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To establish a violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 1343, the government must prove that a defendant participated in a scheme to defraud, that he or she intended to defraud, and that an interstate wire was used in furtherance of the scheme that he or she participated in. There is no requirement that the defendant personally cause the use of the wire. Rather, the third element of wire fraud is met if the use of a wire will follow in the ordinary course of business, or where such use can reasonably be foreseen, even though not actually intended.
Charles White, Felicia Ford, and Norton Helton were three players in a major mortgage fraud scheme. Charles White was the scheme's mastermind and principal. Through fraudulent mortgage loan applications, he obtained financing for straw purchasers to buy properties from homeowners on the brink of foreclosure. Unbeknownst to the owners, White's goal was not to save their homes, but instead to strip the properties of their equity for his own gain. Felicia Ford was the closing agent. Though she was supposed to act as the lender's representative in the transactions, she instead fabricated official documents to facilitate White's scheme. Norton Helton was the attorney. At White's behest, Helton "represented" the homeowners during the closings—that is, he falsely assured clients that everything was in order while pocketing legal fees paid out of the equity proceeds. Helton also orchestrated the scheme's cover-up by representing the homeowners in their subsequent bankruptcy filings. All three players were convicted of multiple counts of wire fraud for their participation in the scheme; Helton was also convicted of bankruptcy fraud. The three defendants appealed a multitude of substantive and procedural issues stemming from their trial and, in White's case, his sentence.
Was the 18 U.S.C.S. § 1343 wire fraud conviction proper?
The court found that evidence supported 18 U.S.C.S. § 1343 wire fraud because a jury could find that Ford knew wire transfers were routine in a scheme, and she was integral to the scheme's success. Evidence showed White’s wire fraud because a jury could find he furthered the scheme for his own gain. Evidence supported Helton’s 18 U.S.C.S. § 157 bankruptcy fraud conviction because he hid clients' real estate sales. Fed. R. Crim. P. 8 joint trial of bankruptcy fraud and wire fraud was proper because they were part of one scheme. The court found no error in the district court’s loss amount calculation. Finally, the court found no error in the district court’s application of the vulnerable victim enhancement.