Posted by: Patricia Salkin | July 12, 2016

5th Circuit Court of Appeals Rules on Corruption Schemes at Sentencing Including Existence Fraudulent Zoning Letter

George L. Grace, the former mayor of St. Gabriel, Louisiana, was charged with 13 counts of corruption-related offenses arising out of four schemes: the Hurricane Katrina Scheme, the City Vendor Scheme, the Real Estate Scheme, and the Cifer 5000 Scheme. A jury convicted Grace of seven of those counts, The Court of Appeals, affirmed in part, vacated his sentence, and remanded for resentencing. On remand, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana sentenced defendant to 240 months’ imprisonment, one year of supervised release, a $50,000 fine, and forfeiture of at least $22,000, and the Defendant appealed.

At the outset, the court found that it was constitutional for the district court to consider Grace’s acquitted conduct at sentencing under the preponderance of the evidence standard. Grace next argued that the district court erred by including the loss values of $18,000 for the Hurricane Katrina Scheme, $450,000 for the City Vendor Scheme, and $900,000 for the Real Estate Scheme. Grace contended that the $18,000 amount represented the value of a bribe and should not have been included cumulatively in the loss amount pursuant to § 2C1.1, and that the $450,000 amount should have been offset completely because the City of St. Gabriel received $450,000 worth of equipment and services in the exchange. However, Grace did not raise these arguments regarding the $18,000 and $450,000 values in the district court.

Grace next asserted that the $900,000 in the Real Estate Scheme represented a loan amount that was sought for the purchase of property in the scheme. While Grace acknowledged that he wrote a fraudulent zoning letter to support an attempt to obtain the loan, he argued that the amount of loss attributable to his letter was speculative and could not reasonably be determined. Despite this, he did not present any argument challenging the district court’s finding that the Real Estate Scheme separately entailed a $1,360,000 loss value stemming from Grace’s offer to direct money from various government programs to buy and develop property. Accordingly, the court held that Grace waived any such argument.

Finally, as to Grace’s Sixth Amendment claim, the district court heard Grace’s arguments for a lesser sentence based on his age and other factors but determined that a 240–month sentence, which the district court noted was lower than Grace’s original sentence and a substantial downward variance from his guidelines range of life imprisonment, was appropriate. The court therefore affirmed the decision of the lower court.

U.S. v Grace, 640 Fed. Appx. 298 (2/18/2016)


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