Former recorder's extortion convictions upheld

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a former Lake County Recorder's convictions of extortion, but remanded so that his sentence could be revised because the District Court placed too much weight on following the sentencing guidelines.

In United States of America v. Morris Carter, No. 06-2412, Morris Carter challenged his three convictions and sentence of 51 months of incarceration on extortion charges.

Carter was found guilty of violating the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. Section 1951(a) while he was still county recorder. Carter helped Peter Livas, an FBI informant and owner of real estate rehab and development companies, obtain a list of sheriff's sales before anyone else and charged him $1,000.

Livas paid Carter $500 to get a Lake County contractor's license without having to pass the written test when the normal amount is $150 after passing the test. Livas also paid Carter $400 to have him purge a lien document on Livas' home.

At trial, Carter testified the money he received was a consulting retainer fee and that all other witnesses who testified against him were lying. Carter filed a motion for judgment of acquittal, arguing there was insufficient evidence to find his alleged conduct had affected interstate commerce, which was denied.

Sentencing guidelines ranged from 51 to 63 months and Carter's counsel argued he should be given a below guidelines sentence of 41 months because he had a long history of public service.

The U.S. District Court researched whether the court could depart from the sentencing guidelines because Carter worked in public office and found no basis for the departure. The court said without authority it was unwilling to depart from adherence to the guidelines.

The 7th Circuit found the depletion of assets theory in this case is dependent on whether the government provided sufficient evidence to show Livas' three Indiana-based corporations purchased items through interstate commerce.

Carter also appealed the government's line of questioning during his cross-examination, when he was asked whether each of the witnesses called by the government was lying.

The 7th Circuit found that the jury would have convicted Carter even without his testimony regarding other witnesses' credibility because of the U.S. District Court's curative instructions to the jury to decide whether the testimony of the witnesses is truthful in any part and what weight is given to each testimony, and the amount of video evidence against him.

Carter appealed his sentence, claiming the U.S. District Court erred by treating the guidelines as mandatory, especially in light of mitigating facts in his favor, the weak evidence supporting the enhancement for serving as a leader of the extortion, and his history in public service.

The U.S. District Court placed too much weight on the guidelines when considering Carter's sentence, wrote Judge Joel Flaum. The guidelines are one factor among those listed in 18 U.S.C. Section 3553(a), and regardless of whether other courts have previously recognized public service as a grounds for departure, sentencing courts are charged with considering the history and characteristics of the defendant, which includes public service.

Other factors of Section 3553(a) must also be balanced; the 7th Circuit remanded for resentencing so the U.S. District Court can make this determination with the guidelines being given appropriate post-Booker weight, he wrote.

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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.