Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Friday, May 16, 2008

Williams: No Organizer Enhancement where Husband was not criminally responsible

In U.S. v. Williams, No. 06-15318 (May 16, 2008), the Court affirmed the convictions of a defendant convicted of fraud in connection with the unauthorized use of federal grant moneys to a daycare center, but reversed parts of the sentence.
Reviewing for plain error, the Court rejected Williams’ Double Jeopardy claim that her conviction for theft of federal funds was duplicative of her conviction for wire fraud. Applying the Blockburger test, the Court noted that unlike wire fraud, federal theft involves no use of interstate wires. Thus, the crimes have different elements.
The Court also rejected the argument that the seven counts of wire fraud were multiplicitous. The Court pointed out that wire fraud punishes separately each execution of a scheme, and the government was therefore justified in charging Williams for each time funds were wired into Williams’ account as a result of her fraud. The Court found no bad faith on the part of the government in making seven separate wire transactions.
The Court also rejected Williams’ challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence, noting the testimony of employees who were fired by Williams after they questioned her use of federal funds.
The Court rejected Williams’ claim that the jury instructions amended the indictment when they instructed the jury that bookkeepers could be considered accomplices in the crime. The Court found that in light of the evidence presented, this was not what the instructions meant.
Turning to the sentence, the Court reversed the district court’s imposition of a two-level "organizer" enhancement. The enhancement was based on the defendant’s supervision of her own husband’s participation in the theft. The Court noted that the husband was acquitted of theft, but pointed out that this acquittal of itself did not bar the wife’s sentence enhancement, because different standards of proof exist at trial and at sentencing. However, the Court found the evidence was insufficient to show that the husband was "criminally responsible" for theft or fraud.
The Court also reversed the imposition of an "abuse of trust" sentence enhancement. The Court noted that the abuse of trust enhancement requires the defendant to have been in a fiduciary relationship to the victim. Here no such relationship existed between Williams, her firm, and the government agency from which she received grants. The Court further noted that the base offense level for Williams’ fraud already accounted for her violation of her grant conditions.
The Court affirmed the imposition of an obstruction enhancement, based on Williams’ alteration of accounting records once she became aware of the government’s investigation.