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United States v. Pierce

479 F.3d 546 (2007)

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United States v. Pierce

United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

479 F.3d 546 (2007)

Facts

William and Shirley Pierce (defendants) managed a not-for-profit charter school, Right Step Academy. Right Step Academy was funded by both the State of Minnesota and the federal government (plaintiff). The Pierces committed misconduct relating to the operation of the school. The Pierces engaged in self-dealing with an entity that they controlled called Right Group. The Pierces defrauded both Minnesota and the federal government by diverting funds from the school for personal use. The Pierces failed to claim the diverted funds on their tax returns and stated personal expenses as business expenses. Additionally, the Pierces failed to operate the school pursuant to the school’s charter agreement. After over four years of mismanagement and fraud, the Pierces were charged with and tried for conspiracy, filing false tax returns, mail fraud, and wire fraud. The trial court instructed the jury on Pinkerton liability, or vicarious liability of coconspirators. In its jury instruction, the court provided that if the jury finds the defendant guilty of conspiracy and a fellow conspirator committed one of the other charged offenses in furtherance of and as a foreseeable consequence of the conspiracy, then the jury “should find” the defendant guilty of that offense as well. The jury convicted the Pierces on all counts. The Pierces appealed, arguing that the jury instruction on Pinkerton liability ought to have used permissive language (i.e., may) instead of mandatory language (i.e., should).

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Nangle, J.)

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