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United States v. Bornstein

June 9, 1971


Kiley and Cummings, Circuit Judges, and Morgan, District Judge.*fn1

Author: Kiley

KILEY, Circuit Judge.

Defendants Bornstein and Grossgold were each convicted by a jury under nine counts of an indictment charging violations of 18 U.S.C. ยง 1341 in the use of mail to further a scheme to defraud. Both have appealed. We affirm.

Bornstein and Albert Rosenthal, a "relative" of Bornstein, formed the Whitehall Insurance Company in 1961. In May, 1961, they acquired an inactive insurance company and activated it under the name of Whitehall Mutual Fire and Marine Insurance Company. Bornstein's brother-in-law, Grossgold, a New York attorney, became claims manager of Whitehall in 1962. In March of 1963 his employment by Whitehall was terminated, but as an independent attorney working in the Whitehall office building he continued to handle subrogation claims for Whitehall against other insurance companies on a percentage basis. It is upon the falsity in documents supporting the subrogation claims filed by Grossgold that the charges of fraud before us are based.

Whitehall ceased doing business in December of 1963, and its assets and records were turned over to the Illinois State Bureau of Liquidations in November of 1964. The indictment before us was filed in June, 1968.

Each defendant contends that the evidence is insufficient to sustain the verdict against him; that he was denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial; that reversible error was committed by the court's denial of a severance of his trial from that of the other; and that he was prejudiced by denial of continuance to obtain another lawyer.


Defendants contend there is insufficient evidence to support the guilty verdicts. We see no reason to discuss in detail the abundant proof adduced at trial to sustain the verdict. The fraudulent scheme was shown by the testimony of Palumbo, one of the garage owners involved in the scheme, that either Bornstein or Grossgold would call him to make arrangements for repair of a damaged automobile covered by a Whitehall policy. After examining the car, Palumbo would make up a written estimate for the cost of repairs and convey it to Whitehall, and an agreement would be made between Palumbo and Bornstein or Grossgold to repair the automobile at a cost lower than the estimate. The estimate, marked "paid," would then be sent to the insurer of the person whose car collided with that of Whitehall's insured, along with a subrogation claim written by Grossgold. Whitehall would then be paid the amount stated on the estimate.

This testimony was fully corroborated by Whitehall's files. For example, insured Baugh's file, used in proof of Count V, contains an estimate on Palumbo's stationery in the amount of $190.25, marked "paid;" a cover letter written by Grossgold to Economy Fire and Casualty Co., insurer of the driver of the other automobile involved in the Baugh collision, referring to "the paid repair bill in the amount of $190.25" which was sent with the letter; and a check from Economy in the amount of $190.25 made payable to Baugh and/or Grossgold. The file also shows a bill from Palumbo for "agreed price $150.00" minus "$100.00 Ded.," with a balance due of $50.00; a check made payable to Palumbo in the amount of $50.00 signed by Melvin Bornstein on behalf of Whitehall; and a letter to insured Baugh directing him to pay his $100.00 deductible directly to Palumbo. Palumbo testified that he and Whitehall agreed on $150.00 to make that particular repair, and that he received $100.00 of that amount from the insured (the policy had $100.00 deductible) and $50.00 from Whitehall. The pattern was followed, generally, with respect to each count in the indictment.

There is ample proof to justify the jury in inferring that both Bornstein and Grossgold knowingly participated in the proven scheme to defraud. In addition to Palumbo's testimony as to the active participation of both Bornstein and Grossgold, there is the testimony of Pekin, another Whitehall employee who occasionally wrote letters regarding subrogation claims, that Bornstein told him that the reason the subrogation claims were inflated was to cover legal costs and handling expenses. And the record also contains a note written by Bornstein to Grossgold directing Grossgold to see if he could collect on another subrogation claim, and if he could, Whitehall would "pay and get subro agreement for better amount."

There is also evidence that Grossgold, who directly handled the subrogation claims, wrote a note to an uninsured motorist whose car had collided with that of a Whitehall insured, concerning arrangements for payment of a subrogation claim in the amount of $500.00. The top of the Whitehall file in that case reflected that total payments by Whitehall were only $350.00, and Grossgold admitted that he had written on the Whitehall file a notation of a conversation with the uninsured motorist. And the note from Bornstein and another note from Palumbo indicated that Grossgold was aware that Whitehall sent out inflated subrogation bills, even if Grossgold did not pursue the claims in those particular cases. There is substantial evidence that both Bornstein and Grossgold knew the subrogation claims were fraudulent.

In imprisoning Bornstein for two years, and merely fining Grossgold, the district court evidently had in mind the pro rata fraudulent participation of defendants in the several offenses. The distinction between the defendants' guilt shown in sentencing, however, is no indication that the joint trial resulted in the jury's convicting Grossgold merely because of his association with Bornstein. Rather the sentences show the court's determination of the degree of guilt of each defendant.


The crimes charged in the indictment are alleged to have occurred between June 17, 1963 and December 4, 1963. Whitehall voluntarily turned over its books and records to the Illinois Department of Insurance at the end of 1963.*fn2 The Department alerted the postal authorities who in 1965 or 1966 began the investigation which led to the indictment. The investigation, involving over 140 files, ended on ...

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