United States v. Lee John Maher (11th Cir. April 2020)

The Federal Docket

April 12, 2020

Economic Offenses/Statute of Limitations – The defendant’s offense of “retaining government property” was a continuing offense for the purposes of applying the statute of limitations, and the statute of limitations does not begin to run until the defendant’s possession of the government property ceases.

The defendant challenged his conviction on appeal, arguing that the statute of limitations barred his prosecution. The defendant was indicted on May 17, 2016 on one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, wire fraud, and retain federal grant money and one count of unlawfully retaining federal grant money. The indictment alleged that the last overt act of the conspiracy occurred on November 15, 2012, while count two alleged that the defendant’s acted “between on or about December 10, 2010 and on or about March 31, 2013.”

On appeal, the defendant argued that the limitations period began to run on December 10, 2010, when he negotiated the federal grant check. The Court first held that it did not need to decide whether the defendant was timely indicted for one of the three objectives of the conspiracy because the two other objectives were committed within the limitation period.

The Court then went on to hold that the indictment was timely on the other charge because the defendant’s offense of retaining government property was a “continuing offense.” The Court examined the statutory language of the offense under 18 U.S.C. § 641 and concluded that, given ordinary meaning of “retention,” “the crime of retaining property unlawfully is not complete until the holder relinquishes the property to the rightful owner.” That meant that the defendant’s offense continued so long as he possessed the federal grant money, making the indictment timely.

On appeal from the Northern District of Florida

Opinion by W. Pryor, joined by Branch and Luck

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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