The defendant, Shelia Swan, was convicted by a jury of mail fraud and sentenced to 22 months of imprisonment. She appeals her conviction, claiming that the district court erred in admitting an attorney's statement as an admission by a party and in limiting the testimony of a witness. The defendant also argues that the district court erred in denying her motion for judgment of acquittal and motion for a new trial. We affirm her conviction and the denial of her motion for a new trial.
On September 25, 2003, a federal grand jury returned an indictment against the defendant and her husband and codefendant, Seutter Swan, charging Shelia with two counts of mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341 and one count of obstruction of justice in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1505.
The government presented evidence at trial that A-1 submitted cost reports to Medicare seeking reimbursement of $32,885 in 1996 and $14,160 in 1998 for wages paid to Bettie Starling, Shelia's aunt. Starling testified that she had never worked for A-1. She also testified that Shelia sent her the checks and told her that the checks were to pay off a loan to Greentree Financial to purchase a mobile home in Benton, Mississippi for the defendant's parents. The address listed for Starling on the W-2 form was a Chicago address with which Starling was not familiar. In 1998, Starling testified that she was under financial strain and asked Shelia for a loan. Shelia again put Starling on A-1's payroll and sent her checks. In an interview with FBI agents in the summer of 2000, Starling said the defendant had told her to say that she was an employee of A-1. Later in 2000, the Swans sent Starling a job description dated November 29, 1995 through the mail. It listed five different duties performed by Starling, none of which she testified she performed.
A-1 also sought reimbursement from Medicare in 1996 for $42,600 in wages paid to Veronica Alexander, Seutter's sister. A-1 provided a job description to a Medicare auditor reporting that Veronica Alexander was the "Quality Management Coordinator" for A-1 in 1996. Testimony at trial suggested that other A-1 employees and consultants performed the responsibilities listed in the job description for this position. Veronica Alexander's ex-husband also testified that she only worked for A-1 for one week while on spring break during college.
In 1997, A-1 sought reimbursement from Medicare for $18,880 in wages paid to Cedric Alexander, Seutter's half-brother. Cedric Alexander's wife testified that he lived in Mississippi until their separation in August 1997 and that he had never worked
Relevant to this appeal, the government called FBI Agent Mike Miller to testify about his investigation into A-1. As to the investigation of Veronica Alexander's wages, Agent Miller testified that he sent a subpoena to A-1's lawyer at the time (the James Montgomery Group) seeking documents relating to the qualified management coordinator position. Agent Miller testified that he received a call from an attorney, Tom Marszewski, in response to the subpoena. Agent Miller further testified that Marszewski informed him that the defendants "used the [quality management coordinator] description submitted to Medicare so that they could be reimbursed at a higher rate per that job description." (R. 75-3 at 353.) Both Shelia's attorney, Charles Shepherd, and her husband's attorney, Adam Bourgeois, objected on hearsay grounds to the admissibility of Agent Miller's testimony.
Shelia filed a post-trial motion for a mistrial on October 27, 2005 based on the admission of Agent Miller's testimony. The district court denied the motion the same day. An affidavit prepared by Attorney Marszewski was submitted in support of a subsequent motion for a new trial or judgment of acquittal. In the affidavit, Marszewski denied making the statements attributed to him by Agent Miller: "I did not tell either Agent Miller or prosecutor Porter that A-1 used the job description to get reimbursed at a higher hourly rate of pay for Veronica Alexander." (Appellant's Br., App. F at ¶ 3.) Marszewski also stated that he has not "at any time represented Seutter or Shelia Swan with respect to the federal criminal prosecution" and that he was "only involved with the investigation for the very limited purpose of responding to the grand jury subpoena." (Id. at ¶ ¶ 5, 6.) He stated that he "had no authority to act for Seutter or Shelia Swan in any other capacity." (Id. at ¶ 7.) Lastly, Marszewski stated that he "never considered myself — factually or legally—to be the agent of either Seutter or Shelia Swan." (Id. at ¶ 8.)
