Football Injury Is No Defense to Bank Fraud, 6th Circuit Rules

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled on Wednesday that a disbarred personal injury attorney could not assert that head injuries caused by playing college football negated the intent element necessary to convict him of bank fraud.

George E. Skouteris Jr., a disbarred Tennessee plaintiff-side personal injury lawyer, was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment and ordered to pay close to $150,000 in restitution after a jury found him guilty of bank fraud. From 2007 to 2013, Skouteris had been settling his clients’ cases without their authorization, forging their signatures, and pocketing the settlement money. He would subsequently either ignore his clients’ calls or claim that he was still working on the settlements. Some clients eventually received small portions of their settlement funds, while others were left with nothing. 

At trial, Skouteris asserted that his college football career left him with mental impairments, including possible chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and thus he could not form the requisite intent to commit bank fraud. Skouteris’ attorney asked for a jury instruction that evidence of “diminished mental capacity” could cast “reasonable doubt that” Skouteris had the “requisite culpable state of mind,” but the district court declined to include such an instruction. 

The 6th Circuit agreed with the district court, noting that the relevant bank fraud statute required prosecutors to show that Skouteris acted with the knowledge that the bank would likely be deprived of its property. Whether he acted “purposely” was irrelevant. According to the court, the “mountain of circumstantial evidence” was enough to show Skouteris’ knowledge that depositing unauthorized checks into his bank account was likely to deprive the bank of its property. Expert testimony supported the fact that Skouteris was “capable of having the mental ability to form and carry out complex thoughts, schemes, and plans,” and testimony from former clients demonstrated that Skouteris was detail-oriented and showed no signs of diminished mental capacity. Furthermore, the fact that Skouteris lied to his clients when they asked about their settlements and carried on the scheme for so long suggested that he knew the likely consequences he faced.

The court concluded that there was no abuse of discretion in omitting Skouteris’ requested jury instruction because the instruction would have explained an irrelevant “specific intent” requirement of the law instead of the established knowledge requirement. The court went on to say that even if the instruction was necessary to negate the knowledge element, the proposed instruction lacked any detail that was not already covered in the actual jury charge.

Additional Reading

Disbarred lawyer can’t blame bank fraud on old football injury, Reuters (October 20, 2022)

United States v. Skouteris, No. 21-6221 (6th Cir. 2022)

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