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United States v. Galloway

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

February 26, 2019

United States of America Plaintiff - Appellee
Beth Galloway Defendant-Appellant

          Submitted: November 15, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa - Cedar Rapids

          Before BENTON, BEAM, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.

          BEAM, Circuit Judge.

         A jury convicted Beth Galloway of mail fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341; use of fire and aid and abet the use of fire to commit a felony (here, mail fraud) in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2 and 844(h); and conspiracy to commit money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1956(h) and 1956(a)(1)(B)(i). Following the verdict, Galloway filed motions for new trial and/or judgment of acquittal that the district court[1] denied. Galloway appeals, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence on all counts. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         "We recite the facts in the light most favorable to the jury's verdict." United States v. Daniel, 887 F.3d 350, 353 (8th Cir. 2018) (quoting United States v. Payne-Owens, 845 F.3d 868, 870 n.2 (8th Cir. 2017)).

         James Plower's house in Martelle, Iowa, burned down on July 25, 2013. At the time, the house was empty because Plower had moved in with his then-girlfriend, Galloway, who lived in Olin, Iowa. The fire department determined the fire started in the back room of the basement near a light fixture. After the fire, authorities received a tip from an arson hotline and an investigation ensued, resulting in the instant charges against Galloway.

         At trial, Plower testified as a cooperating witness for the government after pleading guilty to mail fraud and use of fire to commit a felony for setting the fire that consumed his home. He testified about his romantic relationship with Galloway and explained his financial situation just prior to the fire, including that he was living paycheck to paycheck. He explained that the situation worsened when Galloway lost her job and that the couple discussed ways to get money, which included legitimate ideas like redoing the house to sell, as well as the questionable idea to set the house on fire. Plower said that the two talked about ways to accomplish the fire. He also testified that Galloway knew about fire investigations because she had been a member of the Onslow fire department.

         The jury heard testimony from Plower and others regarding multiple attempts to set fire to the house prior to Plower's successful attempt on July 25, 2013. Plower testified that two weeks prior, Galloway left their house in the middle of the night, told Plower she was "going to the Martelle house," and when she returned she told him that "she couldn't get the house going." She told Plower she had tried to start the fire near the wall in the bathroom. Plower described another attempt a few days after that where he went to the house and attempted to light the hunting room ceiling in the basement with a propane torch. He started a small fire and went home to wait with Galloway for a radio alert, but none came because the fire apparently extinguished itself. It was Plower's next attempt, on July 25, that was successful. This time he set fire to the same spot in the basement, went home, and he and Galloway heard the fire report over the radio. The two went to the Martelle house at that time.

         Both of Galloway's sons, Isaac and Geffrey, testified. Isaac was equivocal on the stand when asked if he and his mother had attempted to start the house on fire and so a portion of his grand jury testimony was read to the jury. In that testimony, Isaac described a night where his mother drove him to the house in the middle of the night and he entered and tried to set a fire near the basement stairwell but that it didn't work. He said his mom "probably" knew he was going in with a lighter, she asked "did you get it?", when he got back in the car, to which he responded "yeah, I think it's going." Isaac said that Galloway stated "Jim [Plower] didn't need to know that I attempted to start the fire." A few days later Isaac said that he and his mom went back to make a second attempt, this time trying in a different location, with his mom asking if he was successful when he came out, and he was not. Galloway's son Geffrey also testified, stating that at one point after the fire Galloway advised him that Plower had started the house fire and that Galloway gave him instructions about what to do about his care and his siblings' care if she and Plower were arrested.

         Plower testified about filing the insurance claim and authenticated documents in court showing payments that were made. He received checks from Nationwide through the mail and deposited them at the bank and paid off the mortgage on the house. Plower explained that he and Galloway used the rest of the insurance proceeds to pay their living expenses, that Galloway additionally gave a portion of the proceeds to her father and that she also used some of the money herself to pay legal fees related to a child custody case. Ultimately investigators caught up with Plower and he admitted his criminal activity without implicating Galloway. He did, however, tell Galloway that he would have to take out some money before they froze his bank accounts and the two devised a plan to give the cash to a friend, Jean McPherson, for safekeeping. McPherson confirmed that Galloway and Plower jointly approached her and asked her to hold onto some cash for them. She testified that Plower and Galloway told her that Plower was under investigation and that their assets were being frozen so they needed cash to live on. McPherson agreed and believed it was Galloway who handed her the money. Galloway and Plower occasionally came to get money from McPherson.

         An investigator with the Iowa State Fire Marshal's Office testified about his investigation of this matter. In addition to the primary origin in the basement, the investigator identified areas of secondary origin and a third origin point, both of which correlate with areas where Plower testified that Galloway attempted to start the ...

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