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7th Circuit affirms health care fraud, firearms convictions

December 21, 2016

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a man’s firearms and fraud convictions Wednesday, rejecting each of the former counselor’s arguments against his attorney and the district court judge.

Bruce Jones was both a family counselor and a firearms enthusiast who collected dozens of guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition. However, Jones had a priory felony conviction, which made it a federal crime for him to possess any firearms or ammunition.

While investigating Jones for allegedly fraudulent health care billing, the FBI discovered Jones’ weapons. A grand jury charged Jones with three counts of possessing firearms and ammunition and one count of health care fraud. He was found guilty as charged during a bifurcated trial and sentenced to 90 months in prison on the fraud conviction and 100 months each for the three felon-in-possession convictions, all to be served concurrently.

Jones appealed in Unites States of America v. Bruce Jones, 15-1792, first challenging the pretrial restraint of six life insurance policies titled in his name, which the government listed in a forfeiture allegation in the controlling, second superseding indictment.

After Jones was convicted on the felon-in-possession charges in April 2014 but before his fraud trial, the government filed an ex parte application to restrain those policies in anticipation of a post-conviction forfeiture. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana entered a restraining order the same day, and Jones contended that such a restraint violated his Sixth Amendment right to hire counsel of choice and his Fifth Amendment right to due process of law under Luis v. United States, 578 U.S. --, 136 S. Ct. 1083 (2016).

But 7th Circuit Judge David Hamilton wrote Wednesday that because Jones never objected to the restraint on his life insurance policies, the district court had not reason to probe the issue in an evidentiary hearing and, thus, did not commit plain error.

Jones next argued that his request for new counsel during the fraud trial, which was held second, was improperly denied. Jones had a “rocky relationship” with his appointed attorney, Mark Inman, Hamilton wrote. But regardless, the decision to deny his three requests for substitute counsel was not an abuse of discretion because Jones was given ample opportunity to present his concerns to the district court.

Further, Hamilton wrote that although Jones and Inman’s relationship was obviously strained, “Jones had engaged in a prolonged pattern of obstructionist behavior. Against that backdrop, the district judge could reasonably have inferred that Jones’ request for a new lawyer was yet another attempt to delay justice.”

Jones then argued that he had been deprived of his right to testify on his own behalf during the fraud trial because he never clearly and unequivocally waived his right to testify. Instead, Jones said Inman preventing him from doing so.

But the 7th Circuit disagreed, with Hamilton writing that Jones had unequivocally waived his right when he answered “Yes” to Pratt’s inquiry as to whether he was comfortable with the decision not to testify.

Finally, Jones argued on appeal that the district court miscalculated the sentencing guideline range for his firearms offense by improperly taking account of his 1985 felony conviction a controlled substance offense.

But while the indictment charged only conduct occurring in 2010, the evidence showed that Jones possessed weapons as far back as 1996, only eight years after he was released from prison in the controlled substance offense, well within the 15-year lookback period, Hamilton wrote. Based on that evidence, the 7th Circuit found that Pratt correctly found an “ongoing series of weapon possession by a prohibited person.”

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