Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Feldman: Affirming Wire Fraud and Money Laundering Convictions/Sentences Over Various Challenges

In United States v. Feldman, No. 17-13443 (July 30, 2019) (William Pryor, Newsom, Branch), the Court affirmed the defendant's wire-fraud conspiracy and money-laundering conspiracy convictions over various challenges.

First, the Court held that Double Jeopardy did not bar the defendant's re-trial for on an alternative theory of liability for which the jury made no finding in his first trial.  Nor did the jury implicitly acquit the defendant on that theory by finding him guilty on the alternative theory.  Moreover, the defendant implicitly consented to the dismissal of the jury without it making a finding.

Second, the Court held that the evidence was sufficient to support his convictions for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering. 

Third, the Court found no constructive amendment of the wire-fraud conspiracy count.  With respect to the defendant's argument that a jury instruction constructively amended the indictment, the Court found invited error because defense counsel responded to the court's instruction by stating "that's fine."

Fourth, the Court rejected the argument that the defendant, who is Jewish, was deprived of due process when the prosecutor analogized his conduct to that of Fagin from Oliver Twist.  The government never referred to ethnicity or any stereotype, but rather made only anodyne references to a literary character as an example.

Finally, the Court found no reversible error at sentencing.  The Court found no clear error in connection with the loss amount and ten-or-more victim enhancement.  The Court found no clear error in an obstruction of justice enhancement based on a finding that the defendant committed perjury in his first trial.  The Court found no error in applying the sophisticated money-laundering enhancement.  Finally, the Court upheld as substantively reasonable an upward variance based on the defendant's lack of remorse and perjury.

Judge Pryor authored a lengthy concurring opinion criticizing the Court's decision in Takhalov, which had vacated the defendant's convictions based on its interpretation of the "scheme to defraud" element of wire fraud.  Although it was unnecessary to apply that interpretation to resolve this appeal, he opined that, depending on how it was interpreted, the decision was likely at odds with the common law of fraud.  He warned the bench and bar to "exercise due care in interpreting our opinion in Takhalov and determining its precedential value."