Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in White Collar Crime
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For about three years, Nulf, an Illinois licensed loan originator, and two co-defendants participated in a mortgage-fraud scheme, causing approximately $2.2 million in losses. Nulf was charged with bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344, and making a false statement to a financial institution, 18 U.S.C. 1014. Each crime carries a 30-year maximum prison term. The government filed a superseding information charging Nulf with a single count of making a false statement to HUD, a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison. 18 U.S.C. 1012. Nulf pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor; the government agreed to dismiss the felony charges. The one-year statutory maximum was the recommended sentence. The plea agreement included an appeal waiver. Sentenced to 12 months' imprisonment, Nulf claims that the judge interfered with her allocution, wrongly denied credit for acceptance of responsibility, and committed other sentencing mistakes, amounting to a miscarriage of justice, making the appeal waiver unenforceable.The Seventh Circuit dismissed the appeal, stating that it has not announced a general “miscarriage of justice” exception to the enforcement of appeal waivers. A narrow set of extraordinary circumstances can justify displacing an otherwise valid appeal waiver. Nulf’s case is far from extraordinary, so the appeal waiver is enforceable unless the underlying guilty plea was invalid. Nulf does not claim that her plea was unknowing or involuntary. View "United States v. Nulf" on Justia Law

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To keep his car dealership afloat, Friedman secured loans for fake buyers of a phony inventory of luxury cars. The dealership exported cars overseas, but kept many of the title certificates and used the names of friends, customers, and former employees to secure loans, usually without the person’s knowledge; the loan applications included false income information and forged signatures. The scheme resulted in a bank fraud conviction (18 U.S.C. 1344) and a 108‐month prison sentence.The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Rejecting a claim based on a conflict of interest concerning an attorney who had briefly represented both Friedman and a cooperating co-defendant, Bilis, the court stated that Friedman has not shown that any privileged communications were ever shared, let alone that any breach of privilege affected his trial. The court upheld “aiding and abetting” and “acting through another” jury instructions that tracked Seventh Circuit pattern instructions; rejected a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence; rejected challenges to comments that, essentially, called on the jury to use common sense; and rejected challenges to sentencing enhancements. The court upheld the denial of a motion for a new trial that was based on “new evidence” concerning Bilis’s finances and upheld the loss calculation of $4,722,347 and an order of restitution in that amount. View "United States v. Friedman" on Justia Law

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Spring Hill owned a 240-apartment complex in a Chicago suburb. In 2007, the owner converted the apartments into condominiums and attempted to sell them. Ginsberg recruited several people to buy units in bulk, telling them they would not need to put their own money down and that he would pay them after the closings. The scheme was a fraud that consisted of multiple components and false statements to trick financial institutions into loaning nearly $5,000,000 for these transactions. The seller made payments through Ginsberg that the buyers should have made, which meant that the stated sales prices were shams, the loans were under-collateralized, and the “buyers” had nothing at stake. The seller paid Ginsberg about $1,200,000; Ginsberg used nearly $600,000 to make payments the buyers should have made, paid over $200,000 to the buyers and their relatives, and kept nearly $400,000 for himself. The loans ultimately went into default, causing the financial institutions significant losses.The Seventh Circuit affirmed Ginsberg’s bank fraud conviction, 18 U.S.C. 1344. The evidence was sufficient for the jury to conclude Ginsberg knew that the loan applications, real estate contracts, and settlement statements contained materially false information about the transactions, including the sales prices, the down payments, and Ginsberg's fees. The court rejected a challenge to the admission of testimony by a title company employee. View "United States v. Ginsberg" on Justia Law

