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United States v. Hargis

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

April 3, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
LORI HARGIS, Defendant-Appellant

Argued September 7, 2012

Page 918

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Evansville Division. No. 3:11CR00001-001 -- Richard L. Young, Chief Judge.

For United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee: Matthias D. Onderak, Office of The United States Attorney, Evansville, IN.

For Lori Hargis, Defendant - Appellant: Bryan Lee Ciyou, Ciyou & Dixon, Indianapolis, IN.

Before CUDAHY, ROVNER, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 919

Rovner, Circuit Judge.

Lori Hargis solicited Leslie Vashaun White to burn down her house so that she could collect a settlement from her insurance company. Hargis was charged with conspiracy to use fire to commit wire fraud, see 18 U.S.C. § 844(m), and unlawful structuring of cash withdrawals to avoid financial reporting requirements, see 31 U.S.C. § § 5313, 5324(a)(3), 5322(a). She pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge in exchange for the government dismissing the structuring charge, and the district court imposed an above-guidelines sentence of 60 months imprisonment. She asserts on appeal that the district court erred when it applied upward adjustments for obstruction of justice, see U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1, and her aggravating role in the offense, see id . § 3B1.1(c). She also challenges the reasonableness of her above-guidelines sentence. Because the facts justify the district court's decision to apply the upward adjustments, and the district judge adequately explained his rationale for imposing the 60-month sentence, we affirm the district court's judgment.

I.

Hargis put her house in Henderson, Kentucky, on the market, and when it proved difficult to sell she solicited White to burn down the house. She agreed to pay him $10,000 from the money that she anticipated receiving from her homeowner's-insurance policy. White burned down the house in December 2007, and Hargis and White were each charged with conspiracy to use fire to commit wire fraud, see 18 U.S.C. § 844(m), and unlawful structuring of cash withdrawals, see 31 U.S.C. § § 5313, 5324(a)(3), 5322(a).

Hargis initially intended to plead guilty, but at the change-of-plea hearing she testified that, after arranging for White to burn down the house, she changed her mind and called White, telling him not to go through with the plan. She told the district court that she never again discussed the idea with White, but he nevertheless burned down the house three months later. After hearing this testimony, the court rejected Hargis's plea, reasoning that she was unable to admit guilt if she claimed to have withdrawn from the conspiracy.

The case was set for a jury trial, but a few days before trial Hargis notified the court that she wished to plead guilty after all. At the change-of-plea hearing this time, Hargis testified that after she solicited White's help, she spoke to him several times about the plan, and instructed him to set the house afire after she ensured that her children were not inside. The court accepted Hargis's guilty plea on the conspiracy charge, and the government dismissed the remaining charge.

At sentencing the district court calculated a total offense level of 14. This calculation reflected an upward adjustment of two levels for obstruction of justice, see U.S.S.G. § 3C1.1, two more levels up for her aggravating role in the offense as an organizer or leader, see id . § 3B1.1, and a reduction of two levels for acceptance of responsibility, see id . § 3E1.1(c). With a criminal history category of I, the court calculated a guidelines range of 15 to 21 months and sentenced Hargis above that range, to 60 months in prison. The above-guidelines sentence was warranted, the court reasoned, because the sentencing guideline that applies to Hargis's offense, see id . ยง 2K1.3, does not adequately account for the seriousness of her actions in the arson-for-profit scheme. And when he addressed the 18 U.S.C. ...


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