FED UP AND FIGHTING BACK


STOP PREDATORY LENDERS

 
Disbarment, Indictment and Conviction:
Avalon e'lan Betts-Gaston (disbarred November 19, 2012)

 Jury trial started on June 23, 2015
  On July 2, 2015 the jury returned with the verdict of:
               GUILTY

Sentenced April 27, 2016 to:
57 months (4 years 9 months)
Surrendered: September 1, 2016 to:

Alderson FPC (a minimum security federal prison camp)
Glen Ray Road. Box A  Alderson, WV 24910

  https://www.bop.gov/locations/institutions/ald/

Register # 43787-424  Release Date: October 19, 2020
 

Verdict and Sentence upheld June 20, 2017
http://media.ca7.uscourts.gov/opinion.html


February 15, 2017 Docket Number 16-2034
                         United States v. Avalon Betts Gaston  
      Oral Argument for Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit
                               (Click below to start)




Judge Charles R. Norgle Sr
Dirksen Courthouse
                                      219 S. Dearborn Street Room 2341
                                     Chicago, Illinois 60604

Court Docket Number 1:11-CR-00502


  See Updated Blog:

https://faithwontheday.blog/


______________________________________________________________

D'Mona Ross aka
D'Mona Ross-Johnson  plead GUILTY  February 15, 2013
 

Sentenced on May 11, 2016 under Level Seven to
Parole (probation for two years) including restitution shared
with co-defendant
Avalon Betts Gaston of 239,500.00
See https://faithwontheday.blog

                                    Judge Charles R. Norgle Sr
Dirksen Courthouse
                                      219 S. Dearborn Street Room 2341
                                     Chicago, Illinois 60604

Court Docket Number 1:11-CR-00502

June 27, 2014
Judge Shadur refused to accept D'Mona Ross' change of plea  
                    therefore the guilty plea stands. Sentencing
date will be posted
                    but this is a sad situation for her.
See updated blog.


Next Status Hearing June 27, 2014 9:15am
I am updating and asking questions on my blog:
https://faithwontheday.blog/

Status Hearing / Notice of Motion June 9, 2014 9:30am
After pleading GUILTY and TELLING on  the other defendants D'Mona Ross wants to change her plea from GUILTY to not guilty


The status hearing held on June 5, 2014 was "unreal"
            See https://faithwontheday.blog

See Commentary Under Indictment and Blog at:
https://faithwontheday.blog
Dmona Ross -              CHICAGO, illinois
D'Mona Ross aka Loan Officer


Dirksen Courthouse
 219 S. Dearborn Street
Chicago, Illinois 60604

July 24, 2013 Notice of Motion: Avalon Betts Gaston new attorney:
Jennifer Bonjean
Bonjean Law Group, PLLC
142 Joralemon Street Suite 5A
Brooklyn, NY 11201
(718) 875-1850
web site: http://bonjeanlaw.com
Attorney Bonjean practices in Federal Courts in New York, New Jersey and Illinois.

June 13, 2013 Notice of Motion  (Avalon Betts-Gaston's requested the withdrawal of her current attorney from the case. Trial date postponed.

March 4, 2013 Avalon Betts-Gaston indicated per her attorney she would be going to trial. Trial scheduled to start July 1, 2013  (which may change now that her attorney has withdrawn from her case)

February 15, 2013 D'Mona Ross Plead Guilty
Sentencing to come after she testifies in other mortgage fraud cases

April 19, 2012 D'Mona Ross-Johnson has requested information on a plea agreement draft per her attorney

April 19, 2012 Avalon Betts-Gaston has indicated per her attorney that at this time she wants to go to trial. Estimate 4 to 5 days for trial.



                                  
 

 

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF
ILLINOIS EASTERN DIVISION

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,                 
v.

AVALON  BETTS-GASTON, Defendant

Case No. 11 CR 502-1

Hon. Charles R. Norgle

                                OPINION AND  ORDER
In 20 11, Defendant Avalon Betts-Gaston ("Betts-Gaston") and her co-defendant, Dimona Ross ("Ross"), were indicted for two counts of wire fraud, arising out of a foreclosure relief scheme that began around March 2006 and continued until about October 2007. During the time of the scheme, Betts-Gaston was a self-employed licensed attorney and Ross was a licensed real estate loan officer working at First Choice Funding. In addition to their licensed professions, the two women founded IJCN Investments, LLC ("IJCN"). Betts-Gaston was a managing member and the registered agent for IJCN, which functioned as the major vehicle for their fraud.

Ross ultimately plead guilty to one count of wire fraud. On the other hand, Betts-Gaston went to trial on the charges. After a six-day trial, the jury found Betts-Gaston guilty beyond a reasonable doubt on all charges. Before the Court is Betts-Gaston's post-trial motion arguing that Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 29 warrants a judgment of acquittal to be entered; or in the alternative, Betts-Gaston requests a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33. For the following reasons, the motion is denied.

                                           I. BACKGROUND
After graduating from law school in 2000, Avalon Betts-Gaston worked for a medium- sized law firm specializing in employment insurance litigation. But in the early 2000s, Betts-Gaston saw opportunity in the burgeoning real estate market. After two years with the medium­ sized firm, she opened her own law firm and started doing real estate transactions. For several years she performed the role of the attorney at real estate closings. She became acquainted with Ross during the course of those real estate transactions and·the two chose to become business partners, founding IJCN in 2006. What might have started as a well-intentioned business plan to help people struggling to meet the mortgage payment obligations on their homes became a criminal enterprise in which Betts-Gaston and Ross contrived fraudulent real estate transactions to defraud the homeowners selling their homes and the financial institutions funding the loans.

In July of 2011, Betts-Gaston and Ross were indicted for wire fraud in violation of 18
U.S.C. § 1343. The government alleged that Betts-Gaston and Ross submitted materially false information on mortgage loan documents in three real estate transactions totaling approximately $850,000. However, the government only charged the defendants with two counts: one associated with the sale of a house at 7759 S. Trumbull in Chicago, Illinois (the "Trumbull Property"), and a second associated with the sale of a house at 5140 W. Howard in Skokie, Illinois ("the Howard Property"). The Trumbull Property involved a $180,614.05 wire transfer on July 28, 2006, from· the Bank of New York City in New York to Founders Bank in Illinois. The Howard Property involved a $252,163.39 wire transfer on September 1, 2006, from JP Morgan Chase Bank in New York to Founders Bank in Illinois.

Ross reached a plea agreement with the government in which she accepted responsibility and pied guilty to one count of wire fraud; Betts-Gaston, however, maintained her not guilty plea and chose to defend the charges at trial. Before trial, the Court entered several evidentiary rulings
. One of which was the March 12, 2015 'Order granting the government's Santiago Proffer pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(E). The Order allowed the government to admit: (1)  statements made by an employee of IJCN, and (2) statements made by the straw buyers used in the mortgage fraud scheme. In a written order on April 27, 2015, the Court found that the proposed testimony from Betts-Gaston's putative expert was irrelevant to the elements of wire fraud and had little probative value; thus the Court barred the expert from testifying under Federal Rules of Evidence 401 and 403, respectively. Betts-Gaston filed a motion asking the Court to reconsider its April 27th Order and the Court heard oral arguments on the day of trial, June 23rd, before jury selection. The Court denied the motion because the written summary of the expert's proposed testimony did not comply with Rule 16 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and Betts-Gaston's renewed arguments were unpersuasive. The Court then ruled on the outstanding motions in limine before a jury venire was selected.

A fourteen person jury was then selected
, twelve members with two alternates, and the trial began.Over the course of the trial, the government presented testimony from: I ) Ross, the codefendant; 2) Sandra Spikes-Davis ("Spikes-Davis"), the former homeowner of the Trumbull property; 3) Mitchelle Kmiec ("Ms. Kmiec"), the sister of the former homeowner of the Howard Property, Charles Kmiec ("Mr.Kmiec"), because Mr. Kmiec died after participating in Betts- Gaston's foreclosure relief scheme;4) Tracy Lee Kepler ("Kepler"), the investigator from the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission ("ARDC") who investigated Betts- Gaston's disciplinary case; 5). Robert Brennan ("Brennan"), the former homeowner of the third property referenced , but not expressly named, in the indictment; 6) Surrina Hamb ("Hamb") and Tanisha Blanchard, two former employees of IJCN; 7) Armando Arevalo ("Arevalo") and Norman Ikonen ("Ikonen"), two representatives from the mortgage lending institutions that provided the loans on the Trumbull and Howard properties; 9) Mark Gold ("Gold"), an investigator for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York; 10) one of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI") agents who investigated Betts-Gaston's criminal case; and 11) multiple records custodians. In conjunction with the testimony, the government presented documentary evidence of the real estate transactions in which Betts-Gaston participated . In her defense, Betts­ Gaston called to the stand a FBI agent that investigated her criminal case and she testified herself.

The government produced evidence showing that IJCN advertised a program to help homeowners who were at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure
. The evidence showed that after forming IJCN, Betts-Gaston and Ross facilitated four real estate transactions through the use of their company. Ross handled obtaining the mortgages on the transactions, Betts-Gaston managed the legal aspects of the transactions, and they both interacted with the victim­ homeowners and the IJCN business bank account. Betts-Gaston was at the center of each of these transactions: she was the attorney representing the homeowners selling their homes; she was the attorney acting on behalf of the title insurance company; she was the owner of IJCN, which ultimately obtained control of the homes; and in the Trumbull Property transaction, she was the daughter of the buyer.

The evidence showed that Sandra Spikes-Davis purchased the Trumbull Property as her personal residence in 1994. As of 2006, she owed about $168,000 on the mortgage and made monthly payments of $921. But after losing herjob at the Chicago Tribune, she began to fall behind on the mortgage payments. Spikes-Davis spoke with her friend Sylvia Hamb, who told her to contact her niece Surrina Hamb, who worked for a real estate c9mpany-IJCN-that helped distressed homeowners refinance their homes instead of face foreclosure. Spikes-Davis contacted Hamb, was told that she could delay her mortgage payments for six to eighteen months, and began to work with Hamb, Ross, and Betts-Gaston at IJCN. She was never under the impression that she was selling her home.

Spikes-Davis met in person with Betts-Gaston one time in June of 2006 for about an hour. Betts-Gaston had her sign documents, but never explained anything about the IJCN program. Betts-Gaston collected Sp
ikes-Davis's sign'.1ture on the documents, however, much of the other information on the documents was left blank. Spikes Davis was told that the blanks would be filled out at closing. Spikes-Davis signed an attorney representation document stating that Betts-Gaston would be her attorney and left the meeting with the understanding that Betts­ Gaston would represent her on some sort of home refinance transaction . Spikes-Davis was told that her house would be going into a trust, but that the trust would be in her name. She was not told that she was giving up any interest or ownership in her home. Then, Spikes-Davis was not contacted by Ross, Betts-Gaston, or any other IJCN employee until after the closing on the Trumbull Property occurred.

What actually occurred at the formal closing on July 28, 2006, was much different than what Spikes-Davis was told and expected. Using the documents Spikes-Davis signed earlier but did not complete, all of Spikes-Davis's interests in the Trumbull Property were quit claimed to a trust at Chicago Title Land Trust (the "IJCN trust") in June of 2006 for ten dollars. Also prior to the closing, Betts-Gaston recruited her father, James Betts ("Betts"), to serve as the straw buyer on the transaction. Ross and Betts-Gaston then worked together to submit a loan application, with Betts named as the debtor, to Fremont Investment and Loan. Betts's income amount stated on the loan application and his purpose for buying the Trumbull Property as a second home were false. On July 28, 2006, the IJCN trust sold the Trumbull Property to Betts. Spikes-Davis was not notified, and thus, was not present at the closing. From closing the transaction, a check for $31,553.48, essentially the equity from Spikes-Davis's home, was issued to IJCN. That equity was commingled with IJCN's business account. There was no escrow account. No money was set aside in a separate account for Spikes-Davis's benefit. Betts was paid $5,000 for serving as the straw buyer and Hamb was paid an amount between $1,000 and $1,500 for the referral. Nothing about IJCN's involvement was represented on the HUD-I settlement statement.

Shortly after the closing, Hamb visited Spikes-Davis's house and had her sign a rental agreement to remain in her own home. Spikes-Davis signed it, and began making payments in September of 2006 to IJCN
in the amount of $1042 per month, as the agreement provided . Betts never moved into the Trumbull Property or used it as a second home.

There was less background presented about the Howard Property at trial, in large part due to the fact that Mr. Kmiec died on August 31, 2006, the day before the closing. What was presented at trial was that Mr. Kmiec owned the Howard Property and when he found himself in financial trouble he reached out to IJCN. Mr. Kmiec sold his house to Bobbie Ross, codefendant Ross's mother, on September 1, 2006. Bobbie Ross
in turn deeded the Howard Property to the IJCN trust. The HUD-I settlement statement indicated that Mr. Kmiec was due $82,766.29 from the sale of his house; that money, however, went to IJCN. No separate escrow account was established for Mr. Kmiec's funds. Ross testified at trial that her mother's stated income on the loan application, among other.things, was false. Ross also testified that IJCN provided the down

payment to her mother and IJCN paid her mother a fee for acting as the straw buyer, but none of that information was disclosed on the settlement statement. When Mr. Kmiec' s sister learned about the transaction, she tried to collect the equity proceeds on the Howard Property from Betts­ Gaston, but Betts-Gaston never remitted the equity payment.

Overall, the evidence showed that after Betts-Gaston and Ross solicited these distressed homeowners, they used IJCN to siphon one hundred percent of the equity out of the sellers' homes and left them with no legal rights or benefits of homeownership. At the end of the transactions, the victim-homeowners were without control of the equity or a legal right to possess their homes.The lenders were left without payment on the mortgage and their recourse to foreclose on the collateral was inhibited. IJCN, on the other hand, collected generous fees and the straw buyers were paid thousands of dollars, essentially for the use of their names, to facilitate the receipt of fraudulent home loans.

At the conclusion of trial, the twelve-person jury unanimously found Betts-Gaston guilty on both counts of wire fraud. This post-trial motion followed, the government responded , and Betts-Gaston chose not to reply. The motion is briefed and before the Court.

                                              II. DISCUSSION

 First, Betts-Gaston challenges the sufficiency of the evidence that was introduced to support her two-count conviction of wire fraud. She argues that the government did not prove its case and a judgment of acquittal should be entered pursuant to Rule 29. Alternatively, Betts- Gaston moves for a new trial pursuant to Rule 33. She lists ten separate arguments regarding how she was deprived of a fair trial and needs another adjudication of her conviction.

          Betts-Gaston' s Motion Under Rule 29

                       1.  Standard of Decision for a Rule 29 Motion
WhWhen reviewing a defendant's claim that there was not enough evidence to support his or her conviction, the Court "view[s) the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution,"meaning that all reasonable inferences are construed in the prosecution's favor. Jackson v. Virginia: 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979); see also United States v. Pust, Case No. 13-3747, 2015 WL       4898976 at *2 (7th Cir. August 18, 2015). The Court will not overturn the conviction if it finds that "any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Id.
2.             2. There was Sufficient Evidence to Support Betts-Gaston' s Conviction
Betts-Gaston takes a shotgun-blast approach, _arguing that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to show that: 1) she "knowingly caused a wire communication for the purpose of executing a scheme";2) she "devised and participated in a scheme to defraud either the homeowners or the lending institutions";3) she "intended to defraud either the homeowners or the lending institutions";4) she made "materially false representations [J to the lenders or homeowners"; 5) she knew the nature and falsity of the statements in the loan applications; 6)  her "materially false statements made in the loan applications caused the wire communication or furthered the alleged scheme"; and 7) "the wires had traveled through interstate commerce." Def.'s Mot. for J.of Acquittal Pursuant to Fed. Crim. P. 29 and Mot. for a New Trial Pursuant [sic] to Fed. R. Crim P.33 at 2 [hereinafter "Def.'s Post-Trial Mot."]. However, Betts-Gaston's argument misses its mark. Her seven assertions lack any citation to the trial record or citation to legal authority. The Court will not develop Betts-Gaston's argument any further than necessary to ensure that the government proved the required elements of wire fraud at trial. See United States v. Alden, 527 F.3d 653 664 (7th Cir. 2008) ("Because it is not the obligation of this Court to research and construct the legal arguments available to parties, ... these arguments are waived and warrant no discussion."); United States v. Berkowitz, 927 F.2d 13_76, 1384 (7th Cir. 1991) ("We have repeatedly made clear that perfunctory and undeveloped arguments, and arguments that are unsupported by pertinent authority are waived ....").

