United States v. Free, No. 15-2939 (3d Cir. 2016)Annotate this Case
In 2010, Free, as the sole proprietor of Electra Lighting, filed a voluntary bankruptcy petition. He also owns Freedom Firearms, selling WWII-era guns. After Free fell behind on payments on business-related properties, the lender purchased them in foreclosure; Free purportedly filed for bankruptcy in an effort to “stay” the sale and “work out an agreement.” He had sufficient assets to pay his debts. He then hid assets worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Bankruptcy Court. Free was eventually convicted for multiple counts of bankruptcy fraud. His creditors received 100 cents on the dollar. The Sentencing Guidelines increase a fraudster’s recommended sentence based on the amount of loss he causes, or intends to cause. The district court treated the estimated value of the assets that Free concealed and the amount of debt sought to be discharged as the relevant “loss” under the Guidelines. The Third Circuit vacated. On remand, the court must determine whether Free intended to cause a loss to his creditors or what he sought to gain from committing the crime. Free will not necessarily receive a lower sentence on remand. Free’s repeated lying to the Bankruptcy Court and his manifest disrespect for the judicial system may merit an upward variance from the Guidelines.