Also relevant for the purposes of this appeal is the testimony of Attorney Charles MacKelvie. During the trial, Shelia and Seutter filed a joint motion in limine to admit the expert testimony of Attorney MacKelvie. The memorandum in support of the motion stated that "[t]he defendant is offering Mr. MacKelvie as an opinion witness either under FRE 701 or FRE 702." (Appellant's Br., App. D at 3.) The memorandum also listed the areas in which Attorney MacKelvie could offer testimony. The district court, however, did not rule on this motion since Attorney Bourgeois, Seutter's attorney, effectively withdrew the motion when he conceded at the hearing on the motion that Attorney MacKelvie would not be providing opinion testimony.
At trial, Attorney Bourgeois attempted to solicit testimony from MacKelvie about his opinion whether the defendant had violated Medicare regulations with respect to the charges for which she was being tried. The prosecutor objected as to foundation, among other grounds, and the district court sustained this objection, thereby limiting Attorney MacKelvie's testimony.
The defendant offers three grounds for reversal. First, she argues that the district court erred in admitting the testimony of Agent Miller concerning Attorney Marszewski's statement as an admission by an agent under Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(D). Second, she contends that the district court erred in limiting the testimony of Attorney MacKelvie. Third, she argues that the district court erred in denying the defendants' joint motion for a new trial or for judgment of acquittal. We address each argument in turn.
I. Agent Miller's Testimony
Before turning to the substance of Shelia's claim, we must first determine the appropriate standard of review. In order to preserve a ruling on the admission of evidence for appeal, a party must make "a timely objection or motion to strike [which] appears of record, stating the specific ground of objection, if the specific ground was not apparent from the context." Fed. R.Evid. 103(a)(1); see also United States v. Wynn, 845 F.2d 1439, 1442 (7th Cir.1988). We review the district court's decision to admit evidence for abuse of discretion if the party contesting its admissibility objected to it at trial. United States v. Sanders, 979 F.2d 87, 92 (7th Cir.1992); United States v. Medina, 755 F.2d 1269, 1274 (7th Cir.1985). If no objection was made, the standard of review is plain error. United States v. Jaimes-Jaimes, 406 F.3d 845, 849 (7th Cir.2005); Wynn, 845 F.2d at 1443.
The defendant argues that we should review the district court's decision to admit the evidence for abuse of discretion. The government counters that plain error should be the standard of review because the defendant's counsel failed to object to the government's question. In order to determine the appropriate standard of review, we must examine the relevant testimony.
(R. 75-3 at 352-53.)
The defendant's objection at the time of Agent Miller's testimony was based solely on hearsay grounds. On appeal, the defendant's issue with Agent Miller's testimony concerns whether Attorney Marszewski was an agent of the defendant and the scope of his authority. The hearsay objection offered by Shelia's attorney, Attorney Shepherd, and her husband's attorney, Attorney Bourgeois, does not constitute the "specific ground" on which the defendant now objects. The simple hearsay objection by the defendant failed to put the district court on notice of the precise nature of the defendant's concern. See Wynn, 845 F.2d at 1442; United States v. Laughlin, 772 F.2d 1382, 1392 (7th Cir.1985). The district court even acknowledged the difference between the objection made during Agent Miller's testimony and the issue raised in the motion for mistrial and the subsequent motion for new trial or for judgment of acquittal, stating: "That is a different issue than the one you raised and you objected to the testimony on, though. You objected to its admission based on hearsay." (R. 75-4 at 542.) The defendant argues that the "specific ground" was raised in the motion for mistrial and the motion for a new trial, but any "objection" at that time was not timely. In order to preserve an objection for appeal under Federal Rule of Evidence 103(a)(1), "[t]he specific ground for reversal of an evidentiary ruling on appeal must also be the same as that raised at trial." Wynn, 845 F.2d at 1442 (citing United States v. Taylor, 800 F.2d 1012, 1017 (10th Cir.1986)).
We conclude that the defendant's hearsay objection to Agent Miller's testimony does not meet the requirements of Federal Rule of Evidence 103(a)(1). Accordingly, we review the district court's decision to admit the testimony of Agent Miller concerning Attorney Marszewski's statement for plain error. Under plain error review, an error must be "clear or obvious" and "affect substantial rights" in order for this court to reverse the district court's decision to admit the evidence. United States v. Sumner, 265 F.3d 532, 539 (7th Cir.2001). Moreover, we should not exercise our discretion to correct the error unless it "seriously affect[s] the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of the judicial proceedings." United States v. Kibler, 279 F.3d 511, 514 (7th Cir.2002) (quoting United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725, 732, 113 S.Ct. 1770, 123 L.Ed.2d 508 (1993)) (quotation marked omitted).
