The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday affirmed the decision by the District Court in Hammond preventing a defendant from using an 11-year-old conviction to impeach a testifying co-defendant in a wire fraud case.
Phillip Rucker, Sheila Chandler and Jerry Haymon were indicted by a grand jury with engaging in a mortgage fraud scheme. Rucker was charged with one count of wire fraud for his participation and was later convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison, one year of supervised release and ordered to pay nearly $74,000 in restitution.
Rucker recruited Leequiter Smith to purchase a property in Gary for $85,000; Haymon led the seller to believe that he would sell the property for $35,000. Chandler completed false documents to support Smith’s loan application and Rucker helped obtain a down payment for Smith from an acquaintance who claimed in a gift letter to be Smith’s brother. For his part in the scheme, Rucker received $10,000.
The issue in United States of America v. Phillip Rucker, 13-1297, is whether the District Court abused its discretion in finding that, under the circumstances, the probative value of Chandler’s 2000 prior conviction for thefts of public funds did not substantially outweigh its prejudicial effect.
“Rucker maintains that Chandler’s 2000 conviction for a theft concerning a program receiving federal funds was especially probative because it shows that her trial testimony, that she began lying in 2004, was false. Rucker, however, mischaracterizes Chandler’s testimony,” wrote Judge Frederick L. Kapala of the Northern District of Illinois, who was sitting by designation. “Chandler testified that she began to lie to mortgage lenders on behalf of buyers and to create false documents in 2004, not that she was never dishonest before 2004. As such, Chandler’s 2000 conviction does not have the probative value that Rucker assigns to it.”
He also claimed Chandler’s testimony was the “lynchpin of the government’s case against him.”
“Even giving Rucker the benefit of the doubt and assuming that the jury believed that Rucker truly thought the house was worth $85,000, the disbursement of $20,000 (nearly a quarter of the proceeds of the sale) to himself and Smith after the closing and the $4,000 contribution by Haymon was strong evidence that Rucker knew that fraud was afoot. Therefore, the jury did not need to rely on Chandler’s testimony alone to conclude that Rucker knowingly engaged in this scheme to defraud,” Kapala wrote.