The elements required to convict someone for wire fraud are minimal. There are not seven elements as Betts-Gaston 's argument purports. '"To convict a defendant of wire fraud, the government must prove three elements:(1) the defendant participated in a scheme to defraud; (2) the defendant intended to defraud; and (3) a use of an interstate wire in furtherance of the fraudulent scheme."'United States v. Marr, 760 F.3 733, 734 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting United States v. Turner, 551 F.3d 657, 664 (7th Cir. 2008)); see 18U.S.C. § 1343; see also Pust, 2015 WL 4898976 at *2.

a. 
Evidence that Betts-Gaston Participated in a Scheme to Defraud- the
IJCN Foreclosure Relief Program

Turning to the first element of wire fraud, there is no doubt that Betts-Gaston participated in a scheme to defraud. "A scheme to defraud requires 'the making of a false statement or material misrepresentation , or the concealments of a material fact.'" United States v. Sloan, 492 F.3d 884, 890 (7th Cir. 2007). The evidence showed that the transactions on both the Trumbull and Howard Properties included the following misrepresentations : (1) the source of the straw buyers' down payments; (2) the straw buyers' incomes; (3) the fact that IJCN, not the straw buyers, would make the mortgage payments; (4) the fact that IJCN received lump sums from the victim-homeowners' sales proceeds; (5) the statements to the victim-homeowners that the equity from their homes was being held in an escrow account; and (6) the disclosures to the victim- homeowners about the terms of the IJCN foreclosure relief program. After the sales transactions, Ross and Betts-Gaston also concealed their comingling and personal use of IJCN funds. Specific to Betts-Gaston, she concealed her inherent conflicts of interest from the homeowners she purported to represent. In consideration of all of these material misrepresentations, there was overwhelming evidence that the IJCN program was a scheme to defraud.
 
Betts-Gaston also readily admitted that she participated  in the scheme on several accounts. First, in a letter she sent to the ARDC, she wrote, "I was legal counsel on a sales transaction involving the property located at 7759 South Trumbull, Chicago Illinois. I am also a principal in the company which assisted Ms. Spikes-Davis in her situation...I am a principal in IJC[N] Investments, LLC 1[sic]. Here is some additional information regarding IJCN Investments and Ms. Spikes-Davis's transaction."Tr.at 296. Betts-Gaston goes on in the letter to describe her detailed involvement in the Trumbull Property transaction. Secondly, Betts-Gaston admitted her participation during a sworn statement to the ARDC, Betts-Gaston talked about how she formed IJCN with her codefendant Ross: "I just told her what my idea was as far as how IJCN can be formed and what IJCN would do and how we would do it differently from all the other companies."Id. at 310. Betts-Gaston's statements to the ARDC about her participation in IJCN were consistent with her testimony at trial.

At trial
, Betts-Gaston again testified about her participation in the IJCN fraud scheme. She said that her "role was focused more on the legal aspect, in making sure that the -­ explaining things to the homeowners initially, so that they could -you know, knew what they were getting into, legal documents they were signing, and like that." Id. at 812. Betts-Gaston testified about her intimate involvement in the management, decision-making, and finances of the IJCN operations. When asked whether she was a signatory on the IJCN bank account at LaSalle Bank, Betts-Gaston responded , "Yes, I was."Id. at 813.Although she claimed that she did not pay herself a salary from the IJCN bank account, she nonchalantly answered that she "took some return of capital, because I put too much more in than I had originally agreed to, and I also had some loans."Id. at 896.The evidence showed that Betts-Gaston was extensively involved with IJCN from the time it was formed in March of 2006 until its defunction in August of 2007. Betts-Gaston's company, IJCN, was the primary entity used to carry out the scheme to defraud. The Court finds that a rational trier of fact could find the first essential element of wire fraud for both the Trumbull and Howard Properties.


                   b.  Evidence that Betts-Gaston Intended to Defraud

 
Next, the Court turns to the second element of wire fraud:Betts-Gaston's intent to defraud. "'An 'intent to defraud' means that the defendant acted willfully and with specific intent to deceive or cheat, usually for the purpose of getting financial gain for himself or causing financial loss to another."' Pust, 2015WL4898976 at *2 (quoting United States v. Paneras, 222 F.3d 406, 410 (7th Cir. 2000)). '"However, because direct evidence of a defendant's fraudulent intent is typically not available, specific intent to defraud may be established by circumstantial evidence and by inferences drawn from examining the scheme itself which demonstrate that the scheme was reasonably calculated to deceive persons of ordinary prudence and comprehension." Id. Here, the evidence showed that Betts-Gaston intended to defraud both the lenders and the homeowners involved in the Trumbull and Howard transactions.


                i. Betts-Gaston  Intended  to Defraud the Lenders

The record is replete with both circumstantial and direct evidence that Betts-Gaston intended to defraud the financial institutions, the primary victims of her scheme. Betts-Gaston structured the real estate transactions and created the IJCN trust to deceive the mortgage lenders. She used straw buyers (her father and Ross's mother) to gain control of the properties and then transferred the deeds on the properties to the IJCN trust without notice to the mortgage  lenders. She did this to hinder the lenders' ability to foreclose on the property in the event that IJCN stopped making the monthly mortgage payments. She readily admitted this intent behind her scheme initially to the ARDC and again at trial.

Under oath, in her conversation with ARDC Investigator Kepler, Betts-Gaston spoke about the general operations of the IJCN scheme. Kepler asked Betts-Gaston, "Who makes the payments to the mortgage company?" Id. at 324
. In a circuitous answer, she eventually said that the payments came from IJCN's account. To follow up, Kepler asked, "[s]o the purchaser, the one who actually takes out the mortgage ... doesn't make the mortgage payments?" Betts-Gaston answered ''No." Id. In the same conversation, Betts-Gaston further elaborated on the purpose of the IJCN trust, she said, "honestly, it gives us, if in the event we get to the door with regards to a judicial sale because the trust is not party to the transaction, the foreclosure transaction, we can come in and kind of get more time to stave off the sale if we had to. So it's kind of like as a  safety mechanism to help the homeowner in the event we need to kind of go into court and get some more time because the judge will say, oh okay, this party was never brought into the case, and we can give them more time." Id. at 327. This is direct evidence that Betts-Gaston intended to deceive the lenders by misrepresenting who owned and controlled the Trumbull and Howard Properties, delaying the lenders' ability to foreclose on the hones, and ultimately causing them financial loss.

Likewise, when asked on direct examination at trial about the quitclaim deed that was used to transfer the Trumbull Property to the IJCN trust, Betts-Gaston stated: "The purpose of this document was to afford the homeowner time
. So, for example, because they were up -- coming up on a judicial sale, which would mean they would lose the house entirely at that point, but having it in the trust would allow us to go into court and to stop the sale." Id.at 845. On cross-examination, Betts-Gaston admitted that "[she] knew that payments we -that IJCN was going to make payments on [Betts's] behalf, yes."Id. at 978. However, she never disclosed that financial arrangement with the lender on the Trumbull Property transaction. Furthermore , she admitted "Yes" that "she wanted to be able to delay a judicial sale of the home if that were to come about."Id. at 984. Once again, this is direct evidence that Betts-Gaston intended to cheat lenders by delaying their ability to collect mortgage payments or foreclose on the collateral they are due, causing them financial loss.

There is also evidence that Betts-Gaston intended to defraud the lender in the Trumbull Property transaction by falsifying her dad
's income amount on the loan application. The government's questions to Ross provided the following colloquy:

MR. STORINO: Now, what did Mr. Betts tell you regarding his monthly income when you talked to him?


THE WITNESS: He told me he made - it was somewhere around 4000 a month or something like that.

MR. STORINO: Did he tell you that he made $15,000 a month in this conversation?

THE WITNESS: No.


MR. STORINO: Did you subsequently have a conversation with the defendant after you spoke with her father?

THE WITNESS
: Yes.

MR. STORINO: What did you tell the defendant regarding whether her father qualified as a buyer?

THE WITNESS: I told her that her father did not qualify for the loan. MR. STORINO: What did she say in response?

THE WITNESS: She asked me why. I told her because the income was - his income was not sufficient to hold the property.

MR. S
TORINO: Did she indicate whether or not he held back?

THE
WITNESS: She -yeah, then she said -- I think she asked me how much, you know, he said he made and I told her. And she said no, he makes more than that. Let me give him a call to let him know to tell you everything so that you can put it on the application. And I said okay. And so I called him back, I don't know if it was the same day or a little bit later that day, and then we had the conversation about the 15,000.

'

Id. at 669-71. The Trumbull Property loan application stated that Betts made $15;000 a month. However, Betts's 2005 and 2006 tax returns reflected that he made nowhere near that amount.

 Ross's candid testimony about how she, Betts and Betts-Gaston conspired to submit false loan documentation is further evidence of Betts-Gaston's intent to defraud the lenders.

In addition, Ross and Betts-Gaston lied on the loan documentation about Betts's intention to use the Trumbull Property as his second home. Betts-Gaston said that her father "would have just been like staying in the basement or something li_ke that,just to make sure that he complied with what the lender was asking." Id.at 975. Betts was an options trader from Roselle, Illinois. He never lived in Spikes-Davis's basement, nor intended to.The loan was obtained upon a  falsely stated income and a false statement regarding Betts's intended use of the property .Ross prepared the loan, but the manner in which Betts-Gaston recruited and used her father is further evidence that Betts-Gaston intended to deceive the lender on the Trumbull transaction.

Regarding the Howard Property, the government produced closing documents from the September 1, 2006 real estate transaction,
in which Mr. Kmiec was listed as the seller and Bobbie Ross was listed as the buyer. Ross, on behalf of her mother, submitted a loan application stating that Bobbie Ross was buying an investment property, had been employed by EAE Management, Inc. for two years, made $4,100 in wages per month, and received another $813 per month in rental income. The rental income was actually the rent that Brennan paid to IJCN in order to remain in his home. The loan application stated that Bobbie Ross was contributing $12,500 as the down payment personally, not borrowed. IJCN's involvement was not listed on the loan application or the HUD-1 settlement statement.

Ross testified at trial that the information provided on Bobbie Ross
's loan application was false. Her mother did not work at EAE Management, Inc., her mother did not make $4100 per month, her mother did not receive rental income from Brennan, and IJCN provided the down payment. After the fraudulent transaction , Bobbie Ross quit claimed the deed on the Howard Property to the IJCN trust for ten dollars. Betts-Gaston prepared the real estate documents needed to facilitate the Howard Property transaction; for example, she prepared the Warranty Deed that transferred the Howard Property from Mr. Kmiec to Bobbie Ross for ten dollars consideration. The lender, however, issued a $252,163.39 loan in the course of the Howard Property transaction . Ross testified that her and Betts-Gaston managed the company jointly and the Howard Property was one of the four transactions that her and Betts-Gaston orchestrated using IJCN. The details of the Howard Property transaction were only nominally different than the Trumbull Property. Ross's testimony and the Howard Property closing documents were merely portions of the circumstantial evidence presented against Betts-Gaston. Reviewing the evidence and drawing inferences from the scheme itself establish Betts-Gaston's specific intent to deceive the lender on the Howard Property transaction.

Betts-Gaston's statements to the ARDC, and at trial, reflect direct evidence of her intent to cheat and cause financial loss to the mortgage companies providing the loans in these transactions. Both Ross's testimony, and the real estate documents, corroborates Betts-Gaston's admissions. The direct and circumstantial evidence presented in this case demonstrates Betts- Gaston's intent to defraud the lenders. She orchestrated a scheme of encumbering title to the Trumbull and Howard Properties in a specific effort to evade the mortgage companies-potential creditors of ordinary prudence-from pursuing the collateral on the debts they were  owed.

                   ii.
Betts-Gaston Intended to Defraud the Homeowners

Although Be
tts-Gaston may have exhibited pure intentions to help the homeowners when her and Ross founded IJCN, the actions she took in facilitating the scheme were unscrupulous. She presented Spikes-Davis and Mr. Kmiec with the false hope of avoiding foreclosure and avoiding mortgage payments for a substantial number of months. In reality, she transferred their rights of homeownership through straw buyers to IJCN. There was no escrow account available for the homeowners' benefit. She and Ross maintained control over the homeowners' equity. The provisions of the trust gave her, via IJCN, full discretion to spend the homeowners' equity as she saw fit. When Spikes-Davis and Ms. Kmiec sought to regain control of their homes or the money they were due, Betts-Gaston verbally amended the terms of the IJCN program-the terms became more favorable to IJCN and the costs to the former homeowners went up. Regardless of Betts-Gaston's representations, the homeowners never received the equity funds that they were due.

Betts-Gaston
told the homeowners entering into her foreclosure avoidance scheme that their equity proceeds from the sale of their homes would be held in escrow. However, she admitted at trial that she "did not set up an escrow account." Id. at 860.In the Trumbull Property transaction, Betts-Gaston confirmed that "IJCN never gave any of the equity to Sandra Spikes­ Davis." Id. at 1011. After her brother's death, Mrs. Kmiec contacted Betts-Gaston regarding the Howard Property transaction, only to find out that her brother had been swindled. Initially, Betts­ Gaston "wrote to Mitchelle Kmiec [and] said that there was money in an escrow account." Id. at 995. Betts-Gaston further explained that "the net proceeds from Mr. Kmiec's transaction were $82,766.29. From that we subtracted our program fee which was $41,101.67."Id. at 1004. Ms. Kmiec testified at trial, however, that Betts-Gaston never remitted any of the equity from the sale of her brother's house. The evidence of how Betts-Gaston used her company for substantial financial gain at the victim-homeowners' expense is also sufficient to_establish her intent to defraud.

The testimonial excerpts provided in this Opinion, which show Betts-Gaston's intent to defraud, are only a fraction of
the evidence that the government adduced during the trial. The numerous loan and real estate closing documents corroborated the testimony and provided circumstantial evidence that the scheme was designed to defraud persons of ordinary prudence and comprehension. Given the evidence presented at trial, a rational trier of fact could have found beyond a reasonable doubt that Betts-Gaston intended to defraud both the lenders and the homeowners associated with the Trumbull and Howard Properties.

             c.  Evidence that Interstate Wires were Used in Furtherance of the Scheme to Defraud-Banks  Outside of Illinois Funded  the Loans

Finally, the Court turns to the third element of wire fraud- the use of interstate wires. Betts-Gaston's argument is once again a non-starter. The current state of the law on the use of a wire transmission requires that the interstate wire "only be incident to an essential part of the scheme."United States v. Powell, 576 F.3d 482, 493 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting United States v. Turner, 551 F.3d 657, 666 (7th Cir. 2008)) (internal quotations omitted). The wire transmission need not be sent by defendant personally and "need not contain false or fraudulent material,"it only needs to further the fraudulent scheme. Id.

At no time has Betts-Gaston denied that the Trumbull and Howard transactions closed and the resulting loans were not funded. In addition to the documentary evidence presented in this case, three people
testified about the wire transfers that occurred as a result of the scheme. Gold, a senior special investigator for the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, explained the general logistics behind wire transfers and testified about the specific details of the wire transfers associated with the Trumbull and Howard transactions. Gold testified that on July 28, 2006, the Bank of New York initiated a wire transfer in the amount of $180,614.05 to Founders Bank. On that transaction, American Home Mortgage Corporation was listed as the originator of the wire transfer and Lawyers Title Insurance Corporation was listed as the beneficiary. Gold also testified that a wire transfer initiated by Founders Bank to JP Morgan Chase was executed on September 1, 2006 in the amount of $252,163.39.

Gail O'Hanley, a closing agent who worked on the Trumbull Property transaction, corroborated Gold's investigation when she recognized Government exhibit 102 as
"a wire -- incoming wire to the company, to Lawyers Title, from American Home Mortgage."Id. at 277. Arevalo, who was a former employee of Fremont Investment & Loan, also corroborated Gold's investigation by testifying that the company used interstate wires to perform the underwriting process for the loan on the Howard Property transaction and that the loan was eventually approved for $252,163.39. There was ample documentary and testimonial evidence presented throughout trial to show that interstate wires were used in furtherance of Betts-Gaston's fraudulent scheme.A rational trier of fact could find, beyond a reasonable doubt, the third element required to sustain Betts-Gaston's wire fraud conviction.

