Articles Posted in Wire Fraud, Mail Fraud, Tax Fraud and other Federal Fraud Cases

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Presendieu and Jean were indicted on bank fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft for participating in a check cashing scheme where they cashed fraudulent checks at Kwik Stop Food Store owned by Habib. Presendieu pled guilty to conspiracy to commit bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1349 and aggravated identity theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. 1028A. As part of his guilty plea Presendieu signed a seven page detailed Factual Proffer in Support of Guilty Plea admitting his participation in Habib’s illicit check cashing services by cashing stolen checks with forged endorsements and using false identification documents to cash them. He then entered his guilty plea colloquy pursuant to Rule 11.

In his appeal Presendieu complains that his guilty plea was procedurally defective and unconstitutional because the district court failed to inform him of the nature of the charges, never outlined separately each element of his two offenses, and never asked him whether he understood those elements. He did not raise these objections before the district court and raised them for the first time in his appeal to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The appellate court concluded that the district court did not commit plain error under Rule 11 or under the constitution in accepting Presendieu’s guilty plea. It found that Presendieu was aware of the charges to which he plead guilty, he was sufficiently intelligent to understand the nature of those charges, he understood that the facts set forth in the factual proffer established that he was guilty of those two particular offenses, he had discussed the two charges and the facts in the proffer with his attorney, and he intelligently pled guilty to both charges in the plea agreement.

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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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In U.S. v Doran, Dr. James Doran was convicted under 18 U.S.C. 666 of embezzlement form the Florida State University (FSU) as an organization receiving federal funds. He argued on appeals that he is entitled to a judgment of acquittal because any embezzlement was not from FSU and that the government did not prove that the victimized organization under the statutes was a recipient of federal benefits. Under the federal statute it is a federal crime for and agent of an organization to embezzle or convert to the use of any person other than he rightful owner any property valued at $5,000 or more that is owned or in the custody of that organization, government, or agency. The provision also requires that the organization, government or agency receive in any one year period benefits in excess of $10,000 under a federal program involving a grant contract subsidy, or other form of federal assistance.

The facts as they unfolded at trial showed that Doran was a professor in the College of Business of FSU and was a director and officer of the Student Investment Fund (SIF) a non-profit corporation established by FSU for charitable and educational purposes. He had a signatory authority over the SIF bank account. During his tenure he transferred SIF money from the SIF accounts to his own personal account. This embezzlement was discovered after an investigation.   He was charged in an indictment that alleged he embezzled funds or property from FSU which it described was the recipient of federal benefits.

On appeal he challenged his conviction on the grounds that the SIF was the victimized organization under section 666 but that it received no federal benefits. He maintained that SIF and FSU are separate entities. The government’s response was that the embezzlement by Doran came within the ambit of section 666 because the SIF was closely affiliated with FSU which did receive millions of federal dollars and that Doran was a FSU professor and an agent of FSU when he committed the crime.

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The Horners were convicted of two counts of assisting in the preparation of a fraudulent corporate tax return in violation of 26 U.S.C. 6206 and filing a false individual tax return in violation of 26 U.S.C. 7206. This couple owned and operated Topcat Towing and Recovery, Inc. an S-corporation, in Lithonia, Georgia. Because Topcat required customer to pay in cases for most of its services, the Horners deposited approximately $3 million in cases into several business accounts in various banks as well as in personal accounts. They did not tell their tax preparer H&R Block about any of the cash deposits into their personal accounts. The IRS investigators concluded that theses person cash deposits were actually diverted Topcat receipts which means the defendants underreported Topcat’s income as well as their own income. On this evidence, the defendants were indicted.

One issue raised on appeal was the resulted from the testimony from IRS Agent Owns who examined their tax returns and testified regarding what she calculated as their correct tax liability. In her estimation, they owed an additional $474,147 over a four-year period.   Her calculation did not account for any business expenses the Horners may have paid from their personal accounts but that they did not claim as a reduction. In her cross examination she said that such unclaimed deductions would reduce the Horners unreported income tax liability, but that it would not have a “really big impact” and would still leave “a substantial understatement.” When calculating the amount of tax due during the sentencing phase, the trial court ultimately accepted a figure of unclaimed business expense deductions which reduced the unreported income in the relevant periods by approximately one-third.

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After a two-week trial, defendant in U.S. v Stein was convicted of mail, wire, and securities fraud based on evident that he fabricated press releases and purchase money orders to inflate the stock price of his client, Signalife, Inc, a publicly traded manufacturer of medical devices. The district court sentenced Stein to 205 months in prison, ordered $5 million in forfeiture, and $13 million in restitution. In his appeal Stein argued that the government failed to disclose Brady v. Maryland material to the defense before trial and knowingly relied on false testimony to make its case. As for the sentence, Stein argues that the district court erred in calculating actual loss for the purpose of the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act of 1996 (MVRA) and § 2B1.1 of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. He argued that in estimating actual loss the district court erroneously presumed that all purchasers of Signalife stock during the period the fraud was ongoing relied on false information advanced by Stein.   He also argued that the district court failed to take into account other market forces that likely contributed to the investors losses.

