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United States v. Sesay

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

September 11, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
Momodu Babu Sesay, Defendant-Appellant. United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
Saddam Samaan Daoud Samaan, Defendant-Appellant. United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee,
v.
Fester Sayonkon, Defendant-Appellant.

          Submitted: June 13, 2019

          Appeals from United States District Court for the District of Minnesota

          Before COLLOTON, KELLY, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.

          COLLOTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         A jury convicted Fester Sayonkon and Saddam Samaan of aggravated identity theft and conspiracy to commit bank fraud. See 18 U.S.C. §§ 1028A, 1344, 1349. A third defendant, Momodu Sesay, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud and testified for the prosecution. The district court[1] sentenced the defendants to terms of imprisonment. Sayonkon and Samaan appeal their convictions, and all three defendants challenge their sentences. We affirm the judgments.

         I.

         In 2008, the Minnesota Financial Crimes Task Force began receiving reports of an uptick in counterfeit checks deposited at banks around the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. An investigation revealed a three-tiered check-fraud scheme. "Check printers" generated counterfeit checks using check-writing software, blank check stock, and valid bank account and routing number information. "Runners" negotiated or deposited the fraudulent checks, often opening their own bank accounts and attempting to withdraw as much cash as possible before the fraud was discovered. "Recruiters" solicited and managed runners, transported them to bank locations, coached them on how to carry out the transactions, and served as the intermediaries between the printers and the runners.

         The Task Force identified Sesay and Sayonkon as two of the primary check printers and recruiters. At trial, Sesay admitted that from October 2009 to December 2012, he generated up to six counterfeit checks per month, and coordinated a team of runners and recruiters to negotiate or deposit those checks. During this same period, Sayonkon printed his own fraudulent checks and recruited runners, but also obtained fraudulent checks from Sesay and shared information and coordinated runners with him.

         In late 2011, Sayonkon recruited Samaan to the conspiracy. Samaan was incarcerated at the time, but he began providing Sayonkon with the names and addresses of contacts in Jordan who might serve as runners and negotiate counterfeit checks. After his release in March 2012, Samaan served as a runner for Sayonkon.

         In June 2012, the Task Force executed a search warrant at an apartment shared by Sesay and another conspirator. Investigators seized two laptops loaded with VersaCheck, a check-writing software designed for small businesses. Data obtained from the computers showed names of payees and other details about the checks generated by the software. Investigators matched these payees to a number of known runners, including Sayonkon. After Sesay agreed to cooperate with authorities, he acknowledged that from October 2009 through June 2012, he and his fellow conspirators caused or intended to cause over $1.4 million in losses at more than forty financial institutions.

         A grand jury charged Sesay, Sayonkon, Samaan, and three others with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, see 18 U.S.C. §§ 1344, 1349, and alleged that Sayonkon and Samaan committed aggravated identity theft. See id. § 1028A. Sesay pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit bank fraud, and became a witness for the government. A jury convicted Sayonkon and Samaan of the conspiracy and aggravated identity theft charges.

         At Sesay's sentencing, the court departed downward from the advisory guideline range and imposed a term of 63 months' imprisonment. Sayonkon was sentenced to a total of 151 months in prison and Samaan to 87 months' imprisonment.

         II.

         Sayonkon and Samaan challenge their convictions for conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Each argues that the government presented evidence of two separate conspiracies and created a prejudicial variance from the single conspiracy charged in the indictment. Where a defendant claims a variance based on proof of multiple conspiracies, we will reverse only if the evidence is insufficient to support a finding of a ...


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