The Enforcement Mechanism
How Daniel T. Pascucci became an expert in global asset recovery
Published in 2020 San Diego Super Lawyers magazine on March 30, 2020
Fifteen years ago, Daniel T. Pascucci represented a Southern California company in a seemingly straightforward case against an Asian company that failed to honor the terms of a business deal. The facts of the case made a winning verdict seem like a slam dunk. Then Pascucci raised a crucial question:
If we win, can we collect?
He’s been answering that question ever since. In the last two decades, Pascucci, a managing member at Mintz in San Diego, has built a sizable reputation for global asset recovery. He’s particularly known for helping companies recover assets fraudulently laundered offshore and hidden in nations renowned for privacy and tax shelters.
“The days of people hiding money in Switzerland and Luxembourg are long gone—at least for Americans—because the privacy veil in those places has been lifted,” he says. “Now a lot of people try to hide money in Asia, the South Pacific, the Caribbean and mainland China.”
Pascucci grew up in a “law enforcement family”—his father was an NYPD officer—and he assumed he would follow a similar path. “I thought I was going to join the U.S. Attorney’s Office and become a prosecutor,” he says. “When I gained an understanding of civil litigation, I became excited about business law.”
Five years ago, Pascucci assembled what he calls a SWAT team of asset recovery specialists that was branded as a stand-alone practice at Mintz. They work on behalf of both Mintz’s clients and clients of other firms.
“Many firms have a deep roster of trial lawyers but very little enforcement mechanism,” he says. “If they win a judgment and all the money is in China or Samoa, they don’t know how to get it.”
Figuring out what assets a defendant has can be an adventure in itself. The tools include modern technology and good old-fashioned sleuthing.
In one case, Pascucci represented a large media company in Asia against a piracy operation that was selling its content illegally, and which it had successfully sued for $50 million. The pirates were a Los Angeles-based family that claimed to be poor yet enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. “They often went to these $3 million mansions they claimed belonged to foreign relatives,” Pascucci says. A social media post from an extended relative attributed one such home to them. “So we put an agent outside the house to surveil, day after day, and established effective ownership of the house.” A lien led to threat of foreclosure, which led to payment. “Once that was a real threat,” he adds, “they suddenly weren’t so impoverished.”
“Social media mining” is a tool that has turned into an investigative gold mine. A criminal who has made off with millions hardly wants to keep that squirreled away in a hole. “Buying a yacht and sailing it around the Mediterranean is not fun if you’re alone,” Pascucci says. “You want to invite other people, and they take pictures and post them on Instagram.”
The money can be hidden in complex layers of companies, so the challenge is making the connection between the different entities. The laws pertaining to recovering assets can vary from country to country, and even from state to state in the U.S.
“We end up in the same countries over and over, and have become experts in navigating the law enforcement mechanisms around the world,” he says. “Sometimes you will come across people who exert undue influence on the judges in their country—they’ve been sued 100 times in their home country and never lost. In that case, you try to find money they have elsewhere or find some other route to them.”
The Asian company that refused to pay Pascucci’s client almost two decades ago is a perfect example. He determined that winning a verdict against them would be a hollow victory, since they couldn’t be compelled to pay. So he added a fraud charge, based on the Asian company misrepresenting the sources of its funding. That allowed Pascucci to expand the roster of defendants. Since the company did not want to ruin its relationships with the other defendants, it settled.
“The world is becoming a smaller and smaller place,” Pascucci says. “If you know where to look, it’s hard to hide money.”
Could Pascucci’s practice work as an investigative TV series?
“It’s a fun question. The work we do is often done on a confidential basis. Our clients’ interests usually require that the most interesting aspects of the efforts are kept confidential. I suspect that, if names and details are changed, many of the fact patterns would make for good entertainment, but it’s not something I’ve been approached about. At least not yet.”