This opinion will be unpublished and

may not be cited except as provided by

Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).

 

STATE OF MINNESOTA

IN COURT OF APPEALS

C1-01-684

 

 

State of Minnesota,

Respondent,

 

vs.

 

Lemae Flowers,

Appellant.

 

 

Filed April 23, 2002

Affirmed

Anderson, Judge

 

Isanti County District Court

File No. K600545

 

Mike Hatch, Attorney General, Natalie Hudson, Assistant Attorney General, 535 Park Street, Suite 500, St. Paul, MN 55103; and

 

Jeffrey R. Edblad, Isanti County Attorney, 555 18th Avenue Southwest, Cambridge, MN 55088 (for respondent)

 

John Stuart, State Public Defender, Cathryn Y. Middlebrook, Assistant State Public Defender, 2829 University Avenue SE, Suite 600, Minneapolis, MN 55414 (for appellant)

 

            Considered and decided by Anderson, Presiding Judge, Harten, Judge, and Stoneburner, Judge.

 

 

 

 

U N P U B L I S H E D  O P I N I O N

 

G. BARRY ANDERSON, Judge.

 

            A jury found appellant guilty of wrongfully obtaining public assistance in excess of $2,500.  The district court stayed imposition of appellant’s sentence and placed appellant on probation for five years with several conditions.  Appellant argues that the evidence at trial was not sufficient for the jury to find her guilty of wrongfully obtaining public assistance in excess of $2,500.  We affirm.

FACTS

 

The state charged appellant with wrongfully obtaining public assistance, a felony violation of Minn. Stat. §§ 256.98, subd. 1, 609.52, subd. 3(2) (1998).  The state alleged that appellant intentionally misrepresented that her son, Curvell, resided in her household after she moved from Minneapolis to Cambridge, Minnesota, to unlawfully obtain additional public assistance between January 1998 and June 1999.  The defense maintained that although Curvell attended alternative high schools in Minneapolis, he spent his weekends and holidays at appellant’s home in Cambridge, and that appellant used the additional public assistance to support Curvell while he attended school in Minneapolis.

            Appellant’s income-maintenance worker testified that she met personally with appellant eight to ten times between 1997 and 1999.  In June 1999, she asked appellant about Curvell’s whereabouts because he had reached the age of 18 and the worker needed to confirm that he was still attending school.  Appellant told the worker that Curvell “came and went” and refused to disclose Curvell’s address in Minneapolis.  After this conversation, the income-maintenance worker referred appellant’s case to a welfare-fraud investigator.  The welfare-fraud investigator testified that she spoke with appellant regarding Curvell’s residence on July 7, 1999.  According to the investigator, appellant admitted that Curvell “was out of the house.”  The investigator also testified that Curvell worked at four different jobs in Minneapolis during the period at issue.

            A social worker from the Plymouth Christian Youth Center (PCYC), a Minneapolis alternative high school, testified that Curvell attended PCYC between September 1998 and October 1999.  The social worker recalled that Curvell lived with his aunt near the school.[1]  A Cambridge Housing Authority employee testified that she spoke with appellant on March 23, 2000, and appellant told the employee that Curvell “came and went at her apartment,” and that Curvell lived with his girlfriend “occasionally or some of the time.”  A financial-assistance specialist from Isanti County Family Services testified that appellant improperly received $2,854 in additional assistance, after her assistance payments were recalculated to reflect Curvell’s absence from the household.

            Curvell testified that he initially moved his belongings to Cambridge when appellant moved there from Minneapolis, but he also stated that he attended PCYC (and before that Street Academy, another alternative high school) and stayed with his relatives while in Minneapolis during the period in question.  He stated that he visited appellant on weekends and during holidays.  He also noted that appellant knew that he was employed part-time while he lived in Minneapolis.

D E C I S I O N

 

            Appellant argues the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she was guilty of wrongfully obtaining public assistance because there is no evidence that she knew that she was not entitled to receive additional public assistance for her son, even though he lived in Minneapolis. 

When we consider a claim of insufficient evidence, our review is limited to a painstaking analysis of the record to determine whether the evidence, when viewed in the light most favorable to the conviction, is sufficient to allow the jurors to reach the verdict they did.  State v. Webb, 440 N.W.2d 426, 430 (Minn. 1989).  We must assume the jury believed the state’s witnesses and disbelieved any evidence to the contrary.  State v. Moore, 438 N.W.2d 101, 108 (Minn. 1989).  We will not disturb the verdict if the jury, acting with due regard for the presumption of innocence and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, could reasonably conclude the defendant was guilty of the charged offense.  State v. Alton, 432 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Minn. 1988).[2]

            To convict appellant of wrongfully obtaining public assistance in excess of $2,500 the state had to prove that (1) appellant obtained public assistance; (2) appellant knew she was not entitled to the amount she was seeking; (3) appellant made a false representation, or intentionally concealed a material fact, to obtain the additional assistance; and (4) the value of the additional assistance exceeded $2,500.  See Minn. Stat. § 256.98, subd. 1(1); State v. Ibarra, 355 N.W.2d 125, 129 (Minn. 1984). 

