United States v. Ajoku

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Law
  • Date Filed: 06-03-2013
  • Case #: 11-50230
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Hawkins for the Court, Circuit Judges Goodwin and Wardlaw
  • Full Text Opinion

In the context of 18 U.S.C. § 1035, false statements willfully made to non-federal authorities, but that “concern matters of interest to the federal government,” may fall within federal oversight for the purposes of § 1035; willfulness, for the purpose of § 1035 simply means “deliberately and with knowledge,” and does not require knowledge of unlawfulness.

Kelechi Ajoku (“Ajoku”) was convicted on four counts under 18 U.S.C. § 1035 for making false statements related to health care matters. Ajoku was a licensed vocational nurse and in the course of his employment provided false information to the California Department of Public Health and Medicare on billing records. He argued the statute only applied to federal authorities and could not be extended to statements made to state officials. Additionally, he argued the government failed to present sufficient evidence to support the conviction. The district court disagreed. On appeal he argued the district court additionally erred by improperly instructing the jury on the elements of willfulness and materiality and it improperly admitted inflammatory and unduly prejudicial evidence concerning the scope of the alleged fraud. The Ninth Circuit rejected these arguments and found the evidence sufficient. Notably, the panel relied on United States v. King, determining that even statements made to state officials, rather than federal authorities, which “concern matters of interest to the federal Government;” do fall within federal oversight for § 1035. The panel found the direct comments made by Ajoku and circumstantial evidence that Ajoku knowingly provided false information to Medicare investigators, establishing sufficient evidence his statements and concealment were addressed to Medicare. In the context of “false statement crimes,” like § 1035, the panel explained that willfulness “simply means ‘deliberately and with knowledge,’ and does not require knowledge of unlawfulness.” Accordingly, the panel found the district court did not err by giving a jury instruction explaining “the prosecution was required only to show that Ajoku’s statements were made deliberately and with knowledge that the statements were untrue or the document was false.” Overall, the panel found no plain error or abuse of discretion, and that there was sufficient evidence to support Ajoku’s convictions. AFFIRMED.

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