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United States v. Smith

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 3, 2019

United States of America Plaintiff- Appellee
v.
Jason Jerrell Smith Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: April 18, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas - Fayetteville

          Before LOKEN, WOLLMAN, and STRAS, Circuit Judges.

          STRAS, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         After Jason Smith pleaded guilty to passing counterfeit securities, see 18 U.S.C. § 513(a), the district court[1] sentenced him to 120 months in prison and ordered him to pay almost $55, 000 in restitution. Smith claims that the court's intended-loss calculation under the Sentencing Guidelines was too high, see U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(b), and that the restitution amount should have been lower, see 18 U.S.C. §§ 3663A, 3664. Because neither determination was clearly erroneous, we affirm.

         I.

         Two years ago, Smith decided to get ahead of the pack and announce his candidacy for President of the United States. Operating under the alias "Joshua Gaters," his plan was to run in the 2020 election. But rather than finance his campaign through political contributions, personal funds, or other traditional sources, Smith chose less honest means. He used bad checks for campaign-related expenses, including office space, vehicles, and compensation for his staffers. Checks to vendors bounced too. When he turned to his personal credit cards, the campaign's financial condition did not improve. At one point, he directed a staffer to acquire a private jet, but when she attempted to place a $2.3 million deposit with NetJets, Smith's credit card was declined. Eventually, local and federal authorities caught on to Smith's scheme and used his disgruntled staffers and other victims to make the case against him.

         After Smith pleaded guilty and the district court heard testimony at sentencing from a federal investigator and two victims, the court concluded that Smith intended to cause a total loss of approximately $2.7 million, the largest portion of which was the failed NetJets transaction. This figure resulted in an advisory Sentencing Guidelines range well above the statutory maximum of 120 months, see U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(b)(1)(I); 18 U.S.C. § 513(a), which is what the court gave him. It also ordered him to pay restitution to most of the individuals and companies that he defrauded.

         II.

         Smith challenges both decisions. He insists that he did not intend to inflict financial harm on anyone when he attempted to rent a jet and that he should not have to pay restitution to several of his victims. We review both arguments for clear error and will reverse only if the court's findings were not supported by substantial evidence, were based on an erroneous view of the law, or leave us with a firm and definite conviction that a mistake has been made. See United States v. Martinez, 690 F.3d 1083, 1086 (8th Cir. 2012); United States v. DeRosier, 501 F.3d 888, 896 (8th Cir. 2007).

         A.

         We begin with the district court's intended-loss calculation. According to the Sentencing Guidelines, the offense level for fraud and other similar property crimes depends on the greater of the "actual" or "intended loss[es]," the latter of which includes any "pecuniary harm that [Smith] purposely sought to inflict" even if it "would have been impossible or unlikely to occur." U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1 cmt. n.3(A); see also United States v. Hartstein, 500 F.3d 790, 798 (8th Cir. 2007) (explaining that the "defendant's actual, subjective intent . . . should drive [the] analysis").

         Trying to rent a jet without paying for it satisfies this definition. The record shows that Smith gave a staffer his credit card, "repeatedly urge[d] her to get the . . . jet under contract," and told her to do "whatever it t[ook] to secure [it]." And were there any doubt about Smith's intentions, he fraudulently acquired other expensive items-including a house, office space, and several vehicles-through similar means. On this ...


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