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7th Circuit upholds $3M restitution order for copper theft

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a defendant’s argument that the court should go against its precedent that restitution is not a criminal penalty and that a recent U.S. Supreme Court holding means the jury should determine the amount of restitution he should pay for his role in copper theft.

Gregory Wolfe worked as a supervisor at Katoen Natie in Gary. The company packages and stores commodities including copper. Henry Bath LLC began storing its copper at the warehouse in early 2009. Wolfe and his stepfather, Gregory Harris, who was operations manager, began stealing sheets of copper and repackaging them to sell. This work was done before and after regular business hours.

An independent audit discovered the missing copper – approximately $2.9 million worth, totaling 390 metric tons. Harris and Wolfe were fired and charged with bank theft and interstate transportation of stolen goods. Wolfe argued at trial he had no knowledge of the theft scheme and was just following Harris’ orders. The government rebutted this defense with testimony by Wolfe’s sometimes girlfriend Ashby Gurgon.

Wolfe was convicted and sentenced to 88 months imprisonment on each count, to be served consecutively, followed by three-year terms of supervised release. The court also ordered him to pay more than $3 million in restitution.

In United States of America v. Gregory Wolfe, 11-3281, Wolfe argued that he was deprived of a fair trial because of statements the prosecutor made during closing argument. He also challenged his sentence and the restitution order.

Reviewing under plain error, the 7th Circuit found the prosecutor made improper remarks by credibility vouching for Gurgon, but Wolfe was not prejudiced or denied a fair trial.  The prosecutor did misstate trial testimony by saying “all the other witnesses” identified Wolfe on video, but Wolfe was unable to demonstrate that he was prejudiced by that remark.

The judges affirmed the 18-level increase to Wolfe’s sentence because the government was able to show the victim’s loss was at least $2.5 million. He argued that the value of the copper stolen in 2010 was less than that amount and he was unaware of any theft in 2009.

The 7th Circuit also affirmed the restitution order, refusing to find that Southern Union Co. v. United States, U.S. 132 S. Ct. 2344 (2012) requires the Circuit Court to overturn its longstanding jurisprudence that restitution is not a criminal penalty, and second, mandates that all restitution amounts be supported by the jury’s verdict, Judge William Bauer wrote. Southern Union and Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), only come into consideration if the court concludes restitution is a criminal penalty. Bauer noted that the 7th Circuit is in the minority among circuits by not finding restitution is a criminal penalty.

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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