The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today reversed the identify fraud conviction for a man found guilty of attempting to steal from the charity set up to help Boston Marathon bombing victims, but the defendant’s other convictions will keep him in prison for three years. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Mattier.
After the terrorist bombing attacks at the Boston Marathon finish line on Patriots’ Day in 2013, One Fund Boston was created to provide financial assistance to spectators who were injured in the blasts. An administrator was appointed to distribute One Fund’s proceeds to the survivors. Several weeks after the attack, the administrator presided over two community meetings to explain the process by which they money would be handed out. Anybody making a claim was required to submit a hospital statement that listed the dates of hospitalization and detailed the nature of the injuries. The amount of payment was determined by the seriousness of the injury. The defendant and his half-brother (who would turn into his codefendant) attended one of the community meetings.
The defendant filed a claim with One Fund two months after the bombing stating that his aunt had been injured in the bombing and had undergone a double amputation. The defendant attached a letter appearing to be from a doctor at the Boston Medical Center that confirmed the aunt’s injuries. As it turned out, the doctor’s letter was fraudulent and the defendant’s aunt had died more than a decade before the bombing. One Fund administrators rejected the claim after learning about the aunt’s death and referred the case to the Attorney General’s Office. The AG’s Office, in conjunction with the state police, conducted a sting operation to trap the defendant. They arranged for the defendant to receive a letter stating his claim had been approved and the check would arrive the following day. They watched as the defendant received and signed for the letter. The next day, an undercover state trooper, dressed as a FedEx driver, delivered a fake check to the defendant, who stated the check was for his aunt who had been injured in the bombing. Once the defendant accepted the check, he was surrounded by police officers who arrested him for identity fraud and attempted larceny. The officers later searched the defendant’s phone pursuant to a warrant and discovered gleeful messages between the defendant and his half-brother that their scam was apparently going to work, and discussing the type of Mercedez Benz cars they would buy with the money.
Following his convictions, the defendant appealed on a number of grounds including the sufficiency of the evidence for the identity fraud conviction. The Commonwealth was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had: posed as another person (the doctor); without the doctor’s permission; had used the doctor’s information to obtain something valuable; and had acted with the intent to defraud. The Commonwealth’s theory was the defendant had committed identity fraud by forging the doctor’s signature on a fraudulent letter (using Boston Medical Center letterhead) and using the letter to obtain money from the One Fund. The Supreme Judicial Court rejected the Commonwealth’s argument and reversed the identity fraud conviction. The Court ruled the Commonwealth was required to prove the defendant posed as the doctor in his interactions with the One Fund. In this case, while the defendant unquestionably provided a fraudulent letter to the charity, he never claimed to be the doctor. If the defendant had claimed at any point that he was the doctor, he would have properly been convicted of identity fraud. However, his conduct in this case did not satisfy the elements of the identity fraud statute.
It’s a hollow victory for the defendant, as his other convictions (for attempted larceny and conspiracy to commit larceny) were affirmed and his sentence (three years in prison followed by probation) was upheld. Nevertheless, this is an important case that limits the reach of the identity fraud statute for future defendants.