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In 2006-2009,, Ghuman and Khan “flipped” 44 gas stations. Ghuman would recruit a buyer before they purchased the station. The buyers lacked the financial wherewithal to qualify loans. Ghuman and Khan's co-defendant, AEB loan officer Brahmbhatt, arranged loans based on fraudulent documentation. They also created false financial statements for the gas stations. Co-defendant Mehta, an accountant, prepared fictitious tax returns. The loans, which were guaranteed by the Small Business Administration, went into arrears. In 2008-2009 the SBA began auditing the AEB loans; the FBI began looking into suspected bank fraud. AEB ultimately incurred a loss in excess of $14 million.Khan cooperated and pled guilty to one count of bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344, in connection with a $331,000 loan. Ghuman pleaded guilty to another count of bank fraud in connection with a $744,000 loan and to one count of filing a false tax return, 26 U.S.C. 7206. The district court denied Ghuman credit for acceptance of responsibility and imposed a below-Guidelines prison term of 66 months. The court ordered Khan to serve a 36-month prison term and ordered Ghuman to pay $11.8 million and Khan to pay $10.8 million in restitution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the sentences with an adjustment to Ghuman’s term of supervised release. View "United States v. Khan" on Justia Law

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Blake, who has an MBA, engaged in a fraudulent tax scheme but claims unnamed users in internet chat rooms persuaded him to pursue his hidden federal “legacy trusts.” Blake filed eight different individual tax returns using fraudulent information, at one point faking his own death. He was convicted of presenting a false or fictitious claim to a U.S. agency, 18 U.S.C. 287, and theft of government money, 18 U.S.C. 641. Blake’s base offense level was six; 16 levels were added for an intended loss in excess of $1.5 million (U.S.S.G. 2B1.1(b)(1)(I)). Two more levels were added for obstruction of justice (3C1.1). Blake’s guidelines range was 51–63 months' imprisonment. Blake objected to including in the loss calculation $900,000 in claimed refunds in the 2008–2010 filings, arguing he was not responsible for those filings. He also claimed $300,000 should be the intended loss amount because he intended to obtain only his “legacy trust” funds which he believed were about that amount. Under Blake’s calculations, his guidelines range was 33–41 months.The district court rejected his arguments. The Seventh Circuit affirmed his sentence of 36 months in prison plus restitution. The district court did not commit reversible error. Blake's ineffective assistance of counsel claim was dismissed without prejudice as “better raised on collateral review.” View "United States v. Blake" on Justia Law

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Kennedy-Robey was charged with fraud for operating a scheme to defraud the IRS and an unemployment insurance scheme. While awaiting trial, Kennedy-Robey was released on bond. She resumed her fraudulent activities. The government obtained an arrest warrant. Instead of appearing at the bond revocation hearing, Kennedy-Robey remained a fugitive for a few months. When they arrested Kennedy-Robey, officers found her to-do list, which read like a “how-to” guide for fugitives. Kennedy-Robey eventually pleaded guilty. Although the guidelines range was 210-262 months, the court sentenced her to 72 months’ imprisonment and ordered her to pay over $4.8 million in restitution.In 2017, Kennedy-Robey was released to a halfway house. Within weeks, Kenney-Robey filed a fraudulent automobile loan application and obtained a loan exceeding $30,000, which she used to purchase a Mercedes-Benz, and filed a fraudulent credit card application. Months later, she and another defendant purchased another car with funds obtained from another fraudulent loan application. Kennedy-Robey pleaded guilty to mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341. The government sought an 18-month sentence, based on a guidelines range of 12-18 months. After considering Kennedy-Robey’s long history of unrepentant criminal conduct, the court imposed a 36-month sentence. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the district court failed to consider either her mental health condition or the more lenient sentences received by defendants convicted of similar crimes and that the sentence was substantively unreasonable. View "United States v. Kennedy-Robey" on Justia Law

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O’Brien was convicted of mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341, and bank fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1344, based on a 2004-to-2007 scheme in which O’Brien misrepresented her income and liabilities to cause lenders to issue and refinance loans related to two Chicago investment properties O’Brien owned., O’Brien was a licensed attorney with a background and experience in the real estate industry, including as a registered loan originator, mortgage consultant, and licensed real estate broker.The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting O’Brien’s arguments that the charges against her were duplicitous and that under a properly pled indictment the statute of limitations would have barred three of the four alleged offenses. She also argued that the district court should not have admitted evidence offered to prove those time-barred offenses and that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury’s guilty verdict. The government appropriately acted within its discretion to allege an overarching scheme to commit both bank fraud and mail fraud affecting a financial institution. Each count included an execution of the fraudulent scheme within the applicable 10-year statute of limitations, and the jury’s guilty verdict rested upon properly admitted and sufficient evidence. View "United States v. O'Brien" on Justia Law

