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Colon used his Indianapolis furniture store and a mall property rental business as a front to hide his criminal operation--buying large quantities of cocaine and heroin from Arizona and reselling the drugs to Indiana dealers. Convicted of drug conspiracy, money laundering, and making false statements in a bankruptcy proceeding, Colon was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting Colon’s challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence of money laundering. Colon did not separate the financial aspects of his drug dealing from the financial aspects of his legitimate businesses. A reasonable jury could have inferred from the differential between Colon’s mall income and drug proceeds, the scope of his drug operation, his comingling of proceeds, and the overwhelming evidence showing that the mall was merely a front to enable and conceal his drug trafficking, that Colon was laundering money and that each cash deposit included at least some drug proceeds. While the district court erred in calculating his advisory sentencing range by applying leadership enhancements under U.S.S.G. 3B1.1, because Colon was only a middleman, the error was harmless. The sentencing transcript, read as a whole, demonstrates that the court would have imposed the same sentence regardless of the enhancements. View "United States v. Colon" on Justia Law

Posted in: Criminal Law

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Garcia was convicted of distributing a kilogram of cocaine to co-defendant Cisneros, 21 US.C. 841. The government offered no direct evidence that Garcia possessed or controlled cocaine, drug paraphernalia, large quantities of cash, or other unexplained wealth. There was no admission of drug trafficking by Garcia, nor any testimony from witnesses that Garcia distributed cocaine. Instead, the government secured this verdict based upon a federal agent’s opinion testimony purporting to interpret several cryptic intercepted phone calls between Garcia and Cisneros, a known drug dealer. In those calls, the defendants talked about "work" and a "girl" in a bar, and made statements like “the tix have already walked more that, that way.” The Seventh Circuit reversed, stating that: This case illustrates the role trial judges have in guarding the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases. While the government’s circumstantial evidence here might have supported a search warrant or perhaps a wiretap on Garcia’s telephone, it simply was not sufficient to support a verdict of guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for distributing cocaine. View "United States v. Garcia" on Justia Law

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Wanjiku pled guilty to transportation of child pornography, 18 U.S.C. 2252A, retaining his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress photographs and videos recovered from his cell phone, laptop, and external hard drive during a warrantless border search at O’Hare International Airport. Wanjiku was caught up in a law enforcement investigation targeting men with prior criminal histories, traveling alone, and returning from countries known for “sex tourism” and sex trafficking. Wanjiku met the criteria and was chosen for a search before his plane landed; he was evasive and nervous during primary questioning. While searching his luggage, agents found syringes, condoms, medication for treating low testosterone, and oxycodone. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his conviction. The agents acted in good faith when they searched the devices with reasonable suspicion to believe that a crime was being committed, at a time when no court had ever required more than reasonable suspicion for any search at the border. That reasonable suspicion is measured at the time of the search. Although the Supreme Court has recently granted heightened protection to cell phone data, its holdings have not addressed searches at the border where the government’s interests are at their zenith nor have they addressed data stored on other electronic devices. View "United States v. Wanjiku" on Justia Law

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Williams, age 17, was struck by a train while he and his friends were running away from a police officer. He sued the railway. The district court held, on summary judgment, that Williams was barred from recovery by Indiana law because he was more than 50% at fault for the accident. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The Indiana Comparative Fault Act bars recovery in actions based on fault if the claimant’s fault exceeds 50% of the total fault, IND. CODE 34-51-2. No fact-finder could reasonably conclude that Williams bore 50% or less of the relative fault. Video evidence plainly shows that the train’s horn and bells were sounding and that its lights were on. The gate was down, with lights that faced the young men, and those lights were flashing. View "Williams v. Norfolk Southern Corp." on Justia Law

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Hernandez filed a voluntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition in December 2016, reporting one sizable asset: a pending workers’ compensation claim valued at $31,000. To place that claim beyond the reach of creditors, she listed it as exempt under section 21 of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, 820 ILCS 305/21, applicable via 11 U.S.C. 522(b). Two days after filing for bankruptcy, Hernandez settled the claim. Hernandez owed significant sums to three healthcare providers who treated her work-related injuries. The providers objected to her claimed exemption, arguing that 2005 amendments to the Illinois Act enable unpaid healthcare providers to reach workers’ compensation awards and settlements. The bankruptcy court denied the exemption and the district judge affirmed. The Seventh Circuit certified to the Illinois Supreme Court the question: Whether the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, as amended, allows care-provider creditors to reach the proceeds of workers’ compensation claims. The court noted that Section 21 has been interpreted by bankruptcy courts to create an exemption for these assets; 2005 amendments imposed a new fee schedule and billing procedure for care providers seeking remuneration. The Illinois Supreme Court has not addressed the interplay between these competing components of state workers’ compensation law. View "Hernandez v. Marque Medicos Fullerton, LLC" on Justia Law

