Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Castaneda-Pozo: Upholding Substantial Financial Hardship Enhancement Where Bank Fraud Made Victims Insecure in Basic Life Necessities

In United States v. Castaneda-Pozo, No. 16-16031 (Dec. 19, 2017) (per curiam), the Court upheld two challenged sentencing enhancements in a bank fraud conspiracy.

First, the Court concluded that the district court did not clearly err by finding that the defendant was responsible for the scheme's entire intended loss amount.  The defendant testified that he was not aware of the scheme's relevant conduct, but the district court credited the contrary testimony of his co-conspirators.  Even though those co-conspirators had previously lied to investigators, the district court was free to credit their testimony over the defendant's.

Second, the Court concluded that the district court did not clearly err by finding that five or more victims of the scheme suffered substantial hardship under Amendment 792.  Although the Court had never before interpreted that provision, it relied on opinions from the Seventh and Eighth Circuits focusing on the economic situation of the victim.  In this case, several of the victims were required to repay $400-800 in rent payments, and because the stolen checks were submitted near the rent deadline, some of the victims had to borrow money to pay the rent and two were threatened with eviction.  The Court disagreed with the defendant that this amount to mere "hardship" rather than "substantial hardship."  Although each victim's economic loss might not seem great, the defendant's actions made them insecure in life's basic necessities, which constituted substantial hardship.