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Before acquiring cars for resale, Elite obtained financing; its lenders held the title of each car until it received payment for the car. Lenders dispatched auditors to ensure the dealership was not selling cars without repaying the loan after each sale. From 2012-2015 Elite’s employees obtained copies of car titles from the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles online portal. If a copy could not be acquired, employees could avoid asking lenders to release car titles by continually issuing the customer temporary license plates. Employees would call customers and request that their cars be returned to the lot for a free oil change before an auditor’s inspection or would lie to the auditor, saying that the car was out for a test drive or repairs. Elite’s employees also defrauded consumer lenders by helping customers submit fraudulent applications and defrauded insurance companies by using a chop shop behind the dealership to disassemble their own vehicles before reporting the vehicles as stolen.Elite employee Dridi was convicted of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1962(d), and interstate transportation of stolen property, 18 U.S.C. 2314, sentenced to 72 months in prison, and ordered $1,811,679.25 in restitution. The Seventh Circuit affirmed Dridi’s prison sentence but vacated the restitution order, The district court should have made specific factual findings about Dridi’s participation in the conspiracy. View "United States v. Dridi" on Justia Law

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Bowling worked for the City of Gary, Indiana for 25 years, eventually becoming a network administrator, with access to the email system. Her responsibilities included ordering the city's computer equipment. Bowling ordered 1,517 Apple products, totaling $1,337,114.06. She sold iPads and MacBooks for cash. To conceal her scheme, Bowling submitted duplicate invoices from legitimate purchases. Eventually, the fraudulent purchases outstripped the duplicate invoices she could process and one vendor, CDW, turned the city’s account over to a senior recovery analyst, Krug. Krug contacted Green, the city’s controller and sent Green invoices via FedEx. Bowling intercepted the package, accessed Green’s email account, and sent a fabricated message to Krug to reassure CDW but her scheme unraveled.The Seventh Circuit affirmed her conviction for theft from a local government that received federal funds, 18 U.S.C. 666, and her 63-month sentence. The federal funds element was satisfied; the parties stipulated that Gary as a whole received more than $10,000 in federal benefits in a one-year period. Krug’s testimony about the email was direct evidence of Bowling’s attempt to stall the city’s ultimate discovery of her fraud; there was no error in admitting the testimony under Rule 404(b). A two-level obstruction of justice sentencing enhancement was justified because Bowling faked mutism, causing a one-year delay in the proceedings. View "United States v. Bowling" on Justia Law

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Hernandez co-founded the Trust and marketed it as a company designed to assist homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages. She and her codefendants promised prospective “members” that, in exchange for fees of $3,500-$10,000, the Trust would negotiate with their lenders to take over their mortgages and stop or prevent foreclosure proceedings. The Trust promised to refund the fees if it could not purchase the mortgages. More than 50 homeowners became members and paid fees. In 2013, Illinois authorities discovered that the Trust was not licensed and did not have enough funds to purchase a single mortgage. Hernandez and her codefendants had spent the fees (more than $220,000) on meals, travel, and vehicles. The Trust did not help any homeowners; at least three homeowners who paid the Trust had their homes foreclosed on. A jury found Hernandez guilty of mail fraud. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the government did not prove that she used the mails in furtherance of the scheme to defraud and that the district court improperly delegated its authority to the Bureau of Prisons by not entering a specific restitution payment schedule for her while serving her prison sentence. There was sufficient evidence to support the verdict and the court permissibly deferred Hernandez’s restitution payments until after her release. View "United States v. Hernandez" on Justia Law