The Texas “Value Ladder” for Punishment

November 20, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

Many criminal offenses in Texas are based on a monetary amount of loss or amount in controversy.  The more money we are dealing with, the higher the charge.

All of these offenses contain the possibility of probation subject to a person’s previous criminal history.

The Value Ladder:

  • Less than $100 – Class C Misdemeanor
    • No Jail
    • Fine not to exceed $500
  • Between $100 and $750 – Class B Misdemeanor
    • Up to 180 days county jail
    • Fine not to exceed $4,000
  • Between $750 and $2,500 – Class A Misdemeanor
    • Up to 1 year county jail
    • Fine not to exceed $4,000
  • Between $2,500 and $30,000 – State Jail Felony
    • Between 180 days and 2 years in State Jail Facility
    • Fine not to exceed $10,000
  • Between $30,000 and $150,000 – 3rd Degree Felony
    • Between 2 years and 10 years prison
    • Fine not to exceed $10,000
  • Between $150,000 and $300,000 – 2nd Degree Felony
    • Between 2 years and 20 years prison
    • Fine not to exceed $10,000
  • Over $300,000 – 1st Degree Felony
    • Between 5 and 99 years or life in prison
    • Fine not to exceed $10,000

*Jeremy Rosenthal is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is recognized as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.

What is Entrapment?

November 18, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

Entrapment is a tricky concept. It occurs when law enforcement convinces someone to commit a crime.  It gets confusing because the entrapment must go beyond merely affording someone the opportunity to commit a crime.

The law further says the enticement must be enough to persuade a normal, law abiding citizen with an ordinary resistance to committing a crime.  A good rule of thumb when thinking of entrapment is to see where the original intent of the crime originated – with police or the accused?

Entrapment is a defense to prosecution and Texas Penal Code 8.06 says:

(a) It is a defense to prosecution that the actor engaged in the conduct charged because he was induced to do so by a law enforcement agent using persuasion or other means likely to cause persons to commit the offense. Conduct merely affording a person an opportunity to commit an offense does not constitute entrapment.

(b) In this section “law enforcement agent” includes personnel of the state and local law enforcement agencies as well as of the United States and any person acting in accordance with instructions from such agents.

Example of Situations Which are Entrapment:

  • A recovering addict is getting addiction treatment.  An undercover police officer meets the addict in the lobby of the counselor.  The undercover asks the addict to provide illegal drugs.  The addict refuses citing his attempt at recovery.  After repeated attempts to convince the addict, the addict gives in and attains and delivers drugs to the undercover officer.  See Sherman v. United States, 356 U.S. 369 (1958).
  • Undercover officer makes repeated attempts at having defendant provide access to drug dealers and drugs after defendant was reluctant after 12-year relationship. See Torres v. State, 980 S.W.2d 873 (Tex.App. — San Antonio, 1998).

Example of Common Situations Which Are Not Typically Entrapment

  • Person sells drugs to undercover police officer;
  • Persons who seek out and hire a hitman to kill someone;
  • Public servant who is offered a bribe and accept it.

Other Thoughts on Entrapment

Candidly – there is a strong bias against the entrapment defense by judges and juries.  Entrapment is more of an academic argument for that reason – and typically the most a court can do in a case of entrapment is give the jury an instruction they can acquit an accused on that basis.  So even if the person meets the legal pre-requisites of entrapment a jury still might not buy it.  Most people think the government conduct would have to be so outrageous as to strongly over-shadow the crime committed.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is board certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He has been designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.




What is Mortgage Fraud?

November 6, 2020

By Criminal Defense Attorney Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

Mortgage fraud is committed where someone lies to a bank to get a real estate loan.  Mortgage loans are heavily regulated by the US government as evidenced by the mountain of paperwork you do when taking out a mortgage on a house.  Mortgage fraud is prosecuted by the federal government and the controlling statute is 18 U.S.C. Section 225.  The punishment for mortgage fraud can be up to 30 years of prison but as with other federal offenses – the more indicative indicator is the federal sentencing guidelines for any given case. 

