Sitting in West Palm Beach, Florida, the 4th District Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of Tilakia Beamon for engaging in an organized scheme to defraud. In its written opinion, the appellate court adrressed whether Beamon’s month long use of a stolen credit card consituted “organized fraud” within the meaning of Florida Statute 817.034(4)(a).
At trial, the prosecution accused Beamon of using a stolen credit card in 28 separate transactions. While Beamon admitted to using the card, she claimed that she did so with permission of its owner. This claim was rebuffed by the owner who testified that Beamon never had such authority. In the end, the jury believed the owner and found Beamon guilty.
The important lesson to learn from this case is how the law endows the prosecution with the ability to turn mole hills into mountains. Since the total monetary value of the 28 fraudulent transactions was only about $1,500, it is likely that each individual transaction, or at least most of them, amounted to nothing more than multiple acts of Petit Theft. This fact is important because Petit Theft is only a misdemeanor. That means Beamon would be shielded from the possibility of prison time and would likely get probation or a short sentence in county jail.
However, by framing the 28 individual acts of petit theft as an ongoing scheme to defraud, the State was able to levy a 3rd Degree Felony against Beamon which exposed her to the possibility of up to 5 years in prison.
While the prosecutors made the case more difficult to prove – because they would have to convince the jury of Beamon’s guilt in every single alleged act of petit theft – the gamble paid off in the end.
The best defense in a case like this would have been to attack just one or two of the alleged acts and force a directed verdict. Remember, the burden of proof rests entirely on the prosecution and that burden extends to each and every allegation in the indictment. If the State failed to admit evidence establishing the basic legal elements of even one of the 28 alleged transactions, then the entire case would have fallen. Whether this was possible is unknown.