WASHINGTON – A federal appeals court panel upheld the fraud and money- laundering conviction Wednesday of a Chevy Chase man who posed as an investment counselor to bilk a retired history professor out of his $107,000 life savings.
Donn L. Hill Jr., 36, said that the money was a gift from the professor, Michael A. F. Emmanuel, not an investment. He argued that the trial court should have let him introduce evidence that Emmanuel had previously made such a “gift” to another man, only to turn around and sue that man for the money when their relationship soured.
But the two-judge majority on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that allowing Hill to make that argument would have created “an exhaustive case within a case that would have confused the jury as to the issues to be decided.”
The court sided with the prosecution’s argument that Hill had presented himself to Emmanuel as “a professional financial advisor and principal in two investment companies.” According to court papers, he used the funds to pay credit card bills, rent and personal debts.
In a concurring opinion, Circuit Judge William B. Traxler Jr. said Shardon and the Manus Group, another company Hill claimed to represent, were “bogus.”
Hill and Emmanuel met at a church in Washington, D.C., in the 1990s. As their relationship developed, they attended religious services, dined and ran errands together, “spent time at one another’s homes, and also gave gifts to one another,” said Eric Robert Delinsky, an assistant federal public defender, in his motion for appeal.
These “gifts” included shares of Emmanuel’s mutual funds and securities, which Hill deposited in the account of a company, Shardon International, he was trying to start up, Delinsky wrote.
“These guys were very close on a personal level,” Delinsky said Thursday. “All of the documents through which money was transferred to Mr. Hill did not call it an investment.”
Delinsky said Hill wanted Suman Shrestha to testify on his behalf. Hill claimed that Emmanuel had earlier given a gift of $10,000 to Shrestha, only to sue him when their relationship ended.
But the trial court would not allow Shrestha’s testimony and the appeals court refused to reverse that decision.
The majority opinion noted that Shrestha had the same last name as Hill’s girlfriend and partner in Shardon, Sharmila Shrestha. It said that was “evidence of a previous incident of fraud — perhaps committed by friends of Hill’s.”
Delinsky said there is no relationship between Suman and Sharmila Shrestha.
“The last name, Shrestha, is a very common name for people from Nepal and India. It is like Smith,” he said.
The court also rejected Hill’s claim that the government used evidence that was improperly obtained. While conceding it was a “partially illegal search,” the judges said the evidence did not have to be thrown out.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland considered this case another victory over people who commit “frauds against vulnerable citizens,” said spokeswoman Vickie LeDuc.
Delinsky said he planned an appeal for Hill, who is currently serving a 54-month sentence at a federal prison in Cumberland.
“We will pursue every available alternative to vindicate Mr. Hill,” he said.