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Police blotter: Bogus laptop salesman loses appeal

He lands a "reasonable" two-year prison sentence, given that he also had threatened to kill police officers chasing him.

"Police blotter" is a weekly report on the intersection of technology and the law. This episode: A bogus laptop salesman lands a "reasonable" two-year prison sentence.

What: Appeal by a man who pleaded guilty to pocketing nearly $20,000 in a fraudulent laptop sales scheme on eBay and Yahoo, but not before he threatened to murder officers pursuing him.

When: Decided Aug. 30 by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Outcome: Two-year sentence for mail fraud charges upheld as "reasonable."

What happened: In January 2004, Scott Winingear was indicted by the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Alabama on 19 counts of mail fraud and subsequently arrested in Louisville, Ky., on those charges. He was released pending the start of his trial, according to the appeals court opinion (click for PDF). Meanwhile, another string of arrests unfolded.

First, authorities nabbed Winingear in connection with several traffic violations, giving an officer a false name and address, and "possession of a forged instrument." He was released, but those arrests violated the conditions of his pretrial release, so the court issued another warrant for his arrest.

When a police officer in Clarkesville, Ind., tried to apprehend Winingear on Feb. 18, 2004, a chase ensued. Winingear drew a knife and threatened to kill the officers who cornered him. He then tried stealing a truck and, failing, entered a nearby business, where he sprayed an officer in the face with a fire extinguisher before being subdued.

Winingear served half a year in an Indiana prison on charges of resisting law enforcement before heading to trial in Mobile, Ala.

There, he pleaded guilty to offering up laptops on eBay and Yahoo, pocketing money from buyers, and failing to turn over the advertised goods or refunds for their payments, valued at about $19,600. At his sentencing hearing, Winingear requested that the court credit the six months he'd served in Indiana prison to his sentence. Plus, his attorney argued, Winingear's diabetic condition rendered a two-year sentence "unreasonable." But the district court didn't budge.

The appeals court agreed. Considering not only the mail fraud convictions but Winingear's "multiple previous convictions" and murder threats against arresting officers, the court held that the district court's sentence--which was "one-tenth the length of the twenty-year statutory maximum"--was within reason.

Quote from the Alabama district court (as quoted in the appeals court opinion): "In a white-collar case, when it comes time for sentencing, everyone feels sorry for the person who did the crime. And you don't generally see the victims in here. There aren't any victims in here. They are all from places other than Mobile. But you affected 21 lives by basically stealing from them over the Internet. Each one of those people were (sic) affected in a particular way...The Court finds that the recommended sentencing range is appropriate under the facts and circumstances of this case."