In conclusion, the bulk of the evidence to support her conviction came from Betts-Gaston
herself-her sworn testimony to the ARDC and her testimony from the witness stand at trial. For the reasons stated above, the Court finds that the government introduced sufficient evidence at trial of the three essential elements of wire fraud to convict Betts-Gaston on Counts I and II of violating 18 U.S.C. § 1343. Accordingly, the motion pursuant to Rule 29 is denied.

B.  Betts-Gaston' s Motion Under Rule 33

  1. Standard of Decision for a Motion Pursuant to Rule 33
"If the complete record, testimonial and physical, leaves a strong doubt as to the defendant's guilt, even though not so strong a doubt as to require a judgment of acquittal, the district judge may be obliged to grant a new trial." United States v. Santos, 20 F.3d 280, 285 (7th Cir. 1994) (quoting United States v. Morales, 910 F.2d 467, 468 (7th Cir. 1990)). Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure states that "[u]pon the defendant's motion, the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." Fed. R. Crim. P. 33(a). However, '"[a]jury verdict in a criminal case is not to be overturned lightly, and therefore a Rule 33 motion is not to be granted lightly."' Santos, 20 F.3d at 285 (quoting Morales, 910 F.2d at 468). The Court reweighs the evidence and 11:ay grant a new trial if the jury's "verdict is so contrary to the weight of the evidence that a new trial is required in the interest of justice. " United States v. Washington, 184 F.3d 653, 657 (7th Cir. 1999).
  1.       Defendant Is Not Entitled to a New Trial
Before continuing, the Court must note that the present motion was signed and submitted on behalf of Betts-Gaston by her retained counsel, Jennifer Bonjean ("Bonjean"). Bonjean also represented Betts-Gaston at trial. The distinction between Betts-Gaston and her attorney must be made given Bonjean's conduct at trial and the continued frivolous nature of the arguments made in this post-trial motion. To support her position that a new trial is warranted, Bonjean presents a laundry list of ten separate arguments, and under those ten, she presents several sub-arguments. These arguments predominantly constitute renewed objections to the Court's evidentiary and procedural rulings made before and during trial. Like her argument under Rule 29, Bonjean's arguments lack any citation to the record and only a rare citation to legal authority. These types of thinly-spread and underdeveloped arguments are routinely considered by the Court as a defendant's waiver of the argument. See Alden, 527 F.3d at 664;Berkowitz, 927 F.2d at 1384. Despite the vague assertions made by Bonjean, the Court remains diligent in adjudicating the motion in the interest of justice. Additionally, many of Bonjean's arguments are misleading and require a response from the Court to provide clarity, notwithstanding the flagrant legal inadequacies of Bonjean's arguments.

                    a.  Objections to the Court's Pre-Trial Rulings

The Court received this two-defendant case upon a transfer by the Executive Committee from the Honorable Milton I. Shadur on December 22, 2014; over three years after the indictment, and about seven months before the trial was set to begin. Upon transfer, several pretrial evidentiary matters were already fully briefed and awaiting decision. On March 12, 2015, the Court issued a written order allowing the government to admit co-conspirator statements pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(E) and United States v. Santiago, 582 F.2d 1128 (7th Cir. 1978), commonly referred to in this Circuit as a Santiago Proffer. Additionally, Betts-Gaston moved to present an expert who would have testified about the unethical , and sometimes illegal activities, that were rampant in the mortgage industry during the time of Betts-Gaston's scheme. The Court found the proposed expert's testimony inadmissible pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 401 and 403 in a written order on April 27, 2015. At that point, Betts-Gaston's case appeared to be a routine and straightforward mortgage fraud case. What would set this case apart from the ordinary, however, was the cantankerous conduct of Bonjean.
Before a jury was selected on the first day of trial, Bonjean argued orally for reconsideration of the Court's ruling that barred the defense's proposed expert from testifying. The Court found Bonjean's renewed argument unpersuasive.Additionally , the Court quickly realized that Bonjean was unfamiliar with the Federal Criminal Code and Rules.This excerpt is an example:

THE COURT:That is what your expert will say?                                                                                  .

MS. BONJEAN : My expert will say that -- I don't want to overstate what my expert will state. That's a reasonable inference what my expert --

THE COURT: That's why I'm asking you the  question.

MS. BONJEAN: If you want to know what my expert will testify to -­

THE
COURT: Well, did he put that in a Rule 16 submission

MS. BONJEAN: I sent a letter to the government outlining his testimony . Yes, did, your Honor.

THE COURT: Are you saying he complied with Rule 16?

MS. BONJEAN: I believe we did comply with Rule 16.

THE COURT: In what respect? How did you comply with that rule?

MS. BONJEAN: The government was notified of the nature of his testimony in specific --


THE COURT:
Ina letter? MS. BONJEAN: In the letter.

TIIE COURT: You think that letter complies with Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16(a)(l)(G)?

MS. BONJEAN: I believe it complies substantially with the rule, yes.

THE  COURT: 
It does?  That brief letter?

MS. BONJEAN: Well, your Honor, I would have happily given more if the government asked for
it and if the Court didn't --

THE COURT: Well
, it's not a question of what the government asks for. It's compliance with the rule.

MS. BONJEAN: Well, your Honor, this Court denied, even finding it not relevant
-- again, I believe we complied with the rule. We gave the government notice of what the expert would testify to.

THE COURT: Given
your statements of all the things that he would testify to under his claim of expertise, are you saying that that simple letter complied with Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 16(a)(l)(G)?

MS. BONJEAN:  Your Honor,  I will  read  from the letter.

THE COURT: You don't have to read from the letter. I have read it. I'm asking you --

MS. BONJEAN:  Yes.  I believe  that  it  complies  with  our  notice requirements under Rule 16, yes, I do.

THE COURT: If you want to read the letter, go ahead.

MS. BONJEAN: As to salient points, Mr. Wyatt would testify --

THE COURT: I'm not asking salient points. You said you were going to read the letter.

MS. BONJEAN: I'm not -- your Honor, I was going to point out in the letter -­

THE COURT:
If you are going to read the letter, read the letter.

MS. BONJEAN: The letter speaks for itself.


THE COURT: You choose not to read it into the record?


MS. BONJEAN: It's
.part of my motion. I think it will make its way into the record.

THE COURT: All right. So you don't want to read it into the record?


MS. BONJEAN: No, I don't want to read it into the record.


THE
COURT: But the point you're saying is that that simple  letter would  form the basis for all these opinions that you say he would want to express, and that somehow that letter complies with 16(a)(l)(G)?

MS. BONJEAN: I believe that the letter summarizes what I have set forth in court here today, yes. I didn't realize that Rule 16 required an expert report, per se, in a detailed  fashion.

Tr. at 8-9. Bonjean was reluctant to admit her errors. Her argumentative response regarding her compliance with a relatively simple procedural rule was a harbinger of her conduct to come at trial.

It was quickly apparent that Bonjean desired to obfuscate
the Court's questions instead of candidly answer. Moving forward with the proceeding, the Court heeded the Supreme Court's precedent about how to manage unruly defense counsel, which states:

We emphasize that the trial judge  has the responsibility  to maintain  decorum  in
keeping with the nature of the proceeding ; "the judge is not a mere moderator, but is the governor of the trial for the purpose of assuring its proper conduct." Quercia v.  United  States.  289 U.S.  466, 469,  53  S.Ct. 698, 77 L.Ed.  1321 (1933).  The judge "must meet situations as they arise and [be able] to cope with ... the contingencies  inherent  in the adversary  process." Geders v. United  States, supra. 425 U.S., at 86, 96 S.Ct., at 1334. Of course, "hard blows" cannot be  avoided in criminal trials; both  the  prosecutor  and  defense  counsel  must  be kept within appropriate bounds. See Herring v. New York, 422 U.S. 853, 862, 95 S.Ct. 2550, 2555, 45 L.Ed.2d 593 (1975).

United States v. Young, 470 U.S. I , 10-11 (1985). It is with this guidance that the Court conducted the trial.

The Court proceeded to rule on the remaining motions in limine and a jury venire was sworn. The Court conducted the jury
voir dire in a manner consistent with Rule 24 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. The Court asked questions to solicit information on the jurors' backgrounds and probed further when a particular juror's responses warranted additional inquiry.

In her post-trial motion, Bonjean makes a couple general arguments about the Court's jury selection process and one specific argument styled as her "Second" argument. Def.'s Post- Trial Mot. at 4. Regarding her general arguments, the Court cannot discern to what prospective
jurors or where in' the transcript Bonjean is referring, and finds that these arguments are waived. Alden, 527 F 3d at 664; Berkowitz, 927 F.2d at 1384. Her specific argument is that the Court removed prospective juror Hany Abutaleb ("Abutaleb") because he was "of Arab descent."

Def.'s Post-Trial Mot. at 5. The Court excused Abutaleb, a man with two masters degrees (one from New York Institute of Technology) and a resident of the United States since 1997, because when the Court asked: "Do you accept the fundamental proposition of our law that the government has the burden of proving the guilt?"Abutaleb answered, "No." Tr. at   101.Furthermore, at the sidebar discussing whether Abutaleb should be dismissed for cause, all parties agreed, even Bonjean:

MS. BONJEAN: I join in the cause but I have a separate objection.

THE COURT: You join in the cause?
MS. BONJEAN
:I join in the cause, yes.
THE COURT: All right. He is excused for cause.


Tr. at 115. The selection process resulted in a diverse jury composed of men and women from several different racial backgrounds. The Court finds that Betts-Gaston was convicted by a fair and impartial jury composed of her peers and this argument is without merit.

Bonjean also raises the argument that Betts-Gaston was denied a fair trial because Bonjean's non-attorney assistant could not sit at the counsel's table. Once again outside the presence of the jury, the Court instructed that Bonjean' s assistant
"must leave counsel table. She can sit in a pew." Tr. at 3. The pew is less than five feet from counsel's table. Bonjean then asked, "Can she help with documents, though?" Id. The Court reiterated, "She may sit in a pew. Not at counsel table." Id. Bonjean did not object but said, "Okay. Very good, your Honor." Id. Nothing more about the assistant's presence and function was discussed after that brief exchange. Bonjean now states that the Court "refused to allow defense counsel's non-attorney assistant to sit at counsel table to assist with the documents and electronic presentation of evidence, since it is exceptionally challenging to conduct an effective and smooth cross- examination while simultaneously locating and attempting to project documents to the jury." Def.'s Post-Trial Mot. at 3. The Court never issued such a ruling barring the assistant from aiding defense counsel. Any difficulty that Bonjean experienced
  was self-inflicted. Bonjean's assertion is a misrepresentation of the Court's ruling and is not grounds for a new trial.

                           b. Objections During the Presentation of Evidence

After jury selection, the jury heard opening arguments and the government proceeded with its case in chief. Bonjean raises no objections reading opening statements in her post-trial motion.

Bonjean's
"First" and most developed argument in her post-trial motion is that Betts- Gaston "was denied a fair trial in violation of her Due Process guarantees under Bracy v. Gramley, 520 U.S. 899, 904-05 (1997)." Def.'s Post-Trial Mot. at 2. The Bracy decision is the only case that Bonjean cites for support in her entire Rule 33 motion. Bracy involves a 28 U.S.C § 2254 habeas  corpus petition  arising from Bracy' s conviction for murder and sentence to  death  by Illinois state court judge,  Thomas J. Maloney.  See Bracy v.  Gramley, 520 U.S. 899 (1997). After Bracy was sentenced, Maloney was convicted as part of "Operation Greylord," the federal investigation of state judicial corruption. Id. at 901-02. Maloney solicited bribes in return for favorable rulings. See United States v. Maloney, 71 F.3d 645 (7th Cir. 1995). The two pages that Bonjean  cites for authority,  Bracy, 520 U.S. at 904-05, addresses  the  extent  of discovery available  to a habeas corpus petitioner  under Rule  6(a) of the Rules  Governing  § 2254.  The Court finds Bracy  completely- misplaced  from the facts and procedural  posture  of this  case.

The basis of Bonjean's first argument is that the Court harbored a bias or prejudice towards Betts-Gaston. Bonjean states:
"From the beginning, the trial Judge evinced a strong pre-judgment of the case and a bizarre hostility to the defense that pervaded the entire trial and left the jury with the clear message
that the Court had already concluded had already concluded that Defendant was
guilty of the charges and that the jury concluded the same." Def.'s Post-Trial Mot.
at 2. After review of the record, . the Court finds that this argument amounts to nothing more than an empty accusation.
 

By rule, the Court has explicit authority to control the presentation of evidence during trial. See Fed. R. Evid. 611. By precedent, the Court has "wide discretion to determine the role that [it] will play during the course of a trial."United States v. Washington , 417 F.3d 780, 783 (7th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted). "A district judge is free to interject during a direct or cross- examination to clarify an issue, to require an attorney to lay a foundation, or to encourage an examining attorney to get to the point." Id. at 784 (citing Fed. R. Evid. 614(b);United States v Reynolds, 189 F.3d 521, 528 (7th Cir. 1999)). However, the Court "must refrain from 'assum[ing] the role of an advocate for either side." Id. (quoting United States v. Martin, 189 F.3d 547, 553 (7th Cir. 1999) reversible error could occur if the Court "conveyed a bias regarding the defendant's honesty or guilt," and the defendant "has shown serious prejudice" resulting from the Court's comment. Id.

Bonjean argues that the Court abdicated its role as an impartial jurist and advocated for the government
, however, she does so without reference to a precise instance. The Court issued hundreds of rulings over the course of the trial, sometimes prompted by an objection from Bonjean, other times on objection from the government, and at times on its own initiative.
Despite her failure to cite to the trial transcript
, the Court has done its best to address the argument. The following excerpts exemplify the impartial judicial rulings that the Court made throughout the trial.

Here is an example of the Court's ruling when Bonjean objected; the government was asking ARDC Investigator Kepler about Betts-Gaston's prior sworn statement when this objection was lodged:

MS. BONJEAN: Objection. Leading, foundation, hearsay
.

THE COURT: You asked some questions before the break with respect to the timing of this, did you not?


MR. LEE: Yes, your Honor.


THE COURT: To make it clear and for clarification, start fresh in terms of when this occurred.

 

Tr. at 362-63. The Court plainly required the prosecutor to lay a better foundation, there was nothing impermissible about the above exchange. This is an example of the Court ruling on an objection raised by the government during Bonjean 's cross-examination of Hamb:

MR. STORINO: Objection. Hearsay. THE COURT
:Sustained.

MS
. BONJEAN: Objection -- I'm sorry -- hearsay?

THE COURT: Are you offering this for the truth of the assertion?


MS. BONJEAN: No. I'm offering it for the intent and the mindset of the person who is listening to it.


THE COURT: Who is that?


MS
. BONJEAN: The person that she told.

THE COURT: Well, lay a foundation for the conversation: who, what, where, when
.

 

Tr. at 478. Once again, nothing about the Court's ruling was unusual or exhibited bias towards Betts-Gaston' s honesty or guilt. Similarly, when the Court interjected on its own, without an objection from counsel, it was to require counsel to lay a better foundation  for the aid of the    juror's understanding  of the  evidence.For example, on its own initiative  the Court interjected  during the government's direct examination of Hamb and instructed the government to "[l]ay a foundation in terms  of the ability  of this witness  to observe, to see and hear what was going on.  We need  a better  foundation." Tr. at 458. This was one of the many ordinary interruptions  from  the  Court, permissible  under  Fed.  R.  Evid.  61l(a). The record  is replete with judicial interactions and rulings of this nature. At no time did the Court impart a bias towards Betts-Gaston's honesty or guilt.

Bonjean also claims that
"[t]he Court on multiple occasions commandeered the Government's examination of witnesses, acting as an advocate rather [sic] an impartial and unbiased referee." Def.' s Post-Trial Mot. at 3. Bonjean does not provide an example of one of these "multiple occasions."The Court presumes that the following excerpt is one of the instances that Bonjean claims that the Court assumed the role of an advocate for the government because of how Bonjean reacted to the Court's question during trial. In this instance, the Court asked victim-homeowner Brennan two questions after Bonjean finished cross-examining him:

MS. BONJEAN: One more second. I have nothing further.

MR
. LEE: Nothing on redirect.

THE COURT: Mr. Brennan, after you signed the various documents to which you have referred, did the defendant give you copies of the completed documents?

THE WITNESS: Yes.

THE COURT: You took them with you? THE WITNESS: Yes, sir.

THE COURT: Okay. Any further questions?

