Politics & Government

Feds vow new focus on white-collar crime

SEATTLE - The top Justice Department official in Western Washington promised a more aggressive approach to tackling white-collar crime Monday, saying her office has been cleared to hire three new prosecutors.

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said Monday one prosecutor will focus on financial fraud, one on mortgage fraud and one on intellectual property cases. “There’s going to be a real stepped-up effort in the area of white-collar and financial crimes.” she said.

The office also announced two new indictments, both involving Seattle-area men accused of cheating their friends and neighbors out of millions of dollars in Ponzi schemes.

In one case unsealed Monday, a resident of Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood named James Liddell is accused of raising more than $3 million from 13 people as part of a supposed investment scheme. He claimed to have had contracts to sell cash registers to a Seattle drugstore chain, but in reality he used $1.2 million of the money on personal expenses, prosecutors said.

Washington’s Department of Financial Institutions fined Liddell and his wife, Leslie Collins, $25,000 in the case last fall. Collins has not been charged criminally, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Norman Barbosa said Monday he could not comment on whether she might be.

Liddell turned himself in Monday and planned to plead not guilty at his arraignment Thursday.

“He takes the allegations very seriously and he is looking forward to the opportunity to resolve them,” said his attorney, Russell Aoki.

The other case involves a former Boeing mechanic, Lorenzo Molina Jr. of Samammish, who was arrested Friday. Prosecutors said he pretended to have a company involved in refurbishing and reselling old aircraft parts, but in reality, it was a Ponzi scheme, too.

Molina is accused of taking more than $3.6 million from investors and spending $2 million of it on a grand piano, private school tuition and several homes which are now in foreclosure. The rest of the money he returned to early investors, prosecutors said.

Molina has pleaded not guilty. A U.S. magistrate judge on Monday ordered him to be kept in custody, but said he would consider releasing Molina pending trial once questions about his assets are answered.