BREAKING STORY. US v. Loughrin. FULL TEXT Supreme Court Opinion

June 23, 2014

No, it's not a Broadway show. In fact, Kevin Loughrin pretended to be a Mormon missionary. Behind that guise, the bogus missionary went door-to-door in Salt Lake City and, when he got the chance, he rifled through residential mailboxes and stole any checks he found. Taking the whole cleanliness is next to godliness thing a bit too far (as well as the concept of money "laundering"), Loughrin would sometimes wash, bleach, iron, and, thereafter, dry the stolen checks in an effort to remove any writing. With his now literally laundered checks, he proceeded to fill in the blanks. Sometimes he added another payee. If he stumbled upon the holy grail of a blank check, he completed it and forged the accountholder's signature. 

Over several months, Loughrin made out six of these checks to the retailer Target, for amounts of up to $250. Armed with his altered instruments, Loughrin made his way into a local Target, posed as the accountholder of the altered check, and used the forged instrument to pay for his purchases. Showing a bit of whimsey, Justice Kagan notes:

After the cashier accepted the check (which, remarkably enough, happened time after time), Loughrin would leave the store, then turn around and walk back inside to return the goods for cash.

Each of the six checks was drawn on an account at a federally insured bank. Target caught three of the checks before submission for payment. The other three were deposited with the result that the bank refused payment on one after the real accountholder notified the bank that she had seen a man stealing her mail. The other two checks were apparently paid.

Eventually, the Feds caught up with this wannabe missionary/money launder and charged his with six counts of committing bank fraud under 18 U. S. C. §1344. Ahh . . . and now the legal pyrotechnics begin as the courts battle with whether Loughrin could properly be charged with bank fraud.

KAGAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS,C. J., and KENNEDY, GINSBURG, BREYER, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined, and in which SCALIA and THOMAS, JJ., joined as to Parts I and II, Part III-A except the last paragraph, and the last footnote of Part III-B. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which THOMAS, J., joined. ALITO, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.

A part of the federal bank fraud statute, 18 U. S. C. §1344(2), makes ita crime to "knowingly execut[e] a scheme . . . to obtain" property owned by, or under the custody of, a bank "by means of false or fraudulent pretenses." Petitioner Kevin Loughrin was charged with bank fraud after he was caught forging stolen checks, using them to buy goods at a Target store, and then returning the goods for cash.The District Court declined to give Loughrin's proposed jury instruction that a conviction under §1344(2) required proof of "intent to defraud a financial institution." The jury convicted Loughrin, and the Tenth Circuit affirmed.
Held: Section 1344(2) does not require the Government to prove that a defendant intended to defraud a financial institution. Pp. 4-15.
(a) Section 1344(2) requires only that the defendant intend to obtain bank property and that this end is accomplished "by means of" a false statement. No additional requirement of intent to defraud a bank appears in the statute's text. And imposing that requirement would prevent §1344(2) from applying to cases falling within the statute's clear terms, such as frauds directed against a third-party custodian of bank-owned property. Loughrin's construction would also make §1344(2) a mere subset of §1344(1), which prohibits any scheme "to defraud a financial institution." That view is untenable because those clauses are separated by the disjunctive "or," signaling that each is intended to have separate meaning. And to read clause (1) as fully encompassing clause (2) contravenes two related interpretive canons: that different language signals different meaning, and that no part of a statute should be superfluous. Pp. 4-6.

(b) Loughrin claims that his view is supported by similar language in the federal mail fraud statute and by federalism principles, but his arguments are unpersuasive. Pp. 7-15. 

(1) In McNally v. United States, 483 U. S. 350, this Court interpreted similar language in the mail fraud statute, §1341-whichserved as a model for §1344-to set forth just one offense, despite theuse of the word "or." But the two statutes have notable textual differences. The mail fraud law contains two phrases strung together in a single, unbroken sentence, whereas §1344's two clauses have separate numbering, line breaks, and equivalent indentation-all indications of separate meaning. Moreover, Congress likely did not intend to adopt McNally's interpretation when it enacted §1344, because atthat time (three years before McNally) every Court of Appeals had interpreted the word " or" in the mail fraud statute in its usual, disjunctive sense. And while McNally found that unique features of the mailfraud statute's history supported its view, the legislative history surrounding the adoption of §1344 points the other way. Pp. 7-9.

(2) Loughrin also contends that without an element of intent to defraud a bank, §1344(2) would apply to every minor fraud in which the victim happens to pay by check. This, he says, would unduly expand the reach of federal criminal law into an area traditionally left to the States. But this argument ignores a significant textual limit on §1344(2)'s reach: The criminal must acquire (or attempt to acquire) the bank property "by means of" the misrepresentation. That language limits §1344(2)'s application to cases (like this one) in which the misrepresentation has some real connection to a federally insured bank, and thus to the pertinent federal interest. Pp. 9-15.
710 F. 3d 1111,AFFIRMED


[C]onsider, for example, a garden-variety con: A fraudster sells something to a customer, misrepresenting its value. There are countless variations, but let's say the fraudster passes off a cheap knock-off as a Louis Vuitton handbag. The victim pays for the bag with a good check, which the criminal cashes. Voila!, Loughrin says, bank fraud has just happened-unless we adopt his narrowing construction. After all, the criminal has intended to "obtain . . . property . . . under the custody or control of " the bank (the money in the victim's checking account), and has made "false orfraudulent . . . representations" (the lies to the victim about the handbag).5 But if the bank fraud statute were to encompass all such schemes, Loughrin continues, itwould interfere with matters "squarely within the traditional criminal jurisdiction of the state courts." Brief for Petitioner 29. We should avoid such a "sweeping expansion of federal criminal" law, he concludes, by reading§1344(2), just like §1344(1), as requiring intent to defraud a bank. Reply Brief 3 (quoting Cleveland v. United States, 531 U. S. 12, 24 (2000)).

Page 10 of the Opinion

Section 1344(2)'s "by means of " language is satisfied when, as here, the defendant's false statement is the mechanism naturally inducing a bank (or custodian ofbank property) to part with money in its control. That occurs, most clearly, when a defendant makes a misrepresentation to the bank itself-say, when he attempts to cash, at the teller's window, a forged or altered check. In that event, the defendant seeks to obtain bank property bymeans of presenting the forgery directly to a bank employee. But no less is the counterfeit check the "means" of obtaining bank funds when a defendant like Loughrinoffers it as payment to a third party like Target.6 After all, a merchant accepts a check only to pass it along to a bank for payment; and upon receipt from the merchant,that check triggers the disbursement of bank funds just asif presented by the fraudster himself. . .

Page 12 of the Opinion