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Herrera-Garcia, a citizen of El Salvador, entered the U.S. illegally in 1990. In 2016, DHS initiated removal proceedings under 8 U.S.C. 1229a, alleging that he was convicted of a crime of moral turpitude. Herrera-Garcia sought asylum, withholding of removal, and relief under the Convention Against Torture, testifying that when he was nine years old, guerrillas stopped him about every three weeks to get information about neighbors who might be working for the military; he never saw the guerillas with guns. Herrera-Garcia also testified that several of his friends were forced to join the military and that his fear of living in El Salvador is worse today than it was 27 years ago because of the number of gangs and kidnappings there. His parents testified that they worry about El Salvadoran gangs kidnapping him for ransom given his American accent. The IJ found Herrera-Garcia removable and denied his applications for relief; the BIA affirmed. He unsuccessfully sought reconsideration, citing a new Supreme Court decision, Pereira v. Sessions. Pereira held that a notice to appear that fails to specify the time or place of a removal hearing does not trigger the “stop-time rule” for purposes of cancellation of removal. Herrera-Garcia argued that Pereira should be extended outside the context of the stop-time rule to preclude the agency’s jurisdiction over his proceedings. The Seventh Circuit denied his petition. Herrera-Garcia provided no evidence of past torture or persecution and did not show that he, specifically, would be in danger in El Salvador or that the government would have inflicted or allowed torture. View "Herrera-Garcia v. Barr" on Justia Law

Posted in: Immigration Law

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Kanter pleaded guilty to mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341, based on his submission of bills to Medicare for non-compliant therapeutic shoes and shoe inserts. Due to his felony conviction, he is prohibited from possessing a firearm under both federal and Wisconsin law, 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1) and Wis. Stat. 941.29(1m). He challenged those felon dispossession statutes under the Second Amendment, as applied to nonviolent offenders. The Seventh Circuit affirmed judgment upholding the laws. Even if felons are entitled to Second Amendment protection, so that Kanter could bring an as-applied challenge, the government met its burden of establishing that the felon dispossession statutes are substantially related to an important government interest in preventing gun violence. Congress and the Wisconsin legislature are entitled to categorically disqualify all felons—even nonviolent felons like Kanter—because both have found that such individuals are more likely to abuse firearms. The “bright line categorical approach … allows for uniform application and ease of administration.” View "Kanter v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a nonprofit organization, “[t]akes legal action challenging entanglement of religion and government, government endorsement or promotion of religion.” FFRF paid its co-presidents a portion of their salaries in the form of a housing allowance, seeking to challenge 26 U.S.C. 107, which provides: In the case of a minister of the gospel, gross income does not include— (1) the rental value of a home furnished to him as part of his compensation; or (2) the rental allowance paid to him as part of his compensation, to the extent used by him to rent or provide a home. Having unsuccessfully sought refunds from the IRS based on section 107 they sued. The district court granted FFRF and its employees summary judgment, finding that the statute violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Seventh Circuit reversed, applying the “Lemon” test. The law has secular purposes: it is one of many per se rules that provide a tax exemption to employees with work-related housing requirements; it is intended to avoid discrimination against certain religions in favor of others and to avoid excessive entanglement with religion by preventing the IRS from conducting intrusive inquiries into how religious organizations use their facilities. Providing a tax exemption does not “connote[] sponsorship, financial support, and active involvement of the [government] in religious activity.” FFRF offered no evidence that provisions like section 107(2) were historically viewed as an establishment of religion. View "Gaylor v. Peecher" on Justia Law

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Chicago makes a car’s owner, rather than its driver, liable for many fines, including those for speeding, running a red light, and illegal parking. After their Chapter 13 bankruptcy payment plans were confirmed, the seven debtors incurred, and failed to pay, at least 72 fines aggregating almost $12,000. The debtors argued that a Chapter 13 plan does not provide for the payment of post-petition fines and that the automatic stay of 11 U.S.C. 362 prevented their cars from being towed or booted. The bankruptcy court ordered that the vehicles were the property of the estate for the duration of the payment plan. Reversing the order, the Seventh Circuit noted that the holding could be seen as permission to violate traffic laws with the fines never to be paid. The court noted that, while a Chapter 13 petition transfers most of the debtor’s assets to the bankruptcy estate, upon the confirmation of a payment plan, 11 U.S.C. 1327(b) presumptively returns that property to the debtor, who becomes personally responsible for the expenses of maintaining the property. The bankruptcy court gave no explanation for departing from that scheme. View "City of Chicago v. Marshall" on Justia Law

Posted in: Bankruptcy

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Kreg, a medical-supply company, contracted with VitalGo, maker of the Total Lift Bed®, for exclusive distribution rights in several markets. A year and a half later, the arrangement soured. VitalGo told Kreg that it had not made the minimum‐purchase commitments required by the contract for Kreg to keep its exclusivity. Kreg thought VitalGo was wrong on the facts and the contract’s requirements. The district court ruled, on summary‐judgment that VitalGo breached the agreement. The damages issue went to a bench trial, despite a last-minute request from VitalGo to have it dismissed on pleading grounds. The court ordered VitalGo to pay Kreg about $1,000,000 in lost‐asset damages and prejudgment interest. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, upholding the district court’s rulings that the agreement allowed Kreg to make minimum-purchase commitments orally; that the minimum‐purchase commitment for the original territories was made in December 2010; that VitalGo breached the agreement by terminating exclusivity in June 2011 and by failing to deliver beds in September 2011; and concerning the foreseeability of damages. View "Kreg Therapeutics, Inc. v. VitalGo, Inc." on Justia Law