Criminal Intent in Florida Fraud Cases

Florida prosecutors have the burden in many white collar and other criminal cases to prove that the person charged with crime actually intended to commit it. Getting inside a person’s head at the time of the offense is easier said than done, so prosecutors often rely on evidence about the person’s words and actions to prove that he or she had criminal intent. A recent real estate fraud case out of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit is a good example of how that works.The defendant was charged with various fraud crimes related to his operation of PIM, a Florida company that offered clients the opportunity to invest in property on the Bahamas island of Rum Cay. The company solicited clients to buy the property directly or loan money to the PIM with Rum Cay land as a security. They targeted people who had recently lost money in stock and precious metals markets by offering them a credit for those stocks and precious metals that was more than the market value, according to the court. They also managed to get pro football legend Joe Montana to sign on as a pitch man in return for a parcel of Rum Cay property.

“PIM, in fact, was a scam,” the Eleventh Circuit said. The Rum Cay land in which it said it was selling interests was actually owned by a Bahamian company “owned by a convicted felon and embroiled in litigation over title to the land.” PIM didn’t tell its investors about that piece of the puzzle, however, until after they transferred money. Investors never received title to the property, the court said, but the defendant gave exorbitant commissions to PIM salespersons and spent millions of dollars for his own benefits. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to more than 12 years in prison. He was also ordered to pay more than $8 million in restitution.

The defendant appealed the decision, arguing among other things that the prosecutors failed to show that he actually intended to defraud his victims. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed. The appeals panel explained that a “jury may infer an intent to defraud from the defendant’s conduct.” In this case, the court said there was ample evidence to show that the defendant had planned to swindle the investors.

“The jury could have inferred [his] criminal intent from his pattern of misrepresentations and omissions,” the court said. “The jury also could have inferred [his] criminal intent from evidence that none of PIM’s investors ever obtained title to the Rum Cay land and that [he] withdrew over a million dollars in cash from PIM’s accounts,” transferred millions more elsewhere, and used none of the money to improve the Rum Cay land.

As a result, the court upheld the defendant’s sentence.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime in Florida, it is essential that you seek the advice and counsel of an experienced defense lawyer. Clearwater white collar crime attorney Will Hanlon is a seasoned lawyer who fights aggressively on behalf of clients charged with a wide range of offenses. Call our offices at (727) 897-5413 or contact us online to speak with Mr. Hanlon about your case.

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