Articles Posted in Federal Sentencing

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Isabel Grimon plead guilty to possessing 15 or more unauthorized access devices and aggravated identity theft after officers found 19 bland credit cards in her vehicle and a thumb drive containing 134 credit card numbers issued to other persons. The indictment charged her with knowing possession of unauthorized access devises and that “said conduct affected interstate commerce.” She went through the plea hearing with a factual proffer which included a stipulation that the government would have proven at trial that Grimon did knowingly and with intent to defraud possess 15 or more devices which are counterfeit and unauthorized access devices, said conduct affecting interstate commerce.”

In her appeal Grimon argues that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over her offense because the factual proffer merely stipulated to the interstate commerce element of her access device offense and did not contain any underlying facts showing that her possession of counterfeit credit cards affected interstate commerce. She stressed that the cards were never used. The government argued that even if Grimon’s stipulation was insufficient factual basis for the interstate commerce element of her offense that did not deprive the district court of subject matter jurisdiction to accept her plea.

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In this appeal Anthony Spence was charged with knowing transportation of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(1) and knowing possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2252A(a)(5)(B). He was found guilty after trial. In calculating his federal sentencing guidelines range the probation officer recommended an increase for a number of factors. The factor at issue here was a two-level enhancement for distribution which Spence stated took place while he was in Jamaica. In this appeal he argues that his distribution of the videos while in Jamaica should not have affected his guidelines calculation. He argued that by including his out of country conduct in the calculation of his offense level the district court violated the principle that legislation of Congress should apply only within the United States unless a contrary intent appears. Spence was relying upon a canon of statutory construction known as the presumption against the application of congressional statutes to conduct occurring in the territory of a foreign sovereign. He argued that the distribution of videos occurring solely in Jamaica should not have been considered by the district court.

As an issue of first impression, the court of appeals saw the issue as whether the presumption against the extraterritorial application of congressional legislation should be extended to apply also to preclude a sentencing judge from considering extraterritorial conduct which would otherwise be properly considered as relevant conduct.

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Corbett and Weaver worked at Florida Hospital near Orlando Florida. When Weaver held the position of release of information specialist he would download patients’ face sheets containing their name, health information, date of birth and social security number without authority to do so and sold them to coconspirators who, the government believed, intended to use the information to open credit card accounts and commit identity fraud.   Corbett took over Weaver’s position as release of information specialist, he solicited her to obtain face sheets without authority and paid her for each assisting him obtain the information. Both were charged with conspiracy to obtain identifiable health information for commercial advantage and pleaded guilty.

The probation officer that calculated the sentencing guidelines recommended a two level enhancement for an offense that involve 10 or more victims under 2B1.1. the probation officer also calculated the Florida Hospital’s loss on costs associated with identifying and notifying patients whose individually identifiable health information was viewed without authorizations. This resulted in a 10 level enhancement. At sentencing the defendant objected to the loss amount on the grounds that the Florida Hospital’s expenses should have been excluded as cost incurred by victims primarily to aid the government in the prosecution and criminal investigation of the offense. She objected to the 10 or more victim enhancement on the grounds that the government only identified a handful at most who suffered any identifiable financial harm as a result of the conspiracy. The district court denied both objections.

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Frank Amodeo pled guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States for his failure to collect and remit payroll taxes and obstruction of an agency investigation. His offense arose from his scheme to divert his clients’ payroll taxes to his companies’ bank accounts instead of remitting the money to the I.R.S.   As part of his plea agreement he agreed to forfeit many assets including properties, luxury cars a Lear jet, and the ownership of several corporations including two corporations: AQMI Strategy Corporation and Nexia Strategy Corporation.   After the plea, the district court entered a preliminary forfeiture order for the assets, including the two corporations AQMI and Nexia. The government then moved for and received a final forfeiture order giving clear title to the United States.

