The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in United States v. Zar on Tuesday, June 23, 2015.
Derek Zar and his mother Susanne Zar participated in a mortgage fraud scheme orchestrated by Michael Jacoby. The three were tried together and, after a three-week trial, a jury convicted Jacoby of 11 counts of wire fraud, three counts of money laundering, and two counts of bank fraud; Derek Zar of four counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering; and Susanne Zar of three counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. Each defendant was sentenced to a term of imprisonment and ordered to pay restitution. They each appealed separately, but the Tenth Circuit joined the appeals.
The Tenth Circuit first considered Derek’s and Susanne’s challenges to the district court’s denial of the Zars’ joint motion to sever their trial from Jacoby’s, their joint motion to dismiss the indictment based on Speedy Trial Act violations, and their joint motion to suppress statements made to IRS agents. Because the motion to sever and the motion to dismiss were both based on Speedy Trial Act violations, the Tenth Circuit considered those first. Noting that the Speedy Trial clock is tolled when motions are pending, the Tenth Circuit initially found that motions were pending during the entire period the Zars contest was applicable to their speedy trial rights. The Tenth Circuit analyzed the district court’s rulings and found that it did not abuse its discretion in denying the severance motion, and counted only 23 days ticked off the speedy trial clock between the indictment and the trial. The district court’s denials of the motions to dismiss and to sever were affirmed.
Next the Tenth Circuit evaluated the statements the defendants made to IRS agents. Although it was somewhat concerned that the agents did not specifically announce that their questioning of the Zars was a consensual conversation, the Tenth Circuit found no error in the district court’s allowance of the testimony. The Tenth Circuit found that the statements made by the Zars to the IRS agents were non-testimonial and not barred. Susanne Zar also argued that the admission of statements Derek Zar made to an IRS agent violated her Confrontation Clause rights as stated in Crawford v. Washington. After a plain error review, the Tenth Circuit concluded that the district court’s limiting instruction sufficiently ameliorated any harm that could have come from admission of the statements.
The three defendants jointly argued that Instruction 17 incorrectly stated the elements of wire fraud by omitting an essential element, the scheme to defraud, and by adding an element which impermissibly broadened the basis for conviction. The Tenth Circuit analyzed the instruction and found that the district court correctly applied Tenth Circuit precedent in omitting the language from the instruction. The Tenth Circuit further found that the modifications to the instruction were harmless, and if they had any effect it worked in defendants’ favor. The three defendants also asserted ineffective assistance of counsel claims, which the Tenth Circuit dismissed as unripe since they had not yet been adjudicated in district court.
The defendants also all challenged their sentences, averring the increase in base offense level was unsupported and relying on Apprendi and Alleyne. The Tenth Circuit found their reliance misplaced, since none of the defendants were subject to mandatory minimum sentences. It evaluated each defendant’s sentence and affirmed each separately.
The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s rulings as to each defendant.