News Archives

News

Oct

07

2014

Jon Cohen and Kristina Del Vecchio Present at Consumer Financial Services Committee Panel on Consumer Arbitration Clauses

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – October 07, 2014. Joseph & Cohen, Professional Corporation, announced today that two of the firm’s attorneys, Jonathan M. Cohen, Senior Partner, and Kristina Del Vecchio, Of Counsel, were selected by the California Bar Association to speak at their Annual Convention in San Diego.  The Firm’s attorneys participated in the Consumer Financial Services Committee program entitled “New Developments in the Enforcement of Consumer Arbitration Clauses” on September 14, 2014.

Ms. Del Vecchio moderated the panel of speakers that included Jonathan Cohen, Bill Webb of Webb Legal Group, and Scott Pearson of Seyfarth Shaw LLP. The panel discussed the current state of arbitration clauses in consumer financial services contracts and recent developments post-Concepcion (AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740 (2011)).

Their discussion, which was videotaped by the California State Bar and will be offered for MCLE credit, focused on class action arbitration and waivers, drafting tips, recent litigation surrounding such clauses and what to expect in the future, particularly given the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s authority in this area.  Consumer arbitration has undergone radical change as a result of recent US Supreme Court and California Court of Appeals decisions and every attorney should know how it will affect their clients.

Ms. Del Vecchio, Chair of State Bar Consumer Financial Services Committee, said of her experience, “The panel was outstanding; we also received several excellent questions from our audience.”

Mr. Cohen added, “It was an honor to speak at the Annual Meeting about a topic that may seem esoteric but that can drastically alter the outcome of litigation even before a dispute has arisen.”

In addition, on September 9th, Ms. Del Vecchio delivered a 60-minute webinar titled “Spotlight on CFPB Mortgages: Keys to Keeping Up with Federal Standards.”

Hosted by Progressive Business Executive Education, Ms. Del Vecchio’s presentation focused on the continually changing and complex rules of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  She addressed the CFPB’s January 10th, 2014 “final” ruling requiring mortgage lenders to assess the consumer’s ability to repay mortgage loans before extending credit became effective, a ruling that the CFPB is still in the process of amending.

Ms. Del Vecchio gave insight on how mortgage lenders can remain up to speed on the latest rule, how it impacts the industry, issues that may arise, and what to expect in terms of future changes.  A recording of the webinar is available for order.  Click here for further details.

Joseph & Cohen, Professional Corporation, is a Financial Services and Litigation Boutique headquartered in San Francisco that emphasizes complex banking, corporate and financial services matters, regulatory and bank enforcement defense, private equity, bankruptcy and insolvency, employment and commercial litigation services.  Joseph & Cohen is known for sophisticated expertise, extraordinary commitment to clients, relationship-based services, and a range of specialized skills typically found only in the largest American law firms.

For additional information about the Joseph & Cohen, Professional Corporation, please visit our website at http://josephandcohen.com/or Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/josephandcohen.

Press Contact:  Jonathan Joseph at Joseph & Cohen, 415-817-9200, ext. 9 or jon@josephandcohen.com.

Litigators Nicole Dogwill and Robyn Callahan Join Joseph & Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – April 08, 2014.  Joseph & Cohen, Professional Corporation, announced today that the firm has added two skilled litigation attorneys to its expanding boutique litigation practice. Nicole P. Dogwill joined the firm as a Partner, and Robyn C. Callahan as Of Counsel.

Nicole Dogwill is an experienced litigator with core expertise advising and defending mature and emerging companies, as well as their directors and officers, on matters involving fiduciary duty, corporate governance, securities, fraud, antitrust/unfair business practices, and related business claims. Ms. Dogwill also advises and litigates fiduciary duty and related claims arising in trust and estate matters.

Ms. Dogwill was named a “future star” in both the 2012 and 2013 editions of Benchmark Litigation. The National LGBT Bar Association selected Ms. Dogwill as one of the Top 40 under 40 LGBT Attorneys for 2010. She is currently the President of the National LGBT Bar Association’s Board of Directors.

Jonathan Joseph, Joseph & Cohen’s Managing Partner, stated “Nicole Dogwill shares our passion to deliver world class legal services to business and financial institution clients via a boutique law firm model that embraces long term client relationships, diversity, collegiality and quality in everything we do.”

Nicole Dogwill added “I am honored to be joining this esteemed group of lawyers, many of whom I’ve had the privilege of working with before to provide exceptional services to my clients in California and across the United States.”

Prior to joining Joseph & Cohen, Ms. Dogwill was a partner at Shartsis Friese LLP.  She was also a partner at Winston & Strawn LLP in San Francisco for seven years.

