Grassley Questions Why Sentencing Guidelines Are Not Holding Those who Defraud Seniors Fully Accountable
WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is calling on the U.S. Sentencing Commission to explain why current Sentencing Guidelines do not permit certain increases to the recommended prison terms for criminals convicted of fraud against a large number of vulnerable people, such as senior citizens. Seniors are often the target of fraud, however the Commission’s Sentencing Guidelines do not always account for the full nature and circumstances of the fraud offenses perpetrated against a large number of seniors or other vulnerable people.
“This failure to assign additional offense levels where a large number of vulnerable victims were defrauded results in Guidelines’ calculations that are lower than justice demands. These lower Guidelines’ calculations result in inequitable sentences, diminished deterrence, and create unnecessary prosecutorial burdens at sentencing. We should be doing all we can to protect vulnerable victims like seniors, we should not be protecting fraudsters from greater exposure at sentencing,” Grassley said in a letter to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Currently, the Commission’s Sentencing Guidelines provide a recommended penalty range for convicted fraudsters. The Guidelines include “enhancements” or increases in that range if the specific crime affected more than 25 people or if the victims of the crime were considered to be particularly vulnerable. However, certain of those full range of enhancements are not applied concurrently.
To help ensure that sentences better reflect the extent of the crime, and to provide a greater deterrence against fraud crimes targeting seniors, Grassley is requesting that the Commission explain its position, provide sentencing data and consider allowing multiple enhancements to be applied.
Full text of Grassley’s letter to the U.S. Sentencing Commission follows:
April 19, 2016
Chief Judge Patti B. Saris
United States Sentencing Commission
One Columbus Circle, NE
Suite 2-500, South Lobby
Washington, D.C. 20002-8002
Dear Chief Judge Saris:
As you are no doubt aware, criminals are constantly preying upon the American public through fraudulent scams designed to deprive law abiding individuals of their money, property, and even identities. These fraudsters often target senior citizens in particular due to their amassed savings, strong credit, home ownership, use of land line telephones, and their general willingness to help others. These “senior” frauds include, but are not limited to, Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) impersonation scams, sweepstakes or lottery winning frauds, robo-call and telemarketing scams, identity theft, and so-called “grandparent scams.” Given their malicious and pervasive nature, these scams, and those who perpetuate them, can be difficult to detect, let alone apprehend and prosecute.
When individuals who commit these crimes are actually caught and federally prosecuted, it is imperative that the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“Guidelines”) adequately reflect all aspects of their nefarious conduct. Under the current Guidelines, however, a defendant convicted of a fraud offense who is subject to an enhancement pursuant to Guidelines’ §§2B1.1(b)(2)(B) & (C) for causing substantial financial hardship to more than twenty-five victims is “shielded” from also receiving an enhancement for defrauding a large number of vulnerable victims.
Vulnerable victims, pursuant to §3A1.1, include those victims who are “vulnerable due to age, physical or mental condition, or who [are] otherwise particularly susceptible to the criminal conduct.” Where criminal defendants target multiple seniors, at least some of whom qualify as “vulnerable,” the convicted criminals’ adjusted offense levels should account for the exploitation of both multiple individuals and multiple vulnerable individuals. It is important that criminals convicted of these offenses involving vulnerable victims face just punishment, and it is equally important that such potential sentencing enhancements serve as a strong deterrent against future criminal behavior.
Under the current Guidelines’ rubric, a defendant who defrauded more than twenty-five victims, which included vulnerable victims, would not receive an additional enhancement for defrauding “a large number of vulnerable victims.” This failure to assign additional offense levels where a large number of vulnerable victims were defrauded results in Guidelines’ calculations that are lower than justice demands. These lower Guidelines’ calculations result in inequitable sentences, diminished deterrence, and create unnecessary prosecutorial burdens at sentencing. We should be doing all we can to protect vulnerable victims like seniors; we should not be protecting the fraudsters from greater exposure at sentencing.
Given the multitude of frauds being leveled at the American people generally, and seniors specifically, I respectfully request that you provide me with answers to the following questions no later than May 10, 2016:
1. Please explain why a convicted felon should not be held accountable, to the fullest extent possible under the Guidelines, for simultaneously causing substantial financial hardship to multiple victims and for targeting a large number of vulnerable victims.
2. Please provide data on the application of the Guidelines in prosecutions where a defendant was shielded from receiving the §3A1.1.(b)(2) enhancement for defrauding a large number of vulnerable victims.
a. How many times did the sentencing judge impose a sentence within the Guidelines’ range?
b. How many times did the sentencing judge depart upward and impose a sentence above the Guidelines range?
c. How many times did the sentencing judge depart downward and impose a sentence below the Guidelines range?
Defendants who prey upon multiple, vulnerable victims must be held accountable for the entirety of their conduct.
I appreciate your prompt attention to this matter. If you have any questions, please contact Fred Ansell of my Judiciary Committee staff at (202) 224-5225.
Charles E. Grassley
U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary