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United States v. Dingle

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

July 5, 2017

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Leon Dingle, Jr., and Karin Dingle, Defendants-Appellants.

          Argued March 29, 2017

         Appeals from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 12-CR-30098 - Richard Mills, Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Rovner and Williams, Circuit Judges.

          WOOD, Chief Judge.

         The State of Illinois, through its Department of Public Health, furnishes funds to a variety of organizations that provide health services. Included among those grantees were the Broadcast Ministers Alliance of Chicago ("Broadcast Ministers"), Access Wellness and Racial Equity ("AWARE"), and Medical Health Association ("MHA"). Collectively these three organizations received more than $11 million from the Department between 2004 and 2010. Unbeknownst to the Department, however, some $4.5 million of those dollars flowed through the grantees to a company called Advance Health, Social & Educational Associates ("Advance"), which was owned and controlled by Leon and Karin Dingle. That might have been fine, but for the fact that most of those monies did not go to the stated purposes of the grants. Instead, the Dingles spent the diverted funds on personal luxuries, such as yachts and vacation homes. The government eventually caught up with them and indicted them on charges of mail fraud and money laundering. A jury convicted them, and they have now appealed from both their convictions and their sentences. We find no reversible error for either defendant, and so we affirm the judgments of the district court.

         I

         The state funds were designed to improve health care in a number of areas, including breast, cervical, and prostate cancer, HIV/AIDS, and emergency preparedness. In order to achieve these goals, the Department worked primarily through grantees. During the time covered by the Dingles' scheme, the Directors of the Department included Eric Whitaker and Damon Arnold. A woman named Quinshaunta Golden served for some time as chief of staff to the Director; Roxanne Jackson was a former employee of the Department and a personal friend of Golden.

         Advance was a for-profit corporation with offices located in Chicago. Leon Dingle was its president, chief executive officer, treasurer, and sole shareholder. Karin Dingle served as the vice president and secretary. (In the remainder of this opinion, we refer to them by their first names.) The Dingles' friend Jacquelyn Kilpatrick was the vice president of operations and bookkeeper. Edmond demons, Kilpatrick's domestic companion, helped out, and in 2009 the two established a consulting firm called Jeck Consultants, LLC.

         Before 2004, Advance offered consulting services; it was involved in the development of the cable television industry in the Chicago area. Through this connection, Leon met officials from Broadcast Ministers. Acting on its behalf, he persuaded the Department to give Broadcast Ministers $1, 460, 000 in grants, for disbursement to groups such as the Brothers and Sisters United Against HIV/AIDS ("Brothers and Sisters") and the Faith-Based Emergency Preparedness Initiative ("Faith-Based"). The latter organizations emphasized the needs of minority communities.

         Leon also had business and personal relationships with Whitaker, Golden, Arnold, Claudia Johnson, and Ronald Hickombottom. Johnson met Leon in 2003; the two later had a multi-year extra-marital sexual relationship. During that time, Johnson helped Leon in his grant-related work with Broadcast Ministers. It was Johnson who established AWARE in 2007; Hickombottom (Leon's personal physician) established MHA in 2008. Both of these organizations provided medical consulting services.

         Using this web of entities, Leon and his associates caused the Department to award 42 grants, totaling more than $11 million, to Broadcast Ministers, AWARE, and MHA between 2004 and 2010. Leon had inside help: Golden, with whom Leon had at least one sexual encounter (which took place in her office!), steered grants in accordance with Leon's instructions. Although the grants nominally went to the three named recipients, in fact they were nothing but straw grantees. A substantial proportion of the funds wound up in the hands of Leon and Advance. Leon accomplished this with, for example, the use of phony contracts that indicated Advance would perform services that the grantees were already providing, false grant applications and budgets, dishonest reports, and concealment of Advance's role. The record is filled with examples of how Advance got its hands on Departmental grants, and how it diverted those funds to the personal use of Leon and Karin.

         All of the grant funds were disbursed to the grantees by the mailing of checks from the Department's Springfield offices to Chicago. These funds represented approximately 88% of Advance's income between 2007 and 2010. Leon and Karin, and to a lesser degree Kilpatrick and demons, received a large share of the grant funds, but they did little to no work contemplated by the grants. What they did do was to write and sign generous checks for themselves (nearly $2.5 million payable directly to Leon and Karin, for instance). Leon and Karin also used the funds to pay more than a half million dollars in personal expenses, such as tax payments, memberships at various yacht and country clubs, maintenance of a condominium in an exclusive Chicago building, support of two vacation homes, and a mortgage for their son.

         Although Leon appears throughout this account, that does not mean that Karin was missing. In addition to reaping the benefits of the fraudulent scheme, Karin was involved in its operation, though to a lesser degree than Leon. In addition to serving as Advance's vice president and secretary, she worked part-time at its office. There she performed administrative tasks, such as light typing, answering the telephone, and payroll. She scheduled and drafted agendas for meetings related to the grant programs. There was evidence indicating that she was aware of the shady provenance of the money that she and Leon were receiving. On one occasion she and Kilpatrick confronted Leon about being "greedy." Of the $2.6 million in Advance checks that were issued to Leon and Karin from 2007 to 2010, $440, 900 was paid directly to Karin. During that same period, she signed 915 Advance checks, totaling $1.7 million; many of those were for personal expenses.

         The party ended in November 2012, when a grand jury returned indictments against both Dingles. Leon was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud (18 U.S.C. § 371), 13 counts of mail fraud (18 U.S.C. § 1341), and two counts of money laundering (18 U.S.C. § 1957(a)). The charges against Karin were similar: one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, four counts of mail fraud, and one count of money laundering. After an eight-week trial, a jury convicted both of them on all counts. The district court, seemingly taking their advanced age into account (Leon was 78 and Karin 76 at the time), gave both of them ...


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