Friday, August 01, 2014

$1.2 million restitution order affirmed

US v. Seignious:   In this appeal, the Fourth Circuit considered the restitution order that resulted from Ehizele Seignious’ convictions for an extensive credit card scheme.  In crafting the restitution order, the district court imposed an amount, $1,213,347, sought by the government, as representing the actual losses caused by the fraud conspiracy, pursuant to the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (“MVRA”).  The amount, however, was determined without the district court having made findings on the record of actual losses caused to specific victims.

Seignious timely appealed the restitution order, and approximately one week later, the government provided a document to the court, itemizing losses to banks and retailers, as well as victims’ names and addresses, entered as a sealed document.  Appellate counsel for Seignious filed an Anders brief, the government responded, Seignious filed a pro se supplemental reply, and the Fourth Circuit set the case for oral argument on the issue of the restitution order.

Under the MVRA, the government has an obligation to provide information concerning restitution to the probation officer 60 days in advance of the scheduled sentencing date; the probation officer must, to the extent practicable, provide notice to victims and collect any necessary information from them, including documentation and testimony.  Further, the defendant must provide the probation officer with information concerning his background, financial resources, and ability to pay restitution.  If the victim’s losses cannot be ascertained by 10 days prior to sentencing, under the MVRA, the district court can set another date for the disclosure of that information up to 90 days after sentencing.

The Fourth Circuit reviewed the record, and found that restitution was imposed without the procedural requirements of MVRA being met.  The standard of review is plain error, though, and the Fourth Circuit upheld the restitution order, denying Seignious relief.  Seignious, according to the Fourth Circuit, failed to carry his burden on appeal of demonstrating that the district court’s error affected his substantial rights.  The record left the panel with no doubt that had the procedural requirements been met, it is unlikely that a different restitution amount would have been imposed.

Seignious did not object to the amount of restitution ordered or dispute the amounts proposed by the government.  The Fourth Circuit found that, although the district court could have done a better job of making a record with respect to restitution, the panel was not convinced an error occurred in finding that the conspiracy caused $1.2 in actual losses.

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