Articles Posted in Sufficiency of the Evidence

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In United States v. Bergman the defendants were convicted following a jury trial of conspiracy to commit health care and wire fraud, paying bribes and kickbacks in connection with a federal health care benefit program. Bergman was sentenced to 180 months and the other defendant was sentenced to 150 months.

Bergman was a licensed physician’s assistant employed by American Therapeutic Corporation that operated a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP). A PHP serves as a bridge between inpatient and outpatient care for patients with a psychiatric condition serious enough to possibly require hospitalization. A community mental health center such as ATC administers a PHP, which offer intensive outpatient psychiatric care including individual or group psychotherapy, counseling and other mental health services. Staff at a PHP includes psychiatrists as well as nurses, physician’s assistants, occupational therapists, physical therapists and social workers.

After ATC was founded it developed into an extensive Medicare scammed billed Medicare for approximately $200 million in claims. While ATC did have some patients who needed psychiatric help and qualified for service, most did not and ATC did not provide the individualized treatment required by Medicare. Doctors that came in generally did nothing.

In this case the defendants created fake medical records and recruited patients in exchange for kickbacks. ATC paid its patient recruiters hundreds of thousands of dollars each month in cash in order to avoid any red flags or paper trail. They even kept a log of kickbacks paid.

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In United States v Holmes the defendant appealed his conviction for production of child pornography and possession of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2251(a) and 2252(a) (4)(B). Holmes was charged with surreptitiously videotaping his teenage stepdaughter performing her daily bathroom routine over a period of approximately five months and of being in possession of the videos and images of her in the nude. Holmes had installed concealed cameras in the stepdaughter’s bathroom and in the videos discovered on his computer the girl is seen completely naked. Plainly visible in those videos was her nude pubic area. Holmes also created a twenty-six screen captures from certain sections of the videos depicting close-up views of her pubic area. After trial, Holmes was found guilty and he appealed.
Under the statutes a defendant commits the crime of production of child pornography when he uses, persuades, entices or coerces a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of such conduct. The crime of possession of child pornography involves the knowing possession of a visual depiction that involves a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct. The pornography statutory definition of sexually explicit conduct that applies here is the “lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person.”

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In United States v. Croteau, the defendant challenged the sufficiency of the evidence for his ten-count criminal conviction in federal court for making false and fictitious claims on this tax returns and for the reasonableness of his 56 month federal sentence. Croteau was a tax protester who filed false returns for three consecutive years claiming that he was entitled to refunds totaling $400,000 and to substantiate his return he submitted false 1099-OID forms reporting that financial institutions had issued interest income to Croteau and withheld the interest for federal tax purposes. Croteau’s tax returns sought refunds of the money withheld. None of the financial entities listed on Croteau’s 1099-OID forms had issued any interest income or any income to Croteau. Despite communication from the I.R.S. notifying him that he had provided the I.R.S. with frivolous tax information, Croteau repeatedly submitted amended tax returns for the same years containing fictitious and fraudulent 1099-OID information.   To make matters worse, Croteau also recorded several false and fictitious liens and documents in the Lee County Clerks’ office asserting that the IRS owed him hundreds of millions of dollars.   At his trial he did not contest that he had in fact filed false and fictitious tax returns and other financial documents. He raised a good-faith defense, claiming he had an honest belief that what he was doing was correct.

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In US v. Damion St. Patrick Baston (“Baston”), the Defendant worked as a pimp and forced various women to work as prostitutes in Florida and around the world while keeping the money they earned As a result he was indicted for violating 18 U.S.C. 1593 and charged in Miami federal court for sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion in Florida and in the countries of Australia and United Arab Emirates. He was also charged with several counts of money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1956 based his having wired the sex-trafficking proceeds from Australian to Miami.

