Thursday, January 02, 2014

Mid-Scheme Payouts Not Money Laundering

US v. Simmons: Simmons ran a Ponzi scheme from 2007 until 2009.  By the end of things, although the statement for the fund he managed claimed assets of more than $292 million, there was actually only $523 in the bank.  Simmons was charged with securities fraud, wire fraud, and two counts of money laundering.  Rather than pinpointing specific acts of fraud, the indictment on the fraud counts charged a broad "scheme to defraud" covering the entire time of the scheme.  Simmons was convicted on all counts and sentenced to 50 years in prison (a considerable variance from the 960-month sentence recommended by the Guidelines).

On appeal, Simmons challenged his two money laundering charges.  Both charges involved transactions undertaken as part of the Ponzi scheme.  Simmons argued that those transactions did not involved "proceeds" as defined by the statute (pursuant to a 2008 Supreme Court decision that has since been overruled by Congress, but was in effect at the time of Simmons's scheme), but rather the "essential expenses" of maintaining the scheme.  In other words, his money laundering was part of the charged scheme to defraud and those charges must merge with the fraud charges.  The Fourth Circuit agreed and reversed Simmons's money laundering convictions, 2-1.  The court held that the ongoing success of the fraud scheme depended on the payments that were subject to the money laundering counts (among others).  As a result, those counts were vacated, his sentence set aside, and the case returned to the district court for resentencing.

Judge Niemeyer dissented, arguing that the particular transactions at issue here, because they furthered the scheme by allowing Simmons to collect money from other victims, fell within the meaning of the statute.

Congrats to the Defender office in Western North Carolina on the win!

NOTE: This case was decided on December 10, 2013.

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