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Commonwealth v. Braune

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Essex

January 29, 2019


          Heard: October 4, 2018.

         The cases were tried before Joshua I. Wall, J. The Supreme Judicial Court granted an application for direct appellate review.

          Alexandra H. Deal for the defendant.

          Philip A. Mallard, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.

          LOWY, J.

         The defendant, Shea Braune, was convicted of receiving stolen property and money laundering after she and her girlfriend, Romi Kimell, used over $300, 000 in cash that Kimell had stolen from her mother and stepfather to fund a lavish lifestyle. In an ill-fated attempt to cover their tracks, Kimell gave a substantial amount of the stolen cash to Braune, who deposited it into her checking account through a series of transactions, each under $10, 000, later claiming to have received the money in an inheritance. A subset of these deposits forms the basis for Braune's money laundering conviction. On appeal, Braune argues that the evidence was insufficient as a matter of law to establish "concealment" money laundering, in violation of G. L. c. 267A, § 2 (2) (ii) (A), where she openly deposited the money into her checking account using her own name. Because we conclude that the evidence was sufficient for a rational jury to conclude that Braune's deposits were designed, in whole or in part, to conceal the nature, location, source, ownership, or control of the stolen funds, we affirm.


         Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, the jury could have found the following facts. In the fall of 2013, when the victims, James and Janice Welling, [1] went to stay at their Florida home for the winter, they left over $300, 000 in cash (packaged in stacks of fifty and one hundred dollar bills), along with a few items of Janice's jewelry, in a box that was taped shut and stored in a locked closet in the master bedroom of their North Andover home.[2]The only other person who knew about the box was Janice's daughter, Kimell.

         Kimell had enjoyed a close relationship with her mother and James, who was Kimell's stepfather, and the Wellings had provided significant financial support to Kimell throughout her life. However, the relationship had soured shortly before the time in question.[3] While the Wellings were in Florida, Kimell began to remove cash from the box in the Wellings' master closet. Kimell provided some of the cash to Braune. Braune then made a series of deposits into her checking account, each under $10, 000, [4] using the stolen money.

         At a certain point, Kimell took the remaining contents of the box and replaced them with a duffel bag full of copy paper, resealing the box and restoring it to its place in the closet.[5]Kimell informed her mother that she and Braune were moving to California and that Braune had received a large inheritance. During and after the move to California, Braune's pattern of making successive, large cash deposits -- each under $10, 000 --continued, as did a pattern of lavish spending by Kimell and Braune.[6]

         The Wellings did not discover that the cash and jewelry were missing until October 2014, and did not immediately report the incident to police. Instead, they confronted Kimell about the missing money, and when she denied any involvement, they hired a private investigator to look into the matter.

         In July of 2015, Kimell filed a petition for bankruptcy in a Federal bankruptcy court in California. James intervened in that proceeding, and his attorney deposed Kimell and Braune. In their sworn deposition testimony, which was later entered as an exhibit in the criminal trial in Massachusetts, Kimell and Braune reiterated their claim that Braune had used money from an inheritance to support their lavish lifestyle.[7]

         Shortly after the defendant filed the petition for bankruptcy, the Massachusetts State police worked with law enforcement officials in California to execute a search of the home that Braune and Kimell shared in San Diego. Among other things, the police recovered, from Kimell's bedroom, jewelry matching that which Janice had reported missing; and from the closet in Braune's bedroom, a total of $130, 110 in United States currency, stored in a backpack and a cardboard box and packaged mainly in stacks of fifty and one hundred dollar bills, consistent with James's description of the missing money.


         In assessing the sufficiency of the evidence, we ask "whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt" (emphasis in original). Commonwealth v. Latimore, 378 Mass. 671, 677 (1979), quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979). Circumstantial evidence may be sufficient to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, Commonwealth v. Grandison, 433 Mass. 135, 141 (2001), and the inferences drawn from such evidence "need not be necessary and inescapable, only reasonable and possible." Commonwealth v. Goddard, 476 Mass. 443, 449 (2017), quoting Commonwealth v. Jones, 432 Mass. 623, 628 (2000).

         The Massachusetts money laundering statute, G. L. c. 267A, § 2, provides in relevant part:[8]

"Whoever knowingly . . . (2) engages in a transaction involving a monetary instrument or other property known to be derived from criminal activity . . . (ii) knowing that the transaction is designed in whole or in part either to: (A) conceal or disguise the nature, location, source, ownership or control of the property derived from criminal activity; or (B) avoid a [Federal or State] ...

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