Navy-Marine Corps Appellate Court Overturns Guilty Plea in Catfishing Case

The Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals recently decided the case of United States v. Colletti. SSgt Colletti executed a scheme to get women to send him nude pictures of themselves. His plan consisted of posing as “Jenicae” and her girlfriend “Nicki.” Operating as these two personas, SSgt Colletti was able to get two different women to send him sexually explicit pictures of themselves. The scheme was discovered when SSgt Colletti’s girlfriend (whose own intimate pictures he had used in his depiction of “Jenicae”) went through his phone and reported him to his command.

At trial, SSgt Colletti was charged with failing to obey a general order, obstruction of justice, and wire fraud. The Government charged SSgt Colletti with wire fraud for obtaining the photos of the women through the internet in a fraudulent manner. Wire fraud is not an article under the UCMJ, but was charged under the federal statute. 18 U.S.C. Section 1343 prohibits deceptive schemes to deprive a victim of money or property. The Government charged SSgt Colletti based upon an Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals case with similar facts that had adopted a federal appellate court’s theory that intangible objects, like digital photographs, can be considered “property” so long as the victim had a “right to control” the object.

SSgt Colletti pled guilty to the charges, including the wire fraud offense. He stipulated that the digital photos were “personal intangible property” of the women he had catfished. He was sentenced to reduction to E-1, forfeiture of $1278 per month for 12 months, and a bad-conduct discharge. Roughly four months after his guilty plea, the Supreme Court decided the case of Ciminelli v. United States. In its opinion, the Supreme Court struck down the “right to control” theory that the Air Force appellate court, and the prosecutors in SSgt Colletti’s case had relied upon.

On appeal, SSgt Colletti argued that his conviction for wire fraud could not stand. The Supreme Court had emphasized in its Ciminelli opinion that the federal wire fraud statute required a victim be deprived of money or property. The Court did not allow the expansion of the term “property” to include intangible objects. The Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeals applied this new explanation of the law and set aside SSgt Colletti’s conviction. The digital photographs sent by the women were simply not “property.” The court noted that other articles under the UCMJ might be applicable to this conduct, but the federal wire fraud statute was not. The findings and sentence were set aside and sent back for a potential rehearing. At any rehearing, the Government would have to find a way to charge the conduct without using the federal wire fraud statute.

If you or your loved one is facing a court-martial or wants to appeal a court-martial conviction, you need someone with experience who knows the law. I have the experience you need. Please call Bill Cassara at (706) 445-2943 for a free consultation.

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