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Sentence of Broker Who Defrauded Elderly Affirmed

Friday, May 31, 2013
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed May 29 that former MetLife Inc. (MET)broker Victoria McGee Harris, who pleaded guilty to charges she stole millions of dollars from her primarily elderly clients, properly was sentenced to 210 months in prison (United States v. Harris, 7th Cir., No. 12-1470, 5/29/13).

Among other specifics, Judge David Hamilton rejected Harris' arguments that the district court improperly counted married couples as two separate victims for sentencing-guideline purposes, and that her sentence was substantively unreasonable.

The court recounted that over an eight-year period, Harris diverted funds entrusted to her for investment “by using depositing and accounting methods that substantially departed from MetLife's standard practices for affiliated brokers.” MetLife ultimately settled with Harris' clients, paying more than $7 million.

Harris, who allegedly used the money for personal and family purposes, pleaded guilty to mail fraud and money-laundering charges and was sentenced to 210 months in prison--the top of the guideline range for the offenses. Affirming, the appeals court first disagreed that the district erred in counting each married couple Harris defrauded as two separate victims.

Saying all of the married couple's accounts were held jointly, the court termed it “reasonable to conclude that both spouses” suffered losses. In any event, it said the lower court did not clearly err in concluding that the guidelines range would not change even if each married couple were counted as a single victim.

The appeals court also affirmed that Harris' sentence was not substantively unreasonable, even though she was a first time offender and her victims received restitution from MetLife. On the first point, the appeals court noted the district court's finding that Harris ingratiated herself to her victims so that they would not question her investment decisions, and that she targeted older persons “who may have been especially vulnerable.”

On the second point, the appeals court noted that according to the district court, Harris' victims “'were not made whole in every respect,'” even though they may have received restitution. “Given the court's thorough consideration of the specific circumstances of Harris' crime, the court imposed a reasonable sentence in light of the section 3553(a) factors and adequately explained its consideration of those factors,” the Seventh Circuit said. “Harris' arguments on appeal do not overcome our presumption that the within-guideline sentence was reasonable.”

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