Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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In 2003, Williams, behind on paying SCCA condominium association fees, filed the first of five, Chapter 13 Bankruptcy petitions so that creditors were stayed from initiating collection. Her scheme was to not make payments required by her Chapter 13 plan so that the court would dismiss the case; SCCA would file eviction and collection suits; Williams would then file a new Chapter 13 petition. After voluntarily dismissing her second bankruptcy petition, Williams signed a deed transferring the condominium to Wilke. A deed recorded weeks later returned title to Williams. Wilke paid nothing and never occupied the condominium but obtained loans secured by the condominium. In her subsequent bankruptcy petitions, Williams failed to disclose the transfers but stated, falsely, that Wilke was a co‐debtor and would contribute toward the mortgage. After dismissing Williams’s fifth petition, the court barred Williams from filing a new petition for 180 days. She again deeded the condominium to Wilke, who filed a bankruptcy petition stating it was his property. The court dismissed the case. Both were charged with bankruptcy fraud, 18 U.S.C. 157. Wilke pled guilty and cooperated. The court limited the defense’s cross-examination of SCCA's board member and attorney about a class action lawsuit Williams had filed against SCCA and about SCCA’s treatment of Williams relative to other tenants, reasoning that the topics were an irrelevant attack on the underlying debt. Williams was convicted. With enhancements for causing a loss of $193, 291 and because the offense involved 10 or more victims, her Guidelines Range was 51–63 months’ imprisonment. The court sentenced her to 46 months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to the court’s limitation on cross-examination and to the sentencing enhancements. View "United States v. Williams" on Justia Law

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As CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Byrd-Bennett worked behind the scenes to assure that companies headed by Solomon and Vranas received lucrative contracts. In exchange, Solomon and Vranas agreed that they would pay Byrd-Bennett a percentage of the revenue generated by those contracts when she came to work for them at the end of her tenure with CPS. After the fraudulent scheme was exposed, each participant pleaded guilty to committing wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343 and 1346. Solomon was sentenced to 84 months’ imprisonment, 30 months more than Byrd-Bennett received. Solomon argued that the district court erred by incorporating the value of a contract unrelated to the criminal agreement into his advisory sentencing guidelines calculation, resulting in an offense score that was four levels higher than Solomon believes it should have been and claimed that the disparity between Byrd-Bennett’s sentence and his sentence is unwarranted, making his sentence substantively unreasonable. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The record supports the court’s decision to include the contested contract in the offense level calculation, and dissimilar cooperation is a reasonable basis for a sentencing disparity. View "United States v. Solomon" on Justia Law

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As CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Byrd-Bennett worked behind the scenes to assure that companies headed by Solomon and Vranas received lucrative contracts. In exchange, Solomon and Vranas agreed that they would pay Byrd-Bennett a percentage of the revenue generated by those contracts when she came to work for them at the end of her tenure with CPS. After the fraudulent scheme was exposed, each participant pleaded guilty to committing wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343 and 1346. Solomon was sentenced to 84 months’ imprisonment, 30 months more than Byrd-Bennett received. Solomon argued that the district court erred by incorporating the value of a contract unrelated to the criminal agreement into his advisory sentencing guidelines calculation, resulting in an offense score that was four levels higher than Solomon believes it should have been and claimed that the disparity between Byrd-Bennett’s sentence and his sentence is unwarranted, making his sentence substantively unreasonable. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The record supports the court’s decision to include the contested contract in the offense level calculation, and dissimilar cooperation is a reasonable basis for a sentencing disparity. View "United States v. Solomon" on Justia Law

