(CN) – An immigrant who admittedly conned people out of more than $100 million is not eligible for deportation relief, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday. The justices said his conviction crossed the $10,000 threshold of an “aggravated felony,” even though the jury never pinned down an exact amount of victim loss.
Immigration law defines an “aggravated felony” to include “an offense that … involves fraud or deceit in which the loss to the victim or victims exceeds $10,000.”
A jury convicted Manoj Nijhawan of wire fraud, bank fraud, mail fraud and money laundering under federal criminal statutes.
“But because none of these statutes requires a finding of any particular amount of victim loss,” Justice Breyer explained, “the jury made no finding about the amount of loss. At sentencing, petitioner stipulated that the loss exceeded $100 million.”
The court sentenced Nijhawan to 41 months in prison and ordered him to pay $683 million in restitution.
The government sought to remove him in 2005, claiming he’d been convicted of an “aggravated felony.” Nijhawan contested this finding, citing the jury’s failure to tie his conviction to a dollar amount.
The immigration judge, Board of Immigration Appeals and 3rd Circuit all backed his conviction and sentencing.
The high court agreed to take the case, noting a division among appellate courts over whether the $10,000 threshold refers to the elements of a crime as outlined in fraud statutes or to the particular circumstances of an individual crime.
The justices unanimously held that it refers to the “particular circumstances in which an offender committed a fraud or deceit crime on a particular occasion.”
In other words, courts can look beyond the legally defined elements of crime, which don’t always require a jury to peg the amount of victim loss.
In Nijhawan’s case, the lower courts relied on “clear and convincing” evidence that his conviction hinged on losses “considerably greater” than $10,000, Breyer concluded.