Case Study: Guilty Plea in Alexandria Federal Court by Former TV Pundit

The Washington Post recently reported on a guilty plea in the Alexandria federal courthouse: read here.

The initial reporting on the case focused on the allegation that the defendant, Wayne Simmons, falsely claimed to have been a CIA paramilitary operative. Federal prosecutors previously alleged through the indictment that Mr. Simmons never worked for the CIA. In the guilty plea, however, Mr. Simmons continues to maintain that he did in fact work for the CIA.

The facts of this white collar case in the Eastern District of Virginia are interesting and the case serves as a good example of how federal white collar guilty pleas work.

The Indictment is the charging document that sets forth the crimes that federal prosecutors allege a defendant committed.  In grand jury proceedings, prosecutors present evidence (including witnesses) to the grand jurors in a secret proceeding.  Defense attorneys and defendants are not allowed to be present.  If the grand jury finds probable cause to charge the defendant, those charges are presented in an Indictment.

In this case, the Indictment had seven counts: false statements under 18 U.S.C. 1001 (Count 1); major fraud against the US under 18 U.S.C. 1031 (Counts 2-3); and wire fraud under 18 U.S.C. 1343 (Counts 4-7).

In federal criminal cases, the Plea Agreement is a contract between prosecutors and a defendant.  It is not necessary to have a Plea Agreement to enter a guilty plea, but Plea Agreements are often used because they give both sides some assurances regarding the plea.  In this case, the plea agreement stipulates that the defendant will plea guilty to Count 3 and Count 6 of the indictment, as well as one charge of possession of a firearm by a felon in violation of 18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1).  Another important provision of the Plea Agreement in this case has to do with the Sentencing Guidelines: federal prosecutors and the defendant agreed to the “base offense” level for each count.  These are the points that apply to each crime and that are added up to calculate the sentence recommended by the Sentencing Guidelines.

Because the firearm charge is not in the Indictment, there is a Criminal Information charging this one count.  A Criminal Information is a charging document filed by federal prosecutors in lieu of an indictment.  This is typically done when a plea agreement has been reached, and when the defendant agrees to waive indictment by the grand jury.  In this case, because there was an agreement to plead guilty to the firearm charge, the defendant agreed to forego the process of having federal prosecutors present this issue to the grand jury.

In many federal cases, where a plea deal has been worked out prior to an indictment by the grand jury, there will be no indictment at all and all of the charges will be presented in a criminal information.  However, in this case, there was already an indictment so a criminal information was needed only to bring the additional firearm charge.

The Statement of Facts expands on the allegations in the indictment and outlines a number of fraudulent acts, including (1) frauds on the government where the defendant obtained work from the government by misrepresenting certain information about his work history, criminal history financial history, and prior security clearances; (2) investment fraud against an individual causing the individual a loss of $97,450, and (3) possessing two firearms after having been convicted felony offenses.

In criminal cases in the Alexandria federal courthouse and throughout the county, a Statement of Facts is an agreement between federal prosecutions and the defendant that certain facts are true and accurate.  This document helps the federal judge to ensure that the defendant actually committed a crime, which enables the judge to accept the plea.  Additionally, it helps defense lawyers and prosecutors to agree on the general scope of the criminal conduct in the case.  The Statement of Facts often is not exhaustive, however, and federal prosecutors and defense lawyers will sometimes present additional facts at the sentencing hearing.

As the Post article notes, what is interesting about the Statement of Facts in this case is what it does not say: namely, that Mr. Simmons never worked for the CIA.  However, the Plea Agreement states that the government would be prepared to prove at trial that the defendant never worked for the CIA, and that the federal prosecutors will oppose a reduction in the Sentencing Guidelines for “acceptance of responsibility” if Mr. Simmons continues to maintain that he worked for the CIA. The reduction for “acceptance of responsibility” is applied to lower the Sentencing Guidelines score and the resulting recommended sentence.  Whether or not Mr. Simmons continues to maintain that he worked for the CIA can therefore have an impact both in terms of the guidelines score, and this may also be important to the judge generally under the section 3553 factors.

We will continue to follow this interesting fraud case.


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