MS. BONJEAN: I'm sorry, your Honor. I didn't realize the Court was doing recross for the government.

THE COURT: What did you just say?

MS. BONJEAN: It didn't hear the question that was answered. I realize you were questioning --

THE COURT: What is it you just said?


MS. BONJEAN: I
-- are you questioning the witness? I didn't realize that it was going on.

THE COURT: What is it you just said before that?


MS
. BONJEAN: I didn't realize you were doing recross for the government. They didn't ask to do any, and I heard the Court -- I just realized you were questioning the witness.

THE COURT: Is it your  position that  a federal judge  cannot ask questions of  a
witness?

MS. BONJEAN: No, your Honor. Not at all. I just didn't hear  it. I'm sorry. I  didn't hear that -- I heard the government say they didn't have anymore questions, and then I didn't realize the Court was going to be asking questions in lieu of the government asking questions. That's all I meant, your Honor.


THE COURT: In lieu of?


MS. BONJEAN: Yes, your Honor.


THE COURT: Do you persist in your aspersion?


MS.
BONJEAN : I'm not aspersion. Your Honor, the Court clearly has the authority to do whatever it likes. There is -- there is nobody that would disagree with that.


THE COURT
: I would.

MS. BONJEAN
:Okay. Well, your Honor --

THE COURT
: It isn't that the Court can do anything it likes. That's not the point and you may be seated.

MS. BONJEAN: Thank you.


THE COURT
: You may step down, Mr. Brennan.

Tr. at 525-26. In the above excerpt, the Court asked two questions to clarify whether Betts- Gaston gave Brennan copies of documents from his real estate transaction. The answers given helped Betts-Gaston's defense not hurt it; they did not prejudice Betts-Gaston in any discernible way. These questions clarified an issue, which is permissible under Fed. R. Civ. P. 614 and Washington, 417 F.3d at 784. Bonjean ridiculed the Court without reason and the Court responded to maintain decorum in the courtroom, as is required by Young, 470 U.S.at 10. Despite Bonjean's outbursts, the Court did not exhibit any bias towards Betts-Gaston.

This aspersion from Bonjean was not an isolated incident. There were numerous eruptions from Bonjean designed to goad a biased response from the Court. A review of the transcript reveals that the Court limited its interactions with defense counsel to issuing judicial rulings and taking efforts to keep Bonjean's conduct within appropriate bounds. The Court did not comment on Betts-Gaston' s honesty or guilt and did not advocate on behalf of the either of the parties. The Court's administration of the trial was fair and even-handed.On occasion, the Court even aided the defense by prompting Bonjean for an objection to the line of questioning from the government. When the government was effectively impeaching Betts-Gaston, the Court interrupted and said, "Before you move on to another area, Miss Bonjean, if there is a 106 issue, you may proceed."Tr. at 989. But Bonjean responded, "I have no -- the government may proceed. I don't have a 106 issue at this time." Id. Despite Bonjean's rude attacks, the Court remained courteous. The Court was steadfast in governing the presentation of evidence fairly, impartially, and according to the Federal Rules.

Bonjean also claims that the Court excessively admonished her, arguing that the Court even criticized her use of "thank you."Def.'s Post-Trial Mot. at 3. This passage reflects an instance when the Court did instruct Bonjean that she need not thank the Court for ruling:

MS
.BONJEAN: Okay. May I approach the witness?

THE COURT: For what purpose?
MS. BONJEAN: To have her authenticate the closing instructions.

THE COURT: Yes.                     

MS. BONJEAN: Thank you.

THE COURT: You need not say
"thank you"after the Court rules.

MS. BONJEAN: All right
, Judge.

THE COURT: Or "all right, Judge,
" as well.

MS. BONJEAN: I'm handing you what's been previously marked -
­

THE COURT
: Did you hear what I said?

MS. BONJEAN:
-- Defendant's Exhibit 1.

THE COURT: Did you hear what I said
, counsel?

MS. BONJEAN: Yes
, your Honor, I did.

THE COURT
: Please proceed .

 

Tr. at 289. The Court reprimanded the government's counsel similarly:

 

MR. LEE: Your Honor, the government moves to admit Government Exhibit 62.

THE COURT
: It is received. It may be published.

MR. LEE: Thank you, your Honor. (Government Exhibit 62 received in evidence.)

MR. LEE: May I --

THE COURT:Thank-you's are not required when the Court  rules.

Tr. at 295.Bonjean is correct that the Court admonished her to use professional decorum in the courtroom, but the Court did the same for the government's counsel. When it was appropriate, the Court admonished Bonjean.For example, when Bonjean was antagonizing Spikes-Davis, the Court interjected by telling Bonjean: "You are shouting at the witness. Lower your voice, please." Tr. at 434. Review of the transcript shows that the Court was _fair and its criticisms of attorneys for both sides did not result in any prejudice to Betts-Gaston.

'

Bonjean argues that the Court issued rulings that disparaged her personally, but she does not articulate how these rulings prejudiced her client or cite to the record. While the rulings that the Court issued during trial tended to be stern these rulings were impartial, did not exhibit bias, and merely enforced evidentiary rules. A review of the record reflects that none of the Court's comments conveyed a bias towards Betts-Gaston's honesty or guilt. Accordingly, Bonjean's argument for a new trial on the basis that the Court was critical of her is meritless under the standard set forth in Washington, 417 F.3d at 784.

Additionally, while Bonjean was never prevented from filing motions, raising objections,
or cross-examining witnesses, she never moved to recuse the trial judge, which is governed by the precedent set in Liteky v.United States, 510 U.S. 540 (1994). The Liteky Court recognized that "(t]he judge who presides at trial may, upon completion of the evidence, be exceedingly ill disposed towards the defendant, who has been shown to be a thoroughly reprehensible person.
But the judge is not thereby recusable for bias or prejudice, since his knowledge and the opinion it produced were properly and necessarily acquired in the course of the proceedings ...." Id. at 550-51. The Supreme Court's statement accurately summarizes what occurred in this trial. Any ill disposition the Court exhibited towards Betts-Gaston was formed from viewing the overwhelming evidence of her deceitful and illegal business practices; evidence that the_ government produced during trial. Yet, the Court was resolute in adhering to its duty to issue judicial rulings based on sound legal precedent. The Court never injected extrajudicial comments or opinions into the trial.

Since Liteky, the Seventh Circuit has reiterated that:


Judges have discretion in running their cases, and "[a] judge's ordinary efforts at courtroom administration ... remain immune" from charges of partiality , even if the judge exhibits "impatience, dissatisfaction, annoyance, and even anger." Effective case management sometimes calls for such warnings to avoid waste of time and distraction from the principal issues.

In
re City of Milwaukee,
788 F.3d 717, 723 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting Liteky, 510 U.S. at 555- 56); see also United States v. Robbins, 197 F.3d 829, 848 (7th Cir. 1999). Here, the Court took ordinary efforts to administer the trial.Bonjean's crass accusations saying otherwise are without support either in the law or in the transcript. Therefore, a new trial pursuant to Rule 33 on the basis that the Court was unfair or impartial is not warranted

As part of her "Second
"argument, Bonjean argues that the Court erred by discharging two jurors who claimed to be ill. "Rule 24(c) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure allows the district judge to replace with alternatives any jurors who become_ or are found to be unable or disqualified to perform their duties. The decision to remove a juror under this rule is committed to the sound discretion of the trial judge, and there is no abuse of discretion if the record shows some legitimate basis for his decision." United States v. Doerr, 886 F.2d 944, 970 (7th Cir. 1989) (citations omitted). A juror 's complaint of illness is a legitimate reason to replace him or her. Id. at 971. Here, the first juror called the Court and complained of "stomach flu." Tr. at 738. The second juror also called the Court and said "[s]he doesn't know if it was something she ate, but she woke up this morning not feeling well."Id. at 959. The Court heard arguments from both sides on each occasion and provided detailed explanations why it decided to replace each juror with an alternate. No rule compels the Court to investigate the juror's illness or to adjourn the trial. The jurors' representations to Court were legitimate reasons to discharge them."Moreover, 'some showing of prejudice is ordinarily necessary before a conviction will be overturned on this ground."' Doerr, 886 F.2d at 971 (quoting United States v. Peters, 61 F.2d 503, 505 (7th Cir. 1980)). Bonjean  provides no showing of prejudice. This argument is without merit.

Bonjean's argument labeled as "Third"regarding the defense's proposed expert witness  is still unpersuasive. See Def.'s Post-Trial Mot. at 5. The Court thoroughly explained in its April 27th Order, and again on the day of trial, why
the proposed  expert could not testify. The Court  will not belabor this issue for a third time. Also in her "Third" argument,  Bonjean says that she  was denied ''the right to cross examine witnesses on the materiality of the alleged misrepresentation. "Def.'s Post-Trial Mot. at 5. This assertion is so vague and so absurd that it warrants  zero  additional discussion.

  Next, Bonjean 's "Fourth" argument is that she did not have the ability to "confront witnesses" testifying against her client because the "entire" transcript from the prior ARDC investigation was admitted without her being able to object. Def.'s Post-Trial Mot. at 6.However, according to the government's response brief, Bonjean received a copy of ''the transcript and the related exhibits" on April 8, 2015, three months before trial. Govt's Resp. at 14. Bonjean filed no motions objecting to the government's use of the ARDC transcript prior to trial. Regardless of Bonjean's nonfeasance, Betts-Gaston 's statements were not hearsay under Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(2), Kepler's statements were not offered for the truth of the matter, and the statements of both individuals were relevant to Betts-Gaston's intent to defraud under Rule 401. Additionally, the government did not introduce the entire ARDC transcript into evidence; portions of the transcript were redacted to comply with the Court's pre-trial rulings on the parties' motions in limine. Furthermore, Bonjean cross-examined Kepler, the individual who investigated Betts-Gaston for the ARDC, and only asked a total of eighteen questions before concluding "Okay. Thank you. I have nothing further."Tr. at 369. Bonjean's "Fourth" argument is wholly without merit and misrepresents what actually occurred in this proceeding.


Bonjean) "Fifth" argument is equally preposterous. She argues, in total, that "the trial court erred when the Court unfairly denied or- limited defense counsel's cross-examination of Government witnesses Spikes-Davis, Surrina Hamb, Norman Ikonen, Dimona Ross, and Mitchelle Kmiec."Def.'s Post-Trial Mot at 6. She does not elaborate on how or when her cross- examinations were denied or limited. First, Bonjean cross-examined and recrossed Spikes-Davis and Bonjean's line of questioning only ended because she said, "I have nothing further." Tr. at 452. Second, Bonjean's examination of Hamb ended only after the Court asked Bonjean, "Is cross completed?" and Bonjean responded unequivocally, "Yes."Tr. at 494. There was nothing erroneous or unfair about the extent of Bonjean's questioning of these witnesses.

Third
, the Court did limit Bonjean 's examination of Ikonen; it limited her recross- examination after extensive opportunity to confront the witness. Ikonen was a former mid-level employee for one of the victimized lenders, whose testimony was cumulative and inconsequential. Reviewing the transcript shows that the government's direct examination of lkonen predominantly solicited information regarding Bobbie Ross's loan application on the Howard Property. The direct examination is fifteen pages in length in the transcript. Bonjean's cross-examination of lkonen then lasted over twenty-eight pages before she concluded, "I have nothing further." Tr. at 571. The government's redirect consists of two pages, totaling four questions, about Bobbie Ross's loan application;how there was no indication on the form that Bobbie Ross borrowed or was given the funds for the down payment. Bonjean 's recross- examination of Ikonen, however, goes on for another six pages in the transcript asking questions about Bobbie Ross's loan application that the government did not address on redirect. The Court stopped Bonjean's recross-examination when her questioning was outside the scope of the government's four questions on redirect, was wasting time because it  was redundant of earlier questions to the witness, and it appeared to have the sole purpose of harassing Ikonen.The Court's ruling triggered this response from Bonjean:






I am not done with my cross examination. You are
violating my client's Sixth














Amendemt rights to have a cross, have this witness crossed. That is absolute














abdicating your job as a judge.









Id. at 580. Bonjean's censorious outburst, all in the presence of the jury,  continued:

I object to not being permitted to continue my cross-examination because the Court apparently doesn't like the testimony coming into the record, which will be on the transcript.

 

Id. After the Court sustained the government' s objection to Bonjean's comments, the next witness was called.

Bonjean, exercising the rights of her client Betts-Gaston, has no right to unlimited recross-examination of the government's witnesses. See Delaware v. Fensterer, 474 U.S. 15, 20 (1985). Bonjean was not asking questions implicating Ikonen's credibility or bias. Cf.United States v. Martin, 618 F.3d 705, 727 (7th Cir. 2010) ("Cross-examination designed to elicit witness bias directly implicates the Sixth Amendment."). "On the contrary, trial judges retain wide latitude insofar as the Confrontation Clause is concerned to impose reasonable limits on such cross-examination based on concerns about, among other things, harassment, prejudice, confusion of the issues, the witness' safety, or interrogation that is repetitive or only marginally relevant." Fensterer, 474 U.S. at 20. Bonjean's questions plainly fell within the category of questions that the Court can, and should, limit. The Court's limitation of Bonjean's recross- examination was well within its discretion under Fed. R. Evid. 61 l (a). See also United States v. Hayward, 6 F.3d 1241, 1251 (7th Cir. 1993), overruled on other grounds by United States v.Colvin, 353 F.3d 569 (7th Cir. 2003). Bonjean's argument that her "cross-examination" of Ikonen was "unfairly denied or limited" is disingenuous and a misrepresentation of the record.


Similar to Spikes-Davis, Bonjean's recross-examination of Ross ended with her saying, "I have nothing further." Tr. at 762. And finally, the Court was completely silent during Bonjean's cross-examination of Ms. Kmiec; the line of questioning ended when Bonjean said, "Okay. Thank you," and sat down. Tr. at 619. The entirety of this "Fifth"argument is frivolous. Bonjean is admonished for her failure to comply with the Circuit's Standards of Professional Conduct requiring lawyers to "not knowingly misrepresent, mischaracterize, misquote, or miscite facts or authorities in any oral or written communication to the court." Standards for Professional Conduct Within the Seventh Circuit Federal Court. Lawyers' Duties to the Court. http://www.ilnd.uscourts .gov/HOME/_assets/ _documents/rules/spc_pg3.pdf (last visited September 9, 2015). Bonjean misrepresents the fact that any limitation of her inquiry of government witnesses occurred on recross examination, not an initial cross-examination


Moving to Bonjean's "Sixth" argument that Betts-Gaston was denied a fair trial "when during counsel['s] cross-examination of Surrina Hamb the Court sua sponte ruled that defense counsel had misstated the evidence when she asked Hamb whether Defendant had Ms. Spikes- Davis [] sign[] blank pieces of paper." Def.'s Post-Trial Mot. at 6. Bonjean's argument about "blank pieces of paper" is a ploy to create a red herring and requires the following background.

Turning to the transcript reveals that when Spikes-Davis reviewed the government
's Exhibit 34, she said:

I recognize my signature on the document. A lot of the documents were not completed or filled out. I just signed a lot of blank documents, and she advised me not to put any dates or.anything on them, and that would come at the closing.

 

Tr. at 408-09. Spikes-Davis went on to elaborate what she meant by blank documents when the government asked a question to clarify what was on Exhibit 34 when she signed it; she said:

 

The middle portion where it says owner, title policy, none of that was there. At the top, there was no seller owner name. There was no buyer. James Betts, I never heard of him. And there was no Betts signature on the bottom of the document as well. The only thing that was on here was my signature.

Tr. at 409. After viewing the displayed exhibit and hearing Spikes-Davis's testimony, it was unassailable that the document was a boilerplate template with blank spaces that needed to be filled in, it was not just a blank piece of paper.

Then on cross-examination, Bonjean pointed to Exhibit 33 and asked Spikes Davis "How many times had you signed blank documents before you signed that one?"Tr. at 429. Her response, "I've never signed blank documents." Id. Then a second time, Bonjean asked Spikes- Davis about signing blank documents, this time showing her a copy of the lease she signed:

MS. BONJEAN: Is it your testimony that that caption, Residential Lease Agreement and Option to Purchase, was not there when you signed it?

THE WITNESS: It was there.

MS. BONJEAN: That was there? THE WITNESS: Yes.

MS.BONJEAN: But you testified previously that "lessee" was not there?

THE WITNESS: No.

MS. BONJEAN:  It wasn't there?

