Clocking Bogus Hours on the Government's Dime

     (CN) - The 10th Circuit affirmed the conviction of a government employee found guilty of falsifying time sheets so that he could play tennis and gamble when he was supposed to be performing management duties for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
     After some complaints arose that HUD supervisor Herman Ransom was frequently absent from the Kansas City, Kan., office, HUD opened an investigation and placed Ransom under random surveillance. This probe concluded that between 2001 and May 2007, Ransom only worked a full day 47 percent of the time that he claimed. The remaining 53 percent of his scheduled workdays were split between partial and complete absences, usually spent at a tennis court or a casino and sometimes split between both.
     Investigators also uncovered Ransom's apparent defense for his absences in a document on his work computer.
     "Being the senior multifamily housing manager in this region, I am on the clock 24/7," the document read.
     "I visit properties after midnight to get the real feel for what our tenants are dealing with, drugs and crime," it states later. "I have visited properties with staff at their request at midnight because residents were complaining that this is the time the real problems occur. I do this because I take pride in my work and want to ensure that folks are living in safe housing. I work many hours that I am not compensated for. I don't complain because I know this is part of my job."
     A jury convicted Ransom on 10 counts of wire fraud and 10 counts of theft of public funds. In addition to a $46,900 judgment for HUD, he was sentenced to a year and one day in prison and two years of supervised release.
     When a federal judge rejected Ransom's motion for acquittal or a new trial, he appealed to the Denver-based 10th Circuit.
     Ransom argued that, as a salaried employee, his time sheets did not impact his pay, so falsifying them was not theft.
     A three-judge panel rejected this claim, noting Ransom's time sheets defined his "leave balance." HUD calculated that Ransom would have a deficit of 598.25 hours. if he had reported his paid leave time correctly. Instead, his doctored time sheets allowed him a surplus balance of 230 unused hours of leave.
     The federal appeals court went on to affirm that Ransom displayed both sufficient knowledge of his crimes and the intent to commit them.
     Ransom also failed to challenge part of the jury instruction, which he argued might have led the jury to believe they could convict him merely for failing to work his assigned hours.
     But the appellate judges ruled that the instruction reflected regulations promulgated by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Furthermore, when taken alongside all of the other jury instructions, the instruction would not have confused the jury about the nature of the charges at issue.
     They also rejected Ransom's challenge to the alleged vagueness of the wire-fraud statute.
     "He concedes that if the government had found legal, binding authority tying his time records to his paychecks, his argument would fail because this would be 'a straight-forward wire fraud/theft case; [Mr. Ransom] lied about his hours and based upon those lies received his paycheck,'" Judge Scott Matheson wrote for the court, concluding that the court sufficiently established this binding authority, so the wire fraud statute was not too vague.