527 F.3d 577 (6th Cir. 2008), 06-6124, United States v. Dedman

Docket Nº:06-6124.
Citation:527 F.3d 577
Party Name:UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Frances Darlene DEDMAN, Defendant-Appellant.
Case Date:May 29, 2008
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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527 F.3d 577 (6th Cir. 2008)

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

Frances Darlene DEDMAN, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 06-6124.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

May 29, 2008

Argued: Nov. 1, 2007.

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ARGUED:

Gregory A. Woosley, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellant. Andrew Sparks , Assistant United States Attorney, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Gregory A. Woosley, Lexington, Kentucky, Roy Burl McCoy, Jr. , Stoll Keenon Ogden, Lexington, Kentucky, for Appellant. Charles P. Wisdom, Jr. , Assistant United States Attorney, Lexington, Kentucky, Elaine K. Leonhard, Assistant United States Attorney, Fort Mitchell, Kentucky, for Appellee.

Before: SILER , MOORE , and GILMAN , Circuit Judges.

MOORE , J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which SILER , J., joined. GILMAN , J. (pp. 603-06), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.

OPINION

KAREN NELSON MOORE , Circuit Judge.

This unusual case arises from the marriage between defendant Darlene Dedman's (“Dedman" ) adopted daughter (who was actually Dedman's cousin) and Dedman's adoptive father. Dedman appeals her conviction on the counts of conspiracy to defraud the United States Department of Defense, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 286 , and making material false statements to a federal agent, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001 . For these offenses she was sentenced to 27 months of imprisonment and

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ordered to pay over $200,000 in restitution. The government alleged that Dedman orchestrated the marriage as part of a plan to collect her adoptive father's, John Watson's (“Watson" ), military pension. Dedman argues that she could not be guilty of conspiracy because the marriage between her adopted daughter and her adoptive father was valid and, therefore, there was no false claim. Furthermore, Dedman asserts that if the marriage was statutorily invalid, then the marriage law is unconstitutional. Dedman also contends that the government failed to produce evidence sufficient to support her convictions. In addition, she maintains that the jury instructions regarding the marriage amounted to a directed verdict against her. Lastly, Dedman avers that the district court miscalculated the government's loss during her sentencing. Although both the government and the district court made some mistakes in their handling of this case, we conclude that none of the mistakes amount to reversible error. We therefore AFFIRM Dedman's convictions and sentence.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

This case revolves around the disposition of Watson's annuity under the Survivor Benefit Program (“SBP" ), a lifetime pension for “military members who have reached at least 20 years of full military service." Joint Appendix (“J.A." ) at 107 (May 11, 2006, Trial Tr., Timothy Zelenak Test. at 25:20-21). As a veteran of three wars over twenty years, Watson was eligible for the SBP. When a pensioner dies, the funds are payable to a surviving spouse only if the spouse was married to the beneficiary for a year or longer. See 10 U.S.C. §§ 1447(7) , (9) (defining “surviving spouse" as a widow who was married for a year or more immediately before the pensioner's death); 1450(a) (providing annuity benefits to eligible surviving spouses). In order to qualify for the annuity, the marriage between the military member and the spouse must have been valid in the state where the marriage took place. See 1 U.S.C. § 7 (defining marriage as “only a legal union" (emphasis added)); Bishop v. Oklahoma, 447 F.Supp.2d 1239, 1250 (N.D.Okla.2006) (applying state law to determine whether a marriage satisfies 1 U.S.C. § 7 ).

Dedman had a traumatic childhood, but in 1983, at age eighteen, she agreed to let Watson, a fifty-six-year-old family friend, adopt her as his daughter. In the early Nineties, Dedman first met her cousin Nelva Holland (“Holland" ) at Dedman's birth-father's funeral. The two women became friendly, and Holland moved in with Dedman's family with the understanding that Holland would help with the family's household chores while Dedman would help Holland with nursing-school expenses. It was around this time that Holland first got to know Watson, who was living with the Dedmans. According to Holland, it was also around this time that Dedman first mentioned to her Watson's pension.

