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United States v. Dyer

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 13, 2018

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Todd A. Dyer, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued April 24, 2018

          Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 15 CR 115 - J.P. Stadtmueller, Judge. No. 16 CR 100 - Pamela Pepper, Judge.

          Before Bauer, Easterbrook, and Kanne, Circuit Judges.

          PER CURIAM.

         Todd Dyer, the defendant in this consolidated appeal, challenges the denials of his motions to withdraw his guilty pleas. Under a written agreement, Dyer pled guilty to wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. § 1343, and unlawful financial transactions, 18 U.S.C. § 1957, for his conduct in two separate fraud schemes. He now claims that the plea colloquy was insufficient, in part because the district court did not adequately explore the potential effects of his bipolar disorder. We affirm the judgments.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Dyer originally faced three prosecutions for three schemes, but the third was dismissed as part of his plea agreements. In the first, "the Farmland case, " (Case No. 17-1580), Dyer created several entities known collectively as American Farmland Partners, ostensibly to form a real estate investment trust. Using an alias to hide his past conviction for a different scheme, Dyer solicited investments in person and through websites, videos, and radio advertisements, avowing that the business would buy and maintain profitable farmland, sell stock interests, and parcel the proceeds out to interest holders. But the promotions rested on misrepresentations-including that the company already had purchased farmland, that prior investors had earned returns, and that a large-scale public offering of shares was imminent. In reality, during its three-year run, the company never purchased land; had no clear plan for a public offering; and funneled almost all of the investments-about two million dollars-to Dyer and his codefendants for their personal use, with the remainder used to make payments in furtherance of the scheme.

         After two years of pretrial proceedings in the Farmland case, Judge Stadtmueller set a December 2016 trial date. Dyer exercised his right to represent himself, albeit with help from standby counsel. In opening statements, Dyer asserted his innocence; the government, he said, misunderstood his legitimate business model.

         But, over the course of two days, eleven witnesses testified against Dyer, detailing how he organized and implemented the scheme. On the second day, Dyer tried to introduce an exhibit while cross-examining a witness, even though he had not submitted an exhibit list before trial. The judge admonished Dyer in the presence of the jury, informing him that he must "follow the same rules of every lawyer" and that the judge was "not going to play games like [Dyer] continue[s] to play games with the Court, the court staff, the government, the witness." The jury was then excused, and the judge warned Dyer that he would not "continue the game of obfuscation and charade" or "tolerate abuses" of the judicial process. Later that day, the parties say, Dyer told the government that he wanted to stop the trial and plead guilty.

         While the Farmland case was being investigated, Dyer organized another scheme that became the subject of "the Insurance case, " (Case No. 17-1776). Joan Bakley purchased a life insurance policy through Dyer's father, James. The policy later lapsed for nonpayment. Dyer convinced the Bakley family that James had somehow "stolen" their insurance policy by making himself the beneficiary. Claiming to have contacts at the issuing insurance company, Dyer entered into a consulting agreement with the family.

         Dyer's representations were false. His father did not steal the policy, and Dyer had no contacts at the insurance company. For his purported services, the Bakleys paid Dyer nearly $1, 000, 000 in 30 or so installments. Pretrial proceedings in the Insurance case were underway when Dyer approached prosecutors from the Farmland case about pleading guilty.

         The day after Dyer asked to halt the Farmland trial, he signed written plea agreements for both the Farmland and Insurance cases. He would plead guilty to two counts of wire fraud and two counts of unlawful financial transactions, in exchange for dismissal of the remaining charges in these two cases and all charges in a third case.

         The next day, Magistrate Judge Jones, who previously had reviewed Dyer's competence to proceed pro se, held a consolidated change-of-plea hearing. Dyer testified that he was comfortable reading complex documents and understood his plea agreement, which he reviewed "extensively" with standby counsel. No threats, promises, or other inducements were made, Dyer said. He confirmed that he was not using drugs or alcohol, and that he was "fully in the moment and understanding what's going on." The magistrate reviewed the plea agreement and its factual basis with Dyer, who confirmed that the allegations were true.

         Dyer offered his pleas of guilty, and the magistrate recommended accepting them on December 7, 2016. The district judges in both ...

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