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Schock resigned from Congress in 2015, after disclosures about trips he took at public expense, the expense of his elaborate office furnishings, and how he had applied campaign funds. Schock was charged with mail and wire fraud, theft of government funds, making false statements to Congress and the Federal Elections Commission, and filing false tax returns. Schock moved to dismiss the indictment, arguing that the charges are inconsistent with the Constitution’s Speech or Debate Clause and with the House of Representatives’ constitutional authority to determine the rules of its proceedings. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of the motion. The indictment arises out of applications for reimbursements, which are not speeches, debates, or any other part of the legislative process. Submitting a claim under established rules differs from the formulation of those rules. The foundation for Schock’s rule-making” argument—the proposition that if Body A has sole power to make a rule, then Body A has sole power to interpret that rule—does not represent established doctrine. “ Judges regularly interpret, apply, and occasionally nullify rules promulgated by the President or another part of the Executive Branch, as well as statutes enacted by the Legislative Branch; why would reimbursement rules be different?” View "United States v. Schock" on Justia Law

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Starting in 2008, Sunmola carried out an online romance scheme from South Africa, targeting middle-aged women in Georgia and Illinois. Sunmola often used pictures of men in U.S. military uniforms in his online profile to gain the victims' trust; they made electronic fund transfers after his false claims of financial distress. Sunmola secretly recorded some victims in sexually suggestive positions, then sent extortion demands. Authorities also discovered evidence of credit card fraud affecting businesses. He was charged with conspiracy, mail fraud, wire fraud, and interstate extortion. Authorities arrested Sunmola in London and transferred him to U.S. custody. Three days into his trial, Sunmola openly pleaded guilty to all counts, admitting to the essential elements of each offense. The judge accepted the pleas without a plea agreement. Applying several enhancements and considering other section 3553(a) factors, the district court sentenced Sunmola to 324 months in jail with an adjusted restitution payment of $1,669,050.98. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting challenges to a four-level “substantial financial hardship” sentencing enhancement, a two-level “vulnerable victim” adjustment, a two-level enhancement for acting on behalf of a government agency, and a four-level adjustment for acting as the organizer or leader. The court upheld the restitution calculation and application of general deterrence in his final sentencing. View "United States v. Sunmola" on Justia Law

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Baek purchased property through his LLC and obtained financing from Labe Bank; Frank was the loan officer. Frank later moved to NCB and asked Baek to move his business, representing that NCB would provide a larger construction loan at a lower rate. In 2006, Baek entered a construction loan with NCB for $11,750,000. Baek executed a loan agreement, mortgage, promissory note, and commercial guaranty. Baek’s wife did not sign the guaranty at closing. NCB maintains that, 18 months after closing, she signed a guaranty. One loan modification agreement bears her signature but Baek‐Lee contends that it was forged and that she was out of the country on the signing date. NCB repeatedly demanded additional collateral and refused to disburse funds to contractors. The Baeks claim that NCB frustrated Baek’s efforts to comply with its demands. In 2010, NCB filed state suits for foreclosure and on the guaranty. The Baeks filed affirmative defenses and a counterclaim, then filed a breach of contract and fraud suit against NCB. The Baeks later filed a federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1964(c), suit alleging fraud. The state court granted NCB summary judgment. The federal district court dismissed, citing res judicata. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. There has been a final judgment on the merits with the same parties, in state court, on claims arising from a single group of operative facts. View "Baek v. Clausen" on Justia Law

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Henricks owned a towing business, an auto body shop, and a vehicle dealership, which he used to defraud insurance companies by filing fraudulent claims. Henricks’s wife, Catherine, worked at the companies sporadically and was an officer of two of them and a member of the other. She opened bank accounts and signed loan documents on behalf of the companies. Henricks pleaded guilty to mail fraud and immediately began to hide assets. He was sentenced to imprisonment and ordered to pay restitution of $1,306,608.72. Catherine filed for divorce and for bankruptcy. Catherine entered an appearance as an interested person in Henricks’s criminal case. The district court found that Henricks had defaulted on his restitution payments and that the divorce was a sham, then determined the parties’ interests in properties so that Henricks’s property could be directed toward restitution. The Seventh Circuit vacated. The court had jurisdiction under the Fair Debt Collection Procedures Act to decide the parties’ property interests in Henricks’s criminal case and did not violate Catherine’s due process rights. The court, however, improperly relied upon post‐judgment conduct instead of determining the parties’ property interests as of the date of the judgment lien. Whether the divorce was a sham was relevant to whether Henricks’s defaulted on restitution, but is irrelevant to the parties’ ownership interests on the judgment date. View "Henricks v. United States" on Justia Law

