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United States v. Sykes

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 29, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
SAMANTHA SYKES, Defendant-Appellant

Argued October 1, 2014

Page 1146

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:10-cr-00713-3 -- Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, Judge.

For UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee: Yusef A. Dale, Attorney, OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES ATTORNEY, Chicago, IL.

For SAMANTHA SYKES, Defendant - Appellant: William Donald Shaver, Attorney, LAW OFFICE OF WILLIAM D. SHAVER, Chicago, IL.

Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and RIPPLE and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 1147

Ripple, Circuit Judge.

Samantha Sykes pleaded guilty to participation in a bank fraud scheme, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344, and was sentenced to fifty-seven months' imprisonment. At sentencing, the district court determined that her total offense level was twenty-three and that her criminal history category was III, thus resulting in an advisory guidelines range of fifty-seven to seventy-one months. In arriving at this offense level, the district court applied two enhancements. First, the court determined that Ms. Sykes could reasonably have foreseen, and thus was responsible for, the scheme's entire intended loss amount of $653,417. This determination resulted in a fourteen-level enhancement under United States Sentencing Guideline § 2B1.1(b)(1)(H). Second, the court determined that a two-level enhancement was warranted under § 2B1.1(b)(10)(C), because Ms. Sykes's offense involved " sophisticated means." Finally, the district court considered and rejected her submission that family circumstances justified a below-guidelines sentence. Ms. Sykes then brought this appeal.

We hold that the district court was correct in its determination that the evidence supported the fourteen-level enhancement. The district court correctly interpreted the applicable guideline provision and did not clearly err in its estimation of the factua\l record. We also believe that the court was correct in its view that the fraudulent scheme involved sophisticated means. Lastly, after examination of the record, we are convinced that the district court adequately took into account Ms. Sykes's family circumstances in imposing sentence.

I

BACKGROUND

1.

From October 2007 to November 2009, Ms. Sykes and her confederates, Chauncey Hicks, Terence Sykes, Tacara Tanner, Philip Morris, and Michelle Pittman, participated in a scheme to defraud Chicago area banks through a check-kiting scheme. To execute this scheme, the defendants

Page 1148

recruited individuals, known as nominees, to open checking accounts with the victim banks in the names of fictitious businesses. The defendants then fraudulently inflated the balance of those accounts with worthless checks and then withdrew funds from the accounts before the banks discovered that the checks were worthless.

Ms. Sykes's cousin and fellow recruiter, Terence Sykes, with whom Ms. Sykes lived during the relevant period, introduced her to the scheme. Before joining, she discussed her involvement with Hicks, the leader of this scheme; he had responsibility for creating the fraudulent business documents used by the nominees to open checking accounts.

In total, the scheme employed five recruiters and forty-seven nominees. The scheme's participants fraudulently opened approximately 336 accounts at approximately eight different banks. Ms. Sykes acted as a recruiter for the scheme. She also assisted at least five nominees by going with them to open fraudulent bank accounts. She had recruited some of the nominees whom she coached; other individuals had recruited the remainder. Overall, the scheme fraudulently inflated accounts by a total of $653,417, of which $506,507 was actually withdrawn. In her plea agreement, Ms. Sykes admitted that " as a result of her and others' participation in the scheme, the nominee account balances at the victim banks were fraudulently inflated by at least approximately $184,400," of which $116,106 was withdrawn.[1]

2.

A grand jury indicted Ms. Sykes and her codefendants on ten counts of bank fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1344. After signing a plea agreement, Ms. Sykes, on November 29, 2011, pleaded guilty to one count (Count Six) of the superseding indictment. The presentence report (" PSR" ) calculated her total offense level at twenty-three and her criminal history category at III. This calculation resulted in an advisory guideline range of fifty-seven to seventy-one months' imprisonment. In determining the total offense level, the PSR applied two enhancements. First, it concluded that Ms. Sykes reasonably could have foreseen, and thus was responsible for, the scheme's entire intended loss amount of $653,417. This determination resulted in a fourteen-level enhancement under § ...


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