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Houston Judge Reverses Jury, Orders Acquittal in Adoption Mail-Fraud Case

White collar crimes such as fraud often involve alleged conduct that takes place over an extended period of time. In attempting to prove a criminal charge, however, prosecutors need to show the defendant not only devised the scheme to defraud but also acted with specific intent to defraud. And as with any criminal case, the government must prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

A recent federal case from right here in Houston, United States v. Swenson, helps to illustrate the government’s burden of proof in white-collar cases. In this case, a jury found a defendant guilty of mail fraud. But the judge exercised his discretion to enter a judgment of acquittal, finding the evidence did not support the verdict beyond a reasonable doubt.

The case itself involved an alleged act of adoption-related fraud. The defendant operated an adoption agency. In June 2013, one of the agency’s clients mailed the defendant a check for $13,400. This payment was supposed to go towards the adoption of a specific child. When that adoption fell through, the defendant “reapplied” the client’s fee to a second match. The fee itself was non-refundable, but could be reapplied “until the family had a successful match,” according to the defendant.

gavel and book in court room

At trial, prosecutors said the second match was actually a double-match–that is, the defendant allegedly matched the same baby to two different clients. When the birth mother ultimately chose to keep the baby, both families “cut ties” with the defendant. But the defendant nevertheless kept the fees already paid. Additionally, a former employee of the defendant testified that double-matching was a common practice at the agency, although this employee was not part of the specific double match described above, as it was a few days before her employment began.

While the defendant’s “general business practices” may have been questionable or even illegal, the judge said there was a “lack of specific evidence” relative to mail fraud. The mail fraud charge centered on the June 2013 payment mailed by the client to the defendant. The judge said the prosecution needed to show that at the time of this mailing, the defendant intended to defraud her client. But as noted above, the client mailed that fee in connection with another adoption that fell through (for reasons never explained in court). The defendant then reapplied the fee to what turned out to be the double match. Even accepting that the double match was part of a scheme to defraud, the judge concluded that this occurred several months after the client mailed his payment. It was not enough to prove mail fraud.

Contact a Houston White Collar Crimes Defense Lawyer Today

White-collar criminal charges often require careful scrutiny of the government’s evidence. An experienced criminal defense attorney can provide you with valuable guidance and representation when facing serious allegations such as mail fraud. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today if you need to speak with a lawyer right away. Call (281) 280-0100