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United States v. Aleff

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

November 20, 2014

United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee
v.
Howard John Aleff, also known as " Jack" ; Reena L. Slominski; L& J Wool & Fur, Defendants - Appellants

Submitted November 11, 2014.

Page 509

Appeal from United States District Court for the District of South Dakota - Aberdeen.

For United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee: Cheryl Schrempp DuPris, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Attorney's Office, District of South Dakota, Pierre, SD.

For Howard John Aleff, Defendant - Appellant: Jason Chandler Farrington, Farrington & Hardy, Phoenix, AZ.

For Reena L. Slominski, Defendant - Appellant: Jason Chandler Farrington, Farrington & Hardy, Phoenix, AZ.

For L& J Wool & Fur, Defendant - Appellant: Jason Chandler Farrington, Farrington & Hardy, Phoenix, AZ.

Before MURPHY, MELLOY, and BENTON, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 510

BENTON, Circuit Judge.

Howard John Aleff and Reena L. Slominski pled guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States by submitting false applications for loan-deficiency payments in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 286. They were ordered to pay $303,890 in restitution. The United States then sued under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § § 3729-33. The district court[1] granted summary judgment to the United States, ordering Aleff, Slominski, and their business, L& J Fur & Wool, Inc., to pay a $1,376,670 penalty. Aleff and Slominski appeal, arguing tat (1) the district court erred in holding that their guilty pleas resolved their FCA liability; (2) the $1.3 million penalty violates the Double Jeopardy Clause; and (3) the $1.3 million penalty is grossly disproportional under the Excessive Fines Clause. Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court affirms.

I.

This court reviews de novo a grant of summary judgment. Torgerson v. City of Rochester, 643 F.3d 1031, 1042 (8th Cir. 2011) (en banc). Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material fact and one party is entitled to judgment as amatter of law. Id. The district court found that Aleff's and Slominski's guilty pleas established the essential elements of an FCA claim. It also concluded that its finding at sentencing that Slominski acted with " significantly reduced mental capacity" did not negate the preclusive effect of her guilty plea.

Aleff and Slominski argue that their guilty pleas are not preclusive because no issues were actually litigated in the criminal proceeding, citing Popp Telcom v. American Sharecom, Inc., 210 F.3d 928, 939 (8th Cir. 2000) (noting collateral estoppel applies when " the disputed issue has actually been litigated and decided" ). To the contrary, collateral estoppel " applies equally whether the previous criminal conviction was based on a jury verdict or a plea of guilty." Hernandez-Uribe v. United States, 515 F.2d 20, 22 (8th Cir. 1975). See also 31 U.S.C. § 3731(e) (providing that a final judgment in a criminal proceeding, " whether upon a verdict after trial or upon a plea of guilty or nolo contendere, shall estop the ...


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