The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit recently vacated and remanded a defendant’s sentence because the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida inappropriately added a sentencing enhancement after miscalculating the loss amount in the case.

Laurence Isaacson’s co-conspirators created a fund that invested in publicly traded shell corporations with no assets that they owned. The fraudsters manipulated the price of the investments by buying artificially high, inflating the perceived value of the fund’s assets which convinced investors to buy into the fund. Isaacson first joined the conspiracy when he agreed to help fabricate business plans upon which the inflated values could be justified after auditors became suspicious of the shell companies’ growth. In 2010, Isaacson was convicted of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and was sentenced to 36 months in prison and $8 million restitution after applying a loss amount enhancement due to a $15 million investment in the fund in 2002. Isaacson appealed the conviction and sentencing. The Eleventh Circuit upheld the conviction, but vacated the sentence. 

The court noted that the District Court narrowly defined Isaacson’s criminal conduct as conspiring to defraud the auditors, not investors. The court concluded that holding Isaacson responsible for the $15 million investment would be speculative because the government did not show that the $15 million investment was dependent on the fraudulent report prepared in part by Isaacson. The court vacated the prison sentence and the $8 million restitution order, and remanded to the District Court for resentencing. 

United States v. Isaacson, Nos. 11-14287, 12-14703 (11th Cir. May 22, 2014).