At his trial the government called three prostitutes that worked for him as witnesses who testified how they met Baston and how he used violence and coercion to force them into prostitution. His defense what that he never coerced the woman into prostitution and they were already prostitute when they met. He said they did it freely and voluntarily and in Australia prostitution is legal trade from which they could make money.
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In USA v. Thomas the Defendant was convicted of knowingly accessing with intent to view child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2252(a)(4)(B). Prior to his federal court trial he filed a motion to suppress the incriminating images of child pornography that were seized from his desktop computer at his home in violation of the Fourth Amendment. He appealed the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress asking the Eleventh circuit court of appeals to overturn the trial court’s decision.

These are the facts of the seizure. A police officer arrived at Thomas’s home in response to a telephone report from Thomas’s wife that there was child pornography on a computer within the home. The officer was greeted by Thomas’s wife who told the officer that she found eight to ten child pornography websites on a computer in their shared home. The wife described what appeared to be minors engaged in sexual conduct with an adult. The wife told the officer that the defendant was home but sleeping and did not give consent to view the computers, but the wife said they both use the computer though Thomas used the computers more often, and the wife gave permission to search all the electronic equipment. Other officers arrived while Thomas still slept and approached the computer screen where they saw in plain view web sites “pictures of young girls that had only their underwear on” though not engaged in any sexual activity. The officers learned from the wife that she had seen nude photos of 4 – 13 year old children in sex poses and being sexually abused but the wife mistakenly closed the web pages before the police arrived. The officer started to conduct a forensic search/scan of the hard drive of the computer and began a forensic search.
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In U.S. v. Brown the Defendant pleaded guilty in federal court for knowingly receiving 481 counterfeit United States Postal Money Orders from a foreign county with intent to pass them off as real, violation of 18 U.S.C. § 473. As part of her plea agreement she waived her right to appeal her federal conviction and sentence. At the plea colloquy she admitted that she knew the postal money orders were not true and were counterfeit.

Nevertheless, she filed her appeal and raised the issue in her appeal that her indictment was defective because it did not expressly allege the mens rea element of the section 473. She argued that the omission deprived the federal court of subject-matter jurisdiction to accept her guilty plea and therefore her conviction is null and void.
Brown’s two count indictment was based on her receipt of packages containing the counterfeit money orders. Count one did not allege knowledge, however count 2 did allege that the defendant acted knowingly. The Defendant plead guilty to count one.

Brown’s jurisdictional argument went like this. The indictment was defective on its face because count one did not include the required mens rea element, which is an essential element of section 473 that makes if a crime to receive and/or pass counterfeit money orders. Because of this omission, Brown argued the indictment does not state a federal crime and therefore the district court never had jurisdiction to sentence her.
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Reeves and five codenfendants in U.S. v. Reeves were convicted following a nine day trial of federal drug charges including conspiracy to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, possession of more than 50 grams of crack cocaine, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The indictment followed nearly one year of investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency into the drug activities of individuals involved in drug distribution in the area of Baldwin County, Georgia. Agents used video surveillance and court ordered wiretaps to determine that numerous coconspirators were involved in large scale cocaine distribution network starting from a Mexican supplier of large quantities down to low level distributors of small quantities.

Reeves challenged his conspiracy conviction arguing that the facts showed he and his coconspirators were not part of a single criminal agreement but rather he just bought and sold cocaine in the ordinary course of several discrete agreements. The court rejected his arguments finding that he regularly purchased from one coconspirator and repeatedly sold to the same street-level distributors was more than adequate evidence for the jury to find a single overarching conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine. Reeves’ codefendant wife argued the evidence was insufficient to convict her of the conspiracy particularly because there was no evidence she personally distributed drugs. The court of appeals disagreed on the basis of the tape recorded telephone conversations presented at trial showing her knowledge of the cocaine conspiracy. Those conversations showed that a reasonable jury could find that the wife knew there was cocaine hidden in the house, that she agree to dispose of it after coconspirator was arrested, and that she tried to conceal the conspiracy by falsely tell the police that her codefendant husband lived at another address.

Another issue the wife raised was the admission of telephone recordings without proper authentication. The court of appeals found there was plenty of evidence establishing her voice on the recordings, including testifying on her own behalf in which she acknowledged speaking on the phone and identifying her own voice.

