(CN) - A man who admitted to a $300,000 fraud on Chase Bank is not guilty of aggravated identity theft, the 9th Circuit ruled Thursday.
Doren Ward conceded that in 2011 he worked with co-consipirators in the United Kingdom to steal the personal information of various Chase Bank customers and impersonate them to obtain replacement bank cards, with which the scammers then stole some $299,000.
Ward tried to plead guilty in Los Angeles to conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud and access-device fraud while denying two counts of aggravated identity theft, but U.S. District Judge Terry Hatter refused, finding that he could not admit to conspiracy without admitting to identity theft.
The case went to trial and a jury convicted Ward on all charges. A unanimous appellate panel tossed the identity-theft conviction Thursday, however, finding that the court had changed the nature of the charges mid-trial.
Judge Hatter had "constructively amended" the charges by allowing the state to present six alleged victims of the scam when the original indictment listed just two, according to the ruling from Pasadena.
"Ward was indicted for aggravated identity theft as to only Gerald Glen and Chris Hagler, and the identity of the victims was necessary to satisfy an element of the offense because aggravated identity theft requires proof that the victim was a real person," wrote Chief U.S. District Judge William Smith, who sat on the three-member appeals panel by designation from Rhode Island.
"But the jury heard testimony that Ward also victimized the Brandts, Robert Bitter, and Kimberly Franklin," Smith added. "Similarly, the government's opening and closing arguments referenced not just Glen and Hagler, but these other victims as well. Then, the jury was instructed that it could convict Ward on Counts VI and VII if he stole the identity of 'a real person,' without further specificity."
The panel reversed Ward's convictions for aggravated identity theft and remanded the case.