United States v. Thomas, No. 19-2969 (7th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
The mobile home park is a one-square-mile residential community of fewer than 100 dwellings, in North Judson, Indiana. In 2004-2013, Thomas was connected to eight fires there. He collected insurance proceeds on properties that he owned or that were owned by relatives: $75,000, $50,000, $60,000, and $426,227. In 2018, he was charged with mail fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1341, because he had used the mail to collect the insurance proceeds. The district court ruled that two “distractor” fires were part of the scheme and did not implicate Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) but that the 2004 fire was too far removed in time to be part of the scheme. The 2004 fire was admissible as modus operandi evidence and to prove identity. A jury convicted Thomas on all counts. He was sentenced to 90 months’ imprisonment.
The Seventh Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the fires were not part of a scheme because they were not a chain of continuous and overlapping events, but rather discrete episodes of alleged criminality and that the fires were inadmissible character evidence. Thomas was charged with mail fraud, not arson. The district court properly decided that six of the fires were part of Thomas’s scheme and not “other acts.”