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United States v. Carbins

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

February 15, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
LOUIS W. CARBINS, JR., Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana

          Before DAVIS, HAYNES, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.

          W. EUGENE DAVIS, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Following a jury trial, Louis W. Carbins, Jr., was convicted of one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371, seven counts of aiding and abetting theft of Government money in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 641, and one count of aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 1028A. Carbins challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting his conviction for aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft, which carries a mandatory consecutive two-year prison term. Concluding that the evidence was sufficient to support Carbins' conviction, we AFFIRM.

         I.

         The indictment charged that Carbins, along with co-defendant, Laphrida T. Watts, conspired to defraud the Internal Revenue Service ("IRS") by obtaining fraudulent tax refunds to which they were not entitled (Count 1), converted those unlawfully obtained IRS refunds which were issued in the names of various "identity victims" to their own use and the use of another (Counts 2 through 8), and, during and in relation to their theft of the IRS refunds, knowingly used without lawful authority the names and social security numbers of the various "identity victims." (Count 9). Watts ultimately entered into a plea agreement with the Government, pleading guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States (Count 1) and aiding and abetting aggravated identity theft (Count 9). She testified for the Government at Carbins' trial.

         Watts testified that she started a romantic relationship with Carbins in November of 2012. Around this time, Watts was communicating with people on the internet about "different types of jobs." Specifically, the people on the internet were discussing a "bank drop, " which Watts explained was a "wire transfer or someone walking in and putting money into your [bank] account."

         An internet contact by the name of "Documentation" or "Doc" asked Watts if she had a bank account in which bank drops could be made. Watts communicated with Doc using an "app" called ICQ, through instant messaging, or by calling him on a computer line. When Watts informed Doc that she did not have a bank account, Doc asked if she knew anyone who did. During one of Watts' online conversations with Doc, Carbins saw Watts communicating with Doc. At that point, Carbins asked Watts what a bank drop was.

         Watts explained that a bank drop involved someone wiring money into a bank account. In order for a bank drop to occur, she explained, the account holder would have to give his personal bank account information to the person wiring the money. After hearing Watts' description of a bank drop, Carbins "said he wanted to do it." Watts informed Doc that she "found someone" for the bank drops.

         Carbins himself then began communicating with Doc over ICQ, instant messaging, and e-mail, as well as on his cellphone. Carbins gave Doc the information regarding an existing bank account he had at Regions Bank. Carbins also opened a second bank account at Regions and additional bank accounts at Bank of America, Teche Federal Bank, MidSouth Bank, Whitney Bank, and Patterson State Bank. After Carbins established the bank accounts, he created online account access and gave Doc the necessary information so that Doc too could access the account information online, "as if he were the account holder."

         Watts testified that two or three days prior to a bank drop being made into one of Carbins' accounts, Doc sent an e-mail showing a "breakdown" of the amount of money he was to receive from the drop and the amount Carbins was to receive. Doc would always receive 50 percent of the drop. The other 50 percent would be split between Carbins and another person responsible for wiring Doc's percentage to whatever name Doc provided in his e-mail. Watts testified that the names of the individuals Doc instructed them to wire the money to were "really crazy" and that the addresses were mostly located in Ukraine. In many cases, Carbins and Watts would go to a MoneyGram located inside a Wal-Mart store in order to wire the money to the name indicated in Doc's e-mail. Watts testified that in the beginning of the scheme, she and Carbins did not know the money being deposited into Carbins' bank accounts was "IRS money." Watts believed, and told Carbins, that the money was "illegal money" and was "probably coming from somebody that owed [Doc] money for drugs or something else."

         The evidence admitted at trial included the bank statements from Carbins' various bank accounts. The statements reflected that the first bank drop in the amount of $7, 695 hit Carbins' original account at Regions on March 5, 2013. The bank statement described this deposit as follows: "US Treasury 312 Tax Ref Gowdy, David &." The bank statement further indicated that, on the same day the deposit entered Carbins' account, withdrawals of $2, 499 and $2, 415, listed as purchases from Wal-Mart, were made from the account.

