United States v. Garbacz (8th Cir. April 2022)

The Federal Docket

May 16, 2022

Marcin Garbacz was a Catholic priest who embezzled collection monies from several parish churches within his diocese. He was convicted by a federal jury of 60 charges in connection with this scheme, including wire fraud, money laundering, and tax fraud charges. Forty-seven of his wire fraud charges were for depositing the stolen funds, while the three others were for making payments on his credit card with the funds.

Reviewing the sufficiency of the evidence de novo and in the light most favorable to the guilty verdicts, the Eighth Circuit upheld the wire fraud convictions for Garbacz’s deposits. Even though mere deposits of misappropriated cash are not usually considered to be a part of the scheme that acquired the money, in Garbacz’s case they counted because the deposits could reasonably have been seen as a way to “postpone inquiries” about the funds by the other priests he worked with.

The court did find plain error in the District Court’s failure to sua sponte overturn Garbacz’s convictions for wire fraud that were based on his transactions to pay off his credit card. Since the funds were already in his bank account when they were spent in this way, the payments did not help to further hide his crime. Therefore, no reasonable juror could find that the payments assisted in the carrying out of the fraud.

Appeal from the District of South Dakota
Opinion by Gruender, joined by Smith and Kobes

Click here to read the opinion

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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