THE WITNESS
:I didn't say that.

MS. BONJEAN: Okay. Now it's your testimony that "lessee" was there?

THE WITNESS : No. You asked me what was lessee and what was lessor. I did never say that it was not on the form. I said I signed a lot of blank documents.

MS
. BONJEAN: Okay. And, ma'am, just to be clear, your testimony now is that lessee was there and when you signed under lessee, right?                                                                           ·

THE WITNESS
:Yes. I signed  it.

 

Tr. 434. Bonjean tried to badger or confuse Spikes-Davis into·saying that she signed blank pieces of paper. However, Spikes-Davis never said that she signed pieces of paper that were completely blank or devoid of any text except for her signature.

After Bonjean painstakingly went through each blank space on the fraudulent  bill of sale  for personal  property  that was used in conjunction  with Spikes
-Davis's real estate  transaction , finally this exchange occurred:

'

MS. BONJEAN: So it was literally just a blank piece of paper you signed?

THE WITNESS
: Yes.

MS
.BONJEAN:  And then everything was added after the fact?

THE
WITNESS:  Yes.     

   MS.BONJEAN: How many blank pieces of paper did you sign?

THE WITNESS:  In her office, a lot.

Id. at 437. These short answers appear to be the basis for Bonjean's current argument that the Court's sua sponte ruling denied Betts-Gaston a fair trial.

Nonetheless, Bonjean's cross-examination continued until her obfuscation techniques ultimately solicited a response from Spikes-Davis that Bonjean did not want:


MS. BONJEAN
: Well, you just looked at a document that was generated by the title company, correct?

THE WITNESS : I did not receive a lot of documents until a month after the closing had occurred. I received a bunch of documents in the mail from Miss Betts-Gaston. All the documents I signed in her office were blank.

MS. BONJEAN: Ma'am, there is no question pending.

MR. STORINO: Objection, your Honor.


MS
. BONJEAN : There is no question pending.

THE COURT: Sustained.

MS. BONJEAN
: I still haven't gotten an answer to my question.

THE COURT: Just a minute. You may complete your answer
.

BY THE WITNESS:

A. 
When I went to her office, I only had an hour.Every single -

MS
. BONJEAN:There is no question pending. Is this an opportunity for her to continue to lie from the witness stand?

MR. STORINO
:Your Honor, objection.

THE COURT
: Sustained. You may complete your answer.

BY THE WITNESS:

A. When I went to her office, I had an hour, because I had an hour for lunch. All the documents that I signed in her office were blank
, and I signed those documents believing and trusting that she was an honest person because I had known Surina Hamb for more than 20 something .years, and I never thought that anybody would do this to me or my family, to take our home from us. It was a very rough time. And I also had pointed out the fact to her that I  thought she might have been related to me because my maiden name was Gaston, in her office. So yes, I trusted her. And I believed that she was an attorney that was going to represent me. And I was wrong.

Id. at 440-41. By,the end of Bonjean's relentless cross-examination of Spike-Davis, Spikes-Davis began to direct the questions to Bonjean. When Bonjean
asked, "So every document that memorialized that this was a sale, you are testifying under oath that it was a blank piece of paper right?" Spikes-Davis's response was
"Why don't you ask the defendant." Id. at 448. That  stopped Bonjean from asking anymore questions about the format and completeness of the documents that Spikes-Davis signed. Bonjean omits all of the aforementioned background as she claims in her motion that "the record shows that Spikes-Davis had in fact testified that she signed blank pieces of paper."Def.'s Post-Trial Mot. at  6.

 
Surrina Hamb was the government's next witness to testify. Bonjean is correct that the Court interjected during her questioning of Hamb, as the following passage reflects:

MS. BONJEAN: Did you ever give Miss Spikes-Davis blank pieces
of paper to sign?

THE WITNESS: No
.

THE COURT: What's your understanding of a blank piece of paper?

THE WITNESS
:A piece of paper with nothing on it.

THE COURT
:A piece of paper with nothing on it.

THE WITNESS: A piece of paper with nothing on it.

THE COURT: Rephrase the question for clarification.

BY MS
. BONJEAN :
Q. Miss Spikes-Davis testified that she essentially signed blank pieces of paper. Did you have her sign blank pieces of paper?


THE WITNESS: Never
.

THE COURT: That misstates the evidence.


MS
. BONJEAN: Are you advocating for the government now?

THE COURT: Your question misstated the ev
idence.

MS. BONJEAN: No
, it does not. The transcript will speak for itself and the jury knows.

 

Tr. at 488-89. After that outburst, Bonjean did not pursue the line of questioning much further. Bonjean simply asked Hamb to identify the title of the bill of sale, which she recognized. Rule 611 allows the Court to "exercise reasonable control" over the examination of witnesses to aid in "determining the truth." Fed. R. Evid. 61 l(a). Certainly, the Court did_ not abuse its discretion when it asked the sua sponte clarification question to Hamb.

'

Bonjean even tried to use this red herring during her closing statement to assert this proposition :

Ladies and gentlemen, when you go out and you order Chinese food, and you come come and you eat it, and if you find a cockroach in your hot and sour soup, you don't just pull out the cockroach and throw it over your shoulder and keep eating your soap [sic]. You throw the whole soup out, because  it's so infested with the nastiness of a cockroach. And that's what you have to do with Miss Spikes-Davis's testimony .You know she lied to you. She lied to all of us. And if she lied to us about one or two or three things, about signing blank documents, about never having seen the sales contract, never knowing about James Betts, then we don't know everything else she lied about, and you can't rely on her testimony to convict my client.

Tr. at 1115-16. The Court allowed Bonjean more flexibility in her closing argument, which is not evidence, and it did not interject during the portion of Bonjean's argument addressing Spikes-
Davis's testimony . This portion of Bonjean's "Sixth" argument-that the Court's clarification Sandra-Davis's testimony deprived Betts-Gaston of a fair trial-is without merit.

Also part of her "Sixth" argument
, Bonjean claims that the admission of Hamb's belief that Spikes-Davis was not actually selling her home deprived Betts-Gaston of a fair trial. As Bonjean did not cite any part of the record, the Court assumes that the following excerpt reflects the particular instance to which Bonjean is complaining. The government asked Hamb:

MR.
STORINO: Did  you think, based  on your perception  and what you   heard, whether Miss Spikes-Davis was selling her home --

MS. BONJEAN: Objection.

BY MR
. STORINO:
Q. -- to a person named James Betts?


MS
. BONJEAN: Irrelevant what she thought.

THE COURT: Yo.u may answer the question.


MS. BONJEAN: Objection. It's irrelevant, what she thought. It's highly prejudicial, what she thought.


BY  THE WITNESS:


A. No.


MS
. BONJEAN: She wasn't the client.

THE COURT: You may answer the question.

BY THE WITNESS:


A.
No.

 
Hamb
's answer to the government's question was admissible because the government framed the question ""within the context of Fed. R. Evid. 602, 701, and 401. Hamb had personal knowledge of the transaction, had formed her own
lay opinion, and the question was relevant to Betts-Gaston's intent to defraud Spikes-Davis. Bonjean was correct that Hamb;s answer was highly prejudicial, but that it is not a reason to bar Hamb's answer under Rule 403 or any other Federal Rule of Evidence. Accordingly, this argument is meritless.

The "Seventh" argument Bonjean makes is that the Court erroneously  admitted  Exhibits  91 through 94. Exhibits 92 and 94 are letters signed by Betts-Gaston and sent to Ms. Kmiec; substantively  admissible  under Fed.  R. Evid.  801(d)(2) as the statement of a party   opponent. Exhibits 91 and 93 are letters that Ms. Kmiec sent to Betts-Gaston. The Court did not admit Exhibits 91 and 93 for the truth of the matter, but to provide context of the letters to the jury, and the Court contemporaneously instructed the jury accordingly. No error and no unfair prejudice resulted from these rulings, therefore, this argument is without merit.

The "Eighth" argument is that the statements
"purportedly made by James Betts to Ross regarding his income" were erroneously admitted because the government "failed to lay a foundation for the hearsay evidence."Def.'s Post-Trial Mot. at 7. "For a co-conspirator's statements to be admissible under FRE 801(d)(2)(e), the government must establish by a preponderance of the evidence (1) that a conspiracy existed, (2) that the defendant and the declarant were members of the conspiracy, and (3) that the statements were made in the furtherance of the conspiracy.:' Pust, 2015 WL 4898976 at *3. Here, the Court ruled pretrial that the Government's Santiago Proffer sufficiently proved by a preponderance of evidence that Betts's statements were made in furtherance of the conspiracy and his statements would be admissible at trial. The evidence presented by the government solidified that ruling. The government proved (1) that a conspiracy existed for four real estate transactions, but it only sought convictions on two; (2) that Betts-Gaston, Ross, Bobbie Ross (Ross's mother), and Betts (Betts-Gaston's father) were members of the conspiracy, but it only sought indictments for two  of them; and (3) that Betts's statements to Ross fraudulently inflating his income, which were in turn represented on the loan application, were in furtherance of the conspiracy. Betts was an unindicted co-conspirator and his statements were admissible under Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(2). This argument is meritless.

In the "Ninth" argument, Bonjean again calls into question the Court's impartiality. This time, arguing that the Court conducted a cross-examination of Betts-Gaston. The record reflects several innocuous questions from the Court to Betts-Gaston, such as, "I'm sorry. I didn't hear your last answer. You lived where?" Tr. at 813. The Court also asked Betts-Gaston to clarify which mortgage she was talking about when describing the details of the Trumbull Property transaction, saying "Help the jury understand, when you say a mortgage, saddled with, which mortgage?" Id. at 852. In response to this question Bonjean, rudely remarked, "If the Court would like to take off its robe and come down here and do the government's job for it, it certainly can do that." Id. Later the Court asked Betts-Gaston to clarify her attorney-client relationship with Spikes-Davis; for example, the Court asked, "When did you terminate your attorney client relationship?" Id. at 874. Betts-Gaston obfuscated the answer, so the Court asked follow-up questions. To clarify a conversation what was said in a conversation between Betts­ Gaston and Mrs. Kmiec, the ·Court asked Betts-Gaston a simple foundation question, "What words did you speak and what words did she speak?" Tr. at 884. Bonjean again reacted with an outburst: "Objection . Unless the Court would like to become a litigant, I object to the Court's continuing harassment and questioning. You didn't do it for a single government witness, and you are up here doing it. It's unfair, it's improper and you know it." Id. There was nothing unusual or impermissible about the Court's questions to Betts-Gaston. The questions were well within what is permissible under Fed. R. Evid. 614 and Washington, 417 F.3d at 784. The only peculiarities about the Court's questions were the resulting aspersions from Bonjean.

Bonjean also argues that the Court's deportment deprived Betts-Gaston a fair trial. Bonjean claims that the Court "repeatedly rolled his eyes and made facial expression[s] demonstrating his disbelief of [Betts-Gaston's] testimony." Def.'s Post-Trial Mot. at 7. A new trial is warranted only when the Court exhibits "a high degree of favoritism or antagonism." Liteky, 510 U.S. at 555. On the other hand, "judicial physical movements and responses during trial ordinarily do not support a motion for mistrial." Robbins, 197 F.3d at 848. And, "opinions formed by the judge on the basis of facts introduced or events occurring in the course of the current proceedings, or of prior proceedings, do not constitute a basis for a bias or partiality motion." Liteky, 510 U.S. at 555.

 

Upon review of the transcript, the Court can only find a single, isolated incident of making a notable facial expression. See Tr. at 979-80. The Court's expression was a reaction to the absurdity of Betts-Gaston's answer. The Court contemporaneously instructed the jury to ignore any facial expression that the Court may have exhibited. This was not a high degree of antagonism towards Betts-Gaston, but a reaction to Betts-Gaston's bold efforts to make assertions completely contrary to the evidence in the case. Given the overwhelming evidence of Betts-Gaston's guilt, the slight aberration from the Court's otherwise stoic appearance does not warrant a new trial.

             C. Objections Regarding the Closing Arguments

Parts of Bonjean's "First" argument and her entire "Tenth" argument relate to what occurred after the close of evidence. Bonjean argues that Betts-Gaston was denied a fair trial when ''the Court sua sponte sought to instruct the jury with an 'Ostrich' instruction after Defendant completed her closing argument." Def.'s Post-Trial Mot. at 4. Reviewing the record reveals that after the close of evidence, the Court followed procedural rules and Seventh Circuit precedent to ensure that the jury was properly instructed on the law.

Bonjean's closing argument started with the bizarre preamble of "Look at me. I did it. I'm proud of myself. Okay ." Tr. at 1092. From there, she misstated the government's burden of proof, necessitating the Court to interject:

'

MS. BONJEAN: The jury is the anchor to hold the government to its burden, and that burden is a hefty burden. It is a burden that is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. All reasonable doubt.

THE COURT: Just a minute. You have misstated the law.

MS. BONJEAN: I have not misstated the law. It's proof beyond a reasonable doubt. You are misstating the law. It is proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

THE COURT: Just a minute, counsel. Ignore the word "al
l," members of the jury. Please proceed.

 Tr. at 1093. Then Bonjean went on to argue four times that Betts-Gaston did not knowingly participate in the mortgage fraud scheme.

Why is it so implausible that Avalon didn't know what Dimona was doing?


So why is it so implausible that my client didn't know what [Ross] was doing in her little home office when she was sending off these -- putting down whatever she wanted on these loan applications?

Why is it so implausible? Why is the government so convinced my client knew what was going on with Dimona Ross in her little home office with the little loan applications and her little deals going on with Norman Ikonen?

Why is it so implausible that my client didn't realize what was -- it wasn't her -­ by everyone's account, including the government's, she was not part of that process.

 Tr. at 1128-29.During her closing argument, Bonjean raised the defense that Betts-Gaston did not knowingly participate in the scheme. Because of Bonjean's closing argument, the Court discussed the possible addition of the "Ostrich" instruction, also known as the second paragraph of the Seventh Circuit Pattern Jury Instruction Number 4.10. The discussion regarding the Ostrich instruction occurred outside the presence of the jury. Ultimately, the Court relied on United States v. Caliendo, 910 F.2d 429, 435 (7th Cir. 1990), and declined to provide the Ostrich instruction because "the evidence against the defendant points solely to direct knowledge of the criminal venture."Tr. at 1218; cf. Caliendo, 910 F.2d at 435 ("if the evidence against the defendant points solely to direct knowledge of the criminal venture, it would be error to give the [ostrich] instruction.") (internal quotation and citations omitted).

 The Court did not err or deprive Betts-Gaston of a fair trial by discussing what set of jury instructions would be proper, especially because Bonjean had raised the issue of willful blindness during her closing argument. Betts-Gaston was in no way prejudiced by the ongoing discussion regarding proper jury instructions because "[t]he Court may instruct the jury before or after the arguments are completed, or at both times."Fed. R. Crim. P. 30(c). Furthermore, the Court's decision followed the explicit warning in Caliendo. Bonjean's assertion that "Defendant had a right to know how the jury would be instructed prior to closing argument" is yet another instance where she disregards the Federal rules and misrepresents legal authority. Def.'s Post­ Trial Mot. at 4.

In her "Tenth" argument, Bonjean avers that the government misstated the law and facts during its closing argument. Bonjean does not specify which statements she is
challenging. She does not even specify if the government's statements occurred during the initial closing argument or the rebuttal closing argument. The record reflects that Bonjean made a handful of general objections during the government's closing statements, but she does not do enough to preserve those objections here. Bonjean's argument that the government misstated the law and
 misstated the facts during the closing arguments is waived. Alden, 527 F.3d at 664; Berkowitz, 927 F.2d at 1384.

Bonjean also argues as part of her "Tenth" argument that "AUSA Lee 'testified' as a Government expert witness during closing argument about what was routine in the mortgage industry."Def.'s Post-Trial Mot. at 7.Once again, she does not provide a citation to the record. When a prosecutor's closing remarks are challenged as inappropriate, "the remarks must be examined within the context of the trial to determine whether the prosecutor's behavior amounted to prejudicial error. In other words, the Court must consider the probable effect the prosecutor's response would have on the jury's ability to judge the evidence fairly. In this context, defense counsel's conduct, as well as the nature of the prosecutor's response, is relevant." Young, 470 U.S. at 12 (citations omitted). A new trial is not warranted "where prosecutors have responded reasonably in closing argument to defense counsel's attacks, thus rendering it unlikely that the jury was led astray." Id.