Eventually, victims from Amodeo’s scheme filed lawsuits against his corporations, including the forfeited AQMI and Nexia. After the victims served the lawsuits on these two companies, the government moved to vacate the final forfeiture order because both were shell corporations without any assets. The government did not want to defend either corporation. The district court granted the motion and vacated the final forfeiture order as to these two corporations. Amodeo moved to reconsider the partial vacatur on the ground that the district court lacked jurisdiction to alter the final forfeiture order. the district court denied the Amodeo’s motion stating that it had vacated only the final forfeiture order in part and not the preliminary order.  the trial court ruled that Amodeo lacked standing to challenge the  vacatur of that order.

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Frank Amodeo pled guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States for his failure to collect and remit payroll taxes and obstruction of an agency investigation. His offense arose from his scheme to divert his clients’ payroll taxes to his companies’ bank accounts instead of remitting the money to the I.R.S.   As part of his plea agreement he agreed to forfeit many assets including properties, luxury cars a Lear jet, and the ownership of several corporations including two corporations: AQMI Strategy Corporation and Nexia Strategy Corporation.   After the plea, the district court entered a preliminary forfeiture order for the assets, including the two corporations AQMI and Nexia. The government then moved for and received a final forfeiture order giving clear title to the United States.

Eventually, victims from Amodeo’s scheme filed lawsuits against his corporations, including the forfeited AQMI and Nexia. After serving these tow companies, the government moved to vacate the final forfeiture order because both were shell corporations without any assets. The government did not want to defend either corporation. The district court granted the motion and vacated the final forfeiture order as to these two corporations. Amodeo moved to reconsider the partial vacatur on the ground that the district court lacked jurisdiction to alter the final forfeiture order.  The district court denied the Amodeo’s motion stating that it had vacated only the final forfeiture order in part and not the preliminary order. It ruled that Amodeo lacked standing to challenge the partial vacatur of that order.

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Dixon is an appeal by four defendants who participated in a drug conspiracy in the Little Havana area of Miami. Calling themselves the Big Money Team, they were a gang of drug dealers who also committed robberies and illegally possessed guns. Following a jury trial, they were convicted of drug trafficking, firearm possession, armed robbery, assault and conspiracy to distribute 280 grams of cocaine base. Defendant Chacon received a 420-month sentence, Defendant Altamirano was given 235 months followed by Dixon who received 144 months.

In challenging the conspiracy conviction, the defendants argued that the government failed to prove the existence of a single conspiracy to sell drugs. Each defendant argued that the evidence failed to establish that he joined the conspiracy. They also challenged the sufficiency of the evidence about the quantity of drugs they conspired to distribute. The court of appeals disagreed because it found the government presented ample evidence of a single conspiracy to sell drugs by the members of the Big Money Team through the “traps” maintained by members of the team where they sold drugs, shared customers, kept lookout for one another and cooperated to supply drugs consumers demanded. Even though drugs were sold at different locations, there was an interrelatedness of the operation.   Even though the government did not establish that the conspiracy had an internal control structure, the evidence did suggest an unofficial hierarchy with Chacon and Altamirano as the top guys who called the shots.

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This appeal followed the conviction of Geovanys Guevara for causing a car dealership in Miami to file Form 8300s with the United States Treasury Department that contained false statements concerning Guevara’s identity as the individual who provided cash payments over $10,000 to buy four luxury cars: a Rolls Royce, a Lamborghini, a Porshe, and a Farrari. The Bank Secrecy Act requires any person engaged in a non-financial trade or business to file a Form 8300 with the United States Treasury. The form reports any cash payment over $10,000 received by the business or trade. It requires the business to verify and record the name and address of the person from whom the cash payment was received along with social security numbers and taxpayer identification numbers of any person on whose behalf the cash payment is offered.

At trial the Government presented a witness who testified that Guevara paid him $1,000 to go to the car dealer and put title for two of the four cars in his name. The government also presented Guevara’s interview in which he admitted that he was the true owner of all four cars. He admitted purchasing the cars and placing two of the titles in the name of his friend. He also admitted that the car dealer owner knew that Guevara was paying for theses vehicle.   He said he bought the cars using money from a therapy clinic he owned and admitted paying his friend to go to the dealership to take title to the cars.

