Articles Posted in U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals

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Defendant, convicted of making false statements regarding a credit application, appealed his sentence and order of restitution. Defendant forged the signatures of borrowers on an application for modification to a loan related to a certain property. Because the district court neither made factual findings concerning defendant's conduct nor explained which statutes defendant violated, the court was unable to determine whether defendant's dealings with the home buyers and sellers were criminal. The district court made no findings of fact as to whether defendant's dealings with the home buyers and sellers were part of the same common scheme or whether his criminal acts must have actually caused these losses. Further, the district court erred by awarding restitution based on relevant conduct that went beyond defendant's offense of conviction. An award of restitution based on losses not resulting from the offense of conviction is an error that is clear and obvious. In this instance, the error resulted in an award of more than half a million dollars against defendant. Accordingly, the court reversed defendant's sentence and restitution award and remanded to the district court for resentencing. View "United States v. Benns" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a licensed physician who operated an in-home physical therapy services provider for Medicare patients (CMPM), appealed her conviction for ten counts of healthcare and Medicare fraud arising out of her operation of CMPM. The court affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to dismiss the indictment where the district court properly recognized the independent factual basis that existed to clearly state an offense in the indictment, mooting the need to address defendant's rule of lenity/ambiguity challenge; affirmed the district court's denial of defendant's motion in limine to exclude evidence regarding her license because it was irrelevant, and exclusion of certain articles and Medicare regulation changes because they were not available to defendant to rely on at the time of her fraudulent conduct; the district court did not err by denying defendant her constitutional right to be present at all critical stages of her trial; and the district court did not err in denying defendant's motion for a new trial based on ineffective assistance of trial. Accordingly, the court affirmed the conviction. View "United States v. Thomas" on Justia Law

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Defendant and his co-defendant were convicted of charges related to their involvement in a scheme to defraud homeowners, home buyers, and mortgage lenders. Defendant appealed his sentence, challenging the district court's calculation of the loss amount and its application of the sentencing enhancement for "mass-marketing." In light of the court's precedent, the court could not say that the district court erred by employing an intended loss calculation and declining to account for the collateral's value, especially given the district court's factual findings that defendants did not intend to repay the mortgage loans here. The court also held that the district court did not err in imposing the mass-marketing enhancement under U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(2)(A)(ii) where defendants used advertisements in newspapers that circulated to thousands of people and potentially more through online viewing. While defendants could have phrased their advertisements to sell one house to one person, they solicited thousands of potential buyers in order to find the one buyer for each property. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Morrison" on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of one count of attempting to evade or defeat a tax; four counts of willful failure to file a tax return; and one count of attempting to interfere with the administration of internal revenue laws. Defendant appealed. Although the court granted defendant's motion to reconsider the clerk's denial of his motion to extend the time for filing a reply and allowed the brief to be submitted to the court, the court nevertheless concluded that the district court did not err in any respect. Because the court held that there were no merits to any of defendant's substantive points, and because the court held that the statute of limitations accrued from the last evasive act under 26 U.S.C. 6531(2), the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Irby, Jr." on Justia Law

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Defendant was convicted of ten counts of money laundering under 18 U.S.C. 1956, which prohibited individuals from laundering the "proceeds" of certain activities. After the Supreme Court held that "proceeds" meant "profits" rather than "gross receipts" in United States v. Santos, defendant moved for relief under 28 U.S.C. 2255 and appealed from the district court's denial of that motion. The court concluded that defendant did not argue on appeal that he was entitled to relief under the two-step analysis described in Garland v. Roy. Therefore, the court need not and did not resolve those issues. Because Garland prevented the court from uniformly defining "proceeds" as "profits" across the money-laundering statute, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Ghali" on Justia Law

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Appellants Walter Teel, Paul Minor and John Whitfield raised several appellate issues arising from their final amended judgments of convictions and sentences entered by the district court after the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case for resentencing in United States v. Whitfield. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's judgment on remand, holding (1) Appellants' argument that the jury instructions erroneously defined honest-services fraud were barred by the mandate rule; (2) Appellants' argument that the indictment was erroneous for failure to state an offense was also barred by the mandate rule; and (3) the district court did not err in sentencing Minor and Whitfield. View "United States v. Teel" on Justia Law

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Defendant Donald Branham pleaded guilty to numerous counts of bank fraud and was sentenced to thirty months in prison and ordered to pay $1.8 million in restitution. The district court issued a writ of garnishment to garnish specified accounts that belonged to Donald and his wife Charlotte. The Branhams moved to dissolve the writ of garnishment on the ground that Charlote's accounts were not community property. They also requested a hearing. The district court denied the Branhams' motions without a hearing. The Branhams appealed. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal without prejudice for want of appellate jurisdiction, holding that the order appealed from was not a final order. View "United States v. Branham" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a lawsuit against several defendants, including Alfredo Moreno and Ronald Pucek, seeking injunctive relief and damages pursuant to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. 1961-1968, and Texas law. On appeal, defendants challenged the district court's grant of summary judgment and order denying the withdrawal of their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. The court affirmed the district court's denial of Pucek's withdrawal of his Fifth Amendment privilege where Pucek's withdrawal appeared more likely to be an attempt to abuse the system or gain an unfair advantage. However, the court reversed the district court's denial of Moreno's withdrawal of his Fifth Amendment privilege where the district court erred in denying Moreno's attempt to withdraw his assertion of the privilege more than a month before the discovery deadline. The court also reversed and remanded summary judgment with respect to both defendants. View "Davis-Lynch v. Moreno, et al." on Justia Law

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Brian and Debra Spurlin were convicted of concealment of bankruptcy estate assets, for knowingly and fraudulently withholding their interests in certain properties from their bankruptcy filings, and false oaths and statements in bankruptcy for a false answer they gave on a bankruptcy questionnaire. Mr. Spurlin was also convicted of bankruptcy fraud for filing bankruptcy to effect and conceal a fraudulent scheme whereby he took money he was supposedly holding in escrow for a company with whom he was doing business. Mr. Spurlin did not appeal his conviction of concealment, but the Spurlins appealed all other convictions. The court affirmed the conviction of Mrs. Spurlin on all counts; affirmed Mr. Spurlin's convictions of concealment of bankruptcy estate assets and of bankruptcy fraud; but reversed Mr. Spurlin's conviction of false oaths and statements in bankruptcy for insufficient evidence. Accordingly, the court vacated Mr. Spurlin's sentence and remanded for resentencing. View "United States v. Spurlin, et al." on Justia Law

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Defendant Peter Bernegger and his co-defendant were charged in a six-count indictment with various counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, bank fraud, and conspiracy for inducing investors to invest money in two start-up companies based on several misrepresentations. Bernegger was convicted of mail and bank fraud and was sentenced to seventy months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of approximately $2 million. The Fifth Circuit affirmed as modified, holding (1) the district court did not err in refusing to sever the bank fraud count from the mail and wire fraud counts; (2) the district court did not violate the Sixth Amendment or abuse its discretion in denying Bernegger the opportunity to cross-examine a witness about an alleged discrepancy in Bernegger's testimony; (3) the district court did not plainly err by not declaring a mistrial sua sponte based on the format of the indictment; (4) there was sufficient evidence to support the jury's verdict finding Berneggar guilty of mail fraud; and (5) because the district court clearly erred in calculating the total loss amount, the restitution amount was incorrect and was therefore modified to reflect the correct total loss amount of $1,725,000. View "United States v. Bernegger " on Justia Law