            Giving deference to the jury’s verdict, we conclude that the jury could have reasonably concluded that appellant was guilty of wrongfully obtaining additional public assistance.

            First, much of appellant’s argument on appeal centers on her allegation that it was the county’s responsibility and duty to provide her with information that would have made her aware that she could no longer claim Curvell as a member of her household.  Specifically, appellant argues that (1) it was reasonable for her to assume that she could continue to receive public assistance for Curvell, because she was partially supporting him while he attended school in Minneapolis; and (2) the county should have informed her that she could continue to receive public assistance for Curvell if her local public-school district approved Curvell’s decision to live in Minneapolis and attend PCYC.[3]

            Notwithstanding appellant’s defense theory, and although the evidence presented at trial did not overwhelmingly suggest appellant’s guilt,[4] it was sufficient to support the jury’s verdict.  The documentary evidence in the record suggests that on several occasions appellant was expressly required to list her “Household Members” on public-assistance-request forms and she also signed a reporting-compliance declaration that averred that she truthfully listed her household members and that it was her responsibility to update this information if it changed. 

            In addition, appellant’s income-maintenance worker testified that she inquired about Curvell’s Minneapolis address in July 1999 and appellant refused to disclose this information.  This testimony suggests, contrary to appellant’s argument, that appellant was not forthcoming about Curvell’s residency and independent income while he attended school in Minneapolis.  See Davis v. State, 595 N.W.2d 520, 525-26 (Minn. 1999) (“Intent may be proved by circumstantial evidence including the defendant’s conduct * * * .” (citation omitted)).[5]

            Appellant also argues that the state failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she received assistance overpayments in excess of $2,500.  Appellant argues that the county’s recalculation of appellant’s assistance payments did not reflect the fact that Curvell returned home on the weekends and on school holidays.

            The record, however, suggests that Curvell maintained his primary residency in Minneapolis, either by staying with his aunt near PCYC, or at his girlfriend’s apartment.  He attended school and worked there.  Appellant, moreover, stated to the welfare-fraud investigator in July 1999 that Curvell “was out of the house.”  The jury could have reasonably concluded that this was his living arrangement and that he rarely visited appellant in Cambridge.

            Consequently, the jury could have reasonably concluded that Curvell did not visit appellant with the frequency that both he and appellant allege and, therefore, that appellant was overpaid more than $2,500 in assistance.

            Affirmed.



[1] A PCYC intake form listing Curvell’s address as 2417 Lyndale Ave. North, Minneapolis, corroborated the social worker’s testimony.

[2] Appellant suggests in her brief that a conviction based solely on circumstantial evidence merits stricter scrutiny on appeal.  She is, of course, correct.  See State v. Jones, 516 N.W.2d 545, 549 (Minn. 1994) (“[A] conviction based entirely on circumstantial evidence merits stricter scrutiny than convictions based in part on direct evidence.”  (citations omitted)).  Here, however, the verdict was based on both circumstantial evidence and direct evidence in the form of several documents corroborating the state’s testimonial evidence.  Therefore, our review is limited to whether the jury could have reasonably concluded that appellant was guilty of the charged offense.

[3] Minn. Stat. § 256J.13, subd. 2(a) (1998) provides that the physical-presence requirement for public assistance (e.g., that the caregiver and minor child must reside together) may be satisfied if

 

a minor child is required to live away from the caregiver’s home to meet the need for educational curricula that cannot be met by, but is approved by, the local public school district, the home is maintained for the minor child’s return during periodic school vacations, and the caregiver continues to maintain responsibility for the support and care of the minor child.

 

[4] For example, on a September 2, 1998 re-certification form, appellant listed Curvell’s school as “Street Academy” which is the alternative high school Curvell attended in Minneapolis before he attended PCYC.  The state argued appellant intentionally concealed Curvell’s living arrangements; this representation, however, possibly belies that assertion.  The trial transcript does not suggest that this statement was ever employed by defense counsel to suggest that appellant’s conduct was unintentional.

 

[5] Appellant offers no legal authority for the proposition that county social services is required to inform public-assistance recipients of their assistance options under the law.  Indeed, even accepting appellant’s defense theory, it appears that this entire controversy could have been prevented if appellant would have consulted her income-maintenance worker about her assistance options if Curvell lived in Minneapolis to attend PCYC.