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United States v. Wang

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

December 16, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Steven Wang, AKA Shui Cheng Wang, Defendant-Appellant.

          Argued and Submitted October 23, 2019 University of Hawaii at Manoa

          Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Guam, Nos. 1:10-cr-00085-FMTG-11:14-cr-00063-FMTG-1 Frances Tydingco-Gatewood, Chief District Judge, Presiding

          Gia Kim (argued), Deputy Federal Public Defender; Hilary Potashner, Federal Public Defender; Federal Public Defender's Office, Los Angeles, California; for Defendant-Appellant.

          Stephen F. Leon Guerrero (argued), Assistant United States Attorney; Shawn N. Anderson, United States Attorney; Office of the United States Attorney, Districts of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, Hagatna, Guam; for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before: SUSAN P. GRABER, MILAN D. SMITH, JR., and PAUL J. WATFORD, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY [*]

         Criminal Law

         The panel reversed and vacated sentences imposed on the defendant at the same hearing in two cases - one in which the defendant pleaded guilty to mail fraud, visa fraud, money laundering, and willful failure to pay over tax; the other in which the defendant pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud.

         The panel held that because the defendant's mail fraud count established a visa fraud offense specifically covered by U.S.S.G. § 2L2.1, the district court, in calculating the offense level for the mail fraud count, erred by applying the general-fraud Guideline, U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1, rather than applying the visa fraud Guideline, § 2L2.1, pursuant to the cross-reference set forth in U.S.S.G. § 2B1.1(c)(3).

         The panel held that the error was plain, affected the defendant's substantial rights, and seriously affected the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings.

         Remanding for resentencing, the panel outlined how the district court generally should approach re-sentencing of the defendant's multiple counts pursuant to U.S.S.G. § 5G1.2.

          OPINION

          M. SMITH, CIRCUIT JUDGE:

         Defendant-Appellant Steven Wang (Wang) appeals his sentences imposed in two cases that the district court sentenced in the same hearing. In the first case, Wang pleaded guilty to mail fraud, visa fraud, money laundering, and willful failure to pay over tax. In the second case, Wang pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit visa fraud. The key issue in these appeals is whether the district court properly calculated the offense level for Wang's mail fraud conviction pursuant to the United States Sentencing Guidelines Manual (U.S.S.G. or the Guidelines).[1]

         The district court applied § 2B1.1-the offense Guideline that covers general fraud offenses-to Wang's mail fraud conviction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1341. By applying § 2B1.1, the court ultimately calculated a Guidelines imprisonment range of 46 to 57 months. The court imposed a 57-month term in Wang's first case, and a consecutive 57-month term in his second case, resulting in a total sentence of 114 months. Wang challenges the district court's application of § 2B 1.1 to his mail fraud conviction and the imposition of consecutive sentences.

         We hold that the district court erred by applying § 2B1.1 to calculate the offense level for Wang's mail fraud count of conviction. The allegations underlying this count established an immigration visa fraud offense expressly covered by § 2L2.1. Therefore, the district court should have followed the § 2B 1.1(c)(3) cross-reference and applied § 2L2.1. The district court's error was plain, and it substantially affected the Guidelines range the court used to sentence Wang. We reverse and vacate Wang's sentences, and remand for re-sentencing.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         I. The Indictments and Guilty Pleas

         Wang is a naturalized United States citizen and a Guam resident. Between July 2005 and October 2009, he defrauded the United States into issuing H-2B nonimmigrant visas for 173 foreign construction workers in Guam. As part of his scheme, Wang knowingly mailed I-129 petitions to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with false statements made under oath.

         In 2011, a federal grand jury returned a 128-count superseding indictment against Wang. Wang pleaded guilty to one count each of mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341, visa fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1546(a), money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1957, and willful failure to pay over tax in violation of 26 U.S.C. § 7202. For sentencing purposes, he stipulated to the factual allegations for all similar counts in the superseding indictment. Wang also agreed to cooperate with federal law enforcement, and the Government agreed to recommend a substantial assistance departure for his cooperation if warranted. The district court accepted Wang's plea in February 2012.

         While he awaited sentencing in the first case, a federal grand jury indicted Wang in November 2014 for conspiracy to commit visa fraud and visa fraud. These charges stemmed from Wang's attempt to secure an L-1 nonimmigrant visa between December 2012 and May 2014. Wang provided false employment information to the federal government in an I-129 petition. In August 2015, Wang pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud. He again agreed to cooperate with federal law enforcement, and again the Government agreed to move for a below-Guidelines sentence for his substantial assistance. The district court accepted this plea.

         II. Sentencing

         The district court sentenced Wang's cases together at a June 2017 hearing using the Guidelines range that a probation officer (PO) calculated.[2]

         At the hearing, the PO first grouped Wang's offenses, placing the first case's offenses into Group 1 and the second case's offense into Group 2. The PO then calculated the offense level for each offense within each group. In relevant part, the PO calculated an offense level of 29 for Wang's Group 1 mail fraud conviction by applying § 2B1.1. The PO calculated a base offense level of seven pursuant to § 2B1.1(a)(1). The PO then added 20 levels pursuant to § 2B1.1(b) as specific offense characteristics.[3] As with all Wang's convictions, the PO added two levels as a § 3A1.1(b)(1) victim-related adjustment. Wang's mail fraud conviction thus had the highest Group 1 offense level. His money laundering conviction had the next highest Group 1 offense level of 23. The PO then computed a Group 2 offense level of 11 for Wang's visa fraud conspiracy conviction.

         Comparing Wang's grouped offenses, the PO calculated a total offense level of 29. Based on Wang's Criminal History Category (I), the PO calculated a pre-departure Guidelines range of 87 to 108 months. Accounting for the six-level substantial assistance downward departure the district court had granted for Wang's cooperation pursuant to § 5K1.1, the PO calculated Wang's post-departure Guidelines range as 46 to 57 months for all counts. The district court ...


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