Friday, March 20, 2015

Arson, Duplicity, and the Mail

In United States v. Singer, Mr. Singer was convicted of involvement in a fraudulent scheme to buy properties cheaply, obtain insurance coverage, and burn down those properties for insurance proceeds. The government charged Mr. Singer with mail fraud relating to the scheme, as well as individual use of fire to commit mail fraud counts for each property. In response to Mr. Singer's challenge, the Sixth Circuit held that a mail fraud count encompassing multiple acts of a conspiracy is not duplicitous. Further, even if it were duplicitous, a defendant is not prejudiced by avoiding the imposition of additional counts.

The Singer Court also addressed the statute of limitations for using fire to commit mail fraud. Mr. Singer argued that the statute of limitations began to run from the time of the fire. But the Sixth Circuit interpreted 18 U.S.C. 844(h) to be committed only once "a fire or explosive is used to commit another felony - in this case, mail fraud." As a result, the clock began to run at the time of the mailings, not the fires themselves.

Additionally, Mr. Singer argued that because his convictions under 884(h) arose out of the same indictment, they could not be "stacked" consecutively. In fact, the Singer court acknowledged "the government's decision to charge each fire as a separate 844(h) offense is arguably in conflict with its theory that the fires all were part of the same underlying scheme." Nonetheless, the Sixth Circuit found no plain error. The decision also briefly concluded Mr. Singer's severance argument was waived.

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