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United States v. Schmuck

November 12, 1985


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. No. 83 CR 56-Barbara B. Crabb, Judge.

Author: Swygert

BEFORE FLAUM, Circuit Judge, and SWYGERT and FAIRCHILD, Senior Circuit Judges.

SWYGERT, Senior Circuit Judge.

Defendant Wayne T. Schmuck appeals from his conviction of twelve counts of mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (1982). Because the defendant was improperly denied an instruction on a lesser included offense, we reverse and remand for a new trial.

The defendant concedes that he willfully rolled back odometers in order to sell used cars for inflated prices, a federal misdemeanor. 15 U.S.C. §§ 1984, 1990c(a) (1982). Nevertheless, he was indicted of mail fraud only, a felony, and the district court denied his request that the jury be instructed on the odometer tampering offense as a lesser included offense of mail fraud.

The mail fraud statute requires a scheme to defraud and some mailing in furtherance of that scheme. According to the indictment and evidence at trial, the underlying scheme to defraud was the defendant's admitted odometer tampering. As for the mailing requirement, it is undisputed that the defendant did not personally use the mails to further his scheme. Rather, the unwitting retailers to whom the defendant sold the cars mailed forms, pursuant to the prevailing practice in Wisconsin, to the Secretary of State that included, inter alia, the defendant's fraudulent odometer readings. These forms were necessary to obtain a certificate of title. Without such a certificate, the cars were not marketable to the ultimate consumers.


The defendant urges outright reversal of his convictions on two grounds that can be dismissed summarily. First, he argues that no rational trier of fact could find that he used the mails in furtherance of his odometer-tampering fraud. In United States v. Galloway, 664 F.2d 161 (7th Cir. 1981), we held that a rational trier of fact could convict on a mail fraud charge arising from a virtually identical odometer tampering scheme that also entailed the same mailings of forms by third-party retailers. We refuse to overrule that decision.

Second, defendant contends that due process prohibits a mail fraud conviction based on a routine mailing by a third party that the defendant has no power to prevent. One answer is that he can prevent the mailing by abstaining from the fraud. In any event, this court in Galloway, 664 F.2d at 161, perceived no due process impediment to holding the same type of mailing a predicate for a mail fraud conviction. Nor did the Supreme Court when it said that a person causes the mails to be used if he "does an act with knowledge that the use of the mails will follow in the ordinary course of business, or where such use can reasonably be foreseen" even though use of the mails was not actually intended. Pereira v. United States, 347 U.S. 1, 8-9, 98 L. Ed. 435, 74 S. Ct. 358 (1954).

Defendant argues that his convictions violated due process is still another respect because the mail fraud statute does not give fair warning that a fraud which causes a mailing the manner present here is a violation of the statute. Regardless of what the defendant or any reasonable person might conclude upon reading the mail fraud statute in isolation, the expansive judicial interpretations of the language, going back many years, must be considered with the text, and leave no doubt that a fraud that foreseeably causes a mailing under the present circumstances is an offense.


The defendant also urges several grounds for a reversal and remand for a new trial. We need only reach the lesser included offense issue.

Defendant moved in advance of trial for an instruction that would have permitted the jury to find him guilty of odometer tampering. He was entitle to such an instruction if, under these facts, odometer tampering can properly be considered a lesser included offense of mail fraud and if a rational juror could have found him innocent of mail fraud but guilty of odometer tampering. See Fed.R.Crim.P. 31(c); Keeble v. United States, 412 U.S. 205, 208, 36 L. Ed. 2d 844, 93 S. Ct. 1993 (1973).

We find that under these facts odometer tampering is a lesser included offense of mail fraud. It is possible, of course, to commit mail fraud without altering odometers. Apart from the mailing element, the mail fraud statute requires only some "scheme" to defraud. 18 U.S.C. § 1341. The scheme need not concern odometers, and even if it does, it need not be completed. The offense of odometer tampering, on the other hand, is necessarily concerned with odometers, and the tampering must be completed to be punishable under 15 U.S.C. §§ 1984, 1990c(a). This theoretical possibility of committing the greater offense without committing the lesser offense would be dispositive under the traditional definition of a lessor included offense; the lesser offense would lack the requisite identity of statutory elements with the greater ...

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