Here, Bonjean asserted,
inter alia, during her closing argument that "mortgage lenders were giving loans to people who could not afford them and then turning around, selling them off, and foreclosing on them so they could enrich themselves. That's the scheme."Tr. at  1122. AUSA Lee's rebuttal closing predominantly focused on the witnesses' testimony presented during the trial, and he only briefly discussed the mortgage industry. When discussing the mortgage industry, he did so in the context of explaining why Betts-Gaston's misrepresentations were material. See id. at 1198-99. Furthermore, AUSA Lee told the jury that the Court "has instructed you that what the attorneys say is not evidence. What the attorneys say, what they argue is not evidence...." Id. at 1187.The Court later reiterated AUSA Lee'
s admonition by repeating: "What the attorneys say in their closing argument is their view of the evidence."Id.  at
1191. AUSA Lee's quick discussion about the mortgage industry absolutely does not amount to testimony from an expert witness. Given the overwhelming evidence against Betts-Gaston, Bonjean's earlier inflammatory remarks, AUSA Lee's limited discourse of the mortgage industry in his rebuttal, and the accurate instructions that attorneys' closing arguments are not evidence, the Court finds that the prosecutor's response was reasonable and did not unfairly  prejudice Betts-Gaston.

 As a final remark, it is a rare occasion that Courts are confronted with such groundless and pestiferous accusations of impartiality from defense counsel. See United States v. LeFevour, 798 F.2d 977 (7th Cir. 1986). LeFevour is a case in which the defense counsel argued on appeal, among other things, that "the District Judge was the prosecution's most effective advocate." Id. at 984. The Seventh Circuit, however, held otherwise; noting that the District Judge's "occasional asperity..." was "entirely understandable in the view of the rude and provocative behavior of defense counsel. ..."Id. at 985. Bonjean's conduct throughout this proceeding was akin to the conduct of defense counsel in LeFevour. "The tactic of a lawyer in a losing cause who tries to provoke the trial judge into error is an old one";it is a tactic of which the Court is well aware. Id. The tactic failed for defense counsel and his client in LeFevour and Bonjean 's similar trial tactics have failed here. The motion for a new trial pursuant to Rule 33 is denied.
                                               III. Conclusion

At trial, the government produced overwhelming evidence of Betts-Gaston's guilt on Counts I and II of wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343. The trial that  Betts-Gaston received  was  fair.  The  Court's  rulings  during  the  course  of  the  proceeding   simply  followed federal procedural rules, federal evidentiary rules, and controlling precedent. To the extent that Bonjean makes any other "arguments" on behalf of her client Betts-Gaston, the Court declines to address them because they are merely undeveloped assertions void of any merit. Therefore, Betts-Gaston's motion for acquittal pursuant to Rule 29, and alternatively, a new trial pursuant lo Rule 33 is denied.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

 

DATE: November 6, 2015                 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    


  UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS EASTERN DIVISION


UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
v.
AVALON BETTS-GASTON

No. 11 CR 502-1

Judge Charles Norgle


               GOVERNMENT' S SENTENCING MEMORANDUM

Defendant Avalon Betts-Gaston, while acting as a real-estate attorney, deceived distressed homeowners and mortgage lenders in a fraud scheme that benefited her, her co- defendant, her father, and her co-defendant's mother in fees while stripping away the homeowners ' homes and their equity. She did this even after participating in two similar mortgage-fraud schemes and after seeing the victims in those cases lose their homes and their equity. Because of her actions, because of her abuse of the trust placed in her by her clients, and because she has failed to accept responsibility for her actions, a sentence within the Guidelines range of 57 to 71 months' imprisonment would be reasonable and appropriate.

I. CORRECTIONS TO PSR

Defendant is correct that, while she has admitted that the name of her fraud scheme (IJCN Investments) was based on the phrase "In Jesus Christ's Name," she did not report this i n corporate filings and did not tell this to some of the homeowners who participated in JJCN's program. Accordingly , the government does not oppose striking the phrase "which d id business as 'In Jesus Christ's Name "' from paragraph 5 of the Presentence Investigation Report, as defendant requested in her Objections to the Presentence Investigation Report and Accompanying Sentencing Memorandum (#184) at 1.

The government acknowledges that some of the homeowner victims of defendant's offenses of conviction did receive funds from the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, and does not oppose striking the word "may" from the phrase "may have received assistance from the Illinois Registration and Disciplinary Commission" from paragraph l 3 of the PSR.
The government does not oppose the defendant's correction regard ing the name of the school where she now works.

The government will address defendant's other proposed corrections below and at sentencing.

The government has identified a mathematical error in its version of offense and the PSR, specifically, the total loss suffered by the homeowners , which should be $239,550.48, not $272,550, and the total loss suffered by the homeowner s and the lenders, which should be $726,380.48, not $759,380.50. Accordingly, paragraph 20 of the PSR should be corrected to refer to the loss suffered by the homeowners as $239,550.48 and the total loss as $726,380.48.

II. GOVERNMENT' S POSITION ON GUIDELINES

As a matter of process, the district court must properly calculate the Guidelines range, treat the Guidelines as advisory, consider the Section 3553(a) factors, and adequately explain the chosen sentence, including an explanation for any variance from the Guidelines range. Gall v. United States, 128 S. Ct. 586, 596-97 (2007).

A. Loss Amount

In a fraud case in which Guideline § 2B I .I applies, the district court begins by estimating the greater of the actual or intended loss caused by the defendant's fraudulent conduct.

Guideline § 2B1.1(b)(l ); id. § 2B l.l, cmt. n.(3). 1 Within this framework, actual loss is "the reasonably foreseeable pecuniary harm that resulted from the offense." Id. § 2B 1.1, cmt. n.(3)(A)(i). "In the case of fraud, [however,] the loss need not be actual; it is enough if it is probable or intended." United States v. Schneider, 930 F.2d 555, 556 (7th Cir. 1991). lntended loss refers to the "(]) the pecuniary harm that was intended to result from the offense; and (II)
includes intended pecuniary harm that would have been impossible or unlikely to occur." Id. § 281.1, cmt. n.(3)(A)(ii). ''Reasonably foreseeable pecuniary harm," in turn, means "pecuniary harm that the defendant knew or, under the circumstances, reasonably should have known, was a potential result of the offense." Id. § 281.1, cmt. n.(3)(A)(vi). The district court "need only make a reasonable estimate of loss." Id. § 2B 1.1, cmt. n.(3)(C); see also United States v. Borrasi, 639 F.3d 774, 783 (7th Cir. 2011) (providing that "a court's findings need only be a reasonable estimate of the loss").

The government bears the burden to prove loss by a preponderance of the evidence. United States v. Littrice, 666 F.3d 1053, 1060 (7th Cir. 2012). Here, the government's calculations of the losses to the lenders were based on mortgages and other documents recorded with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds (many of which were admitted at trial), as well as based on assessed values reported on the Cook County Assessor's Office's website, and followed the formula that the Seventh Circuit discussed in United States v. Green, 648 F.3d 569, 584 (7th Cir. 2011) and Application Note 3 to Guideline § 2B l.l. Moreover, the government's calculations of the losses to the homeowners were based on the equity checks that resulted from the fraudulent sales of their homes and that were deposited into the IJCN account, three of which were admitted at trial. The losses are summarized below and have been corrected from the figures submitted in the government's version of offense:

(The Guidelines Manual applicable here is the November 2015 Guidelines Manual, which uses different loss brackets than the PSR which was prepared using the November 2014 Guidelines Manual.)

Property                                
Ravengate       
Loss to Lenders
$96,250, representing the difference between the total loans taken out by Bobbie Ross ($220,000 and $41,250) and the value of the home when sold in 2009 ($165,000)
Loss to Homeowners
$58,943.52, representing the homeowner equity resulting from the sale arranged by defendant and then deposited into IJCN's account

Property
Trumbull
Loss to Lenders
$68,450, representing the difference between the total loans taken out by James Betts ($180,000 and $33,750) and the 2015 market value of the home according to the Cook County Assessor's Office ($145,300)
Loss to Homeowners
$31,553.48, representing the homeowner equity resulting from the sale arranged by defendant and then deposited into IJCN's account

Property
Howard
Loss to Lenders
$159,140, representing the difference between the total loans taken out by Bobbie Ross ($355,500 and $19,750) and the 2015 market value of the home according to the Cook County Assessor's Office ($216,1 10)
Loss to Homeowners
$83,955.07, representing the homeowner equity resulting from the sale arranged by defendant and then deposited into IJCN 's account

Property
Hermosa
Loss to Lenders
$162,990, representing the difference between the total loans taken out by the buyer ($408,000) and the 2015 market value of the home according to the Cook County Assessor's Office ($245,0 I 0)
Loss to Homeowners
$65,098.41 , representing the homeowner equity resulting from the sale arranged by defendant and then deposited into IJCN' s account

Total Loss to Lenders $486,830.00
Total Loss to Homeowners $239,550.48
TOTAL LOSS  $726,380.48


Probation has agreed with the government regarding its calculation methodology and has determined that the total loss is more than $700,000, which corresponds to a 14-level increase under Guideline § 281.1(b)( 1)(H).

As the Seventh Circuit has held, once the government has met its burden of loss, the defendant must present "substantiated evidence to counter the government's explicit proof of loss." United States v. Gordon, 495 F.3d 427, 432 (7th Cir. 2007) (defendant's "generalized concern that the government may not have been right" was insufficient to counter the government's proof of loss). Defendant has not done this here.

The arguments raised by defendant in her sentencing memorandum regarding loss are without merit, and several seem to be based on the incorrect assumption that the Court is limited to the evidence that was presented at trial. I n fact, the Court is not limited to the trial record, and "may consider relevant information without regard to its admissibility under the rules of evidence applicable at trial, provided that the information has sufficient indicia of reliability to support its probable accuracy." Guideline § 6A1 .3. Indicia of reliability "may come from, interalia, the provision of facts and details, corroboration by or consistency with other evidence, or the opportunity for cross-examination." United States v. Smith, 674 F.3d 722, 732 (7th Cir. 2012) (internal citations omitted).

           1. Loss to Lenders

First, defendant argues with regards to the Ravengate, Trumbull and Howard Properties that the lenders who issued loans to the straw buyers on those properties suffered no loss because the lenders sold the loans soon after financing them. This fact is immaterial to intended loss, and confuses loss with restitution. In order to constitute loss under the Guidelines, the loss amount need not even occur. USSG § 2B 1.1, cmt. n.(3)(A)(ii) (defining intended loss as "(l) the pecuniary harm that was intended to result from the offense; and (11) includes intended pecuniary harm that would have been impossible or unlikely to occur"). Defendant exposed the initial lenders, and any lender who later held the loans issued by those lenders, to a risk of loss on the Ravengate, Trumbull and Howard Prope1ties of approximately $323,840.2

Second, defendant argues that the government has not established by sufficient evidence the amount of the loans on the Ravengate, Trumbull and Howard Properties. This argument is without merit. Certified copies of the two mortgages issued to the straw buyers for each of these properties were admitted at trial, and support the loan values cited by the government (Exhibits 18 and 19 for the Ravengate Property, Exhibits 49 and 50 for the Trumbull Property, and Exhibits 82 and 83 for the Howard Prope1ty). Defendant has presented nothing to suggest that the mortgages recorded at the Cook County Recorder of Deeds are inaccurate regarding the loan amounts stated therein.

Third, as stated in the Guidelines, loss in fraud cases involving mortgage loans and collateral pledged or otherwise provided by the defendant, "the amount has recovered at the time of sentencing from disposition of the collateral, or if the collateral has not been disposed of by that time, the fair market value of the collateral" as of the date on which the guilt of the defendant was established. Application Note 3(E)(ii) and (iii) to Guideline § 2B 1.1. In a case involving a mortgage loan, "there shall be a rebuttable presumption that the most recent tax assessment value of the collateral is a reasonable estimate of the fair market value." Application Note 3(E)(iii) to Guideline § 2B 1.1. The government followed these principles when determining the amounts that should be credited against loss, citing either (i) the value of the Ravengate Property when sold in 2009 or (ii) the 2015 market values of the Trumbull and Howard Properties according to the Cook County Assessor's Office.

(Defendant's arguments regarding the sale of loans may be relevant to restitution. The government will provide information separately with regards to restitution.)

Defendant has not presented any evidence, such as an appraisal report, to rebut the presumption that the 2015 assessment value of the Trumbull and Howard Properties are not reasonable estimates of the fair market value of such properties. If defendant does so prior to or at sentencing, the government will consider such information as appropriate.

         2. Loss to Homeowners

Defendant appears to argue in her sentencing memorandum that the homeowners suffered no loss as a result of defendant's actions because one of them did ultimately stay in her home for several years before being evicted. To the extent that defendant is making this argument, it is without merit. The homeowners came to defendant looking for help with their mortgages, and instead had their homes sold to strangers, their equity stripped, and their lives put into limbo. If defendant had not deceived them with her IJCN program, the homeowners could have taken advantage of legitimate mortgage-assistance programs or attempted to renegotiate their mortgages with their lenders, as many other people d id. At worst, they could have sold their homes and at least walked away with some of the equity that they had built up in their homes. The fact that one homeowner was able to stay in her home for several years was not due to the IJCN program, but to that homeowner's efforts to help herself, which included seeking legal assistance against defendant.

Defendant also tries to cite United States v. Swanson, 483 F.3d 509 (7th Cir. 2009) for the argument that the payments that defendant and her partner made on the new, higher mortgages on the homeowners ' homes were a "legitimate service" that defendant provided to the homeowners and that should be credited against the loss that they suffered. Swanson does state that loss "cannot include the value of services a defendant legitimately performed for the victims of his fraud," but it goes on to state that loss does include the "amount that the defendant placed at risk by misappropriating money or other property." Defendant placed the homeowners' homes and equity at risk by selling the homes to straw buyers and keeping all of their equity in the IJCN account. The payments that defendant made to the lenders to conceal the fraud and to help protect the straw buyers were not "legitimate services" as contemplated by Swanson, and should not be counted here. To the extent that any fees would be considered "legitimate services" that defendant provided to the homeowner victims under Swanson, they would be the fees that defendant and her partner received for
their work as an attorney and loan officer at the closings, and the government's loss calculation does not take into account any of those fees.

Here, the government's estimate of loss to the homeowners is based solely on the equity that they had at the time that their homes were sold by defendant to straw buyers, and that reflects the money that they would have had had they simply sold their homes themselves, as they might well have done had defendant not deceived them regarding the IJCN program. This is a conservative and reasonable estimate of the loss suffered by the homeowners, and should be
used by the Court here.3

(3 At the same time, the government does recognize that the ARDC's Client Protection Program has provided funds to the homeowner victims regarding the Trumbull, Howard, and Hermosa Prope1iies in amounts greater than the equity lost as a result of defendant's actions, so the $180,606.96 in restitution that those homeowner victims altogether might ordinarily be entitled to should instead be ordered to the ARDC. Notably, Robert Brennan, the homeowner of the Ravengate Property, has not received any funds from the ARDC and thus is entitled to restitution in the amount of the equity that he lost as a result of defendant 's actions, specifically, $58,943.52.)

        3. Loss Relating to Hermosa Property

Finally, defendant argues that no loss to lender or homeowner should be counted regarding the Hermosa Prope11y. This is without merit. The property fits well within the scheme contemplated by the defendant, and defendant herself identified the Hermosa property as one of the properties encompassed within IJCN's work in a February 4, 2007 letter to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, along with the three properties which were specifically discussed at trial. Documents regarding the Hermosa Prope1ty - such as a complaint form completed by the daughter of the owner of the Hermosa property , a civil complaint filed against defendant in the Circuit Court of Cook County - Chancery Division, and documents that the owner's daughter provided to the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, all of which were provided in discovery - show that defendant sold the Hermosa Property to a third party in January 2006 without the knowledge of the Hermosa Property's actual owners, ju st as she did with the Trumbull Property.

More specifically, the owner of the Hermosa Property received an advertisement from IJCN in the summer of 2006. The owner met with defendant in August 2006, and was told by defendant to sign documents that were not filled out at the time, including a quit claim deed that was later used to transfer the Hermosa Property to IJCN's land trust and a power of attorney form. The owner filled out a program election form like the ones shown at trial, and selected the
"readjustment period" option, not the "sale" option.

Defendant, acting as the attorney for the Hermosa Property's owner, then sold the Hermosa Property on January 25, 2007 to a husband and wife who IJCN paid $10,000 to soon afterwards. Defendant then deposited the $65,098.41 check that was written out to the Hermosa Property 's owner for the sale into the IJCN account.

