House always wins: Court upholds sentence of man trying to launder money at casino

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the denial of four motions to suppress evidence and exclude expert testimony in a case where a man was caught trying to launder money by stuffing the bills into a slot machine at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond.

“They say the house always wins. Wayne Hill found out the hard way that if you have robbed a bank, that adage applies even if your trip to the casino was just to get change,” Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote for the court in United States v. Wayne Hill, 14-2019. The case was an appeal from the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division.

Hill robbed the Illiana Financial Credit Union in Naperville of $134,000 in cash, but a teller managed to toss a dye pack into his bag before he left, turning all of his cash a bright red. In order to remedy the problem, he decided to try to cash out the money at casinos. He was successful at one casino, the Potawatomi Hotel and Casino in Milwaukee, where he fed dye-stained bills into a slot machine without playing the game. He managed to get vouchers for the money and walked out with $6,650 in unstained bills.

However, the maneuver wouldn’t work twice. Hill tried the same thing at the Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, but casino officials noticed what he was doing. After trying to explain where his money came from and why it was red, he was arrested and indicted for money laundering, bank robbery and transporting stolen money in interstate commerce. Before his trial, he filed motions to suppress his arrest, the search of his backpack, the Santa hat he was carrying, as well as his statements to the casino. He also filed a motion in limine seeking to exclude expert testimony. All of those were denied and a jury sentenced him to 360 months’ imprisonment. Hill appealed.

Hill claimed first that his initial conversation with the Hammond casino was an arrest for which the casino had no probable cause, but the court said it was not an arrest, but an investigatory stop. Even more, it was a valid investigatory stop because the man investigating Hill had more than enough evidence to think something strange was going on, with Hill putting in colored bills and giving strange answers to people’s questions.

That also went to Hill’s second motion, that after the investigatory stop, he was arrested unfairly then without probable cause. Like the first motion, the 7th Circuit said there was more than enough evidence to detain Hill in the back room of the casino with the red money, the money in bank bands and the bad answers to his questions.

The 7th Circuit also said the search of Hill’s bag and Santa hat were unobjectionable because the search did not extend beyond his person and area, and Hill was definitely maintaining control over the bag and hat.

The 7th Circuit also ruled that an agent’s testimony about cellphone tower site history was permissible. The court said it showed Hill’s phone was connected to towers near the credit union, it didn’t necessarily mean he was in the area, and was useful to the jury, if only barely. However, Wood said courts need to be careful of using this testimony in the future because juries may overestimate the importance of this evidence.

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