Thursday, March 1, 2012

United States v. Lander: Convictions Reversed Because Facts at Trial Varied from Facts Alleged in Indictment

In United States v. Joseph Lander, the Eleventh Circuit reversed twelve of the defendant’s convictions for fraud and money laundering because the facts proved at trial materially varied from those alleged by the Government in the superseding indictment.

In this case, the defendant was convicted of mail fraud and money laundering charges related to two separate fraudulent schemes. The Eleventh Circuit upheld the convictions regarding one of the fraudulent schemes (misrepresenting expected returns on an investment in a vitamin company) but reversed the defendant’s mail fraud and money laundering convictions in the second scheme (involving the conversion of developers’ funds).

With regard to the latter scheme, the Eleventh Circuit held that the facts proved at the defendant’s trial for fraud materially varied from those alleged in the superseding indictment. The indictment itself alleged that Lander, a county attorney, misrepresented to developers that they were required to pay a performance bond to the county. At the trial, two developers stated that Lander either never instructed them about a performance bond or could not recall if he instructed them about a performance bond. Following this testimony, the Government adjusted its theory of the case and argued, in closing, that Lander misrepresented to the developers that he could make sure their project moved through the regulatory process. The court of appeals held that the misrepresentation that the Government ultimately relied on did not match the scheme to defraud which was set forth in the indictment, and was an essential element to the mail fraud charge. The court held that this material variance from the indictment substantially prejudiced Lander—by failing to “apprise the defendant of what he must be prepared to meet” and Lander’s mail fraud conviction was reversed.

Because the government based Lander’s money laundering charges on the aforementioned mail fraud charge—using the mail fraud to satisfy the “specified unlawful activity” element of money laundering—the court reversed Lander’s convictions on the money laundering charges as well.

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