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United States v. Williams

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

August 20, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff - Appellee,
CAMEO WILLIAMS, SR., Defendant-Appellant.

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Colorado (D.C. No. 1:16-CR-00111-JLK-1)

          Megan L. Hayes, Attorney at Law, Laramie, Wyoming, for Defendant-Appellant.

          Jason R. Dunn, United States Attorney, J. Bishop Grewell, Assistant United States Attorney, Denver, Colorado, for Plaintiff-Appellee.

          Before BRISCOE, PHILLIPS, and MORITZ, Circuit Judges.


         Does it matter if a veteran lies about having served overseas? Yes, if the veteran lies to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to get undeserved benefits under 38 C.F.R. § 3.304(f)(2) for combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We reject Williams's argument that his lie was not material under 18 U.S.C. §1001(a)(2), as well as his two challenges to evidentiary rulings. Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm.


         Cameo Williams, Sr. is a veteran of the United States Army, who spent his entire service stateside-never overseas or in combat. But for years, based on his false statements about combat service, he obtained VA benefits for combat-related PTSD.

         Eventually, during a review of his eligibility for benefits, the VA began to question Williams's accounts of his combat service. The VA's doubts arose after reviewing Williams's medical records, which revealed that he had made inconsistent statements regarding the nature of his alleged deployment. He had told one VA medical provider about serving in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba from August 2004 to April 2005 and in Afghanistan from May 2005 to June 2006.[1] But he had told two other VA providers about serving in Iraq in 2007 and 2008 for two three-month stints, never mentioning having served in Cuba or Afghanistan. Recognizing that Williams's claimed foreign service was also unsupported by his military records, the VA proposed to decrease his benefits by severing the service connection to his PTSD diagnosis. For some reason, Williams challenged that proposal, maintaining that he was entitled to his previously awarded benefits for combat-related PTSD.

         The VA set Williams's challenge for an informal hearing before Alana Bucheit, a VA Decision Review Officer. The Review Officer's preliminary review of Mr. Williams's military records revealed nothing to support his claim of overseas or combat service. Even so, in August 2014 the Review Officer held the informal hearing.

         While testifying at the informal hearing, Williams claimed to have served in Iraq from May to September 2007. This statement underlies his charge and conviction under 18 U.S.C. §1001(a)(2). Interrelatedly, though not charged in the indictment, Williams further testified that he had been stationed at Camp Taji, outside Baghdad; that he had been deployed there twice as a casualty replacement; that while there he had been exposed to the enemy's improvised explosive devices and had to clean blood from an attacked Humvee; and that these experiences had caused his PTSD. At the hearing, Williams was the sole witness, but he provided the Review Officer with a "buddy statement," a letter from a fellow veteran claiming to have served with Williams in Iraq.[2]R. Vol. III at 321. At the hearing, the Review Officer questioned Williams about the lack of any deployment entries in his military records and asked whether he would consider trying to have his records corrected to show his service in Iraq. Williams declined, professing to have lost trust in the military and the VA.

         After the hearing, the Review Officer continued to investigate Williams's account of being deployed to Iraq. She directed another VA employee to contact the Joint Services Records Research Center (JSRRC) to confirm that Williams had been assigned to the casualty-replacement unit and served with it in Iraq. As the Review Officer later described at the criminal trial, the JSRRC has "access to the command chronologies that [VA employees] don't have access to" and "can research to try [to] confirm reported events." Id. at 332. The JSRRC also refuted Williams's testimony. In fact, his military records showed that at the very time he claimed to have been serving in Iraq, he was being treated at Madigan Army Medical Center in Fort Lewis, Washington.

         In June 2015, almost a year after the informal hearing, Review Officer Bucheit upheld the VA's proposal to reduce Williams's benefits, finding that he lacked a service connection for his claimed combat-related PTSD. She then followed her customary practice and shredded her notes from the informal hearing with Williams.[3]

         In March 2016, a grand jury sitting in the District of Colorado charged Williams in a single-count indictment with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2). The charged conduct was Williams's false statement to the Review Officer about having served in Iraq from May to September 2007. The indictment did not charge any of several other similar statements he had made to other VA representatives.

         The case proceeded to a jury trial. At the close of the government's case, Williams moved for a judgment of acquittal, arguing that the government had presented insufficient evidence of materiality. The district court denied this motion. The jury found Williams guilty, and the district court sentenced him to five years' probation. Williams timely appealed.

         On appeal, Williams challenges his conviction on three grounds: (1) that the government presented insufficient evidence of materiality; (2) that the district court violated his Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights by disallowing testimony from his two listed expert witnesses; and (3) that the district court abused its discretion by admitting into evidence some of Williams's earlier false statements to the VA that the Army had deployed him overseas.


         A. Williams's False Statement at the VA Hearing Was Material, and the District Court Did Not Err in Denying Williams's Motion for Acquittal

         On appeal, Williams does not dispute making the false statement about serving in Iraq.[4] Rather, he challenges its materiality. He argues that under 38 C.F.R. ยง 3.304(f)(2), the Review Officer could rely only on military records to determine whether he had served in Iraq. For this reason, he contends that his testimony on that point could not be material to the benefits decision. From this, Williams argues that the district court erred by not granting his motion for acquittal, reasoning that ...

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