conspiracy to commit bank fraud

Defense Attorneys Seek Downward Departure from Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Defendant Ruben Weigand was charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1349. He was charged with participating in a scheme to trick banks into processing over $100 million in credit and debit card payments to a marijuana business. Mr. Weigand disguised these payments as transactions with phony retailers who were engaged in other types of business. He was tried and convicted of a single count of conspiracy to commit bank fraud. Federal prosecutors are seeking to impose a sentence of 235 to 293 months in prison, based on a calculated financial loss of $100 million.

Mr. Weigand is a German citizen who lives in Luxembourg. Prior to his conviction of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, he had a spotless record, and had already endured over 15 months of being separated from his family, including seven months in a city jail in California during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,

At sentencing, his lawyers sought to have him sentenced to time served, arguing that such a sentence falls within the Sentencing Guidelines when correctly calculated. His lawyers further noted that the Presentence Report (PSR) misstated the evidence presented at trial with respect to Mr. Weigand’s involvement in the scheme and his conduct and emphasized the fact that none of the alleged victims suffered any financial loss.

Federal Sentencing Guidelines Overstate Seriousness of Offense Given No Financial Loss

According to the PSR, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines call for a sentence of 235 to 293 months in prison based on a calculated financial loss of $100 million.

The banks, however, as the alleged victims, did not suffer any unrecouped losses. In fact, the purported “loss” occurred when the banks actually made money as a result of the fraudulent transactions. As stated in the sentencing memorandum, calculating Mr. Weigand’s sentence based on a financial loss of $100 million would “obliterate any notion of common sense and fairness.”

The Probation Department also recognized that the prison time called for in the Sentencing Guidelines “may substantially overstate the seriousness of the offense” because “the issuing banks did not incur a monetary loss.”

Prosecutors, however, urged the court to impose a substantial sentence that would reflect the seriousness of the offense, promote respect for the law, and provide just punishment.

Sentencing Guidelines Often Impose Extremely Harsh Penalties

Unfortunately, Mr. Weigand’s case is not an anomaly. When strictly followed, Federal Sentencing Guidelines often seek to impose extraordinarily harsh penalties, especially in cases where there is no monetary loss.

In Mr. Weigand’s case, the PSR significantly overstated what the evidence established at trial with respect to the amount of the financial loss and Mr. Weigand’s involvement and conduct in the offense.

Mr. Weigand’s attorneys took issue with the interpretation of evidence presented at trial and encouraged a downward departure from the Sentencing Guidelines that would have Mr. Weigand sentenced to time served.

Specifically, Mr. Weigand’s attorney pointed out that:

  • Weigand did not plan or execute a three-year $150 million fraud scheme. While the scheme did operate from 2016 to 2019, Mr. Weigand did not become involved until 2018. A co-defendant had created and perfected the scheme and merely offered it to Mr. Weigand as a “turnkey” plan to operate a payment processing platform for the sale of marijuana.
  • Weigand was not a manager of the scheme, but simply acted as a liaison or interpreter between the co-defendant and others, participated intermittently in group chats, and offered limited technical advice.
  • Weigand did not intend to harm any U.S. banks, and no U.S. banks suffered any financial harm. In fact, the banks collected fees for each transaction, the dispensaries received payment for the product they provided, and the customers all received the products they ordered. All of the “victims” were compensated or received what they paid for. Furthermore, the government agreed to accept $300,000 as full and final satisfaction of a $384,000 money judgment against Mr. Weigand. Thus, the most Mr. Weigand personally received for his role in the scheme was $384,000.

The court in Mr. Weigand’s case has repeatedly described “the utter travesty of justice that sometimes results from the guidelines’ fetish with abstract arithmetic, as well as the harm that guidelines calculations can visit on human beings if not cabined by common sense.” Mr. Weigand’s case is one in which the sentence prescribed by the Guidelines is simply unjust.

Encouraging a Downward Variance

Mr. Weigand’s attorneys and the Probation Department urged the court to sentence Mr. Weigand to time served. They claimed that the correct sentencing range for Mr. Weigand’s crime is 0 to 6 months in prison—less time than he had already served.

His attorneys stressed Mr. Weigand’s good character, history of good deeds, and devotion to others in their times of need. They also noted that a sentence of time served would achieve the aims of sentencing, which include “just punishment, deterrence, protection of the public, and rehabilitation.”

Criminal Defense Attorneys Seek a Downward Variance from Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Downward variances from Federal Sentencing Guidelines are an important aspect of federal criminal practice. In federal white-collar criminal cases that involve fraud and other financial loss, an experienced criminal defense attorney can and should request a departure from the Sentencing Guidelines. There are often factors at play that are unaccounted for by the Guidelines.

A request for a downward variance is usually made by a motion requesting that the judge modify the sentence to one that is lower than the statutory minimum sentence.

A downward variance may be granted if the defendant:

  • Played only a small role in the offense
  • Does not have a criminal history or their criminal history indicates a low likelihood of committing a crime in the future
  • Accepted responsibility for their role in the offense
  • Caused little to no actual harm to the alleged victim

Sentencing guidelines are complex, and requesting a downward variance requires significant time and research. A criminal defense attorney can and should file a sentencing memorandum. This document can help set the tone for the sentencing and gives a defense attorney a chance to try to persuade the judge before the sentencing begins. Furthermore, the prosecution almost always files a sentencing memorandum. Filing one on your behalf will help level the playing field.

Hope Lefeber: Put Her Knowledge of Federal Criminal Sentencing to Work for You

If you have been charged with a crime, including conspiracy to commit bank fraud, in federal court, you need an experienced, tenacious criminal defense attorney on your side who understands federal criminal law and federal sentencing guidelines.

Philadelphia federal criminal defense attorney Hope Lefeber has been defending people accused of crimes in federal court for more than 30 years. She has a deep and thorough knowledge of federal law and the federal court system and knows how to make arguments that result in the lowest possible sentence for her clients.

Ms. Lefeber has successfully defended people accused of all manner of federal crimes and has practiced extensively in federal courts. She has earned a reputation as a fierce and aggressive advocate for her clients.

If you are under investigation or have been charged with a federal crime, Hope Lefeber should be your first call. Contact Ms. Lefeber today to schedule a free, confidential consultation to discuss your case. Call 610-668-7929 or complete the online form.