Subsection (4) of Section 152 sets out the offense of filing a false bankruptcy claim. A "claim" is a document filed in a bankruptcy proceeding by a creditor of the debtor. It is sometimes also called a "proof of claim." For the purposes of this section the nature of the claim is immaterial-- i.e., the claim can be secured or unsecured, liquidated or unliquidated, disputed or undisputed. A "false" claim is one that is known by the creditor to be factually untrue at the time the claim is filed.
Subsection (4) provides:
A person who...knowingly and fraudulently presents any false claim for proof against the estate of a debtor, or uses any such claim in any case under title 11, in a personal capacity or as or through an agent, proxy, or attorney;...shall be fined..., imprisoned..., or both.
The elements of a false claim violation are:
- that bankruptcy proceedings had been commenced;
- that defendant presented or caused to be presented a proof of claim in the bankruptcy;
- that the proof of claim was false as to a material matter; and
- that the defendant knew the proof of claim was false and acted knowingly and fraudulently.
United States v. Overmyer, 867 F.2d 937, 949 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 813 (1989).
A claim can be asserted by a creditor whether or not it is reduced to judgment, whether the claim is liquidated, unliquidated, fixed, contingent, mature, unmatured, disputed, undisputed, legal, equitable, secured or unsecured. United States v. Connery, 867 F.2d 929, 934 (reh'g denied)(6th Cir. 1989), appeal after remand 911 F.2d 734 (1990).
Since the falsity of a claim, in most cases, is obvious, the key issue frequently becomes what was the defendant's state of mind at the time of the filing of the claim. Good faith is a complete defense to this charge. The filing of a false claim is not a crime where there was a good faith belief in its accuracy. United States v. Connery, 867 F.2d 929, 934 (reh'g denied)(6th Cir. 1989), appeal after remand 911 F.2d 734 (1990).
A proof of claim is not false merely because it may be inaccurate or erroneous in any or all respects. The claim may be asserted by a creditor in good faith even though the moneys being sought are thereafter successfully disputed by the debtor or disallowed by the Bankruptcy Court. Instead, a proof of claim is false if the statements contained therein are intentionally inaccurate and submitted without any good faith basis for the claim and are not the result of some mistake or clerical error or inadvertent omission.
United States v. Overmyer, 867 F.2d 937, 950 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 813 (1989), appeal after remand, 899 F.2d 457 (6th Cir. 1990), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 939 (1990)(quoting above instruction with approval).
[cited in USAM 9-41.001]