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United States v. Foster

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

January 30, 2014

UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee
v.
Rodney FOSTER, Defendant-Appellant.

Submitted: Nov. 20, 2013.

Page 1203

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1204

William C. Kenney, Bill Kenney Law Firm, LLC, Kansas City, MO, argued, for appellant.

Lajuana M. Counts, Asst. U.S. Atty., Kansas City, MO, argued (Tammy Dickinson, U.S. Atty., John E. Cowles, Asst. U.S. Atty., on the brief), for appellee.

Before BENTON, BEAM, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

SHEPHERD, Circuit Judge.

A jury convicted Rodney Foster of conspiracy to commit identity theft and wire fraud for his involvement in a mortgage-fraud scheme that utilized a straw-buyer's identity. Foster appeals his conviction, arguing that the Government failed to establish that the conspirators knew the straw-buyer's identity belonged to a real person, as required by the identity-theft statute. We hold that the Government satisfied its burden in this respect and affirm the district court.[1]

I.

Foster and his wife owned a home in Lee's Summit, Missouri. They listed the house for sale but had difficulty finding a buyer. After their initial attempts to sell the house were unsuccessful, Foster approached his brother-in-law Maurice Ragland for help in selling the house.

Ragland and some of his associates had formed a mortgage appraisal and brokerage service called TERM. TERM performed both legal and illegal services. TERM's illegal activities often involved a straw-buyer serving as a fraudulent borrower-buyer on a property listed by a TERM associate. TERM frequently utilized actual identities when it arranged these fraudulent transactions. One such identity was that of Christopher Taylor, which was used by the TERM conspirators several times. Steven Edenfield, one of the conspirators, testified that he had posed as Christopher Taylor for the photograph on a fake driver's license in Taylor's name.

Ragland informed Foster that he could sell Foster's house but that Foster could not tell his wife (Ragland's sister) the details of how the home was sold. Foster agreed to Ragland's terms, and Ragland informed Foster of the details of the plan, including the use of a straw-buyer. Foster acted as the mortgage broker on the sale. A fraudulent loan application was completed in Christopher Taylor's name, using the fake driver's license that bore Edenfield's photograph. The conspirators artificially elevated the appraised value of the property so Foster's mortgage on the property could be repaid and excess funds would remain available for the conspirators to divide among themselves. The sale was finalized in 2005.

All worked according to plan until Foster and his wife, Ragland's sister, divorced in 2009. After the divorce, Foster's wife returned to Lee's Summit to visit her former house. Because her brother and his associates had been convicted for mortgage-fraud activities, she became suspicious about the sale of the home after seeing that the house was vacant. Soon after, Foster's wife wrote a letter to the FDIC stating that she feared the home

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may have been fraudulently sold. The FDIC began its investigation into the sale of the house and Foster's potential involvement. The victim, Christopher Taylor, eventually was named as a defendant in a civil lawsuit for unpaid homeowner's association dues arising from his apparent ownership of the Lee's Summit home.

Foster was indicted on one count of conspiracy, under 18 U.S.C. § 371, to commit identity theft and wire fraud. See 18 U.S.C. § 1028(a)(7) (identity theft); 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (wire fraud).[2] After the defense presented its case, Foster moved for a judgment of acquittal, which the district court ...


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