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Ballard obtained a $280,000 loan from SBH to construct the Stone Fence residence, then requested another $90,000 to finish the property. There was insufficient equity to cover that amount; SBH lent him $20,000. Ballard obtained construction loans on properties in Bradley. Grant was the SBH loan officer for all three properties. Ballard submitted required Sworn Contractor’s Statements and Owner’s Payment Authorizations to the Kankakee County Title Company (KCTC), identifying the material and labor costs supposedly associated with his work on the Bradley properties. Ballard obtained $188,000 for the Bradley properties, where no work was performed. Ballard used the funds to complete Stone Fence. An SBH employee discovered Ballard’s scheme. Ballard was charged with three counts of bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344. At trial, Ballard admitted that he had misdirected funds; he argued a “good faith” defense that Grant and his supervisors knew and authorized Ballard’s acts and pressured him to complete Stone Fence. Ballard also claimed he did not read or sign the loan documents, implying that someone forged his signature. After Ballard was convicted, his attorney obtained a previously undisclosed audio recording of Grant, made during a prior, unrelated criminal investigation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court in granting a new trial, finding the recording material. View "United States v. Ballard" on Justia Law

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Ballard obtained a $280,000 loan from SBH to construct the Stone Fence residence, then requested another $90,000 to finish the property. There was insufficient equity to cover that amount; SBH lent him $20,000. Ballard obtained construction loans on properties in Bradley. Grant was the SBH loan officer for all three properties. Ballard submitted required Sworn Contractor’s Statements and Owner’s Payment Authorizations to the Kankakee County Title Company (KCTC), identifying the material and labor costs supposedly associated with his work on the Bradley properties. Ballard obtained $188,000 for the Bradley properties, where no work was performed. Ballard used the funds to complete Stone Fence. An SBH employee discovered Ballard’s scheme. Ballard was charged with three counts of bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344. At trial, Ballard admitted that he had misdirected funds; he argued a “good faith” defense that Grant and his supervisors knew and authorized Ballard’s acts and pressured him to complete Stone Fence. Ballard also claimed he did not read or sign the loan documents, implying that someone forged his signature. After Ballard was convicted, his attorney obtained a previously undisclosed audio recording of Grant, made during a prior, unrelated criminal investigation. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court in granting a new trial, finding the recording material. View "United States v. Ballard" on Justia Law

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RTSI produces and maintains traffic safety systems. Rosenberg was RTSI’s Vice President of Sales. RTSI contracted to manage Chicago's automated red light enforcement program. In 2012, the Chicago Tribune published articles, disclosing an improper relationship between a city employee (Bills) and RTSI. The city removed RTSI’s bid for the new contract. The City Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigated the bribery scheme. RTSI conducted an independent investigation and provided OIG with information. OIG advised Rosenberg that he had a duty to cooperate and that his statements would not be used against him in a criminal proceeding. Rosenberg described the bribery scheme between RTSI and Bills. RTSI terminated Rosenberg’s employment.The Tribune reported that RTSI courted Bills with thousands of dollars in free trips. Rosenberg sued RTSI under the qui tam provision of the City’s False Claims Ordinance, alleging that RTSI engaged in bribery and other illegal activities to obtain a city contract. The city intervened, making additional claims. The court dismissed Rosenberg as relator. The remaining parties settled and moved for dismissal with prejudice. Rosenberg unsuccessfully sought an award of a relator’s share of the settlement and attorney’s fees for his lawyer’s contributions to the case. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting that Rosenberg helped to perpetrate the fraud and referring to Rosenberg’s “audacity.” Rosenberg was neither the original source of the information nor was he a volunteer under the ordinance. View "Rosenberg v. Redflex Traffic Systems, Inc." on Justia Law