Fraud Perpetrators Have Unmitigated Gall
Kristi Heffington appealed from the revocation of her probation. She argued on appeal that the revocation court’s decision was error even though it was proved that she had sent text messages to herself claiming it came from her past employer dentist who fired her for stealing from his practice and defrauding insurers. In Kristi Heffington v. State Of Maryland, No. 1899, Court Of Special Appeals Of Maryland (July 1, 2021) the appellate court wasted much time dealing with her spurious allegations in an attempt to avoid jail.
In 2018, Kristi Heffington pleaded guilty to identity fraud, insurance fraud, and conspiracy for using electronic communications to steal thousands of dollars from her employer, Dr. Ron Moser’s Maryland-based dental practice. In Moser v. Heffington, 465 Md. 381, 388-89 (2019) The circuit court sentenced her to ten years’ incarceration (with all but nine months suspended) and five years’ probation. The conditions of Heffington’s probation included paying restitution and following a “no contact” condition, which required Heffington to “[h]ave no contact with Anne Moser [or Dr.] Ron Moser … including no harassing contact or through third parties.”
Four months later, Heffington filed a motion to terminate her restitution obligation. Her motion alleged that the victims of her crimes, Dr. Ron Moser and his wife, Anne, were harassing her in several ways, most notably by sending an anonymous text message to Heffington’s husband that read “YOUR WIFE WILL DIE IN PRISON.” Attached to Heffington’s motion was a copy of the message, which had been sent through a messaging service called SENDaTEXT. The circuit court denied Heffington’s motion to terminate restitution.
The State thereafter filed a petition to revoke Heffington’s probation. The petition alleged, among other things, that Heffington had violated the conditions of her probation by sending the threatening text message herself and then framing the Mosers for having sent the message. Heffington made it appear that the victims were harassing her and to hide her actions. Heffington also posted numerous items on social media that appeared to come from family members and friends, but were, in fact, generated by Heffington with the intent of threatening and harassing the victims, who remain in fear.
The revocation court held a hearing on the State’s petition. The State presented evidence that Heffington fabricated the threatening text message by remotely logging into the computer of a Colorado dental practice, Relaxation Dental Specialties (“Relaxation”), and using Relaxation’s computer to send the threatening text message through SENDaTEXT. The State established this through the testimony of Relaxation’s business manager, Jessie Brown.
The revocation court admitted the SENDaTEXT email chain into evidence over Heffington’s objection. The revocation court ultimately found that Heffington had fabricated the threatening text message and used it to harass the Mosers in violation of the “no contact” condition of Heffington’s probation.
The revocation court rescinded Heffington’s probation; resentenced her to a term of 10 years’ imprisonment, with all suspended but 18 months and time served credit for 9 months; and imposed a new condition on Heffington’s probation, that she was to make no social media post directed at or involving the victims.
The first page of the State’s “Petition to Revoke Probation” alleges that Heffington harassed the Mosers in violation of the conditions of her probation by fabricating a threatening text message and claiming it had been sent by the Mosers. Heffington, by harassing the Mosers in the way she did, engaged in contact with them — contact that violated the “no contact” condition of her probation. It was clear from the petition’s first page that the State was alleging that Heffington violated the “no contact” condition by harassing the Mosers.
Heffington is correct that the State did not explicitly allege that the threatening text message violated the “no contact” condition in the first substantive allegation of the petition to revoke, but the standard for reviewing the petition is not whether Heffington was given perfect notice, but rather whether she was given “focused formal notification” of the allegations against her. A reasonable person reading the petition would have understood that the allegation of harassment in the “Summary” was an allegation of violating the “no contact” condition.
Heffington challenges the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the revocation court’s finding that she violated a condition of her probation.
Hearsay evidence can be admitted under the business record exception. In short, otherwise inadmissible hearsay evidence can be admitted under the business record exception when the document was made by someone at the business with knowledge of the document’s subject, and when the business normally produces such a document as part of its normal business.
In fact, the email chain meets the requirements to be admitted under the standard application of the business record exception. The SENDaTEXT email chain identified Relaxation’s computer’s IP address. Immediately prior to moving to admit the email chain, however, the State had established through witness testimony the same IP address as being the one from which the threatening text message had been sent. Thus, the essential content of the SENDaTEXT email chain—the IP address—was already admitted into evidence and we would not reverse the revocation court even if it had erred in admitting the email chain.
The revocation court had sufficient evidence from which to find that Heffington sent the threatening text message. Competent material evidence existed in support of the revocation court’s factual finding. As a result, it was not clear error for the revocation court to find that Heffington violated her probation.
The State’s petition put Heffington on notice of her alleged violation of probation, and that the revocation court had sufficient evidence to find that Heffington violated her probation.
I am always amazed at the unmitigated gall, the “chutzpah,” of those convicted of insurance fraud, who use the courts to spend more time and money than the fraudster stole. Ms. Heffington pleaded guilty to the crime. She was lucky, she only had to serve 9 months of a ten year sentence and leave the dentist she stole from alone. She couldn’t resist. She harassed the dentist and tried to get the court, with false evidence, to remove her obligation to make restitution. She got caught and was sentenced to spend another 9 months and she appealed that. She should have been sentenced to serve the full 10 years. Punishment needs to be real if it is to deter future wrongful actions.
© 2021 – Barry Zalma Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant 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 52 years in the insurance business.
He is available at http://www.zalma.com and email@example.com. Mr. Zalma is the first recipient of the first annual Claims Magazine/ACE Legend Award. Over the last 53 years Barry Zalma has dedicated his life to insurance, insurance claims and the need to defeat insurance fraud. He has created the following library of books and other materials to make it possible for insurers and their claims staff to become insurance claims professionals.
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