At age nineteen, Holland tried to enroll in nursing school, but she discovered that the school required her to obtain health-insurance coverage. In order to help her enroll in school, the Dedmans adopted her so that she would be covered under Dedman's husband's health-care plan. In July 1996, Holland and Dedman had a dispute, resulting in the Dedmans kicking Holland out of their home. According to Holland's testimony, Dedman approached her after a short period of time with an offer: Holland would be allowed to return to the Dedman home but only if she agreed to marry Watson, who was then approximately sixty-nine years old. Holland agreed to the deal; Holland, Dedman, and Watson drove to Arkansas where Holland and Watson

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married. According to Holland's testimony, the fact that she was now married to Watson had no impact on her relationship with Watson; the two remained friendly but there was no romantic or sexual involvement. One of Dedman's sons, however, testified that there was affection between Holland and Watson.

During Dedman's trial, the jury heard conflicting testimony regarding whether Holland and Watson were public with their relationship. Holland testified that after the wedding, Dedman told her to keep the marriage a secret, and Holland said that she and Watson never held themselves out as married. Two of Dedman's neighbors testified that Watson and Holland never appeared to be married. One of those neighbors testified that she learned about the marriage only when Dedman told her that she had “solved the situation with the annuity." J.A. at 172 (May 11, 2006, Trial Tr., Mary Beth Green Test. at 171:13-22). In contrast, although Dedman's husband claimed that he never knew why Holland and Watson were married, he thought that Holland and Watson were public about their marriage. However, Dedman's husband was not surprised to learn during his testimony that the neighbors were not aware of the marriage.

On December 28, 1997, Watson died. Shortly thereafter, Dedman and Holland applied for Watson's SBP benefits. Once the government started paying the annuity, the funds went straight to Dedman, who gave Holland some of the money. This system worked well until Dedman and Holland had another dispute in 2005. At the end of this dispute, Dedman accused Holland of having molested one of Dedman's children. Dedman proceeded to call government agencies to tell them that Holland was committing fraud. These calls prompted the investigation that concluded with the indictment incident to this appeal.

During the course of the government's investigation, Dedman told a federal investigator that she learned of the Holland-Watson marriage only in 2004. The investigator did not believe Dedman, in part because Dedman provided Watson's death certificate, which listed Holland as the spouse. The investigator was also suspicious of Dedman's defensive reaction to questions about the marriage. Upon cross-examination at trial, the investigator conceded that it was possible that Dedman meant that she first realized that the marriage was illegal in 2004, not that she first learned about the marriage at that time.

B. Procedural Background

On February 3, 2006, the government indicted Dedman for conspiracy to defraud the government in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 286 . In March 2006, the government added an additional count for making material false statements to a government agent in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001 . The government also charged Holland with the same conspiracy charge, but Holland pleaded guilty and testified in the hopes of getting probation.

On February 17, 2006, Dedman pleaded not guilty to both charges, and the trial began on May 11, 2006. During Dedman's trial, the government asked the district court to “take judicial notice of Arkansas law to the effect that marriage between a grandfather and a granddaughter, even if that relationship is created by adoption, is prohibited." J.A. at 234 (May 12, 2006 Trial Tr. at 131:20-24). Dedman's attorney objected to the request, but the district court took the requested judicial notice.

After both the government and Dedman presented their cases, the judge instructed

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the jury. The district court gave the jury the elements of the conspiracy offense:

What the evidence in this case must show beyond a reasonable doubt is:

First: That two or more persons in some way or manner, came to a mutual understanding to try to accomplish a common and unlawful plan, as charged in the indictment;

Second: That the Defendant, knowing the unlawful purpose of the plan, willfully joined in it; and

Third: That the object of the unlawful plan was to defraud the government by obtaining the payment or allowance of a claim which is based on a false or fraudulent material fact.

J.A. at 52-53 (Instruction No. 11). The district court further explained the mental state that the jury was required to find in order to convict Dedman of conspiracy to defraud the government: “If you are convinced that there was a criminal agreement, then you must decide whether the government has proved that the defendant knowingly and voluntarily joined that agreement. To convict the defendant, the government must prove that she knew the...

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