458 F.3d 513 (6th Cir. 2006), 05-3336, United States v. Baker

Docket Nº:05-3336.
Citation:458 F.3d 513
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Steven L. BAKER, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:August 15, 2006
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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458 F.3d 513 (6th Cir. 2006)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,


Steven L. BAKER, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 05-3336.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

August 15, 2006

Submitted: Aug. 9, 2006.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio at Columbus, No. 03-00147—Gregory L. Frost, District Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Andrew T. Sanderson, Burkett & Sanderson, Inc., Newark, Ohio, for Appellant.

Deborah A. Solove, United States Attorney, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee.

Before: MOORE and SUTTON, Circuit Judges; KATZ, District Judge. [*]



Defendant-Appellant Steven Baker appeals from the district court's entry of judgment against him on his conviction for mail fraud. Baker was involved in a scheme to defraud the insurance company for which he worked; his role was to fill out false sales reports and to mail them to company headquarters. On appeal, Baker argues that the district court erred in allowing the government to introduce into evidence certain postal records used in the scheme. For the reasons discussed below, we AFFIRM baker's conviction.


Steven Baker and other Ohio-based employees1 of Combined Insurance Company of America ("Combined") were convicted on various counts for their involvement in a scheme to defraud Combined.2 The first step in the scheme was the creation of "ghost agents," who were former insurance sales agents no longer working for Combined but whose names were never removed from the company's books. Then, the defendants transferred sales made by actual agents to the ghost agents. The defendants were able to accomplish this by asking the actual agents to turn in blank sales reports. Baker, who did administrative work for Peter Vasilakos, 3 was responsible for filling out the sales reports;

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Baker testified that he also filled out and signed reports for sales agents who no longer worked for Combined. Finally, when Combined generated the commissions for the ghost agents' accounts, the defendants had arranged to have the commission checks mailed to a post office box or other address to which the defendants had access rather than to the ghost agents themselves.

On September 19, 2003, Baker was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, eight counts of mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341 and § 2, and one count of conspiracy to defraud the government in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. At the trial, the government called as a witness Donald Simmons, a postal inspector; Simmons presented evidence relating to the post office boxes used in the defendants' scheme to defraud Combined. Defendant Rocky Edwards's counsel objected to the admission of a series of postal records that Simmons provided, but the district court overruled this objection. The decision to admit this evidence is the basis for Baker's appeal and will be discussed in further detail below. At the conclusion of the trial, the jury found Baker guilty on all counts of mail fraud but not guilty of conspiracy to defraud the government, and it was unable to reach a verdict as to the count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud.4 Baker was sentenced to fifteen months of imprisonment, three years of supervised release, and an $800.00 special assessment. Baker timely appealed the district court's entry of judgment against him.


A. Admission of Postal Records

Baker contends that the district court erred in allowing the government to introduce the postal records on the basis that the records constituted inadmissible hearsay; the government responds that the evidence was properly admitted as business records pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 803(6).

1. Standard of review

" 'In reviewing a trial court's evidentiary determinations, this court reviews de novo the court's conclusions of law and reviews for clear error the court's factual determinations that underpin its legal conclusions.' " United States v. Jenkins, 345 F.3d 928, 935 (6th Cir. 2003) (quoting United States v. Salgado, 250 F.3d 438,451 (6th Cir. 2001)); see also Field v. Trigg County Hosp., Inc., 386 F.3d 729, 735 (6th Cir. 2004) (explaining that this court reviews de novo "a district court's conclusions of law, such as .. . whether evidence offered at trial constituted hearsay within the meaning of the Federal Rules of Evidence"); United States v. Dakota, 197 F.3d 821, 827 (6th Cir. 1999) (same). We note that we have also reviewed a district court's evidentiary determinations for abuse of discretion. See, e.g., United States v. Gibson, 409 F.3d 325, 337 (6th Cir. 2005) ("We review evidentiary rulings by the district court, including alleged violations of the hearsay rule, under the abuse-of-discjetion standard."); Trepel v. Roadway Express, Inc., 194 F.3d 708, 716-17 (6th Cir. 1999) (same).5

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The decision as to the correct standard of review will not affect the outcome of this appeal, as "the district court's ruling on this issue should not be disturbed under either standard." United States v. Carmichael, 232 F.3d 510, 521-22 (6th Cir.2000), cert. denied, 532 U.S. 974, 121 S.Ct. 1607, 149 L.Ed.2d 472 (2001). However, we point out that these two standards of review are not in fact inconsistent, because "it is an abuse of discretion to make errors of law or clear errors of factual determination." 6 United States v. McDaniel, 398 F.3d 540, 544 (6th Cir.2005), quoted in United States...

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