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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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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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