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United States v. Thompson

April 25, 2008; as amended June 13, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 04 CR 944-Suzanne B. Conlon, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Williams, Circuit Judge.


Before FLAUM, MANION, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

At one time, Marc Thompson owned a seat on the Chicago Board of Trade and earned over $1 million a year. He is now in prison after a jury found him guilty of setting his house on fire in an attempt to collect on an insurance policy. In an even more disturbing finding, the district court concluded that he deliberately killed his own mother in the fire while trying to make it appear that she had committed suicide. We find that sufficient evidence supported the jury's conclusion that Thompson set the fire, so we affirm his convictions. We also find no error in the district court's conclusion that Thompson committed premeditated murder, as the Sixth Amendment does not require that a jury find that a defendant committed murder before a district court can apply the Sentencing Guidelines' murder cross-reference. In addition, imposing consecutive statutory maximum sentences for all counts of conviction was not erroneous because the advisory Guidelines range was life imprisonment, and the district court imposed an equivalent sentence of 190 years' imprisonment. Therefore, Thompson's sentence is affirmed as well.


For a time, Marc Thompson seemed to have it all. He held an undergraduate degree from Berkeley and had performed graduate work at Stanford. He became a successful broker. He at one point made over $1 million a year. He lived in a home overlooking Lake Michigan with his wife and three children. After an expensive divorce, however, his finances began to fall apart. He lost his biggest client and then his job, and he began to borrow money from business associates and friends, often in large amounts. Several loaned him over $100,000.

On September 15, 2000, Thompson filed an insurance claim for about $50,000, alleging that burglars broke into his home on Paulina Avenue in Chicago and stole a computer and other belongings. Chubb Insurance Company promptly paid the claim. In June of the next year, Thompson moved his then eighty-nine-year-old mother, Carmen Thompson, from California to live with him in Chicago. He arranged for her home to be sold, placed the proceeds into her bank account, and then spent the majority of the proceeds. In December of 2001, Thompson raised his Chubb homeowner's insurance policy from $275,000 to $350,000.

The next year, Thompson told his housekeeper that his mother had said she wanted to burn the house down. Then, on August 8, 2002, Thompson brought his mother to the hospital after she sustained a burn injury on her shoulder. He first told caregivers that she had fallen on the stove after he had left the room. Later that night, though, he told hospital employees that she was injured after he left her alone in the house. The hospital treated and released Carmen, but not before calling an elder abuse hotline, and Thompson brought her back to his home.

Three days later, Thompson's house caught fire. Neighbors saw Thompson and two of his sons leave their home around 7:00 p.m. that evening. Thompson told investigators that he left the house around 6:15 p.m., made one stop, and then went to see a 7:05 p.m. movie with his children at a theater located at 600 N. Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Travel time would have been about fifteen minutes from the house directly to the theater. The parties stipulated at trial that Thompson's youngest son remembered arriving at the movie theater about 8 minutes and 30 seconds into the movie, making arrival time (after accounting for previews) into the theater 7:29:30 p.m.

Back near Thompson's home, neighbors saw smoke coming from the house at about 7:10 p.m. and called 911. Firefighters quickly extinguished the fire but found Thompson's mother in the basement, dead of smoke inhalation, about four feet from the fire's origin. The area underneath her body was untouched by the fire. Chicago Police Department detectives subsequently questioned Thompson, and he told them his mother sometimes acted in a psychotic manner, was taking medications, had previously burned herself, and had talked about committing suicide in the past. The detectives quickly ended their investigation, and the Cook County Medical Examiner declared Carmen's death a suicide.

At the time, however, the police and Medical Examiner were unaware of the neighbors' observations regarding the night of the fire, Thompson's financial condition, the fact that steep stairs led to the basement, and that Carmen had physical disabilities limiting her mobility. In addition, analysis showed that at the time of her death, Carmen had alcohol, Nordiazepam (from the Valium family), and Risperdal, an anti-psychotic drug, in her system. Valium had been prescribed to Thompson but not to his mother, and Thompson had obtained the Risperdal prescription for his mother from a physician who had not examined her. Also, a codicil to Carmen's will dated August 4, 2002-a week before the fire-stated she did not want an autopsy performed in the event of her death and also that she wished to be cremated immediately, noting in bold that this marked a change from her most recent will.

Fire Marshal Carmelita Wiley-Earls led the Chicago Fire Department's investigation into the fire's cause. She arrived while firefighters were still extinguishing the blaze and spent six hours on the scene. She ultimately concluded that the fire had been caused by the ignition of a flammable liquid that had been poured or splashed in the basement of the house.

Thompson called his insurance company the night of the fire. (He telephoned his sister the following morning to inform her of their mother's death.) His claims for content loss totaled $756,766, but his policy only provided for "replacement value"-the amount it would take to replace the contents and to replace the damaged house. Because the house was not a total loss and could be repaired, the insurance company would only pay a reduced amount. As a result, Thompson chose to sell the property, and the insurance company ultimately paid $269,000 for damage to the house. Thompson also claimed that property had been stolen from his fire-damaged house, and the insurance company paid over $350,000 for lost and stolen items.

Four days after the fire, Thompson opened a bank account in Chicago. In November and December of 2002, he transferred $400,000 from that account to one in the Netherland Antilles held in the name of Toscana Consulting Services, Ltd., a shell company he had set up in 2000 to hide money from his ex-wife. He filed for bankruptcy in May of 2003. At trial, he admitted that he had committed bankruptcy fraud when he made false statements on his bankruptcy application and used his offshore account to conceal assets from creditors.

A jury rendered a verdict of guilty against Thompson on all nineteen counts with which he had been charged, including wire fraud, use of fire to commit a felony, bankruptcy fraud, and money laundering. At sentencing, the district court applied the first degree murder cross-reference and sentenced him to the statutory maximum on all counts. The ...

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