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In U.S. v. Ransfer, the defendants were convicted of a Hobbs Act violations, and the use and carrying of firearms during the commission of a violent crime. The first issue the defendants raised in challenging these federal criminal convictions was the admission of evidence resulting from the installation and use of a GPS tracking device without a warrant. It used to determine the location of a Ford expedition that was used in the commission of several robberies. The defendants relied on U.S. vs. Jones, a 2012 Supreme Court case stating that installing a GPS tracking devise on a vehicle and tracking the vehicle’s movement was a search under the fourth amendment and required a warrant. The police installed the tracking device on May 27, 2011, before the Jones decision was issued in 2012. Prior to the Jones decision the prevailing law in the 11th circuit said that law enforcement officers did not violate the Fourth amendment by placing a tracking device on vehicle parked in a public place and to track the vehicles moment on public roads if the officers that reasonable suspicion to initiate surveillance of the vehicle. The Eleventh Circuit found that the officers were in good faith and it was reasonable for the officers to rely on long standing precedent in attaching the GPS without a warrant by installing electronic tracking device of vehicle without a warrant. Because there was clear precedent in the 11th circuit stating that the police did not violate the fourth amendment, the search was not subject to the exclusionary rule.

In their second issue, the defendants challenged the lead an officer’s testimony on grounds that it was hearsay. The officer testified about the identities and their suspicious activities from information learned from out of court sources. The court concluded that his testimony was based on his investigation review of a complex investigation in which he supervised a months-long endeavor to identify and locate the perpetrators of this series of armed robberies. His statements were not offered to rehabilitate any witness. Instead he was merely providing a summary of the investigation and his background information shed light on why the officer conducted the investigation in the manner that he get even if it was an error it was not reversible because the evidence about which he testified was otherwise admissible on the record.

The defendants challenge the convictions on the basis of sufficiency of the evidence. All of the convictions were affirmed except for the robbery of a specific CVS for one defendants, which was reversed. The court found the evidence was insufficient to prove one of the defendants was involved in this particular robbery because the evidence supporting his conviction in the other robberies was absent here. There was no evidence he was ever in the CVS or that he did anything prior to or during the robbery to further the crime.

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In U.S. v Martinez the Defendant appealed her federal criminal conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 875(c) for knowingly transmitting a threatening communication. The threat came when a talk show host at a Ft. Lauderdale radio station received an anonymous email that expressing support for the second amendment gun rights, and the anonymous sender said he was planning something big around a government building, a post office “maybe even a school, I’m going to walk in and teach all the government hacks working there what the 2nd amendment is all about..” Several hours later an anonymous woman called the station telling them that her husband sent the email, that he was mentally ill, and that he was now planning to open fire at a nearby school. The anonymous woman implored the station to broadcast a plea asking her husband not to carry out the shooting. The phone call resulted in a lockdown of all Broward County schools. After investigators discovered the anonymous calls were sent by the defendant, she was indicted for making a threat in violation of § 875(c). She pleaded guilty reserving the right to appeal her challenges to the statute.

Martinez claimed the indictment was insufficient because it did not allege Martinez subjectively convey a threat to injure others. She argued that the Supreme Court’s decision in Virginia v. Black drew the distinction between true threats and First Amendment protected speech based upon the speaker’s subjective intent, and therefore a conviction required proof the defendant subjectively intended to make a threat. In Black, the Supreme Court addressed a state statute making it a crime to burn a cross with the intent of intimidating any person or group. Martinez argued that Black imported a subjective-intent analysis into the true threats doctrine. In rejecting Martinez’ argument the Eleventh Circuit found that prior to Virginia v. Black, the Supreme Court did not require a subjective analysis for true threats, rather the threats are evaluated on a the objective characteristics of the speech and the context in which it was made. Most federal courts defined true threats according to an objective standard. The Eleventh Circuit found that the Supreme Court’s decision in Virginia v. Black was based on the overbreadth of a specific statute and not whether all threats are determined by a subjective or objective analysis. The Eleventh Circuit concluded that to be convicted under § 875, Martinez need not subjectively intent to her statement to be a threat.