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Harlem Suarez appealed was sentenced to life in prison without parole following his conviction for one count of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2332 and one count of attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, ISIS, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2339B.  A jury found him guilty following an eight-day trial.

In his appeal he argued the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction for attempting to uses a weapon of mass destruction. The statute has a jurisdictional element, which requires that the offense, in this case an attempt, would have affected interstate or foreign commerce. Suarez argued the government was required to prove a substantial effect on interstate commerce to satisfy the jurisdictional hook. The court of appeals disagreed by holding that the government only had to prove that a de minimis effect on interstate commerce satisfies the jurisdictional element. Because the minimal effect standard is a low bar, the court found the government presented sufficient evidence that a terrorist bombing in Key West would have had at least a minimal effect on interstate commerce.

Suarez also argued the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction to support a foreign terrorist organization. He claimed that Suarez did not coordinate or directly contact an actual foreign terrorist organization because he had contact only with the government informant and undercover agents. The court rejected this challenge finding that it is irrelevant that he did not make contact with ISIS because the law requires only that Suarez directed or attempted to direct his services to ISIS. Suarez’s mistaken believe that the government informant and the undercover agents were actual ISIS agents is not a defense to his attempted crime. He had the requisite intent to coordinate with ISIS and he took substantial steps to do so. The court found there was substantial evidence Suarez knowingly provided material support to a foreign terrorist organization and for attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction.

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Defendant Whitman started a trucking company called United Logistics. To increase business and profits he bribed three employees of the federal Defense Logistics Agency to steer transportation contracts his way.  Whitman was convicted of federal crimes including bribery, wire fraud, and obstruction involving government contracts and took this appeal.

The evidence at trial showed that for about four years Whitman’ scheme defrauded the United States of more than $15 million by bribing three employees of the Defense Logistics Agency on a Marine Corps base to use his trucking company to ship military equipment around the country.

Because the Department of Defense hired an outside company to book shipment carriers, the four schemers devised shipment requirements that all but guaranteed that United would receive assignments. Yet Whitman rarely if ever satisfied the special requirements the Defense Logistics Agency imposed. Furthermore, Whitman’s company only owned two trucks and his assistant would have to hire other trucking companies to handle the shipments he contracted with the Defense Department.

Although the Defense Logistics Agency employees never discussed with each other the specifics of their individual arrangements with Whitman, they knew about the criminal conduct of their coconspirators. Whitman told the others that McCarty was working for him and that he was paying McCarty to get him as many loads as possible. One of the coconspirators was McCarty’s supervisor and he frequently reviewed McCarty’s work and had identified fraudulent activity without taking any corrective measures.

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Nelson Machado lived in Orlando, Florida from 2005 through 2009, then moved to Bradenton, Florida, before he moved back to his native Brazil in December of 2009, to work as a pastor in Brazil. In April of 2010, he was indicted for three counts of wire fraud. The indictment charged him with wire fraud in violation of U.S.C. section 1343 accusing him of making false representations as part of a scheme to obtain mortgage loans. The evidence showed he applied for and obtained three mortgage loans worth a total of $739,900. When he applied for the loans Machado had a monthly salary of $3,000 and very little savings. The monthly payments for those three loans totaled $5,322.00. The properties he purchased with the loans were located in Cape Coral, Florida and valued at $509,900 with first and second mortgages totaling $490,000. The false statements he provided were that he was the manager of a tile corporation with $79,949 in personal savings. He also provided false documents regarding his employment and bank account.

He then contracted to purchase a second property and applied for a $249,900 mortgage loan. As in the first property, he provided false statements about his employment and his bank account with false documents to back it up. On top that, he failed to disclose the financial details of his first property purchase, indicating that it would be his primary home.

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