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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of California

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

New York Attorney Charged In Scheme To Defraud In Connection With Northern District Litigation

SAN FRANCISCO – Joel Zweig, an attorney who resides in New York, was charged with wire fraud, obstruction of justice, perjury, aggravated identity theft, and false statements to a government agency announced United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge John F. Bennett, and U.S. Postal Inspection Service Inspector in Charge Rafael Nuñez.  The charges stem from allegations that Zweig attempted to manufacture evidence to prove losses suffered by a litigant in a federal case pending in the Northern District of California.

According to the indictment, Zweig, 52, was asked to provide documents in connection with the lawsuit Pet Food Express, Limited v. Royal Canin USA, Inc., C09-1483 EMC.  The underlying lawsuit involved allegations that Pet Food Express suffered losses due to a breach of contract and that some of the losses were directly attributable to the planned opening of a retail store in Manhattan.  On November 8, 2010, Zweig allegedly received an email that a witness was going to be deposed and that the witness needed the lease documenting Pet Food Express's intention to open the Manhattan store.  Zweig allegedly manufactured a phony lease and then followed up with false declarations he knew would be submitted to the district court.

On or before November 11, 2010, Zweig allegedly caused the signature of a fictitious individual, "Anthony Guida," to be forged on a phony lease.  Then, Zweig allegedly electronically scanned and transmitted by email a copy of the phony lease to the founder of Pet Food Express for use in the lawsuit.  Moreover, sometime after November 8, 2010, and before July 26, 2011, Zweig allegedly misappropriated a copy of a notary seal to make it appear that a notary had witnessed and notarized signatures on the phony lease. 

Further, according to the indictment, Zweig created two false affidavits and additional evidence in an effort to support the claim for damages.  The first affidavit was supposedly by one of the signors of the phony lease.  According to the indictment, Zweig created the affidavit and caused the signature of the supposed signor to be forged on it.  The second affidavit was Zweig’s.  According to the indictment, Zweig made material false statements under penalty of perjury concerning, among other matters, his receipt of the purported 2008 lease and his knowledge about the creation of the lease.  Zweig allegedly knew when he delivered his affidavit to Pet Food Express’s attorneys that it would be submitted to the district court in the Northern District of California. 

Zweig was charged with four counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343; two counts of obstruction of justice, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1503; four counts of perjury, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1623(a); one count of aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A; and one count of false statements to a government agency, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001.  Zweig is next scheduled to appear on June 15, 2016, at 9:30 a.m., before the Honorable Laurel Beeler, United States Magistrate Judge.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum statutory penalty for wire fraud of 20 years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine, or twice the gain or loss.  The maximum statutory penalty for obstruction of justice is ten years’ imprisonment and a fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss.  The maximum statutory penalty for use of false documents and perjury is five years’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.  The maximum statutory penalty for aggravated identity theft is a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence imposed on the underlying fraud count.  However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553. 

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Robin Harris and Benjamin Kingsley are prosecuting the case.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. 

Updated May 25, 2016