Criminal Cases – Opinions Released in Calendar Year 2023
Style: State of Tennessee v. Ronald Lyons, James Michael Usinger, Lee Harold Cromwell, Austin Gary Cooper, and Christopher Alan Hauser
TSC Docket Number: M2019-01946-SC-R11-CD
Date of TSC Opinion: May 15, 2023
Summary of decision of the Tennessee Supreme Court:
The Uniform Commercial Code provides a mechanism for secured creditors to give notice to the world of their security interest in debtors’ property as collateral for debt by filling out a form for a financing statement and posting it on the website for Tennessee’s Secretary of State. In this case, that system was weaponized. Collectively, the defendants filed over a hundred bogus financing statements on the Secretary of State’s website regarding over forty Tennessee residents, including judges, mayors, public officials, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and ex-spouses. The online financing statements falsely claimed liens for the defendants’ alleged security interest in the victims’ property as collateral for millions of dollars in fictitious debt. All were done for the apparent purpose of vexing and harassing the victims. All of the defendants were convicted of multiple counts of filing a lien without a reasonable basis, a Class E felony, and forgery of at least $250,000, a Class A felony. We granted permission to appeal in this case to address the forgery convictions. We hold that the defendants’ conduct fits within the statutory definition of forgery. We also hold that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s finding that the apparent value associated with the fraudulent financing statements was over $250,000. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Editor’s Note: Concurring/Dissenting Opinion: I concur in the majority’s conclusion that the evidence was sufficient to support the Defendants’ convictions for forgery. I agree with the majority that the Defendants’ conduct fits within the statutory definition of forgery under Tennessee Code Annotated section 39- 14-114(b)(1)(B). I write separately to dissent from the majority’s conclusion that the evidence was sufficient to support sentencing the Defendants for forgery as a Class A felony. Based on the text of the applicable statutes, I would hold that the evidence was not sufficient to support the jury’s finding that the UCC-1s had a fair market value of at least $250,000. 1 I would reverse the holding of the Court of Criminal Appeals as to the value associated with the Defendants’ forgery convictions.
Court of Criminal Appeals Decision: https://www.tncourts.gov/sites/default/files/lyonsusingercromwellcooperandhauser.opn_.pdf
Court of Criminal Appeals Summary:
Ronald Lyons, James Michael Usinger, Lee Harold Cromwell, Austin Gary Cooper, and Christopher Alan Hauser, Defendants, were named in a 302-count indictment by the Davidson County Grand Jury for multiple counts of forgery and fraudulently filing a lien for their role in filing a total of 102 liens against 42 different individuals with the office of the Tennessee Secretary of State. Defendant Cooper was also named in a second indictment for five additional counts of forgery and five additional counts of fraudulently filing a lien. Prior to trial, Defendant Hauser filed a motion to dismiss for improper venue. Defendants Cromwell and Cooper joined in the motion. The trial court denied the motion after a hearing. After a jury trial, each defendant was convicted as charged in the indictment. The trial court sentenced Defendant Cromwell to an effective sentence of twenty-five years; Defendant Cooper to an effective sentence of fifty years; Defendant Lyons to an effective sentence of twenty-two years; Defendant Usinger to an effective sentence of twenty-one years; and Defendant Hauser to an effective sentence of twenty years. After motions for new trial and several amended motions for new trial were filed, the trial court held a hearing. The trial court denied the motions in a lengthy and thorough written order. Each defendant appealed, raising various issues challenging their convictions and sentences. After deep review, we affirm the all judgments and all sentences.
Appellants September 2, 2021; October 5, 2021; November 8, 2021
Appellee: December 8, 2021
Appellant’s Reply: December 15, 2021; December 17, 2021
Oral Argument Date: April 6, 2022
Link to Oral Argument Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOpaCtGlMi4