United States v. Robert Dekelaita

In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________ No. 17‐1644 UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff‐Appellee, v. ROBERT DEKELAITA, Defendant‐Appellant. ____________________ Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 14 CR 497 — Matthew F. Kennelly, Judge. ____________________ ARGUED SEPTEMBER 19, 2017 — DECIDED NOVEMBER 17, 2017 ____________________ Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and EASTERBROOK and ROVNER, Circuit Judges. WOOD, Chief Judge. Attorney Robert DeKelaita thought he had found the perfect recipe for success: identify a niche and become the expert. But he overlooked the part about comply‐ ing with the law: his niche included helping clients submit fraudulent asylum applications. When it caught up with him, the government charged him with engaging in a single, dec‐ 2 No. 17‐1644 ade‐long conspiracy through which he facilitated the submis‐ sion of nine fraudulent asylum applications. DeKelaita con‐ tends that it failed to prove such an overarching conspiracy, and that at best the evidence at trial showed only several in‐ dependent conspiracies, none of which was properly subject to prosecution. Our review of the evidence convinces us oth‐ erwise. DeKelaita was charged with and convicted on only one conspiracy count. The jury had sufficient evidence to con‐ vict DeKelaita for either the charged conspiracy or a subsec‐ tion of it. That is all the law requires, and so we affirm the judgment of the district court. I One of DeKelaita’s specialties was providing legal repre‐ sentation for recent immigrants applying for asylum. Asylum in the United States is reserved for people who are unable to return to their home country because of either persecution or a well‐founded fear of persecution based on “race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or polit‐ ical opinion.” 8 U.S.C. §§ 1101(a)(42)(A), 1158(b)(1)(A). Asy‐ lum is unavailable if the person can be sent to a safe country that is willing to accept him or her. § 1158(a)(2)(A). Applicants for asylum must submit a form that sets forth the basis for their application and how they meet the statutory criteria. They must then sit for an interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officer. The Affirmative Asylum Pro‐ cess, U.S. CITIZEN SERVICES (last visited Nov. 15, 2017), https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/refugees‐asylum/asy‐ lum/affirmative‐asylum‐process. The applicant must provide a translator if one is needed. The interviewing officer eventu‐ ally makes the initial determination of the applicant’s eligibil‐ ity. Id. No. 17‐1644 3 DeKelaita’s clients were primarily Assyrian or Chaldean Christians from Muslim‐ruled countries, such as Iraq. Many clients had indeed suffered persecution, but their eligibility was statutorily foreclosed or doubtful because they either had already found refuge in another county or their history of per‐ secution failed to meet the required severity for asylum in the United States. Not willing to take “no” for an answer, DeKelaita tried to improve the chances of asylum for at least nine of his clients by submitting fraudulent applications. The nature of the fraud depended on the client. For some, DeKelaita concealed evidence that ...

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