Conviction for Aiding Insurance Fraud Affirmed
Although love remains a many splendored thing when love dissolves and vengeance is attempted it can be a doubled edged sword. Joseph Anthony Mauro was convicted by a jury finding him guilty of insurance fraud.
When Joseph Mauro and his girlfriend broke up, Mauro contacted the insurance company and informed them that the tractor was never stolen and was located on a friend’s property. The insurance company contacted law enforcement. During the investigation, law enforcement interviewed Mauro. Mauro explained how he and his girlfriend conspired to defraud the insurance company by hiding the tractor on the friend’s property and reporting it as stolen.
In State v. Mauro, Court of Appeals of Idaho, Docket No. 44232, 2017 WL 1459065 (April 25, 2017) Mauro contends the State committed prosecutorial misconduct by stating that his girlfriend’s knowledge regarding the insurance fraud was irrelevant. He argued this was a misstatement of the law because the State was required to prove a shared criminal intent between Mauro and his girlfriend in order to convict Mauro of committing insurance fraud under an aiding and abetting theory.
In April 2014, Mauro reported the theft of a tractor belonging to his girlfriend. Mauro drove his girlfriend to the insurance office to report the tractor as stolen. His girlfriend filled out a sworn proof of loss statement with the insurance company, which stated it was her policy and she was the only owner of the tractor. Mauro negotiated a $12,000 payout with the insurance company on the claim, and the insurance company issued the funds to Mauro’s girlfriend.
The State charged Mauro with insurance fraud. Before trial began, the prosecutor filed proposed jury instructions. Mauro made no objections to the proposed instructions. After the district court finalized the instructions, Mauro stated he had no objections to the instructions.
In closing rebuttal argument, the prosecutor explained Jury Instruction No. 17, stating: “And when you look at Instruction 17, the knowledge element, with the knowledge that the information was false. Mr. Mauro assisted, solicited, procured [his girlfriend’s] involvement in committing a crime…. And so Instruction 17 doesn’t have anything in there about whether or not [his girlfriend] had knowledge. This is about the knowledge that Mr. Mauro had, that, when he assisted her, when he drove her to the insurance company to file that report, his knowledge, the information he provided her, that he reported the tractor stolen and that he filed the police report—his knowledge that that was false. It does not ask you to consider her knowledge.”
Mauro’s trial counsel objected, stating: “I believe is a misstatement of the law.” The court responded: “Well, the instructions do set forth the law. I’ll let the jury sort that out.” The prosecutor continued her closing rebuttal argument, stating: “So you can go back and look through the jury instructions. You can look through the aiding and abetting, but nowhere in this elements Instruction No. 17 does it require that [his girlfriend] be convicted, be charged with any crime. [His girlfriend’s] not on trial here today. It’s Mr. Mauro. This is his trial. This has nothing to do whether or not she was convicted of this crime.
After he was found guilty the district court sentenced Mauro to a unified sentence of four years, with one year determinate, and being kind suspended the sentence, and placed Mauro on probation for two years.
Mauro argues that the prosecutor committed prosecutorial misconduct during closing rebuttal argument when she misstated the law by asserting the knowledge element of the crime required the jury to consider only Mauro’s knowledge, not his girlfriend’s knowledge. Before closing arguments, the district court instructed the jury pursuant to Jury Instruction No. 17.
The knowledge element of Jury Instruction No. 17 required the jury to find that Mauro did aid and abet another in preparing or making a statement to the insurance company and when doing so, Mauro knew the information was false. During closing rebuttal argument, the prosecutor stated that the jury was not required to determine the knowledge of Mauro’s girlfriend. Rather, the prosecutor stated the jury was only required to determine whether Mauro knew the information given to the insurance company by his girlfriend was false. This was simply a restatement of the jury instruction to which Mauro did not object.
Closing argument sharpens and clarifies the issues to be decided by the trier of fact. Its purpose is to enlighten the jury and to help the jurors remember and interpret the evidence. Although it is prosecutorial misconduct for a prosecutor to misstate the law during closing argument there is no misconduct if the prosecutor does not misstate the law.
All persons concerned in the commission of a crime, whether they directly commit the act constituting the offense or aid and abet in its commission, are principals in any crime so committed. In order to be convicted for aiding and abetting the commission of a crime, a person must act in such a way as to facilitate, promote, encourage, solicit, or incite the actions of the crime. Aiding and abetting requires some proof that the accused either participated in or assisted, encouraged, solicited, or counseled the crime or some manifestation of a sharing by the aider and abettor of the criminal intent of the perpetrator.
Since the prosecutor did not misstate the law in closing rebuttal argument and only stated Jury Instruction No. 17 required the jury to determine whether Mauro knew the information about the tractor given to the insurance company by his girlfriend was false; it did not require the jury to determine his girlfriend’s knowledge.
Because the State was only required to prove Mauro’s intent, the prosecutor did not misstate the law. Thus, there was no prosecutorial misconduct and there was no need for the court to address Mauro’s argument that any error was harmless.
Mr. Mauro, as a scorned lover, upset that his girlfriend broke up with him reported that she committed fraud regarding an allegedly stolen tractor. Being angry he did not think through his accusation because he also admitted he aided and abetted her fraud. As a result he was tried and fairly convicted of insurance fraud and received a kind sentence of probation. He deserved the conviction because he helped the girlfriend defraud her insurer and negotiated the settlement. He was lucky he was not sentenced to prison.
This article and all of the blog posts on this site digests and summarize cases published by courts of the various states and the United States. The court decisions have been modified from the actual language of the court decisions, were condensed for ease of reading, and convey the opinions of the author regarding each case.
Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant and expert witness specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders. He also serves as an arbitrator or mediator for insurance related disputes. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 49 years in the insurance business.
Mr. Zalma is the first recipient of the first annual Claims Magazine/ACE Legend Award.
Look to National Underwriter Company for the new Zalma Insurance Claims Library, at www.nationalunderwriter.com/ZalmaLibrary The new books are Insurance Law, Mold Claims Coverage Guide, Construction Defects Coverage Guide and Insurance Claims: A Comprehensive Guide
The American Bar Association, Tort & Insurance Practice Section has published Mr. Zalma’s book “The Insurance Fraud Deskbook” available at http://shop.americanbar.org/eBus/Store/ProductDetails.aspx?productId=214624, or 800-285-2221 which is presently available and “Diminution of Value Damages” available at http://shop.americanbar.org/eBus/Store/ProductDetails.aspx?productId=203226972
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