CINCINNATI (TDB) -- A federal appeals court has vacated a 37-month prison sentence facing Lorain County real estate broker Anthony Ross for cashing counterfeit checks that originated in an overseas e-mail scam. The ruling by the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati is 9-pages long and includes a dissent from Judge Alice M. Batchelder of Medina County, who said the sentence was proper because Ross intended to defraud banks in cahoots with the Nigerian Internet crooks.
Ross, whose underlying conviction was left intact, owned Northshore Realty and E.A.R. Investors, companies formed to develop, sell and construct low-income housing in Lorain County. He suffered financial losses and had to file a personal bankruptcy in 2003.
Eventually, he got in contact with the scammers, whom he claimed led him on with promises of investment funds. There were at least 40 e-mails. Cleveland U.S. District Judge Ann Aldrich presided over the trial and sentencing, and will have to resentence Ross in Cleveland federal court sometime later this year. The appeals court ruling did not set a date:
"In the present case, the government offered evidence that over the course of two years Ross passed a $90,000 counterfeit check, received a suspicious and counterfeit $346,000 check in the mail, and deposited a counterfeit $5,000 check. Additionally, during that same period a counterfeit $700,000 Treasury check was mailed to his bank with instructions to be deposited in his account. the jury also considered more than fort e-mails between Ross and the 'Nigerians' and listened to Ross from the witness stand."
The court added:
"While this case presents a close evidentiary call, we do not believe Ross has met his very heavy burden for showing the evidence was insufficient. The jury chose not to believe Ross's testimony and found that there was enough circumstantial evidence of Ross's motive to commit bank fraud. Ross was in dire financial straits. Ross had filed for personal bankruptcy. Ross needed money to pay debts to keep his businesses afloat . . . The circumstantial evidence calls into doubt Ross's story that he was simply the victim on an elaborate Nigerian counterfeit check scam."