Also an accomplished litigator, Robyn C. Callahan brings her expertise in business litigation, employment law and commercial disputes, including complex class actions. With over a decade of experience working for both boutique and global Am Law 100 ranked firms, Ms. Callahan has successfully represented clients across a broad range of industries in federal, state and appellate courts.   She previously worked at Winston & Strawn’s San Francisco office alongside Jonathan Cohen, Jeffrey Lederman and Nicole Dogwill.

Jonathan Cohen, the Head of Litigation, said “We could not be happier to have Robyn join us.  She is a truly skilled lawyer and adds significant depth to our team, with extensive trial experience in both commercial and employment litigation.”

Ms. Callahan noted, “I am thrilled to reunite with Jon, Jeff and Nicole and to be working with such a talented team of attorneys who value the importance of integrity in the practice of law and in fostering long-term client relationships.

Joseph & Cohen, Professional Corporation, is a Financial Services and Litigation Boutique headquartered in San Francisco that emphasizes complex banking, corporate and financial services matters, regulatory and bank enforcement defense, private equity, bankruptcy and insolvency, employment and complex commercial litigation services.  Joseph & Cohen is known for sophisticated expertise, extraordinary commitment to clients, relationship-based services, and a range of specialized skills typically found only in the largest American law firms.

For additional information about the Joseph & Cohen, Professional Corporation, please visit our website at http://www.josephandcohen.com or Facebook at www.facebook.com/josephandcohen.

Press Contact:  Jonathan Joseph at Joseph & Cohen, 415-817-9200, ext. 104 or jon@josephandcohen.com.

Feds Bite Largest Bitcoin Exchange: Lessons for Virtual Currency Entrepreneurs

By Jonathan D. Joseph

When the US Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a/k/a FinCEN, published an interpretative ruling on March 18, 2013 discussing how its regulations applied to users, exchangers and administrators of virtual currencies, Mt. Gox, the world’s largest exchange for Bitcoin transactions, should have taken note.   Mt. Gox and other early pioneers in the virtual currency space have anarchist roots and generally eschew governmental regulation; however, it is now clear that the survivors in the Bitcoin and cryptocurrency ecosystem will be those that successfully navigate the complex web of federal and state money transmission laws and regulations.

Earlier this week, Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) obtained a warrant, issued by the U.S. District Court of Maryland, authorizing U.S. government seizure of assets of Mt. Gox held at Iowa based payment processing start-up Dwolla and Wells Fargo Bank.   HSI acted after it discovered that Mt. Gox, based in Tokyo, Japan, was operating as an unlicensed money transmission service through its American affiliate, Mutum Sigillum LLC, and it may have lied to Wells Fargo when it opened its initial US bank account.

FinCEN is the bureau of the Treasury Department that seeks to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing through its regulation of Money Service Businesses (“MSBs”).  Its March 2013 guidance states that those dealing in or administering virtual currencies such as exchanges like Mt. Gox, but not users or “miners”, need to register as MSBs and comply with anti-money laundering regulations. While Bitcoin is the best-known cryptocurrency or digital currency, others have sprung up recently, including Opencoin, Litecoin, Terracoin, Feathercoin and Novacoin, among others.   While concepts underlying virtual or cryptocurrencies can be mind- numbingly complex, the FinCEN guidance is reasonably clear as to who is regulated:

“A person that creates units of this convertible virtual currency and uses it to purchase real or virtual goods and services is a user of the convertible virtual currency and not subject to regulation as a money transmitter. By contrast, a person that creates units of convertible virtual currency and sells those units to another person for real currency or its equivalent is engaged in transmission to another location and is a money transmitter.  In addition, a person is an exchanger and a money transmitter if the person accepts such de-centralized convertible virtual currency from one person and transmits it to another person as part of the acceptance and transfer of currency, funds, or other value that substitutes for currency.”  FIN-2013-G001, March 18, 2013.

FinCEN categorizes participants in the virtual currency market into three generic categories: “user,” “exchanger,” and “administrator.” A user is a person that obtains virtual currency to purchase goods and services. An exchanger is a person engaged as a business in the exchange of virtual currency for real currency, funds or other virtual currency.   An administrator is a person engaged as a business in issuing (circulating) a virtual currency and who has the authority to redeem or withdraw from circulation that virtual currency.

A person may engage in “obtaining” a virtual currency in a number of different manners such as “earning,” “mining,” “harvesting,” “manufacturing,” “creating,” and “purchasing,” depending on the details of the specific virtual currency model involved.   FinCEN concluded that how a person obtains a virtual currency is immaterial to the legal characterization under the Bank Secrecy Act of the process or of the person engaging in the process.   This means that a user who obtains convertible virtual currency and uses it to purchase real or virtual goods or services is not a Money Service Business under FinCEN’s regulations.   Users must still be cautious, as an activity which is exempt from FinCEN’s rules, may still violate other federal or state statutes, rules and regulations.  Additionally, almost all states have money transmission laws that may apply even if FinCEN rules do not.

