The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the convictions of a Wisconsin man who filed fraudulent small claims lawsuits against residents in multiple counties.
Bernard Seidling, 62, was convicted in December 2012 of 50 counts of mail fraud for filing small claims. He also went out of his way to ensure the lawsuits would not be served on the defendants – be it through mailing them to incorrect addresses or lying to judges that the notice had been published in the newspaper – because then judges ultimately would decide in his favor.
Five of the 24 lawsuits involved in the original indictment resulted in judgments for Seidling, according to court filings, though federal prosecutors ended up discovering 58 additional lawsuits he filed before Western District of Wisconsin Judge Barbara Crabb sentenced him to three years in prison.
The total loss to Seidling’s victims was estimated at more than $370,000.
On appeal, Madison attorney Stephen Meyer argued that Crabb should have dismissed the charges because Seidling had no intention of communicating with the victims, a key element of mail fraud.
But the federal appellate court, in a decision authored by Chief Judge Diane Wood and Judges William Bauer and Michael Kanne, upheld Crabb’s decision, stating that he “undoubtedly intended for the money or property lost by the victims to ultimately end up in his possession.”
“Although Seidling never directly communicated with the victims … he deceived the Wisconsin small claims courts in an effort to defraud the individuals and one entity he named as defendants in the lawsuits,” the decision reads.
The court noted that many of the victims faced “challenges in reopening the lawsuits, getting them dismissed, clearing their credit, and removing the fraudulent lawsuits from the Wisconsin Circuit Court Access system.”
It also stated that Seidling was improperly denied a downward departure after accepting responsibility for his actions. The opinion states that Seidling “continuously rejected the contention that his conduct caused damage to the victims.”
“For example, in his response to a letter written by victim Dori Stepan, Seidling stated ‘I am sorry that Ms. Stepan feels the way she does,’” according to the opinion.
Meyer said Monday that his client, who previously split his time between northwest Wisconsin and southern Florida, is going through an alcohol treatment program while he is in prison. Seidling has yet to decide, Meyer said, whether to petition the state Supreme Court for review. Follow @eheisigWLJ