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United States v. Tucci-Jarraf

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 24, 2019

United States of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Heather Ann Tucci-Jarraf (18-5752); Randall Keith Beane (18-5777), Defendants-Appellants.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville. No. 3:17-cr-00082-Thomas A. Varlan, District Judge.

         ON BRIEF:

          Dennis G. Terez, Beachwood, Ohio, for Appellant in 18-5752.

          Stephen L. Braga, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA SCHOOL OF LAW, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant in 18-5777.

          Anne-Marie Svolto, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

          Before: SUTTON, COOK, and THAPAR, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          SUTTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Faced with financial challenges and rising unpaid bills, the individual has two legal options: shed the debts through the humbling act of filing for bankruptcy or find a new source of assets. Randall Beane, with Heather Tucci-Jarraf's assistance, tried to find a new source of assets: an alleged trust fund of government money in his name. But the money was not his, and along the way the two of them defrauded the United States of $31 million. At their resulting criminal trial, they each asked to represent themselves, a request the court honored after holding a hearing on the matter. The trial did not end well for either of them, as the jury rejected their array of fringe conspiracy theories. On appeal, they argue that the trial court should have forced them to accept counsel in view of their unusual beliefs. Because they knowingly and intelligently made this choice and because self-lawyering does not require the individual to subscribe to conventional legal strategies or other orthodox behavior, we affirm.

         I

         For years, Randall Beane honorably worked for our country, serving as an Air Force electrical engineer. At some point he became convinced that the government was spying on the public, prompting a self-described "quest" into the world of conspiracy theories. R. 165 at 168. His internet research led him to the "straw man conspiracy theory." The government creates for each new citizen, the theory claims, a legal identification-called a straw man-that allows the Federal Reserve to hold in trust that citizen's inherent "unlimited value." R. 165 at 170. Proponents believe that by filing paperwork with "the correct verbiage, " R. 181 at 24, they can tap into these trust funds and use them as bottomless expense accounts.

         Timing is everything. This theory struck a chord with Beane at a vulnerable time, when he owed more money than he could pay on his vehicle, several credit cards, and four personal loans.

         Before long, he came across the work of Heather Tucci-Jarraf, which did not help matters. A former lawyer who once worked as a prosecutor and public defender, Tucci-Jarraf ran a website, posted videos, and contributed to talk shows about the straw man conspiracy theory. She also produced several faux-legal documents that purported to allow individuals to access their secret trust fund accounts. Seeing Tucci-Jarraf as a visionary who could "make a difference, " Beane reached out to her. R. 165 at 174. She committed to help Beane dispose of his "old energy" and to "move forward and be creative" in getting his financial house in order. Id.

         Beane found an outlet for his creativity. While browsing Facebook, he came across a video posted by an anonymous user under the moniker of Batman-villain Harvey Dent. Id. The video purported to teach viewers how to access their secret trust fund accounts. But in truth it taught them how to commit wire fraud by exploiting a deficiency in the "Automated Clearing House" network that banks use to transfer funds online. Beane discussed the video with Tucci-Jarraf. She offered her own advice about how to perform the technique and directed him toward potentially helpful documents.

         On the evening of July 3, Beane gave the Harvey Dent idea a try. Logging onto his bank's website, he followed the video's instructions and entered the information it recommended. Account number? His own nine-digit Social Security number. Routing number? The Federal Reserve's. Using these credentials, Beane made fraudulent payments-in full-on his personal loans, his credit card debt, and his car insurance. Elated, Beane took ...


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