United States v. Creech, 071118 FED11, 17-13733

Docket Nº:17-13733
Opinion Judge:PER CURIAM.
Party Name:UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee, v. LAKEYA SHEONNA CREECH, Defendant-Appellant.
Judge Panel:Before TJOFLAT, JORDAN and NEWSOM, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:July 11, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,

v.

LAKEYA SHEONNA CREECH, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 17-13733

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

July 11, 2018

DO NOT PUBLISH

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 3:15-cr-00151-HES-JRK-1

Before TJOFLAT, JORDAN and NEWSOM, Circuit Judges.

PER CURIAM.

Lakeya Creech appeals the district court's order that she pay $1, 261, 751.35 in restitution following her guilty plea to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2, 1342, and 1349. She argues that the district court erred in determining the restitution amount and in failing to sufficiently explain its findings. After review of the record and the parties' briefs, we affirm the district court's restitution order.

I

Ms. Creech was involved in a fraudulent scheme to collect payments from the United States Department of Agriculture in exchange for fictitious food sales. In July of 2013, Ms. Creech submitted an application to the United States Department of Agriculture to authorize her fictitious seafood business, Sheonna's Seafood, to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits as payment for any products sold. In November of 2013, Ms. Creech became qualified to receive SNAP benefits from the USDA. From 2013 to 2015, members of the conspiracy purchased Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, typically for fifty cents on the dollar, from their lawful recipients. They then used the cards at point of service terminals in order to register fraudulent transactions at their "seafood business," i.e., Sheonna's Seafood. The USDA then reimbursed those transactions to the bank account Ms. Creech established to receive SNAP benefits. Throughout 2014 and 2015, law enforcement agents investigated Ms. Creech and her co-conspirators by making undercover sales of EBT benefits to various members of the conspiracy.

In October of 2015, a federal grand jury indicted Ms. Creech for conspiracy to commit wire fraud. As noted, Ms. Creed pled guilty to this conspiracy charge.

At sentencing, the district court imposed a sentence of 15 months' imprisonment. The district court also ordered Ms. Creech to pay $1, 261, 751.35 in restitution to the USDA jointly and severally with her co-conspirators. The district court found that Ms. Creech had been involved with the conspiracy from its inception in 2013 to its conclusion in 2015. The district court relied, in part, upon the amount of money fraudulently deposited into Ms. Creech's business bank account as stated in the presentence investigation report, as well as Ms. Creech's testimony at the change-of-plea hearing and the sentencing hearing.

II

We review de novo the legality of a restitution order "but review[ ] for clear error the factual findings underpinning [that] order." United States v. Brown, 665 F.3d 1239, 1252 (11th Cir. 2011). The Mandatory Victim Restitution Act directs the district court to order restitution if the defendant is convicted of an offense where a victim is "directly harmed by the defendant's criminal conduct in the course of the scheme, conspiracy, or pattern." 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(2).

"The amount of restitution must be based on the amount of loss actually caused by the defendant's conduct." United States v. Baldwin, 774 F.3d 711, 728 (11th Cir. 2014) (internal quotations omitted). The government bears the burden of proving restitution amount by a preponderance of the evidence. Id. Because of the inherent difficulties in calculating an exact restitution amount, district courts may rely on a reasonable estimate of the loss predicated on the evidence presented. Id. The district court must explain its findings clearly enough to allow for appellate review. See United States v. Huff, 609 F.3d 1240, 1248 (11th Cir. 2010).

III

Ms. Creech does not dispute that the USDA suffered a loss in this case. Indeed, from 2013 to 2015, Ms. Creech received over 1.2 million...

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