Challenging the Federal Sentencing Guideline Range: A Success Story For The Defense

Federal criminal defense attorney John Helms discusses recently representing a defendant in a Dallas criminal wire fraud prosecution.

 I recently represented a defendant in a federal criminal wire fraud prosecution in the Northern District of Texas in Dallas.  The case involved one of the most contested sentencing proceedings I can remember. My client had pleaded guilty to committing wire fraud, which means using interstate wires, such as telephones, emails, or text messages, to try to obtain money or property from another by deception.  My client was guilty, but my client and I had a very different view of the extent of the fraud than the Government.

According to the Government, my client’s fraud caused a loss of over $11.5 million and involved multiple business ventures over many years.  Through the sentencing process and almost four full days of witness testimony, I was ultimately able to persuade the judge that the appropriate loss amount was less than $2.5 million and that the criminal activity was far more limited than what the Government claimed.  This resulted in an Offense Level under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines that was 12 points lower than what the Presentence Report and the Government claimed, and a sentence that was 15 years less than what the Government requested.

The case involved a startup business that never reached financial success and that changed strategies several times.  Over the years, a number of people invested millions of dollars in it. The Government’s theory was that the entire business, from start to finish, was a complete sham.  According to the Government, everyone who invested had been defrauded. We showed that this was not the case. It was a legitimate business with a legitimate software product that was just never able to find a profitable market for it.  

At some point, after failing to make the software profitable, my client had sent out a number of false emails.  Some were designed to buy more time when existing investors complained. Some were designed to get funding for specific and limited immediate needs.  None of them were intended for general fundraising purposes, like a sales brochure or marketing materials would be. We agreed, however, that the effect of some of them, by a point in time, could reasonably have been to increase general investments into the business, causing loss due to fraud.  

Based on a detailed analysis of the individual false emails, I created a loss model, which the judge almost entirely accepted, over the Government’s vehement disagreement.  It showed a total loss of roughly $2.5 million, compared to the Government’s loss amount of over $11.5 million.

Getting to that point took a tremendous amount of work.  Both my client and I had to sift through thousands of emails and documents to find evidence supporting our position.  We also had to spend a substantial amount of time going over each of the false emails and recreating what was happening at that time to show their real intended purposes.  I created charts and tables showing the false emails in chronological order and explaining whether they would have caused an investor loss. I also submitted extensive briefing on the legal issues involved.  

At the end of the process, the judge ruled that the Government had not met its burden of proof of showing that the losses they claimed were the result of criminal conduct, as opposed to losses from a legitimate, but unsuccessful, business.

This case was unusual for many reasons, including the degree to which the defense and the Government disagreed on the facts.  We were also extremely fortunate to have had a judge who put in an extraordinary amount of time and effort to listen to the testimony, read the briefing, understand the facts and the complicated law that applied, and to reach a just result.  Not all judges would have done this, and it was highly gratifying to be able to practice law before a judge who was so committed to making sure that justice was done.

If you or a loved one have been charged with a federal crime in Texas, including federal criminal wire fraud, you will need an experienced federal criminal defense lawyer in Dallas who has a proven success record. Texas fraud cases almost always require an attention to detail and documents and the ability to explain complicated evidence to juries in a way they will understand. Call the Law Office of John M. Helms today to discuss your case.


Media Contact:

Attorney John Helms – Dallas Wire Fraud Defense Lawyer

Phone: 214-666-8010