Martinez also argued that § 875(c) was unconstitutionally overbroad because it did not require the Government to prove the speaker subjectively intended her statements to constitute a threat. The Eleventh Circuit found no merit in this challenge. The actus reus of the statute is transmitting a true threat and a true threat is determined from the position of an objective, reasonable person. Section 875(c) is silent as to mens rea and does not require and showing of specific intent. The statute is a general intent offense that requires the government to show the defendant 1) transmitted a communication knowingly, and 2) that the communication would be construed by a reasonable person as a serious expression of an intent to inflict harm. It does not require the Government to prove a defendant specifically intended his or her statements to be threatening.

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The defendant in U.S. v. Rodriguez was convicted and sentenced to 120 months for conspiracy to commit the crime of federal wire fraud. He raised two issues on appeal. First he argued the evidence was not sufficient to support the conviction. The evidence at trial showed that from 2003 through 2007 Rodriguez owned and operated four different companies that sold coffee machines and other vending machines to the public. His companies tried to generate sales by posting ads on the internet seeking investors looking to a own their own small business by offering investment in new coffee machine, vending machine or drinking water machine. Rodriguez or his associates induced customers to buy products by offering a number of guarantees. Sales people would routinely guarantee the amount of money that customers would make each day and how quickly they would recoup their money. They promised to provide advanced marketing analytics to secure high-end locations where machines would have plenty of potential patrons. The companies also promised technical support and assistance and if not satisfied they could return the machines for a full refund. These guarantees were too good to be true. The machines arrived in months rather than weeks, if they arrived at all. When they did arrive, many customers found they did not work or they cost more to operate than they had been advertised. The locations the machines were placed in were in remote locations rather than high-end venues and they could barely cover their operational costs. Many customers testified their machines generated zero profits or substantial losses. None said they were able to recoup the cost of the initial investment. When they asked Rodriguez for help with the machines, there was no technical support as promised. Rodriguez almost never honored the money back guarantee when customers asked for a refund. Furthermore, the evidence showed that Rodriguez knew that this was happening and yet he continued to sell the machines to customers and guaranteed profit figures he knew were not real. Even after receiving a cease and desist order from the Maryland Attorney General, he created new companies selling different machines. While trying to hide his ties to the earlier companies from his prospective customers.

To support a conviction for wire fraud the evidence must show the defendant intentionally participated in a scheme to defraud another of money or property and used or caused the use of wires for executing the fraud. Evidence to sustain a conspiracy conviction requires proof the defendant knew and willfully joined the unlawful scheme to defraud. While puffing or sellers talk is not a crime under the federal fraud statutes, fraud requires proof of a material misrepresentation or the omission of a material fact calculated to deceive another out of money or property. The evidence showed Rodriguez did not simply puff up the profitability of his machines to prospective customers, rather he made material misrepresentations of fact in the course of an ongoing scheme to defraud. Rodriguez guaranteed specific profit figures and provided a definitive time for when his customers would recoup their investments, and he did this knowing his representations were completely unfounded. He knew his sales associates did no research on the placement of the machines and placed them in haphazard locations. He was not just overstating the facts to sell his product but he was actively concealing relevant information from potential customers. This type of federal crime is commonly prosecuted in Miami and the Southern District of Florida.

Rodriguez argued against the 4 level enhancement based on the number of victims. At sentencing he argued the government only proved 10 victims. At the sentencing the government presented 42 affidavits from victims who suffered losses and presented a summary chart indicating there were 238 victims but it provided no witnesses nor did it provide any underlying data for the chart. The court erred in finding the offense involved more than 50 victims because the government presented no witnesses to authenticate what the chart represented, how it was prepare, or by whom. While the district court could consider trial evidence, there was no testimony or evidence tying the summary chart to any of the trial evidence. There was no witness to verify that the information on the chart was correct. The summary chart amounted to little more than an allegation by the government on a piece of paper that Rodriguez’ offense involved more than 50 victims.