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People v. Buckner

Court of Appeals of Illinois, Second District

September 24, 2013

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
BRIDGETTE L. BUCKNER, Defendant-Appellant

Held[*] The appellate court affirmed defendant’s guilty pleas to two counts of insurance fraud and one count of wire fraud and the sentences imposed, notwithstanding defendant’s contentions that the insurance fraud counts should have been merged under the one-act, one-crime doctrine and that the imposition of consecutive sentences was an abuse of discretion, since defendant forfeited the merger claim by failing to file a motion to withdraw her guilty plea, and under the circumstances, including fraudulently collecting death benefits for her husband and various children, consecutive sentences were appropriate.

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County, No. 09-CF-1941; the Hon. John J. Kinsella, Judge, presiding.

Thomas A. Lilien and Christopher McCoy, both of State Appellate Defender's Office, of Elgin, for appellant.

Robert B. Berlin, State's Attorney, of Wheaton (Lisa Anne Hoffman and Kristin M. Schwind, Assistant State's Attorneys, of counsel), for the People.

Panel Presiding Justice Burke and Justice Hutchinson concurred in the judgment and opinion.

JUSTICE JORGENSEN

OPINION

¶ 1 Defendant, Bridgette L. Buckner, pleaded guilty to two counts of insurance fraud (720 ILCS 5/46-1(a) (West 2008)) and one count of wire fraud (720 ILCS 5/17-24(a)(1)(A) (West 2008)). The circuit court of Du Page County sentenced her to eight years' imprisonment. On appeal, she contends that two of her convictions should have been merged under the one-act, one-crime doctrine and that the trial court abused its discretion in giving her consecutive sentences under section 5-8-4(b) of the Unified Code of Corrections (730 ILCS 5/5-8-4(b) (West 2008)). Because defendant forfeited any challenge to her convictions under the one-act, one-crime rule when she failed to file a motion to withdraw her guilty plea, and because the trial court did not abuse its discretion in imposing consecutive sentences pursuant to section 5-8-4(b), we affirm.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 Defendant was indicted on two counts of insurance fraud (720 ILCS 5/46-1(a) (West 2008)), two counts of wire fraud (720 ILCS 5/17-24(a)(1)(A), (B)(i) (West 2008)), and two counts of mail fraud (720 ILCS 5/17-24(b)(1) (West 2008)) related to her submission of two fraudulent life insurance claims through her previous employer. Pursuant to an agreement with the State, defendant pleaded guilty to count I (insurance fraud), count II (insurance fraud), and count IV (wire fraud), and the remaining counts were nol-prossed.

¶ 4 At the guilty plea proceeding, defendant's attorney characterized the guilty plea as a "blind plea." However, the State moved to nol-pros the remaining counts "based upon [defendant's] plea." Further, the trial court, in admonishing defendant, referred several times to the plea "agreement." The trial court also advised defendant that the remaining charges would be dismissed "pursuant to [her] plea." The trial court added that there was "no agreement as to what the sentence [would] be." After being admonished, defendant "accept[ed] the agreement."

¶ 5 Defendant failed to personally appear on the original date for sentencing, and the matter was continued. On the next sentencing date, the trial court found that defendant, who was absent again, had willfully failed to appear. The trial court conducted the sentencing in defendant's absence, although her attorney was present.

¶ 6 The following facts are taken from the sentencing hearing. Defendant began working for Hallmark Insurance Corporation (Hallmark) in March 2008. As part of her employment, she enrolled in a life insurance plan for her husband in the amount of $15, 000 and for each of her three children in the amount of $10, 000. In April 2008, defendant submitted a claim for life insurance, supported by a death certificate for the purported death of one of her children. The claim was approved, and she received a check for $10, 000. She was also paid for five days of bereavement leave based on the death of her child.

¶ 7 In September 2008, on the day before she was scheduled to return to work after an injury- related absence, she called into work and stated that her husband, who was an FBI agent, had been killed in the line of duty. She thereafter made a claim for the $15, 000 death benefit under the life insurance policy at Hallmark. In doing so, she included her husband's death certificate.

¶ 8 After defendant claimed the life insurance based on her husband's asserted death, Hallmark contacted the security department at its parent company. The security department initiated an investigation into both of defendant's life insurance claims. The investigation revealed that defendant had submitted a fraudulent death certificate in support of each of those claims. The death certificates had been signed by a medical representative who had not been with the health department for many years and by a funeral director who had not been associated with the particular funeral home for seven or eight years. The death certificates appeared as though they had been "whited out and retyped."

ΒΆ 9 The investigators interviewed defendant at the end of September 2008. Initially, defendant denied submitting false claims for life insurance benefits as to both her child and her husband. It was only after the two investigators stated that they were retired FBI agents, and would know if her husband had been killed in the line of duty, that defendant confessed that both life insurance claims were ...


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