United States v. Jackson, s. 13–2649

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Citation787 F.3d 1153
Docket Number13–3523.,Nos. 13–2649,s. 13–2649
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff–Appellee, v. Gwendolyn JACKSON and Latonja Spencer, Defendants–Appellants.
Decision Date03 June 2015

787 F.3d 1153

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff–Appellee
v.
Gwendolyn JACKSON and Latonja Spencer, Defendants–Appellants.

Nos. 13–2649
13–3523.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

Argued Feb. 20, 2015.
Decided June 3, 2015.


787 F.3d 1154

Jason A. Yonan, Attorney, Office of the United States Attorney, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff–Appellee.

Thomas C. Brandstrader, Attorney, Law Office of Thomas C. Brandstrader, Chicago, IL, for Defendants–Appellants.

Before RIPPLE, KANNE, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

Opinion

RIPPLE, Circuit Judge.

Gwendolyn Jackson and Latonja Spencer were convicted in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on charges arising out of a scheme to defraud mortgage lenders. The district court sentenced Ms. Jackson to 112 months' imprisonment and Ms. Spencer to 36 months' imprisonment. Both defendants now appeal

787 F.3d 1155

their respective convictions and sentences. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we vacate Ms. Jackson's sentence and remand for resentencing. In all other respects, we affirm the judgments of the district court.

I

BACKGROUND

A.

Ms. Jackson and Ms. Spencer participated in a scheme to defraud various Chicago-area mortgage lenders from approximately August 2004 to May 2008. Bobbie Brown Jr. was the scheme's leader. Brown arranged with home builders and other sellers of newly constructed residences to receive finder's fees or commissions for locating buyers to purchase their properties at inflated prices. Using various businesses that he operated, including Chicago Global Investments, Inc. (“Chicago Global”), Brown then located nominee buyers willing to purchase the properties. To obtain financing for the purchases, the nominees were referred to loan officers, including Ms. Spencer, who fraudulently qualified the buyers for loans through false statements in loan applications and other documents submitted to lenders. Once a purchase was finalized, Brown and his coconspirators kept the surplus proceeds of the sale—that is, the inflated amount above what the seller was seeking.

As president and co-owner of Chicago Global, Ms. Jackson recruited nominee buyers to participate in the scheme. She and others also provided, and caused to be provided, funds for the real estate deals and falsely represented the nominees as the source of those funds. Ms. Jackson's participation in the scheme resulted in losses to mortgage lenders of approximately $8,515,570.

For her part, Ms. Spencer participated in the scheme through her job as a loan officer at Oxford Financial. As part of the scheme, she assisted Brown's nominee buyers in obtaining funding for twelve different fraudulent real estate transactions. Specifically, Ms. Spencer knowingly provided false information, including falsely inflated income amounts and job histories, to lenders so that the nominees would qualify for mortgages. Ms. Spencer's participation in the scheme resulted in losses to mortgage lenders of approximately $3,091,050.

B.

On June 3, 2008, a grand jury returned a twenty-six count indictment against Ms. Jackson, Ms. Spencer, and nineteen other individuals, alleging that the defendants knowingly devised and participated in a scheme to defraud financial institutions and mortgage lenders. Ms. Jackson was charged with two counts of wire fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343, and one count of mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341. Ms. Spencer was charged with two counts of bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344, and two counts of mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341.

Ms. Jackson and Ms. Spencer, along with four of their codefendants, were tried together in a two-week jury trial. In the end, both defendants were convicted on all counts charged in the indictment. The district court sentenced Ms. Jackson to 112 months' imprisonment on each of her three counts, to be served concurrently, and ordered her to pay $8,515,570 in restitution. As for Ms. Spencer, the court sentenced her to 36 months' imprisonment on each of her four counts, also to be served concurrently, and ordered her to pay $3,091,050

787 F.3d 1156

in restitution.1 Both defendants timely appealed.2

II

DISCUSSION

Ms. Jackson and Ms. Spencer each challenge one aspect of the guilt phase of their trial. First, Ms. Jackson contends that the district court erred by excluding evidence of Brown's physical violence toward her. Ms. Spencer contends that the district court abused its discretion by failing to sever her trial from that of her codefendants. Both defendants also submit that the district court erred in applying a two-level obstruction-of-justice enhancement when calculating their respective sentences. We first will review the contentions from the guilt phase of the trial. Then we will review the sentencing phase.

A.

We begin with Ms. Jackson's contention that the district court erroneously excluded evidence that Brown, with whom she had a personal relationship, abused her. We review the district court's evidentiary rulings for abuse of discretion. United States v. Khan, 771 F.3d 367, 377 (7th Cir.2014).

1.

At trial, Ms. Jackson sought to introduce a police report from November 12, 2007, detailing a domestic battery allegation that she had filed against Brown. The point of this evidence, according to Ms. Jackson, was to rebut testimony introduced by the Government that she and Brown were in a business relationship. As defense counsel explained, the police report was probative in this regard because “business partnerships and battery are opposites.”3

The district court refused to admit the report. In doing so, the court rejected Ms. Jackson's contention that battery and business relationships are uncommon, stating that defense counsel “would have to have some expert witness come in and testify” to that fact.4 Further, because the incident described in the report occurred approximately four months after the last real estate transaction in the case, the court determined it was irrelevant to Ms. Jackson's defense.

In response, defense counsel inquired whether Ms. Jackson could introduce evidence of Brown's abuse for a different purpose, namely, to corroborate her defense that she was unaware of Brown's fraudulent activities because she was afraid to confront him. The district court responded to this request in the affirmative:

If she wants to say that she didn't confront him because she was afraid of him, she's perfectly entitled to do that. I mean, absolutely. What she's not entitled to do is use a post-event incident as proof that she was right to fear him at the time, because it's a post-event incident.[ 5 ]

The next day, prior to Ms. Jackson's testimony, the following colloquy took place between the district court and defense counsel regarding the court's ruling excluding the November 2007 police report:

787 F.3d 1157
MR. CAMARENA: ... I just wanted to clarify so I don't violate Your Honor's order, just to be clear, Gwen Jackson can't testify about any physical abuse, is that right?
THE COURT: That's right.
MR. CAMARENA: Okay. And you mentioned earlier, or yesterday, you mentioned an expert and we couldn't produce that without a continuance.
THE COURT: Right.
MR. CAMARENA: Thank you, Your Honor.[ 6 ]

During her testimony, Ms. Jackson testified that Brown controlled her and her company and that she did not know the details of his fraudulent scheme because she was afraid to confront him. In particular, Ms. Jackson testified that Brown did not allow her to know the details of Chicago Global's business transactions and that he “would holler and scream” if she ever inquired about such information.7 Notably, when asked whether she ever insisted on knowing more about the company's business transactions, Ms. Jackson responded, “For a while, and then—well, Bobbie—Bobbie is very intimidating, very intimidating. Bobbie Brown is 5–foot 9, 260 pounds, and ex-gang member.”8 Finally, on cross-examination, when asked why she continued to do business with Brown, Ms. Jackson responded that she “had been dealing with an abusive situation with him.”9

Following the jury's verdict, Ms. Jackson filed two separate motions for a new trial. In both motions, she asserted that the district court had erred by excluding evidence of Brown's physical abuse toward her. The district court denied the motions. In doing so, the court concluded that Ms. Jackson's proffered evidence of abuse was inadmissible because it “failed for lack of a proper foundation as to time.”10 Further, the court noted that Ms. Jackson's defense—i.e., that she failed to confront Brown because she was afraid of him—“was...

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