An administrator or exchanger that (1) accepts and transmits a convertible currency or (2) buys or sells convertible virtual currency for any reason is a money transmitter under FinCEN’s regulations, unless a limitation or exemption from the definition applies to the person.  As one illustration, a federally-insured commercial bank is exempt from the definition.  However, in most cases, whether a person is a money transmitter is a matter of facts and circumstances.  Under FinCEN’s interpretations and the law of many states there is no differentiation between real currencies and convertible virtual currencies.  Accepting and transmitting anything of value that substitutes for currency makes a person a money transmitter under BSA regulations.  31 CFR section 1010.100(ff)(5)(i)(A).

An exchange’s activities most often involve acting as a seller of Bitcoins or other virtual currency where it accepts real currency or its equivalent from a user/purchaser and transmits the value of the real currency to fund the purchaser’s virtual currency account held by an administrator.  In the Dwolla/Mt. Gox case described above, users were transferring U.S. Dollars to Mt. Gox’s American affiliate via Dwolla.  Prior to the HSI seizure, the American affiliate had been transferring U.S Dollars received from Dwolla to Mt. Gox in Japan and Mt. Gox allegedly used the Wells Fargo account to route funds from Japan to and from accounts at Dwolla at the direction of users. Dwolla, headquartered in Des Moines, offered an easier way for people to buy or sell Bitcoins through Mt. Gox, rather than attempting international wires to and from the company’s Japanese bank.

Under FinCEN regulations, sending “value that substitutes for currency” to another person or to another location constitutes money transmission, unless a limitation to or exemption from the definition applies.  Consequently, based on the HSI warrant, Mt. Gox was transmitting funds to another location, namely from the user’s real currency account at a bank to the user’s virtual currency account with the administrator.   The government alleges this is illegal since the only services being provided are unlicensed money transmission services.

Once a person or entity is engaging in the business of money transmission (both real or virtual currencies), doing so without registering with FinCEN as a Money Service Business and obtaining licenses under State money transmitter laws is mandatory unless certain enumerated exemptions apply. Most States including California, New York, Florida, Texas and Illinois and the District of Columbia require money transmitting businesses to obtain a license and comply with the other regulatory requirements (unless certain exemptions apply).  Failure to be registered and licensed can constitute a felony.

The fervor of the cyrptocurrency movement is starting to resemble the California Gold Rush after gold was discovered in 1849.  Millions of dollars are being invested in starts-up companies mainly in the Silicon Valley as Bitcoin entrepreneurs and venture capitalists race after what some believe could ultimately be worth billions.  In fact, Opencoin recently announced it had completed an angel round which included Silicon Valley heavy hitters Andreessen Horowitz, Lightspeed Venture Partners and Barry Silbert’s Bitcoin Opportunity Fund.

Importantly, it doesn’t appear that Homeland Security or FinCEN is cracking down on Bitcoin itself, just on how it’s being exchanged by Mt. Gox. This is good news for Mt. Gox’s US-based competitors, such as Seattle-based CoinLab and San Francisco-based Coinbase, Bitcoin exchanges that have registered with the Treasury Department as money transmitters.

An important lesson for entrepreneurs and VCs entering the virtual currency space is that virtual currency business models must be analyzed by lawyers with corporate and venture capital expertise, as well as deep familiarity with state and federal currency and money transmission laws.  For those that would turn a blind-eye to the necessity of robust legal compliance at an early stage based on libertarian or anarchist beliefs, naivety or an extraterritorial structure, failure is almost certainly guaranteed.

Smart entrepreneurs understand this.  Success stories include PayPal, Square and presently Google Payment Corp., and Facebook Payments are muscling into the space.  Staying lean until proof of concept has been achieved is important,  but when it comes to federal and state money transmitter regulation,  early angel and VC investment rounds must include funds for legal compliance.  Joseph & Cohen has the expertise and experience to successfully establish and plan innovative legal compliance programs for VCs, virtual currency and Bitcoin start-ups.

Jonathan Joseph is the Managing Partner of Joseph & Cohen, Professional Corporation, a Financial Services and Litigation Boutique headquartered in San Francisco that emphasizes complex banking, corporate and venture capital transactions, regulatory and money transmission activities, securities, M & A, bankruptcy and insolvency, employment law and commercial and executive employment litigation services.

For additional information about Joseph & Cohen, Professional Corporation, please visit our website at www.josephandcohen.com or contact Jonathan Joseph at 415-817-9250 or jon@josephandcohen.com.