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When Does Fraud Become “Organized Crime” in Texas?

One of the most common types of white collar crime in Texas is identity fraud. Under Section 32.51 of the Texas Penal Code, this involves obtaining or possessing someone else’s “identifying information” and using it to defraud someone else. The identifying information may be a physical item, like a credit card or a driver’s license, but it may also be intangible. In other words, if you use someone else’s birthday or Social Security number to commit fraud, that would violate Section 32.51.

Houston Defendant Convicted of Stealing Identifying Information From Over 200 People

If identity fraud involves multiple individuals, Texas prosecutors may treat the entire affair as “organized crime.” That is exactly what happened in a recent case from here in Houston. The defendant in this case was dating a woman who was involved in a scheme to obtain credit cards using stolen personal information. In October 2013, the defendant used one such stolen card to rent a motel room.

The motel clerk said he realized the transaction was fraudulent and contacted the police. An officer arrived at the motel and found the defendant, his girlfriend, and one other person inside. The defendant was arrested for “possessing a fake driver’s license” and other outstanding warrants. The officer also conducted a search and found “a stack of others individuals’ identifying information.”

Later, the defendant’s girlfriend apparently bailed him out of jail using another stolen credit card. They then proceeded to burglarize another hotel room to steal “more identifying information.” Ultimately, Harris County sheriff’s deputies said they recovered “identifying information of more than 200 individuals.”

A jury convicted the defendant not simply of identity fraud, but of “engaging in organized criminal activity,” which Section 71.02 of the Penal Code defines as committing certain criminal offenses in “combination” with at least two other people. In other words, anytime at least three people “collaborate” to commit a crime, that is considered “organized crime” under Texas law.

However, because organized crime prosecutions often rely on the prosecution getting one member of the conspiracy to testify against the others, Texas courts do require “non-accomplice evidence” to connect the defendant to the alleged crime. In this case, the defendant argued on appeal there was insufficient “connecting” evidence. The Court of Appeals disagreed, citing among other things the testimony of the police officers who conducted the investigation. And as the Court explained, there “need be only some non-accomplice evidence tending to connect the defendant to the crime, not to every element of the crime.”

Have You Been Accused of Fraud?

The penalties for organized crime convictions are severe, even when they involve purely non-violent or white collar crimes. The defendant in the case above, for instance, received a 20-year prison term. This demonstrates the importance of working with an experienced Houston white collar crimes defense lawyer if you are accused of any kind of fraud. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates if you need to speak with an attorney today.