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7th Circuit upholds mail fraud convictions

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Although it found the evidence presented in a mail fraud case “thin,” the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals viewed it as enough to send the case involving three Calumet Township Trustee’s Office employees to the jury.

Elected Trustee Dozier T. Allen Jr., Deputy Trustee Wanda Joshua, and Deputy Finance Trustee Ann Marie Karras were charged with two counts of mail fraud following the discovery that they took payments from the Indiana Department of Workforce Development Services for work they did not perform. The Calumet Township Trustee’s Office could receive up to $4,167 each month from IDWDS stemming from a federal grant for the welfare-to-work programs. Between November 2000 and December 2002, more than $170,000 was deposited into a bank account that was then distributed to the three as “administrative fees.”

During a hearing on the matter, trustee’s office attorney Frederick Work said that the three could receive compensation beyond their budgeted salaries, but they could not be paid if they didn’t perform any work related to the grant money.

The defendants argued that they couldn’t be convicted because the evidence on the mailing element was insufficient to sustain the convictions of mail fraud. They claim no evidence shows that the checks were actually mailed from the IDWDS office rather than hand-delivered. The offices are only several blocks away.

In United States of America v. Wanda Joshua, et al., Nos. 10-2140, 10-2181, 10-2182, the 7th Circuit judges credited the testimony of Angela Lewis, the IDWDS senior fiscal accountant in charge of delivering reimbursement checks, who said they generally sent checks to the office by mail. When put through the mail, the envelopes were run through a postage meter. Sometimes they were picked up by an office employee.

The two envelopes in question were metered but didn’t show postage marks as being mailed. Lewis testified that one of the envelopes was mailed. The judges also questioned if the envelopes were going to be picked up by an employee or hand-delivered, why would the IDWDS waste money on postage?

“The envelopes here were metered; there is no evidence that the agency hand-delivered any metered mail; and so the jury was entitled to infer that they were mailed,” wrote Judge Diane Wood. “Though hand delivery was possible, this by itself is not enough for the defendants.”

The 7th Circuit also rejected the defendants’ arguments that Skilling v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 2896 (2010) compelled them to reverse the convictions, and the District Court improperly instructed the jury regarding their advice-of-counsel defense. The judges found neither of those arguments has merit.
 

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