In United States v. Wynns, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40531 (2022), the District Court of New Jersey affirmed apportioned restitution. The Mandatory Victim Restitution Act (“MVRA”), 18 U.S.C. § 3663A, requires district courts to order restitution in certain cases. Section 3663 specifically discusses procedures for ordering restitution, requiring courts to order restitution to every victim in the full amount of each victim’s loss regardless of the economic circumstances of the defendant. However, according to 18 U.S.C. § 3664(h), where there is more than one defendant that has contributed to the loss of a victim “the court may make each defendant liable for payment of the full amount of restitution or may apportion liability among the defendants to reflect the level of contribution to the victim’s loss and economic circumstances of each defendant.”
Defendant, Jaziel Wynns, was arrested on a criminal complaint charging her and other co-conspirators with conspiracy to commit wire fraud in violation of 18 U.S.C § 1341. Wynns was then indicted on a single count indictment alleging that from 2015 to 2017, Wynns knowingly and intentionally conspired and agreed with her co-conspirators to defraud payroll service companies in violation of wire fraud and conspiracy (§§ 1343, 1349). Wynns subsequently pled guilty. The Court sentenced Wynns to a 3 year term of probation. Following her plea and sentencing, Wynns believed she should have been ordered to pay less after the Court reduced her sentence after finding her less culpable than her co-conspirators. Specifically, Wynns stated that she did not become involved in the scheme until after her co-conspirators already engaged in over 70 fraudulent transactions, following her initial participation there were no fraudulent deposits to her account until a year later, and stated that the full nature and scope of the scheme was not reasonably foreseeable to her. Additionally Wynns stated she lives off of benefits and after her monthly expenses, she has no money left.
The District Court discussed that restitution under the MVRA is ordered to compensate the victim for the losses they incurred and to make the victim whole. In a case with multiple defendants, the Court may apportion liability among co-conspirators, “to reflect the level of contribution to the victim’s loss and economic circumstances of each defendant.” Citing to the reasoning Wynns gave and the lack of evidence the Government provided establishing the entire loss amount was reasonably foreseeable to Wynns, the Court apportioned liability among Wynns.
Apportionment of restitution instead of holding all defendants jointly and severally liable can be very helpful for many defendants. Depending on the defendant’s level of involvement, if they can prove to the Court that it was minimal, as Wynns did, it could allow for restitution to be apportioned. Additionally, courts have affirmed apportioned restitution orders in other circuits, showing that on a case-by-case basis, a defendant can try and get the court to see why they deserve to pay less than their other co-conspirators.
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