11th Circuit Vacates Sentence Obstruction of Justice Enhancement

Last week the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the sentence of Geovanys Guevara, remanding the case to the Southern District of Florida (Miami Division) for resentencing.

Guevara, of Hialeah, was convicted by a federal jury in 2015 of three counts of causing a car dealership in Miami to file false reports of cash payments over $10,000, specifically Form 8300, with the Treasury Department, for the purpose of evading reporting these payments to the Treasury Department, by using a straw purchaser to conceal Guevara’s identity as the individual who provided cash payments of over $10,000 for the purchases of each of three sports cars.

The government’s evidence at trial showed that Guevara purchased a Ferrari involving cash in the amount of $95,000, a Lamborghini involving cash in the amount of $20,000, and a Rolls Royce involving cash in the amount of $50,000, in the name of another individual who was paid $1000 to have the cars titled in his name. Because a straw buyer was used to purchase the vehicles, the car dealership filed a Form 8300 for each purchase containing material omissions and misstatements of fact concerning the true identity of the person from whom the cash was received. Federal law requires every non-financial trade and business to file a Form 8300 with the Treasury Department to report cash payments received over $10,000 during a transaction or two or more related transactions.

Guevara was sentenced to 48 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, and was ordered to pay a money judgment in the amount of $165,000 and to forfeit $69,900.22 and a BMW seized during the investigation.

On appeal, the 11th Circuit affirmed the conviction but vacated Guevara’s sentence after finding that the District Court failed to make and explain factual findings justifying the imposition of the two-level enhancement for obstruction of justice, and the facts on record were insufficient to support the enhancement.

Under § 3C1.1 of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, a defendant’s offense level will be increased by two levels if the defendant willfully obstructed or impeded, or attempted to obstruct or impede, the administration of justice with respect to the investigation, prosecution, or sentencing of the instant offense of conviction, and the obstructive conduct related to either the defendant’s offense of conviction and any relevant conduct or a closely related offense. The enhancement may apply to conduct that occurred prior to the start of the investigation for the prosecuted offense only if the conduct was purposefully calculated, and likely, to thwart the investigation or prosecution of the offense of conviction.

In Guevara’s case, the 11th Circuit chastised the District Court for failing to never explain how his behavior impeded the investigation or prosecution, and instead only vaguely concluding that “the obstruction of justice, when factoring in [Guevara’s] conduct and his tax returns and some of these others, warrants that two points.”

Read the 11th Circuit’s opinion here: United States v. Geovanys Guevara

On remand, Guevara’s sentence could be reduced to 33-41 months if the obstruction of justice enhancement is found not to apply.