After the Department of Justin conducted a criminal investigation of Stein and his work with Signalife, he was charged with money laundering and wire and securities fraud. Prior to his trial Stein moved to produce documents in the Security and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) files. The government’s response was that is lacked control over the SEC and it did not conduct a joint investigation with the SEC. Prior to trial Stein learned that in the course of its investigation the DOJ had accessed a very small subset of documents in the SEC’s date base which the DOJ then provided to him. As a result he filed a motion to dismiss on the basis of this Brady violation. Following his conviction at trial, he obtained additional documents from the SEC that he believed were exculpatory and he filed motion for a new trial based on the Brady violation.

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In U.S v. Leon, Leon appeals from her conviction following a jury trial of three counts of attempting to cause a financial institution to not file a required currency transaction report (a CTR) in violation of 31 U.S.C. § 5324(a)(1). On appeal Leon claimed that the government and the district court constructively amended the indictment allowing her to be tried and convicted of violation §5324(a)(3) and not §5324(a)(1). The indictment alleges that Leon knowingly willfully and for the purpose of avoiding federal reporting requirements attempted to cause Bank of America not to file required CTRs concerning currency transactions exceeding $10,000 while violating another federal law and as part of a pattern of illegal activity involving more than $100,000 in a 12-month period. She was charged with making five cash withdrawals in the amounts of $9,500, $5,500, $1,430, $1,000 and $400. Another count charge her with making three cash withdrawals in amounts of $6,000, $3,995 and $500. And two cash withdrawals in the amounts of $9,846 and $300. The indictments alleged that these withdrawals, when aggregated on a daily basis, triggered Bank of America’s obligation to file CTRs and that Leon make the withdrawals in amounts less than $10,000 to try to cause Bank of America to not file CTRs.

Leon contended that the government’s theory and evidence as well as the district court’s jury instructions constructively amended the federal criminal indictment by allowing her to be convicted of violating §5324(a)(3) instead of §5324(a)(1). She claimed that the offense of structuring is prohibited by §5423(a)(3) but not by §5423(a)(1). Building on this premise Leon argues that there was a constructive amendment allowing her to be convicted of uncharged §5342(a)(3) offenses because the government repeatedly use the term “structuring” when referring to the three counts.

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In this appeal Birge was convicted of one count of mail fraud pursuant to 18 U.S.C. section 1341 for writing herself $767,218.99 while serving as the Chief Clerk of the probate court of Chatham County, Georgia. The checks were drawn from the conservatorship accounts belonging to 31 minors, two incapacitated adults, and two estates. She was sentenced to 72 months imprisonment and appealed that sentence raising the issue that the district court erred in applying the vulnerable victim enhancement when it calculated her guidelines range.

Under the federal sentencing guidelines a vulnerable victim of an offense is a victim who is unusually vulnerable due to age, physical or mental condition, or who is otherwise particularly susceptible to the criminal conduct.

Birge argued that the district court should not have applied the enhancement to her because there is no evidence that she targeted the vulnerable victims. The court found that amended versions of the language of commentary to section 3A1.1 of the guidelines revised the language to only require that the defendant knew or should have known of the victims’ unusual vulnerability.

The Sentencing Commission amended the commentary to the guideline to include language that the adjustment applies to offenses involving an unusually vulnerable victim in which the defendant knew or should have known of the victim’s unusual vulnerability. The court pointed to precedent holding that commentary in the guidelines Manual interpreting or explaining a guideline is binding on the courts unless it violates the Constitution or a federal statute.

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Appellants in the Pierre opinion appealed their federal criminal convictions and sentences for conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service, conspiracy to traffic in unauthorized access devises, aggravated identity theft and other substantive counts of identity theft following a jury trial.   The scheme in this case involved filing fraudulent income tax returns. The Defendants filed tax returns in the names of Florida prison inmates. The tax refunds were paid to the TaxProfessors’ debit cards that were used at automatic teller machines to obtain cash.

The scheme unraveled after an officer spotted a Cadillac with dark tinted windows and could not see inside the vehicle. He also noticed a temporary tag on the vehicle that was registered to the Defendant whose family owned a body shop that authorities suspected fraudulently issued temporary vehicle tags. The officer made a traffic stop because the he believed the tinting on the windows was below the standards permitted by Florida law.   After receiving consent to search the inside of the car the officer found prepaid debit cards issued by a business that was called TaxProfessor. The investigation into the debit cards led to a search warrant for the home of a defendant who was connected to TaxProfessor.   The Defendants also approached an employee of the Florida Department of Children and Family Services as a child protective investigator who had access to personal identifying information through a state database. The Defendant paid the DCF employee for a printout from the website which contained a list of inmates and SSN’s for 25 names on the list. Tax returns were filed using the inmates’ information and the tax refunds were loaded onto these debit cards for TaxProfessors accounts.

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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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