Friday, April 16th, 2021

Second Circuit examines the elements of aggravated identity theft – was this case overcharged?

In US v. Dumitru, decided March 22, 2021, an immigration attorney was convicted after trial of asylum fraud, making false statements, and aggravated identity theft. She was sentenced to 60 months. The attorney’s alleged conduct was that she falsely filled out asylum applications on behalf of her clients and also signed and notarized those applications with her clients’ names without showing them the applications or obtaining consent.

The principal issue on appeal was whether the evidence was sufficient to prove identity theft, i.e., did the defendant use a means of identification (here a signature) without lawful authority to aid in the commission of the fraud offense. The Circuit held that the evidence was sufficient.

Signing her clients’ names without permission, and using those forged signatures to represent to the immigration authorities that her clients were requesting government action based on the false information in the applications, sufficed to prove the crime.

Judge Newman concurred. He criticized the prosecutor’s decision to charge “similar, but technically distinct counts” in this case. In his view, the prosecution should have been limited to asylum fraud, “which precisely applies to the conduct” of this defendant. “The three-count indictment was lawful,” Judge Newman tells us. “The question remains: Was it fair?”

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