce; however, the division has not assessed the number, type, locations, or specialized skills of positions it needs to achieve programmatic results. Without assessing its workforce needs, the division lacks reasonable assurance that it has the right number of people, with the right skills, in the right places. CBP has increased forced labor investigations and civil enforcement actions, but managers lack complete and consistent data summarizing cases. CBP detained shipments under 13 Withhold Release Orders (WRO) from 2016 through 2019, as shown in the figure below. However, the Forced Labor Division uses incomplete and inconsistent summary data to monitor its investigations. For example, data were missing on the sources of evidence collected for almost all active cases. Incomplete and inconsistent summary data on the characteristics and status of cases may hinder managers' effective monitoring of case progress and enforcement efforts. Figure: U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Forced Labor Withhold Release Orders, 2016 through 2019 With regard to criminal violations, DHS's U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has increased its resources to investigate allegations of forced labor, including those related to U.S. imports. ICE coordinates criminal investigations of forced labor, conducted in the U.S. and abroad. ICE reported spending about $40 million on forced labor investigations in fiscal year 2019, an increase of over 50 percent since 2016. Forced labor investigations often involve a range of criminal violations, including violations that are not related to the importation of goods. As such, reported expenditures include costs for cases on related issues, such as human trafficking. Forced labor is a global problem in which individuals are exploited to perform labor or services. The International Labour Organization estimates that forced labor generates profits of $150 billion a year globally. CBP is responsible for enforcing Section 307 of the Tariff Act of 1930, which prohibits the importation of goods made with forced labor. CBP has authority to detain shipments when information indicates that forced labor produced the goods. ICE is responsible for investigating potential crimes related to forced labor, and importers may be subject to prosecution. GAO was asked to review the status of DHS resources for implementing the Section 307 prohibition on forced labor imports, following an amendment of the law in 2016. This report examines (1) the extent to which CBP assessed agency needs for the enforcement of the prohibition on forced labor imports, (2) the outcome of CBP enforcement activities and monitoring of such efforts, and (3) ICE resources for investigations on forced labor. GAO reviewed CBP and ICE documents and data, and interviewed agency officials. This is a public version of a sensitive report GAO issued in July 2020. Information that CBP deemed sensitive has been omitted. GAO is making three recommendations, including that CBP assess the workforce needs of the Forced Labor Division, and improve its forced labor summary case data. CBP concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact Kimberly Gianopoulos at (202) 512-8612 or gianopoulosk@gao.gov.
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  • Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Toledo Public Schools to Resolve Complaints of Race and Disability Discrimination in Student Discipline
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio today announced a settlement agreement with the Toledo Public Schools to address and prevent discriminatory discipline of students based on race or disability and to require appropriate language services for limited English proficient (LEP) parents on matters essential to their children’s education.  
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  • Justice Department Files Race Discrimination Lawsuit Against Pearl, Mississippi Property Owners and Rental Agent
    In Crime News
    The Department of Justice announced today that it has filed a lawsuit alleging that the owners, operators and rental agent of several apartment complexes in Pearl, Mississippi, violated the Fair Housing Act by discriminating against African Americans based on their race.
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  • South Carolina Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Provide Material Support to ISIS
    In Crime News
    In San Antonio today, 34-year-old Kristopher Sean Matthews (aka Ali Jibreel) admitted to conspiring to provide material support to the designated foreign terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham/Syria (aka ISIS), announced Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney Gregg N. Sofer for the Western District of Texas, and FBI Special Agent in Charge Christopher Combs, San Antonio Division.
