Law School Case Brief
United States v. Czubinski - 106 F.3d 1069 (1st Cir. 1997)
Mere browsing of records of people about whom one might have a particular interest, although reprehensible, is not enough to sustain a wire fraud conviction on a deprivation of intangible property theory.
Richard Czubinski worked at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), where he was entitled to access computer tax returns for purposes of answering questions of a taxpayer. However, Czubinski consistently browsed computer files of taxpayers without permission, and he was convicted of various counts of wire fraud, 18 U.S.C.S. § 1343, and computer fraud under 18 U.S.C.S. § 1030 et seq. He claimed that the district court erred when it denied his motion for judgment of acquittal because the evidence was insufficient to support the guilty verdicts.
Could the unauthorized computer browsing of a taxpayers' files sustain a federal felony conviction?
The court held that the unauthorized browsing of taxpayer files, although inappropriate conduct, could not sustain a federal felony conviction. The court said that the unauthorized browsing, even if done with the intent to deceive the IRS into thinking he was performing only authorized searches, did not constitute a deprivation within the meaning of the federal fraud statutes. It concluded that searches of taxpayer return information could also not satisfy the statutory requirement that he obtain anything of value, or that he intended anything more than to satisfy idle curiosity.
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