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Bipolar defense fails in wire fraud, tax evasion appeal

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A woman sentenced to five years in prison after she pleaded guilty to charges of wire fraud and tax evasion for swindling an elderly couple failed to persuade the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to revise her sentence.

The panel affirmed the 60-month sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker of the Southern District of Indiana in United States of America v. Stephanie L. Donelli, 13-2548. Stephanie Donelli was convicted of inducing a couple to “lend” her money more than 500 times, totaling almost $443,000. She peddled a phony story that her daughter was awaiting a $750,000 settlement for injuries sustained in a crash involving a drunken driver.

“Donelli asserts that briefly mentioning her bipolar disorder at sentencing was enough to require a response from the district court,” Judge David Hamilton wrote for the panel.

“We disagree, and we affirm Donelli’s sentence for two independent reasons. First, she failed to present the fact of her diagnosis as a principal argument in mitigation relevant to her sentence,” Hamilton wrote. She also waived her claim of error “by telling the district court at the close of her sentencing hearing that she had no objection to her sentence apart from the fact that the sentence was above the guidleline range.”

Hamilton wrote the District Court didn’t fail to comply with its duty under United States v. Cunningham, 429 F.3d 673 (7th Cir. 2005), requiring sentencing judges to address a defendant’s principal arguments in mitigation when those arguments have recognized legal merit.

Counsel’s statement at sentencing, “'The defendant has a mental illness’ is an observation of fact, not an argument in mitigation,” Hamilton wrote. “The few statements about bipolar II disorder made by Donelli’s lawyer at sentencing did not amount to an argument in mitigation that the district court had a duty to discuss.”

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  1. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

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  3. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  4. JLAP and other courtiers ... Those running court systems, have most substance abuse issues. Probably self medicating to cover conscience issues arising out of acts furthering govt corruption

  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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