Common Types of Mortgage Fraud Schemes:

  • Appraisal fraud – where an appraiser or other party is paid to falsify the value of property to the bank;
  • “Air Loans” – where the borrower basically falsifies everything and pockets the bank’s cash;
  • Occupancy fraud – where the buyer certifies the house is not an investment property but a homestead;
  • “Straw Man” – where a person cannot qualify for a loan (or is barred from receiving a loan) and instead uses another “straw man” to complete the transaction.
  • Underwriting fraud – where phony assets or other falsification occurs when the bank is trying to verify assets.  Examples would be moving chunks of money around to fool a bank into thinking a person has assets when they really don’t.

Any type of falsification you can think of to a bank in the process of a real estate or home loan can probably be characterized as mortgage fraud with the key qualification the mis-representation is “material” in nature.

Conspiracies to Commit Mortgage Fraud

Remember – the federal government is keen on prosecuting what they characterize as conspiracies.  So people such as appraisers, builders, and even the bank employees themselves can be investigated and prosecuted for mortgage fraud if the government thinks they played a role.

Defenses to Mortgage Fraud

Lack of intent – or misrepresentations being a mistake are a main defense to mortgage fraud.  To help show a misrepresentation was an honest mistake and not part of a larger and more sinister plot – the government and potentially a jury need to be shown the broader picture including perhaps forensic accounting of the persons assets and portfolio and the person’s sophistication level when it comes to taking out loans.

As with all federal cases – mitigation and reducing liability also commonly include cooperation with the government if necessary, the amount of the alleged fraud in question, and the scope and degree of the person’s involvement if it is a conspiracy.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is designated as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.

What is Money Laundering?

November 5, 2020

By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal

(972) 369-0577

Money laundering is the safekeeping of illegal proceeds.  People tend to think of it as actually trying to cleanse money by having an elaborate scheme of putting up a fake business front so law enforcement can’t trace illegal proceeds – but in reality it’s much simpler (at least under Texas State Law).

My experience is that rarely is money laundering a stand alone charge.  It is typically either brought along with other – often more serious charges – or it is a charge brought against someone when other charges may be more difficult to prove.

Money Laundering:  Texas vs. Federal Law

Money laundering can be charged in either state or federal court.  State court uses a value ladder to determine the punishment range and the federal sentencing guidelines are also contingent on the amount alleged to be “laundered.”

The federal government has a much more complex definition and categorization of money laundering than Texas does.  You can read the federal statute here.  You can read the state statute here.

Examples of Money Laundering

Example 1:

Let’s say the person is accused of having a business where they advertise widgets on the internet.  People pay online for the widgets, but after they pay – the person just pockets the money and never sends out a widget in return.  It’s obviously theft and/or fraud.  Also the person is committing money laundering by putting the money in his bank account.  You would think the prosecutors would only charge defendant for theft here, and they might.  They also have the option of money laundering too.  Maybe they throw it in for plea bargaining leverage.

Example 2:

Someone is involved in a retail theft ring. They steal from retail stores and re-sell the items.  They take the money they get from the reselling and put it into their bank account.  It’s money laundering even though there are additional steps.

Conspiracies and Party Liability with Money Laundering

Where money laundering can get somewhat gray is in the case of multi-person conspiracies.  The way a conspiracy works under the law – a person doesn’t have to have full knowledge of the entire scheme to be guilty of taking part of the conspiracy.

Tweaking the facts of example #2, let’s say the bank account the money ultimately goes in to is a joint account between spouses – with the other spouse not involved in the ring at all.  This would be an instance where the state or federal government could either charge or threaten that spouse with money laundering – typically in an attempt to get them to spill their guts and cooperate about what they know of the entire illegal operation.

The issue may turn on whether the spouse was willfully ignorant of the scheme or not.  Did they realize the account seemed inflated often for no reason?  Did they check the bank account on a regular basis?  Did the other spouse conceal, hide and do everything possible to control the account?

In any regard – money laundering normally involves a complex factual scenario either in state or federal court.

*Jeremy Rosenthal is board certified in criminal law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  He is recognized as a Texas Super Lawyer by Thomson Reuters.