         The second bank drop in the amount of $7, 183 entered Carbins' account at Bank of America on March 6, 2013. The bank statement from that account described this deposit as follows: "US Treasury 312 Des: Tax Ref ID:Xxxxxxxxx IRS Indn: White, Forrest & Marie Co ID:3111036170 Ppd." The statement further indicated that on March 28, 2013, a withdrawal of $2, 502.10, listed as a purchase from Wal-Mart, was made from the account.

         The third bank drop in the amount of $8, 878 hit Carbins' original account at Regions on March 20, 2013. The bank statement from that account described this deposit as follows: "US Treasury 312 Tax Ref Edmonds, Micha." The bank statement further indicated that on the same date as the deposit, withdrawals of $2, 950 and $1, 999, listed as purchases from Wal-Mart, were made from the account.

         The fourth bank drop in the amount of $7, 671 entered Carbins' additional account at Regions on April 11, 2013, and was described in the bank statement as follows: "US Treasury 312 Tax Ref Heinen, Dennis." The fifth bank drop in the amount of $174, 937 was made into Carbins' account at Patterson State Bank on April 24, 2013, and was described in the bank statement as follows: "AC-US TREASURY 312 - TAX REF." The sixth and final bank drop in the amount of $516, 091.45 entered Carbins' account at Teche Federal Bank on July 3, 2013, and was described in the bank statement as follows: "US Treasury 312 TAX REF XXXXX2781 IRS."

         Watts testified that the first time she and Carbins encountered any problems with the bank drops was on April 25, 2013, the day after the fifth bank drop, when a detective called Carbins regarding his account at Patterson State Bank. The detective wanted to see Carbins, and Carbins "had no choice" but to meet him. Watts testified that when Carbins returned from the meeting, "that's when we actually knew the money was really [from the] IRS, because from what we understood, Doc could make it look like it was an IRS check."

         Rose Cope, a vice president at Patterson State Bank, testified that on April 25, 2013, she became aware of an issue with Carbins' account at the bank. Specifically, the account reflected a tax refund deposit from the IRS of $174, 934, but the names listed as the payees on the refund check were Daniel and Laura Bair, not Carbins. Cope subsequently called the IRS fraud department, which instructed her to return the entire deposit to the IRS. At that point, Cope learned from bank records that Carbins had already withdrawn $2, 611 from the IRS funds. She then froze the account.

         Cope testified that next she telephoned Carbins. She "instructed him that a deposit was made into his account that did not belong to him and that we were required to return it[, ] and that [she] needed him to immediately return the money that had been withdrawn from the account." She informed Carbins "that the deposit was an IRS refund check." She requested that Carbins come to the bank later that day to return the money he had withdrawn or she would contact the local police department.

         Because Carbins never showed up, Cope contacted the Patterson Police Department regarding a "fraudulent deposit" at the bank. Four days later, Carbins went into the bank and met with Cope. She informed him again that an IRS tax refund had been deposited into his account, "that [it] did not belong to him, " and that he needed to return the money he had withdrawn on those funds. She further told Carbins that if he did not make arrangements to repay the funds, she would pursue charges against him. Although Carbins did agree to a payment arrangement, only two payments were completed, so that the remaining balance owed to the bank equaled $2, 197.

         Watts testified that after Carbins' encounter with Patterson State Bank in April 2013, a final bank drop was made into Carbins' account at Teche Federal Bank in July 2013. She and Carbins were not "aware that a drop was coming." They learned about the drop from an e-mail alert sent by the bank, which message indicated that the deposit amounted to over $500, 000. Carbins had a debit card for that account, and he went to an automatic teller machine (ATM) to see if he could withdraw any money out of the account. Although they did not think it was possible, Carbins was able to withdraw money from the account. They also went to Best Buy stores in "Lafayette, New Orleans, and a couple of different places" to purchase some iPads, MacBooks, and other items from a list that Doc e-mailed to them. After purchasing these electronics, they mailed them to an address in New York, ...


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