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  • Columbia Class Submarine: Delivery Hinges on Timely and Quality Materials from an Atrophied Supplier Base
    In U.S GAO News
    The Navy's schedule for constructing the first submarine of the new Columbia class is threatened by continuing challenges with the computer-aided software tool that Electric Boat, the lead shipbuilder, is using to design the submarine. These challenges will likely impede construction because the shipbuilder is late in completing design products used for building the submarine. To ensure construction begins on schedule, the Navy modified its design contract with Electric Boat to include an option for constructing the first two submarines and requested sufficient authority from Congress for fiscal year 2021 to exercise it. Navy officials stated, however, that the Navy's budget request is lower than its current cost estimate, and it is not informed by an independent cost assessment. As a result, the program will likely need more funding to reflect the increased estimate. Quality problems with supplier materials caused delays during early construction. These quality problems included missile tubes (depicted below) with defective welds. As the shipbuilders expand outsourcing to suppliers, quality assurance oversight at supplier facilities will be critical for avoiding further delays. Quad Pack of Four Submarine Missile Tubes However, the Navy has not comprehensively reassessed when to seek additional inspections at supplier facilities that could better position it to identify quality problems early enough to limit delays. The Navy plans to invest about $128 billion in 12 Columbia class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. The shipbuilders will construct the Columbia class at the same time as the Virginia class attack submarines. They plan to rely on materials produced by a supplier base that is roughly 70 percent smaller than in previous shipbuilding booms. Congress included a provision in statute for GAO to examine the program's status. This report assesses the Navy's efforts to complete the design for the lead Columbia class submarine and actions the shipbuilders and the Navy have taken to prepare for construction and ensure the lead submarine is delivered according to schedule and quality expectations. GAO assessed Navy and shipbuilder design progress against cost and schedule estimates, reviewed documents, and interviewed officials about supplier readiness and quality assurance. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in November 2020. Information that the Department of Defense (DOD) deemed sensitive has been omitted. GAO recommends that the Navy (1) provide Congress with updated cost information, (2) include information on supplier readiness in its annual report to Congress, and (3) reassess when to seek additional inspections at supplier facilities. DOD concurred with the recommendations but disagreed with some of the report's details. GAO incorporated DOD's comments as appropriate and maintains the validity of the findings, as discussed in the report. For more information, contact Shelby S. Oakley at (202) 512-4841 or oakleys@gao.gov.
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  • Former Construction Executive Sentenced to 38 Months in Prison
    In Crime News
    A former senior New York construction official was sentenced to 38 months in prison today for tax evasion, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
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  • Airport Funding: Information on Grandfathered Revenue Diversion and Potential Implications of Repeal
    In U.S GAO News
    According to the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) data for fiscal years 1995 through 2018, nine airport owners—also known as “airport sponsors”—lawfully diverted airport revenue amounts ranging from $0 to over $840 million by a sponsor in 1 year. These “grandfathered” airport sponsors are currently exempt from federal requirements to use all airport revenue solely for airport purposes (see figure). Together, these sponsors own 32 airports serving millions of passengers a year. Five of these sponsors are city or state governments, which regularly diverted airport revenue into their general funds for government programs and services. Four of these sponsors are transportation authorities, which diverted varying amounts for various transportation-related purposes, such as supporting maritime ports or transit systems. Three of the transportation authorities also secured bonds using revenue from their various activities, including airport revenue, to finance airport and non-airport assets. Airport Sponsors That Have Reported Grandfathered Revenue Diversion, as of 2018 According to selected stakeholders, a repeal of grandfathered revenue diversion would have complex legal and financial implications for transportation authorities. Transportation authority officials said that a repeal would inherently reduce their flexibility to use revenues across their assets and could lead to a default of their outstanding bonds if airport revenues could no longer be used to service debt; exempting outstanding bonds could alleviate some financial concerns. For city and state government sponsors, a loss in general fund revenue could result in reduced government services, though they said a phased-in repeal could help in planning for lost revenue. In 1982, a federal law was enacted that imposed constraints on the use of airport revenue (e.g., concessions, parking fees, and airlines' landing fees), prohibiting “diversion” for non-airport purposes in order to ensure use on airport investment and improvement. However, the law exempted “grandfathered” airport sponsors—those with state or local laws providing for such diversion—from this prohibition. Viewpoints vary on whether these airport sponsors should be allowed to continue to lawfully divert revenue. The FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018 provides for GAO to examine grandfathered airport revenue diversion. This report examines: (1) how much revenue has been diverted annually by grandfathered airport sponsors and how these revenues have been used, and (2) selected stakeholders' perspectives on potential implications of repealing the law allowing revenue diversion. GAO analyzed FAA financial data on grandfathered airports' revenue diversion for fiscal years 1995 through 2018, all years such data were available. GAO also analyzed relevant documents such as state and local laws, and airport sponsors' bond documents. GAO interviewed FAA officials and relevant stakeholders, including officials from nine grandfathered airport sponsors and representatives from bond-rating agencies, airline and airport associations, and airlines that serve grandfathered airports that were selected based on those with the greatest passenger traffic. For more information, contact Heather Krause at (202) 512-2834 or krauseh@gao.gov.
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  • Ten Men Sentenced to Prison for Their Roles in a Child Exploitation Enterprise and Conspiracy
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