The Hermosa Property's original owner did not know that her home was being sold that day, just as Sandra Spikes-Davis did not know when defendant sold the Trumbull Property without Spikes-Davis's knowledge. On the same day of the closing, defendant faxed a program summary to the Hermosa Property's original owner. The daughter faxed the form back to defendant the same day with the note: "I am signing the attachment with the understanding that I will have a[t] least a month to decide whether go with the program or sell. ff there is a program with my understanding, please call me immediately."

ln fact, the home was sold that very day.

Overall, defendant's actions regarding the Hermosa Property are part of the same scheme that was alleged in the indictment and that was the basis for the offenses of conviction. Moreover, even if defendant's actions regarding the Hermosa Property were not pa11of the fraud scheme alleged in the indictment, defendant's actions can be considered here for sentencing purposes as relevant conduct, which includes "all acts ... committed, aided, abetted, counseled , commanded,
induced, procured, or willfully caused by the defendant" "that were part of the same course of conduct or common scheme or plan as the offense of conviction." Guideline § 1Bl.3(a)(2).

             B. Abuse of Trust

Defendant does not appear to dispute Probation's application of a two-level enhancement pursuant to Guideline § 3BI .3 because she abused a position of private trust and used a special skill in a manner that significantly facilitated the commission or concealment of the offense. PSR 22. As stated in the government's version of offense, defendant here was a real-estate attorney who took advantage of the trust that her clients .placed in her. Sandra Spikes-Dav is in particular viewed defendant as her attorney helping her refinance her mot1gage, and bad no reason to suspect that her attorney would have her sign documents giving up her home and accomplishing the opposite of what she had come to the attorney for in the first place.

C. Obstruction of Justice

Defendant testified at trial about how her practice should have been, not how it actually was, and she did so in an unsuccessful attempt to deceive the jury, and Probation correctly determined that an enhancement for obstruction of justice was warranted under Guideline §
3C1.l. PSR at ,r,r 14-15, 23. See United States v. Stenson, 741 F.3d 827, 831 (7th Cir. 2014) (when a defendant "decides to take the stand and tell the jury a story, he does so at his own risk, for if he commits perjury, the court may, at the time of sentencing, enhance his sentence for obstructing justice") (internal citation omitted). "[W]hen a defendant falsely testifies regarding a material matter with the intent to provide such false testimony rather than as a result of confusion, mistake, or faulty memory, the court may apply the obstruction enhancement." Id. (internal citation omitted).

Here, defendant testified at trial, and she lied about her involvement in one particular aspect of the scheme. In particular, she falsely claimed to have had no knowledge at the time of her father's closing that his loan application stated that he was purchasing the Trumbull prope1iy as a second home. She also testified that she learned by the end of the closing that the home was being purchased as a second home, that she talked with her father about this, and that her father agreed to stay at the Trumbull property for a few days in order to stay within the law.

First, defendant's story defies common sense - if defendant , a real-estate attorney, had actually learned for the first time at the closing that such a significant mistake had been made in her father's loan application and mortgage documents, she would have taken actions to correct it,
rather than simply telling her father to abide by conditions that were very different from what he had expected and then taking no action to see that he actually did so. She also would not have proceeded to have Sandra Spikes-Davis sign a rental agreement whose terms violated the conditions of the mortgages that her father had just signed.

Second, defendant's story was contradicted directly by the testimony of Dimona Ross, who explained that defendant and she had agreed to falsely state that Betts was purchasing the Trumbull property as a second home so that Betts could qualify for loans and get the same kind of payment that Ross's mother had already received for being the nominee buyer on another property. This also fits with the overall evidence, as there was no reason for Dimona Ross to create false information about defendant's father without defendant's involvement, since doing so did not benefit Dimona Ross and only benefited defendant's father and thus defendant.

Ultimately, defendant did know that false information about her father's intent to use the Trumbull property as a second home was being submitted to the mortgage lender, and she lied to the jury to try explaining this away. Her false testimony about this story warrants an enhancement for obstruction of justice.

D. Total

Accordingly, the government agrees with Probation that the base offense level is 7, that the offense level should be increased by 14 levels due to the amount of loss attributable to defendant, that the offense level should be increased by two levels due to her abuse of trust, and
that the offense level should be increased by two levels due to her false testimony. PSR at ,r,r 19-
27. The government agrees that the total offense level is 25, and that defendant's Guidelines range is 57 to 71 months of imprisonment. Id. ,r 81.

III. GOVERNMENT'S POSITION ON SENTENCING

Criminal sentencing has four purposes - retribution, deterrence, incapacitation , and rehabilitation. United States v. Milbourn, 600 F.3d 808, 812 (7th Cir. 2010).4 Title 18, United States Code, Section 3553(a) sets forth the factors to consider when determining a sentence that is sufficient, but not more than necessary , to comply with these purposes. A Guidelines range sentence of between 324 to 405 months' imprisonment for defendant i s reasonable, but not greater than necessary, under the factors set forth in 18 U.S.C. 3553(a), and the specific facts of this case as described below.

(See also 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a)(2)(A)-(D) ("(A) to reflect the seriousness of the offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense; (B) to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct; (C) to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant; and (D) to provide the defendant with needed educational or vocational training, medical care, or other correctional treatment i n the most effective manner").

         A. Nature and Circumstances of Offense

Defendant's sentencing memorandum fails to acknowledge the serious and costly nature of her conduct, particularly the effect that her actions had on the people who came to her looking for help. The nature and circumstances of the offense weigh heavily i n favor of a Guidelines range sentence in this case for three reasons.

First, the offense is a serious one that wrecked massive havoc on the lives of four households that were already facing financial difficulties. As part of the scheme, defendant and her co-defendant Dimona Ross told these homeowners that by participating i n the program offered through their company, IJCN Investments, they could stay in their homes without making payments for up to 18 months. Instead, the homeowners ' homes were sold to strangers and controlled by defendant, their equity was stripped, and the homeowners were told to make greater payments than the ones they had trouble making or be evicted.

Second, defendant's role within the scheme also weighs in aggravation. She was a real­ estate attorney who held herself out as the attorney for her clients, and took advantage of the trust that her victims placed in her. The homeowners believed that she was there to help them, and instead she put their homes and equity at risk so that she, the co-defendant, and their straw buyers could get fees.

Third, the fact that defendant engaged in the scheme encompassed within the offense of conviction after participating in two other mortgage-fraud schemes (Rymtech and W2X), and after seeing the dire circumstances that befell the victims of those schemes, show that her conduct here was not an uncharacteristic lapse in judgment, but a deliberate attempt to enrich herself and others via the same fraud that she had already helped others commit.

As defendant admitted in a November 2006 letter to the ARDC, she was the attorney for more than 20 victims of the Rymtech fraud scheme from May 2004 through August 2005. Rymtech's principal, Felix Daniel, told homeowners that if they entrusted their homes and the equity they had in the homes to Rymtech, then they would have their homes free and clear within five years. But the scheme ultimately was a Ponzi scheme, which worked only so long as Rymtech could get more homeowners to contribute equity to pay the large mortgage obligations that Rymtech and its straw buyers incurred. Defendant helped the scheme by representing more than 20 homeowners in the Chicago area at closings. Homeowners generally thought that they were entrusting their homes to Rymtech via these closings, and did not realize, even though defendant was there as their attorney, that they were actually selling their homes to straw buyers arranged by Rymtech.

Defendant played the same role in a second mortgage-fraud scheme, W2X. Like Rymtech, W2X worked by tricking homeowners into selling their homes to straw buyers and keeping the homeowners' equity. Defendant admitted to law-enforcement agents that she conducted 11 closings with the head of W2X.

Rymtech and W2X both collapsed, and the homeowners whom defendant had represented lost their homes and equity as a result. And then defendant started IJCN, following the same pattern that she had seen Rymtech and W2X use. Defendant might have thought that she had tinkered with the pattern to make it slightly less bad than Rymtech or W2X, but her offense and the consequences ultimately .were the same.

          B. History and Characteristics of the Defendant

Even after being disbarred by the Illinois Supreme Court for her conduct regarding Rymtech, W2X and IJCN, and through the trial in this case, defendant has shown no remorse for her actions and shown no acceptance of responsibility . Through the trial before this Court, she tried to blame her clients for somehow not understanding that she was going to sell their homes to strangers, even though she knew that they came to her for help keeping those homes. She also tried to blame the mo1tgage industry for not realizing that the loan applications at issue here contained lies, even though she knew that the straw buyers had no intent ion of making the payments that they promised to make and that the properties would be kept in a trust so the lenders would not know who actually held title.

Defendant still has not acknowledged her own personal culpability. ln her sentencing memorandum, she tries to put the blame on a "strong culture that
invited and condoned the conduct for which [she] was convicted." Docket # 184 at 10. This is simply not true. This is not a case where a legitimate buyer or investor slightly overstated their income or borrowed money from a parent without sufficient disclosure on the loan application, or where a home was sold for too much based on an unduly optimistic market at the time. This case demonstrates a sophisticated scheme to take advantage of the trust that m011gage lenders placed in the Joan applications they received, and the trust that the homeowners placed in her. No lender or homeowner asked her to do the following actions which were shown at trial:

• Defendant tricked homeowners into signing deeds that were used to quitclaim their homes to a trust that benefited only her company.

• Defendant falsely notarized documents to make it appear that the documents had been signed and sworn to i n the presence of a notary, when no notary was present and when several documents were filled in later.

• Defendant paid the straw buyers to purchase the homes without disclosing this information to the lenders.

• Defendant knew that her father's loan application incorrectly stated that he was purchasing the home as a secondary residence.

• Defendant knew that the straw buyers intended to deed the properties to her company soon after the closings, thus violating the obligations that they agreed to in accepting the loan proceeds and deceiving the lenders who assumed that the straw buyers would hold the properties that they just bought and would use them as they had promised.

The letters submitted on behalf of defendant other aspects of defendant and should be taken into account at sentencing. But her failure to accept
responsibility for her actions and her failure to help the homeowners who trusted er should also be taken into account in terms of her history and characteristics.


C. Deterrence And The Need to Avoid Unwarranted Sentencing Disparities

Defendant argues that a significant sentence would be "purely punitive." # 184 at l 0. Punishment of the defendant is an important factor for sentencing and does help justify a significant sentence, but a significant sentence also is important here to effect general deterrence and to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities.

First, leaders of the other two mortgage-fraud schemes that defendant assisted received significant jail sentences, and such sentences help send the message to others who are considering participating in similar fraud schemes. Regarding Rymtech, Felix Daniel received a sentence of 8 years' imprisonment after being found guilty of mail and wire fraud charges in a jury trial in the Northern District of Illinois (ll CR 743, Judge Gottschall). Regarding W2X, Warren Jackson received a sentence of 6 years' imprisonment after pleading guilty to criminal mortgage fraud in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Second, close adherence to the sentencing guidelines will reduce sentencing disparities across defendants and districts, which is itself a statutorily-mandated factor. 18 U .S.C. § 3553(a)(6); see United States v. Mykytiuk, 415 F.3d 606, 608 (7th Cir. 2005) ("The Guidelines remain an essential tool in creating a fair and uniform sentencing regime across the country."); see also Booker v. United States, 543 U.S. 220, 250 (2005) ("Congress' basic statutory goal - a system that diminishes sentencing disparity"). A court that sentences within a properly calculated Guidelines range necessarily gives weight and consideration to avoiding unwarranted disparities. United States v. Turner, 604 F.3d 381 , 389 (7th Cir. 2010). Substantial sentences within the Guidelines range should be imposed on defendants who have imposed significant financial harm on a large number of victims and who have failed to accept full responsibility for
their crimes. The Guidelines range in this case

Here, defendant's Guidelines range takes into effect accurately takes into account the loss incurred as a result of defendant's actions, her abuse of her clients' trust, her false testimony, and her failure to accept responsibility, and it is deserving of due weight and consideration here. Moreover, a sentence within the Guidelines range would be in line with the sentences that Felix Daniel and Warren Jackson received and would send a strong message warning others not to engage i n fraud or to take advantage of one's clients.

             D. Conditions of Supervised Release

Consistent with the Seventh Circuit's guidance in United States v. Thompson, 777 F.3d 368 (7th Cir. 2015), in addition to the imposition of a sentence within the Guidelines range, the government recommends the imposition of a term of supervised release of two years per count, to be served concurrently. In order to promote the sentencing objectives of deterring recidivism, protecting the public, and assisting in defendant's rehabilitation and reintegration into society, the government supports Probation's recommendation that the term of supervised release include the conditions set forth below.

             l. Mandatory Conditions

The following mandatory conditions would serve to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct, protect the public, and assist in defendant's rehabilitation.

• not commit another Federal, State, or local crime

• not unlawfully possess a controlled substance.

• cooperate in the collection of a DNA sample if the collection of such a sample is required by law

            2. Facilitation of Supervision

The following discretionary conditions would serve to facilitate superv1s1on by the probation officer, thus assisting in encouraging defendant's compliance with the law and deterring the defendant from future crimes:
• Remain within the jurisdiction where defendant is being supervised, unless granted permission to leave by the court or a probation officer (2015 J&C Discretionary Condition # 14).

• Report to the probation officer as directed by the probation officer (2015 J&C Discretionary Condition # 15).

• Permit the probation officer to visit defendant at home, work, school, community service location, or any other reasonable location specified by a probation officer at any reasonable time, and to confiscate any contraband in plain view of the officer (2015 J&C Discretionary Condition #16).

• Notify a probation officer promptly, within 72 hours, of any change in residence, employer, or workplace and, absent constitutional or other legal privilege, answer inquiries by a probation officer (2015 J&C Discretionary Condition #1 7).

• Notify a probation officer within 72 hours of being arrested or questioned by a law enforcement officer (2015 J&C Discretionary Condition #18).

• Provide a probation officer with access to any requested financial information necessary to monitor compliance with conditions of supervised release (2015 J&C Special Condition #6).

• Notify the court of any material change in the defendant's economic circumstances that might affect the defendant's ability to pay restitution, fines, or special assessments (2015 J&C Special Condition #7).

• Not enter into any agreement to act as an informer or special agent of a law enforcement agency without the permission of the court (2015 J&C Special Condition # 11).

      3. Deterring Recidivism and Supporting the Defendant's Rehabilitation and Reintegration

The following conditions would suppo1t defendant's rehabilitation and reintegration into the community and would help ensure that the defendant is engaged in lawful pursuits:

• Provide financial suppot to dependents if financially able (2015 J&C Discretionary Condition # 1).

• Make restitution to a victim of the offense under Section 3556 (2015 J&C Discretionary Condition #2).

• Refrain from knowingly meeting or communicating with any person whom the defendant knows to be engaged , or planning to be engaged, in criminal activity (2015 J&C Discretionary Condition #6).

• Refrain from excessive use of alcohol (defined as having a blood alcohol concentration greater than 0.08%), or any use of a narcotic drug or other controlled substance, as defined in § I 02 of the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. § 802), without a prescription by a licensed medical practitioner (2015 J&C Discretionary Condition #7).

• Refrain from possessing a firearm, destructive device, or other dangerous weapon (2015 J&C Discretionary Condition #8).

• Participate, at the direction of a probation officer, in a mental health treatment program, which may include the use of prescription medications (2015 J&C Discretionary Condition #9).

• If unemployed after the first 60 days of supervision, or if unemployed for 60 days after termination or lay-off from employment, perform at least 20 hours of community service per week at the direction of the U.S. Probation Office until gainfully employed (2015 J&C Special Condition #3).

• Not incur new credit charges or open additional lines of credit without the approval of a probation officer unless the defendant is in compliance with the financial obligations imposed by this judgment (2015 J&C Special Condition #5).

• Provide documentation to the IRS and pay taxes as required by law (2015 J&C Special Condition #8).

• Pay any financial penalty that is imposed by this judgment that remains unpaid at the commencement of the term of supervised release. The defendant's monthly payment schedule shall be an amount that is at least l 0% of defendant's net monthly income, defined as income net of reasonable expenses for basic necessities such as food, shelter, utilities, insurance, and employment-related expenses (2015 J&C Special Condition # I 0).

