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Disbarred lawyer can’t blame bank fraud on old football injury – appeals court – Reuters

(Reuters) – A disbarred Tennessee lawyer cannot claim that head injuries he suffered playing football in high school and college made it impossible for him to form a criminal intent to commit federal bank fraud, a federal appeals court held Wednesday.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction and 30-month sentence of George Skouteris Jr, who had settled several cases between 2007 and 2013 without his clients’ knowledge and signed their names to deposit the checks to his own account. Those same actions had resulted in Skouteris’ disbarment in 2014.

At his criminal trial April 2021 in U.S. District Court in Memphis, the defense argued the federal bank fraud statute required the prosecution to show that Skouteris specifically intended to defraud the bank, and that his “days on the gridiron had left him with mental impairments — including possible chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) — that cast doubt on whether he had the requisite state of mind,” Circuit Judge Chad Readler wrote Wednesday for the three-judge appellate panel.

Both sides introduced evidence and expert testimony about Skouteris’ mental disorders, but the trial judge declined to instruct the jury that evidence of “diminished mental capacity” could provide “reasonable doubt” that Skouteris lacked a specific intent to defraud the bank.

That was the right call, the 6th Circuit said. Despite some older appellate decisions to the contrary, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear in 2016 that the bank-fraud statute only requires prosecutors to show that defendants knew their actions were likely to cost the bank money – not that they purposely set out to do so.

Applying that “clarified standard,” the 6th Circuit said, “a mountain of circumstantial evidence demonstrated Skouteris’s knowledge that depositing unauthorized settlement checks into his own account was likely to wrongfully deprive the bank of its property.”

Former clients and colleagues had described Skouteris as a “detail-oriented lawyer who did not exhibit signs of a diminished mental capacity,” while others testified that Skouteris repeatedly lied to clients about the status of their settlements, “suggesting that he knew he was engaged in deception when cashing the settlement checks.”

In addition, the fact that Skouteris had engaged in similar behavior in seven cases over the “better course of a decade,” even after being confronted and sued for doing so, suggested that his actions “were no accident,” Readler wrote.

“That evidence is reliable proof that Skouteris knew the likely consequences of his behavior,” the court concluded.

Attorneys for the prosecution and defense declined to comment on Wednesday.

The case is USA v. Skouteris, 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals No. 21-6221.

For Skouteris: Josie Holland of Holland Law

For the USA: Carroll André III, U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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