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United States v. Ford

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 28, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CORA CADIA FORD, Defendant - Appellant

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. D.C. Docket No. 1:12-cr-00297-TWT-ECS-1.

CONVICTION AND SENTENCE AFFIRMED.

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For United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee: Steven D. Grimberg, Thomas J. Krepp, J. Elizabeth McBath, Lawrence R. Sommerfeld, Sally Yates, U.S. Attorney's Office, Atlanta, GA.

For Cora Cadia Ford, Defendant - Appellant: Allison Cobham Dawson, Victoria M. Calvert, Stephanie A. Kearns, Federal Defender Program, Inc., Atlanta, GA.

Before MARCUS and ROSENBAUM, Circuit Judges, and FRIEDMAN,[*] District Judge.

OPINION

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FRIEDMAN, District Judge:

Defendant Cora Cadia Ford, a tax professional, appeals from her conviction and sentence on ten counts each of mail fraud, making a false claim, and aggravated identity theft. After careful review, we affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

Cora Cadia Ford owned and managed a tax preparation business. Through that business, she operated a complex fraud scheme over a period of many years -- acquiring personal information under false pretenses, often from victims who were homeless or mentally or physically disabled, and then using that information to file false tax returns and pocket the resulting refunds.

The evidence at the four-day trial was voluminous. The government called seventeen victims to testify. Eight corresponded to the fraudulent tax returns charged in the indictment (five as primary filers and three as dependents), while the remaining nine were victims of uncharged, but substantially similar, conduct.[1] All seventeen testified that they did not authorize Ford to use their personal information on fraudulent tax returns that either (1) were filed in their name, or (2) falsely claimed them as dependents. Each of those returns, however, listed Ford's name and business, " Genesis Tax Service," on the " paid preparer" line. Many of the returns also contained false addresses in common, such as " 3353 Glenwood Road," the address of Ford's former tax preparation business, " Budget Tax Service." The refund checks for those returns either were deposited into Ford's bank account or cashed at a check cashing facility. The seventeen victims confirmed that they did not receive any portion of those refunds.

Seven victims of conduct charged in the indictment testified that they did not know how Ford had obtained their personal information and that they did not authorize Ford to file a tax return on their behalf. Only one of the victims of charged conduct -- Sharon Fuller -- was able to identify Ford. Similarly, four of the victims of uncharged conduct were able to identify Ford -- Norman Ponder, Lisa Turner, Darryl Mitchell, and Mary Anne McGhee -- while the remaining five could not.

Fuller, Ponder, Turner, Mitchell, and McGhee identified Ford in court and testified that she had obtained their personal information under false pretenses.[2] For example, Ms. Fuller testified that, while living in a homeless shelter, she saw an advertisement for a government program offering $200 for the homeless. She called the listed phone number and provided her name and social security number. Ms. Fuller then met Ford's husband to collect her $200 and met Ford herself at a church. Fuller testified that the employment information

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and addresses on the tax returns bearing her name were false and that she never received the refunds claimed on the returns.

The government also offered several other key pieces of evidence. First, four of Ford's personal income tax returns were admitted in evidence under Rule 404(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence. One such return used a false address also listed on a victim's fraudulent tax return, while the others falsely listed a homeless man as Ford's dependent. Second, the government offered the testimony of a reporter for Fox 5 Atlanta and a redacted videotape of an investigative report. [3] That videotape showed Ford requesting the personal information of an undercover reporter, who was posing as homeless, and stating " [i]t's $200 and . . . I guess they started doing that for people who might be in need or that might be able to help them in some way." Third, an IRS special agent testified regarding summary charts that were admitted in evidence showing (1) the deposit of U.S. Treasury checks into Ford's bank account and (2) the tax returns prepared by Ford and her business.

The jury convicted Ford on all charges: ten counts of mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341, ten counts of aggravated identity theft, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1028A, and ten counts of filing a false claim, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 287. The district court sentenced Ford to 111 months of incarceration, followed by three years of supervised release; it also ordered the payment of $101,015 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service and a special assessment of $3,000.

II. DISCUSSION

Ford makes numerous arguments on appeal, challenging both her conviction and sentence. Ford argues that: (1) the district court erred in declining to suppress several out-of-court identifications as unduly suggestive; (2) counts in her indictment were multiplicitous and thus in violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment; (3) several pieces of evidence were improperly admitted under Rules 403 and 404(b) of the Federal Rules of Evidence; (4) the government's summary charts, admitted in evidence at trial, were irrelevant and contained impermissible hearsay; and (5) the ...


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