IV. CONCLUSION

For the reasons set forth i n this memorandum, the PSR, the Government's Version of Offense, and at sentencing, the government's position is that defendant has earned each component of the Guidelines range, based on her conduct. The government therefore asks the Court to impose a sentence within the Guidelines range of 57 to 71 months' imprisonment and to impose the condition s of supervised release recommended by Probation.
Respectfully submitted,

ZACHARY T. FARDON
United States Attorney

By: /s/ Stephen Chahn Lee
STEPHEN CHAHN LEE
TIMOTHY STORINO
Assistant United States Attorneys
219 S. Dearborn Street, Suite 500
Chicago, Illinois 60604
(312) 353-5300

Dated: November 1 1, 2015

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ILLINOIS

EASTERN DIVISION


No 11 CR. 502

Violation: Title 18, United States

Code, Section 1343

FILED Jul 26, 2011


UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
               v.
AVALON BETTS-GASTON and
DIMONA ROSS, also known as D'Mona Ross


                                            COUNT ONE

The SPECIAL FEBRUARY 2011-1 GRAND JURY charges:

       1.         At times material to this indictment: 

            a.  Defendant AVALON BETTS-GASTON was an attorney licensed in the State of

Illinois and was the organizer and registered agent, as well as a member, of IJCN

Investments LLC, which also did business as In Jesus Christ's Name ("In Jesus

Christ's Name
") and had offices at 2 Mid America Plaza in Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois;

            b.   Defendant DIMONA ROSS, also known as D'Mona Ross, was a loan officer

licensed in the State of Illinois and employed by First Choice Funding, a mortgage loan

originator, as well as a member of In Jesus Christ's Name;

           c.     Fremont Investment & Loan and a financial institution, the deposits of

which were insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

           d.     Fremont Investment & Loan and American Home Mortgage Corporation,  

d/b/a American Brokers Conduit were lenders which made residential mortgage loans;

and

           e.      Fremont Investment & Loan and American Home Mortgage Corporation, 

d/b/a American Brokers Conduit required applicants for mortgage loans to provide

truthful information, including the borrower's employment, financial condition,

contribution to the purchase price, and intentions regarding the property purchased,

which was material to the approval, terms and funding of their loan.


    2.    Beginning in or about March 2006 and continuing until in or about October 2007,

in the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, and elsewhere,


                                     AVALON BETTS-GASTON, and
                              DIMONA ROSS, also known as D'Mona Ross,

  defendants herein, along with others both known and unknown to the Grand Jury,

knowingly devised, intended to devise, and participated in a scheme to defraud and to

obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses,

representations, promises, and by material omissions, which scheme affected a financial

institution, and which is further described below.

    3.     It was part of the scheme that BETTS-GASTON and ROSS fraudulently obtained

approximately three sets of mortgage loans in a total amount of approximately

$850,000 from lenders, including a financial institution, by knowingly causing to be

prepared and submitted loan applications and supporting documentation on behalf of

nominee buyers which contained materially false and fraudulent statements concerning

the nominee buyers' qualifications for the loan.

    4.    It was further part of the scheme that BETTS-GASTON and ROSS identified

persons whose homes were in foreclosure (the "Homeowners") and offered the

Homeowners a way for them to stay in their homes, in part by falsely representing to

the Homeowners that a sufficient portion of the equity in their homes would be placed

into escrow so that the Homeowners would not have to make any rental payments for a

period of time, while knowing that they would not put funds into escrow but use such

funds for their own benefit.

    5. It was further part of the scheme that BETTS-GASTON and ROSS recruited nominee

buyers, or "Investors," to purchase the Homeowners' homes and to have the Investor

obtain financing for such purchases from lenders.

    6. It was further part of the scheme that ROSS prepared and submitted loan

applications and supporting documentation on behalf of. the Investors that included

materially false representations and omissions concerning the Investors' employment,

financial condition, contribution towards the purchase price, and intention regarding the

property, well knowing at the time that the lenders relied on accurate information when

deciding whether to approve and fund their loans.

    7. It was further part of the scheme that ROSS prepared and submitted loan

applications that falsely represented that the Investors intended to hold the property

as a secondary residence or as an investment, while, at the same time, BETTS-GASTON

and ROSS arranged for the Investors to deed over the properties to a trust whose sole

beneficiary was In Jesus Christ's Name (the "IJCN Trust") after the real-estate closings

on the properties.

    8. It was further part of the scheme that BETTS-GASTON and ROSS knowingly

provided funds to the Investors that they knew would fraudulently be used as the

Investors' down payments on the purchases of the Homeowners' homes, and ROSS

knowingly applications that falsely represented that no part of the Investors' down

payments was borrowed.

    9. It was further part of the scheme that BETIS-GASTON caused title companies

serving as the closing agents for the Investors' purchases of the Homeowners'

properties to create materially false closing documents to conceal from lenders that

BETTS-GASTON and ROSS had agreed to pay the Investors to purchase the

Homeowners' homes.

                                              The Trumbull Property

  10. It was further part of the scheme that in or about June 2006, BETTS-GASTON told

and caused to be told Individual A that putting her home into the In Jesus Christ's

Name
program would enable Individual A to avoid foreclosure and to stay in her house

for up to 12 months without making any rental payments.

  11. It was further part of the scheme that on or about June 21, 2006, BETTS-GASTON

induced Individual A to transfer title in the residential property located at 7759 S.

Trumbull, Chicago (the "Trumbull Property") to the IJCN Trust as part of the In Jesus

Christ's Name program in part by falsely representing that a sufficient portion of

Individual A's equity would be placed into escrow so that Individual A would not have to

make any rental payments for a period of time, well knowing. at the time that BETTS-

GASTON would not put funds into escrow but instead use such funds for BETTS-

GASTON's and ROSS's own benefit.

   12. It was further part of the scheme that BETTS-GASTON and ROSS recruited

Individual B, a relative of BETTS-GASTON, to act as the nominee buyer, or "Investor," to

purchase . the Trumbull Property from the IJCN Trust, and then to transfer title in the

Trumbull Property back to the IJCN Trust.

   13. It was further part of the scheme that ROSS prepared and submitted loan

applications and supporting documentation to American Brokers Conduit that included

materially false representations and omissions concerning Individual B' s employment,

financial condition, contribution towards the purchase price, and intention regarding the

property, well knowing at the time that this information would be material to American

Brokers Conduit's decisions regarding approval, terms and funding of its loans, including

the following:

      a. That Individual B intended to hold the Trumbull Property as a secondary

residence, whereas BETTS-GASTON and ROSS knew that Individual B would not reside

there and had arranged for Individual B to transfer title in the Trumbull Property to the

IJCN Trust after Individual B' s purchase;

      b. That Individual B made $15,000 a month in base employment income and that

he had been employed for four years as an options trader, whereas BETTS-GASTON and

ROSS knew that Individual B did not make such base income; and

      c. That Individual B intended to live in the Trumbull Property as a secondary

residence during the work week because he was in Chicago often and that he wanted

to be closer to his elderly mother, whereas BETTS-GASTON and ROSS knew that

Individual B did not intend to do so.

   14. It was further part of the scheme that BETTS-GASTON and ROSS fraudulently

provided funds to Individual B for him to use as his down payment on the purchase of

the Trumbull Property. BETTS-GASTON and ROSS expected that Individual B would return

these funds back to them. Further, ROSS prepared loan applications that falsely

represented that no part of Individual B's down payment had been borrowed.

    15. It was further part of the scheme that BETTS-GASTON caused a title company

serving as the closing agent for the Trumbull Property ("Title Company A") to create

materially false closing documents to conceal from American Brokers Conduit the fact

that BETTS-GASTON and ROSS had agreed to pay Individual B approximately $10,000 to

purchase the Trumbull Property from the IJCN Trust and then to convey and quit-claim

the property back to the IJCN Trust shortly after the closing was complete.

   16. It was further part of the scheme that, on or about July 28, 2006, BETTS-GASTON

and ROSS did cause Individual B to purchase the Trumbull Property from the IJCN Trust,

well knowing that the purchase was financed with a fraudulently obtained mortgage

loan, and signed and caused others to sign loan applications containing materially false

statements, and that as a result of the closing, In Jesus Christ's Name received

approximately $31,553.48, a portion of which was equity that Individual B had in the

Trumbull Property prior to her deeding the Trumbull Property to the IJCN Trust.

                                          The Howard Property

   17. It was further part of the scheme that in or about July 2006, BETTS-GASTON told

Individual C that putting his home into the In Jesus Christ's Name program would

enable Individual C to avoid foreclosure and to stay in his house for up to 12 months

without making any rental payments.

   18. It was further Part of the scheme that BETTS-GASTON induced Individual C to

transfer title in the residential property located at 5140 W. Howard, Skokie, Illinois (the

"Howard Property") to Individual D, a relative of ROSS, as part of the In Jesus Christ's

Name program in part by falsely representing that a sufficient portion of Individual C's

equity would be placed into escrow so that Individual C would not have to make any

rental payments for a period of time, well knowing at the time that BETTS-GASTON

would not put funds into escrow but Instead use such funds for BETTS-GASTON's and

Ross's own benefit.

   19. It was further part of the scheme that BETTS-GASTON and ROSS recruited

Individual D to act as the nominee buyer, or "Investor," to purchase the Howard

Property from Individual C, and then to transfer title in the Howard Property to the IJCN

Trust.

   20. It was further part of the scheme that ROSS prepared and submitted loan

applications and supporting documentation to Fremont Investment & Loan that included

materially false representations and omissions concerning Individual D's employment,

financial condition, contribution towards the purchase price, and intention regarding the

property, well knowing at the time that this information would be material to Fremont

Investment & Loan's decisions regarding approval, terms and funding of its loans,

including the following:

             a. That Individual D intended to hold the Howard Property as an investment,

whereas BETTS-GASTON and ROSS had arranged for Individual D to transfer title in the

Howard Property to the HCN Trust soon after Individual D's purchase;

             b. That Individual D made $4,100 a month in base employment income and that

she had been employed for two years as a landscaping consultant, whereas BETTS-

GASTON and ROSS knew that Individual B did not make such base income; and

             c. That Individual D received approximately $813 a month in net rental income

from a residential property that Individual D previously had purchased as part of the In

Jesus Christ's Name
program and had transferred to the IJCN Trust.

   21. It was further part of the scheme that BETTS-GASTON and ROSS fraudulently

provided funds to Individual D for her to use as her down payment on the purchase of

the Howard Property. BETTS-GASTON and ROSS expected that Individual D would return

these funds back to them. Further, ROSS prepared loan applications that falsely stated

that no part of Individual D's down payment had been borrowed.

   22. It was further part of the scheme that BETTS-GASTON caused Title Company A,

which was serving as the closing agent for the Howard Property, to create materially

false closing documents to conceal from Fremont Investment & Loan the fact that

BETTS-GASTON and ROSS had agreed to pay Individual D approximately $6,000 to

purchase the Howard Property from Individual C and then to convey and quit-claim the

property to the IJCN Trust shortly after the closing was complete.

    23. It was further part of the scheme that, on or about September 1,2006, BETTS-

GASTON and ROSS did cause Individual D to purchase the Howard Property from

Individual C, well knowing that the purchase was financed with a fraudulently obtained

mortgage loan, and signed and caused others to sign loan applications containing

materially false statements, and that as a result of the closing, In Jesus Christ's Name

received approximately $83,955.07, a portion of which was equity that Individual C had

in the Howard Property prior to his sale of the property to Individual D.

   24. It was further part of the scheme that BETTS-GASTON arid ROSS did misrepresent,

conceal and hide, and cause to be misrepresented, concealed and hidden, the purposes

and acts done in furtherance of the scheme.

   25.  On or about July 28, 2006, in the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, and

elsewhere,

                                          AVALON BETTS-GASTON, and
                              DIMONA ROSS, also known as D'Mona Ross,


defendants herein, for the purpose of executing and attempting to execute the scheme

described above, knowingly caused to be transmitted by means of wire communication

in interstate commerce, certain wirings, signs, and signals, namely, a funds transfer

through the Federal Reserve system of approximately $180,614.05 from the account of

a lender at Bank of New York City in New York, New York to the account of Title

Company A at Founders Bank in Chicago, Illinois, which funds represented the proceeds

of a mortgage loan for individual B's purchase of the Trumbull Property;

             In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343.


                                               COUNT TWO

    The SPECIAL FEBRUARY 2011-1 GRAND JURY further charges:

     1.     The allegations of paragraphs 1 through 24 of Count One of this indictment are

realleged and incorporated as though fully set forth here.

     2.      On or about September 1, 2006, in the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern

Division, and elsewhere,


                                           AVALON BETTS-GASTON, and
                              DIMONA ROSS, also known as D'Mona Ross,


defendants herein, for the purpose of executing and attempting to execute the scheme

described above, knowingly caused to be transmitted by means of wire communication

in interstate commerce, certain wirings, signs, and signals, namely, a funds transfer

through the Federal Reserve system of approximately $252,163.39 from the account of

a lender at JP Morgan Chase Bank in New York, New York to the account of Title

Company A at Founders Bank in Chicago, Illinois, which funds represented the proceeds

of a mortgage loan for Individual D's purchase of the Howard Property;

                   In violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343. 



                                                                                        A TRUE BILL:



                                                                                        ______________________
                                                                                        FOREPERSON



______________________
UNITED STATES ATTORNEY
    


                                          Copyright 2007 Fed Up And Fighting Back All Rights Reserved.

 

                                       COMMENTARY

                                       February 22, 2013

 I have gone through various stages in accepting and dealing with D'Mona Ross's guilty plea on February 15, 2013. I thought I should feel joy, satisfaction, pleasure, justice and yet I did not feel those things. Angry, yes; but none of the other self righteous feelings one would think of when one of the people responsible for so much grief pleads guilty. Am I at the forgiving stage? Not yet; time will bring that on after everyone involved has had their day in court.

D’Mona Ross’s guilty plea was expected on February 12, 2013 until Judge Shadur asked her if she had “full understanding” and was “prepared to acknowledge what the government has charged” at which point the tears started to flow. Ms. Ross stated that while she may have been guilty under the law she “did not feel that she had done anything wrong”. Naturally this brought the end to the proceeding that day and it was continued until February 15, 2013 so she could once again confer with her attorney. On February 15, Ms. Ross again was asked the same questions and this time without the tears she accepted responsibility and her plea of guilty was accepted by the court. Sentencing was delayed until after she testifies in other cases.

It's too bad Ms. Ross apparently did not read the disbarment documents of her co-defendant Avalon Betts-Gaston (disbarred attorney); she would have seen how she D'Mona Ross was blamed for just about everything. Per the Disbarment Recommendation March 30, 2011 Ms. Ross's co-defendant Avalon Betts-Gaston stated "Respondent (Avalon Betts-Gaston) had no experience with mortgage loans, so she trusted Ross to handle that aspect of the business. Regarding IJCN (In Jesus Christ's Name), Respondent trusted Ross, and Ross took advantage of her. If Respondent knew what Ross was doing, she never would have gotten involved with her.” I believe there was a saying about sinking ships!!

My concern was how easy it was for Ms. Ross to believe she had done nothing wrong. She was only being tried for what she did in the company "In Jesus Christ’s Name". Isn’t it sad that she and her co-defendant would use the name of Jesus Christ to steal the homes and dreams of others and then cry for herself when asked “do you take responsibility”? Ms. Ross has not been tried for her role in RYM Technology, as of date she has not apologized to any of the victims of any of the crimes and yet she cried for herself. Ms. Ross bought a mansion located 6 Fox Lane Palos Park, Illinois (listed at $735,000 see below). The mansion has a built in in-ground full size swimming pool, beautiful grounds, exclusive neighborhood. Now it’s true she doesn’t live there anymore but oh when she did; I was told the parties and wine flowed. Whose money D’Mona went into that house? You should have invited your victims to a party, let us break bread and swim indoors.

My heart went soft when I saw her cry in court; my thoughts were “ok, if she testifies in the other cases including RYM Technology, speaks the truth I can lend my voice toward probation” and then two things happened. (1) Failure to acknowledge and finally after coming to court and acknowledging her guilt upon leaving the courtroom in the hallway she looked me in my face and (2) was laughing. So much for guilt! Now my church has been working hard with me trying to get me to understand "let it go" but I have to admit; I have a long way to go. So time will tell but a honest heartfelt “I’m sorry” to all victimized in all of the companies she was associated with without the laughter afterwards would go a long way to remove our pain.






    6 Fox Lane Palos Park, IL former home of


D'Mona Ross aka D'Mona Ross-Johnson  aka Loan Officer
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