Court of Appeals Affirms Sholam Weiss’ Convictions on Racketeering, Fraud, and Money Laundering Charges
|U.S. Attorney’s Office September 24, 2013|
TAMPA, FL—Acting United States Attorney A. Lee Bentley, III announces that the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld the 1999 convictions of former fugitive Sholam Weiss on 78 counts of racketeering, wire fraud, interstate transportation of stolen funds, money laundering, and other offenses arising from his participation in a scheme to defraud National Heritage Life Insurance Company (NHLIC).
The evidence at trial established that Weiss had been instrumental in causing NHLIC a loss of more than $125 million and had worked with certain NHLIC insiders to hide those losses from company executives and state insurance regulators while, at the same time, enriching himself with the company’s assets. During his nine-month trial in 1999, Weiss absconded while the jury was deliberating. Following the jury’s return of a guilty verdict on all counts of the indictment, the Honorable Patricia C. Fawsett, United States District Judge, sentenced Weiss in his absence to serve 845 years' imprisonment, imposed a $123,399,910 fine, ordered him to pay $125,016,656 in restitution, and ordered him to forfeit money and property. When law enforcement officers eventually found Weiss living in Austria, that country extradited him to the United States in 2002, after which the district court vacated one of his counts of conviction (obstruction of justice) and reduced his sentence to 835 years' imprisonment.
Weiss argued on appeal that his convictions should be vacated because, at the time of his trial, prosecutors had served a subpoena on one of his attorneys, Robert Leventhal, thereby effectively disqualifying Leventhal from representing Weiss at trial. But, after hearing oral argument last week, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals held that "there is no evidence that the government acted in bad faith when it subpoenaed Leventhal’s testimony." The court also said that Leventhal could not have represented Weiss at trial anyway because Weiss had created a conflict of interest; he had used Leventhal to submit documents and recordings to investigators, and those documents and recordings, unbeknownst to Leventhal, were fraudulent. The court also rejected Weiss' contention that the district court had erred when instructing the jury on the wire fraud counts of the indictment.
The appeal was handled by former Assistant United States Attorney Judy K. Hunt and Assistant United States Attorney Linda Julin McNamara. The underlying case was prosecuted by Hunt and former Assistant United States Attorney Thomas W. Turner (now a judge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Florida). The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the Internal Revenue Service.