Articles Posted in Sufficiency of the Evidence

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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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The Eleventh Circuit rejected Austin Gates’ federal civil rights claim against three City of Atlanta Police officers for arresting him without probable cause during a protest in downtown Atlanta. Gates claimed the arrest was in violation of the Fourth and First Amendments of the Constitution as well as various Georgia state court laws. Gates participated in a march protesting a grand jury’s decision not to file charges in the Ferguson, Missouri police-shooting. During the protest he was given a “V for Vendetta” mask by another protester. The mask was a stylized image of the Guy Fawkes character from the movie “V for Vendetta” and designed to cover the entire face. He and other protesters wore the same masks to express his disagreement with the grand jury’s decision and to maintain anonymity during the protest. At some point during the protest Defendant police chief Whitmire ordered the protesters to remove their masks multiple times over a loudspeaker and warned that any mask-wearing protesters would be arrested. After the warning, Whitmore issued orders to arrest any protesters wearing masks and the plaintiff was arrested. When asked why he was being arrested, the defendant officer did not immediately respond and after conferring with other officers, he was told the arrest was for wearing a mask. Gates followed with this complaint against the City and the officers pursuant to section 1983.

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In US v Crabtree a therapist at a health care clinic in Miami was convicted along with her two therapist codefendants of conspiracy to commit health care fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1349. In this appeal they raised several issues, including a constitutional challenge under the double jeopardy clause. The underlying facts involved the operation of a mental health centers in Florida and North Carolina called the Health Care Solutions Network (HCSN) which billed Medicare for over $63 million in fraudulent claims. Crabtree and two of the co-defendants were former employees of HCSN who worked therapists.

HCSN was set up as a “partial hospitalization program” (PHP) that was purportedly designed to provide intensive psychiatric therapy to patients with “serious and acutely symptomatic mental illnesses.” These programs serve as a bridge between restrictive in patient care (psychiatric hospitalization) and routine outpatient care.

A PHP complying with federal and state law may seek Medicare reimbursement for its services. However, HCSN was not following Medicare standards and practices. From intake to discharge HCSN organized its business around Medicare fraud by editing intake information, fabricating treatment plans, and falsifying therapy and treatment notes to support Medicare claims. Therapist fabricated therapy notes for absent patients, falsified details from therapy sessions, and cloned notes by copying and pasting therapy notes from one patient’s file to another’s.

At the conclusion of the first trial the jury acquitted Crabtree and her two codefendant therapists of the false statement counts but it failed to reach a verdict on the conspiracy counts. At the first trial the court gave an instruction for Pinkerton liability with the false statement instruction. Under the Pinkerton instruction if the jury found the defendant guilty of participating in conspiracy it could find the defendant guilty of the substantive false statement crime even though the defendant did not personally participate in the false statement crime. The defendants were retried and convicted of the conspiracy count at the second trial.

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Lawrence Foster was charged and convicted in Miami following a federal court jury trial of conspiring to commit wire fraud and six counts of wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. section 1349. He raised three challenges. First, he claimed the trial judge erred by denying his motion for judgment of acquittal. Second, he claimed the loss amount was incorrectly calculated. Third, he claimed his verdict should be set aside due to jury misconduct.

Foster was charged with defrauding investors who thought they were investing in property in the island of Rum Cay in the Bahamas. He solicited investors by offering them two investment opportunities. They could either purchase Rum Cay land or lend money to his company Paradise is Mine (PIM) in return for a security interest in the land. Foster used several marketing strategies including celebrity endorsements to promote PIM. He also represented to prospective investors that hundreds of news organizations including USA Today and the Wall Street Journal had featured articles about PIM. But PIM was a scam because it never owned the land that it claimed it owned and the newspaper reports were not legitimate. Some articles were created by Foster himself. The investors never received tit to the land.

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Focia’s conviction arose from his sale of firearms on the dark web. He was charged with a violation of 18 USC section 922(a)(1) for transferring firearms to a resident of a state other than his own without a federal firearms license in violation of 18 USC section 922(a)(5). In his appeal he challenged the sufficiency of the evidence arguing that the government failed to prove that he and each transferee were not residents of the same state at the timer of each sale. He claimed that the government failed to prove that Focia was a resident of Alabama, a different state than where the buyers lived in Nebraska and New Jersey. He argued that the government only established only that Focia used to live in Alabama at some point before the firearm sales and that he was present in Alabama several times over the span of two years.

The court of appeals rejected this challenge finding that the government introduced sufficient evidence of Focia’s residence at the time of the sale to sustain his conviction. The government presented evidence directly tying Focia to Alabama including his driver’s license showing an address in Alabama that did not expire until three months after Focia completed his transaction with the buyer and documents from E-trade Financial and a pawn shop in Alabama bearing Focia’s name and address in Alabama. Additionally, the government introduced powerful circumstantial evidence from which a jury could reasonably infer that Focia resided in Alabama at the time he shipped firearms to undercover agents located in the two states.

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Max Jeri was convicted and sentencing for importing 7.95 kilograms of cocaine into the United States after he arrived from Lima Peru at the Miami International Airport.  The evidence produced at trial showed that after his arrival in the Miami Airport a Customs and Border Patrol Officer inspected his luggage and discovered cocaine secreted in various items in his luggage including children’s jackets, notebooks, purses, and pillows. He gave the officers the person for whom he was transporting the items and was a travel agent and a long time friend who offered him a free round trip ticket to Peru and in exchange she asked him to take two bags of merchandise to her sister and to return to New York with the two bags.

He said the items he took to Peru were electronic items toys and shoes. For the return flight the sister went with him to the airport where she showed him the contents of the suitcases, which he checked and boarded the flight to Miami. Following the seizure, Jeri volunteered to make controlled calls to the friend in an attempt to elicit inculpatory comments about the drugs in the suitcase, but the friend repeatedly claimed the bags were clean. The agents attempted to arrange a controlled delivery of the drugs but the person who came to pick up the packages refused to take them.

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In U.S. v. Louise, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was tipped off that the Ana Celia, a coastal freighter used to export goods from the United States to Haiti, was returning from Haiti to Miami carrying narcotic drugs. While the boat was docked in the Miami port, CBP agents set up surveillance of the boat. At one point the agents watched as a forklift picked up boxes from the boat and that were driven off the boat. The owner of the boat, Ernso Borgella, directed the forklift driver to place on the dock. Later a Nissan car which pulled up and Borgella told the driver to pull the car to park near the boxes. Two unidentified men loaded the boxes into the back seat of a white Nissan and Louis began to drive slowly out of the shipyard while Bogella walked alongside. After driving past the front gate of the shipyard the Nissan was stopped by law enforcement vehicles with lights and sirens. Louis exited the car and began to run. The agents found that the boxes in the back seat contained 111 bricks of cocaine.

Louis was charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and with possession of cocaine. After a two-day federal criminal trial the jury found Louis guilty on both counts and the district court denied his motion for an acquittal. In this appeal Louis challenged his conviction arguing that the court should have found the evidence was insufficient to find he conspired to distribute drugs.

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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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