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Saturday, June 22, 2024 | Back issues
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Hey, You Asked For It, |Court Tells Conman

(CN) - The 9th Circuit rejected the claims of a convicted con artist who twice waived his right to counsel, and then tried to appeal his conviction on the grounds of ineffective counsel.

Steven Craig Moreland received 18 years in prison and was ordered to pay $26 million in restitution for his involvement in a pyramid scheme that swindled about 2,500 people - mostly imminent retirees - out of more than $73 million of their life savings.

The feds busted the scheme in May 2000, and Moreland fled with his family to Costa Rica to avoid arrest. In April 2001 he surrendered in Tyler, Texas, but not before ditching his laptop in a Dumpster behind a Dairy Queen near the highway.

He told a magistrate judge that he wanted to represent himself, which the judge allowed after appointing standby counsel to assist him. At a second hearing, the district judge urged Moreland to hire an attorney, but he again declined. The judge concluded that the defendant had "knowingly and intelligently waived his right to counsel."

As the charges piled up against him, Moreland asked for a lawyer shortly before trial. The district court appointed his standby attorney, Ralph Hurvitz. Though Hurvitz was familiar with the case, he asked for more time to prepare for trial. The court granted a two-week continuance, despite Moreland's opposition.

Moreland appealed his subsequent conviction and sentence, claiming he was denied his right to an attorney and alleging ineffective assistance, failure to grant a longer continuance, prosecutorial misconduct and insufficiency of evidence. He claimed he had involuntarily waived his right to counsel.

The circuit roundly rejected each claim, saying he had been warned about the risks of proceeding pro se and of turning to an attorney so late in the process, and that he had opposed any continuance at all and had caused the need for one. See ruling.

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