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United States v. Wasz - 450 F.3d 720 (7th Cir. 2006)


Although the nature and purposes of the enhancement in U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 3B1.1 (2001) certainly require a defendant to have played a leading role in the offense, he need not literally have been the boss of his cohorts in order to qualify for the enhancement, for a leader can influence others through indirect as well as direct means. A finding that the defendant functioned as an organizer or leader does not necessarily mean that he directly controlled other individuals. Rather, the defendant must have exercised some degree of control over others involved in the commission of the offense or he must have been responsible for organizing others for the purpose of carrying out the crime. Efforts to marshal other individuals for the purpose of executing the crime thus satisfy § 3B1.1(a).


After selling millions of dollars' worth of stolen goods on eBay, defendants Laura Wasz and her son, Bruce Wasz, were charged in a multi-count indictment with engaging in both mail and wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. §§ 1341 and 1343, conspiring with their nine co-defendants to transport stolen goods in and receive stolen goods from interstate commerce in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. §§ 371 and 2315, and violating 18 U.S.C.S. § 659 by possessing stolen goods that had moved in interstate commerce. The Waszes pleaded guilty in federal district court to committing wire fraud in violation of § 1343. The Waszes appealed their sentences, jointly contending that the district court overestimated the loss resulting from their criminal conduct and improperly characterized them as "organizers or leaders" of the offense. 


Did the district court overestimate the loss resulting from the Waszes' criminal conduct and improperly characterize them as organizers or leaders of the offense for purposes of sentencing?




On appeal of their sentences, the court affirmed. The court found that the district court did not clearly err in deciding to value the loss associated with the Waszes' crime at a sum between $1 million and $2.5 million, a conservative estimate of the retail value that the Waszes sold online. Thus, it was not improper to increase their base offense level by 16 levels pursuant to U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 2B1.1(b)(1)(I) (2001). The loss was properly estimated by the retail value of the stolen merchandise and not the gain that the Waszes realized on the stolen goods. The district court did not clearly err in ascribing an organizing or leadership role to the Waszes for purposes of U.S. Sentencing Guidelines Manual § 3B1.1 (2001). The Waszes had placed detailed orders with thieves for desired goods, had standing arrangements about payments, helped to fund the thieves' road trips for theft purposes, and solicited the thieves' cooperation in creating false paperwork.

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