White collar crimes include a wide variety of offenses related to forgery and counterfeiting. For example, under federal law, it is a felony to use or attempt to use a forged passport for any purpose. And depending on the defendant’s purpose in using a forged passport, they can face a prison term of up to 25 years if tried and convicted of the crime.
5th Circuit: Trial Court Properly Considered Additional Evidence in Calculating Defendant’s Sentence
In a recent case from here in the Houston area, United States v. Jackson, a federal court sentenced a defendant to 27 months–a little over two years–in prison after he pleaded guilty to five counts of passport forgery. According to prosecutors, the defendant’s use of a false passport was part of a larger “fraudulent scheme.” Essentially, the defendant used a forged Nigerian passport to open bank accounts and lease a mailbox under a false name. Other members of the conspiracy then scammed individual victims and deposited the proceeds into these accounts. The defendant apparently did not directly participate in the scams, but he did transfer funds from the accounts to other conspirators while keeping a “portion for himself,” according to court records.
In determining the defendant’s sentence for the passport fraud, the trial court considered additional evidence related to “uncharged conduct.” Specifically, prosecutors said the defendant used another forged passport to open several additional bank accounts. The judge also “cross-referenced” the defendant’s passport forgery to the underlying fraud scheme, and on that basis, the federal sentencing guidelines recommended a prison term of between 24 and 30 months.
The defendant appealed his sentence to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. He challenged the cross-reference to fraud, as well as the calculation of the total losses sustained by the victims of the fraud scheme, which also factored into the sentencing guidelines. The Fifth Circuit rejected these arguments, however, and affirmed the trial court’s sentence.
With respect to the cross reference, the defendant argued that his role in the scheme was limited to “opening accounts and transferring proceeds.” The Fifth Circuit said that “understate[d]” the defendant’s actual participation. Indeed, the defendant admitted to law enforcement that he “opened the accounts for the very purpose of receiving proceeds from fraud.” Even if the defendant did not personally interact with any of the victims, his actions still “facilitated” the fraud.
As for the victims’ total losses, this argument centered on the fact that prosecutors only identified $32,950 in funds obtained by five known victims of the scheme. Yet prosecutors, and the trial court, based the victims’ losses on the total amount funneled through the fraudulent accounts opened by the defendant under both of his forged passports, which was nearly $390,000. The Fifth Circuit said the evidence was sufficient to support using the higher amount.
Speak with a Houston White Collar Crimes Defense Lawyer Today
When it comes to any type of fraud, you should not assume that you will get off easy because you think “only played a small role” in a larger scheme. In most cases, you can be held equally responsible with the people who allegedly orchestrated the entire scheme. That is why you need to work with an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who will zealously represent your interests at all stages of your case. Contact the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates in Houston, Galveston or League City today if you need to speak with an attorney right away. Call (281) 280-0100.