Now turning to the substance of the defendant's argument, Federal Rule of Evidence 801 provides certain exceptions to the rule against hearsay testimony. "A statement is not hearsay if . . . [t]he statement is offered against a party and is . . . a statement by the party's agent or servant concerning a matter within the scope
Shelia asserts that Attorney Marszewski was not an agent of the Swans and that he was not acting within the scope of his authority. In questioning Agent Miller, the government sufficiently established the agency relationship and the scope of that agency in questioning Agent Miller. Agent Miller testified that Attorney Marszewski called him in response to the subpoena; Marszewski identified himself as an associate of the law firm representing A-1 in this investigation; and, to the "best of [Agent Miller's] knowledge," he was representing the defendants. (R. 75-3 at 352.) Relying on this testimony, the district court did not commit plain error in admitting Agent Miller's testimony as an admission of a party by an agent.
Shelia also argues that attorney-client privilege should have been considered in admitting Agent Miller's testimony as to Attorney Marszewski's statement.
We have noted that "[t]he unique nature of the attorney-client relationship, however, demands that a trial court exercise caution in admitting statements that are the product of this relationship." Harris, 914 F.2d at 931 (citing United States v. McKeon, 738 F.2d 26, 30-33 (2d Cir.1984)). In Harris, we followed the Second Circuit in considering certain policy concerns in admitting an attorney's statements under Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(D). Namely, we noted that "the routine use of attorney statements against a criminal defendant risks impairment of the privilege against self-incrimination, the right to counsel of one's choice and the right to effective assistance of counsel." Harris, 914 F.2d at 931 (quoting United States v. Valencia, 826 F.2d 169, 172 (2d Cir.1987)) (quotation marks omitted). Although these policy considerations are important, none was implicated in the present case. The defendant was not forced to take the stand because of the admission of the evidence. Attorney Marszewski could have been called as a witness to rebut Agent Miller's testimony. Attorney Marszewski's work on this case was limited to pre-indictment activities; neither he nor any member of his firm represented the defendant at trial, nor is there any allegation made by Shelia that she wanted Attorney Marszewski to represent her at trial. Even if the district court failed to adequately consider attorney-client privilege, this error does not implicate plain error review since the defendant has failed to show any violation of the privilege, and therefore, any effect on her substantial rights.
II. Attorney MacKelvie's Testimony
Shelia argues that Attorney MacKelvie's testimony as to the complexity of Medicare regulations and other related
(R. 75-3 at 390-92.) Moreover, there was no effort on the part of the defendant to introduce Attorney MacKelvie as an expert witness during direct examination or to "reawaken the motion." The defendant certainly forfeited this argument. Regardless, the district court's decision to limit the testimony of Attorney MacKelvie to his firsthand knowledge of this case does not constitute error, plain or otherwise.
III. Motion for a New Trial or for Judgment of Acquittal
Denial of a motion for new trial is reviewed for abuse of discretion. United States v. Reed, 875 F.2d 107, 113 (7th Cir.1989). The court should grant a motion for a new trial only if the evidence "preponderate[s] heavily against the verdict, such that it would be a miscarriage of justice to let the verdict stand." Id. (quoting United States v. Martinez, 763 F.2d 1297, 1312-13 (11th Cir.1985)). In a motion for judgment of acquittal, we ask "whether the record contained sufficient evidence from which the jury could reasonably find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Theodospoulos, 48 F.3d 1438, 1444 (7th Cir. 1995). "We view the evidence in the light most favorable to the government, recognizing that it is the exclusive function of the jury to determine the credibility of witnesses and draw reasonable inferences." Id.
The defendant argues that the evidence fails to establish criminal intent. The crux of the defendant's argument is that payments made to the three family members are not "inherently illegal." The defendant, however, disregards that she and her husband did not simply pay a "salary" to family members, but rather, sought reimbursement from Medicare for those payments. The jury could have reasonably found criminal intent from the defendant's requests for reimbursements from Medicare for "salaries" of close family members who were not employees of A-1.
For the foregoing reasons we AFFIRM the defendant's conviction and the denial of her motion for a new trial or for judgment of acquittal.