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Cook v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Oxford Division

September 11, 2014



SHARION AYCOCK, District Judge.

This matter comes before the court on the motion of Bridgette Cook to vacate, set aside, or correct her sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. The government has responded to the motion, and the matter is ripe for resolution. For the reasons set forth below, the instant motion to vacate, set aside, or correct sentence will be denied.

Facts and Procedural Posture

Bridgette Cook has been actively engaged in criminal activity for over fifteen years. (Sentencing Tr., p.7). During that time, she has repeatedly committed fraud or theft-related offenses; indeed, Cook's Pre-Sentence Investigation Report ("PSR") noted that the instant offense is her twenty-eighth fraud- or theft-related conviction. (See PSR, ¶ 106). Cook admitted the following facts contained in the factual basis supporting her guilty plea. Prior to January 22, 2008, Cook obtained the bank account information of Tri-Firma Excavator, LLC. (Change of Plea Tr., p.16). Tri-Firma Excavator, LLC was a heavy construction company, the activities of which affected interstate commerce. Id. After obtaining Tri-Firma's bank account information, Cook, along with Yarico Butler, used Tri-Firma's bank account numbers to create counterfeit checks. Id. Cook, along with Yarico Butler, created counterfeit Tri-Firma checks in the names of Kataunya Hall and Eddie Williams, each in the amount of $1, 175.96. Id. On January 22, 2008, Yarico Butler and Eddie Williams attempted to pass the counterfeit Tri-Firma checks at BankPlus branches in DeSoto County, Mississippi. Id. Cook also used Tri-Firma's bank account information to create a counterfeit check in the name of Realty Lending and made payable to "Bridgette Cook." Id.

On June 24, 2008, law enforcement officers executed a search warrant on Cook's home at 7415 Perry Lane, Horn Lake, Mississippi. (Change of Plea Tr., p.17). During the course of searching Cook's home, officers found numerous counterfeit payroll checks. Id. Officers also found various forms of stolen identification, such as insurance cards, social security cards, and drivers licenses, and Cook was using them to create false identification documents and counterfeit checks. Id. In addition, officers found blank check stock and a computer and printer that Cook had used to manufacture counterfeit checks. Id.

After receiving a valid Miranda warning, Cook admitted that she had made counterfeit checks with Yarico Butler - and that she had trained Butler to make counterfeit checks. Id. On December 14, 2011, a federal grand jury returned a three count indictment charging Bridgette Cook and Yarico Butler. When the indictment was returned against Cook, she was incarcerated in Mississippi state custody in Pearl, Mississippi.

On April 16, 2012, Cook entered a plea of guilty to Count One of the indictment, which charged Cook with conspiring to defraud the United States through check forgery, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 371 and § 514(a)(1) & (a)(2). Counts Two and Three of the indictment were dismissed under the Plea Agreement. The Probation Service calculated Cook's total offense level as 12, including an enhancement for being an organizer, with a criminal history category of VI which yielded an imprisonment range of 30-37 months. The Probation Service did not include any checks that could be associated with Cook's Tennessee charges in order to ensure that Cook was not being sentenced based on those checks. (PSR, ¶ 18).

Cook's guideline calculation yielded a total offense level of 12 and a criminal history category of VI with an imprisonment range of 30 to 37 months. (PSR, ¶ 91). At Cook's sentencing hearing, the court acknowledged the letters received on Cook's behalf and gave Cook and her attorney an opportunity to speak. (Sentencing Tr., p.5). The court sentenced Cook to forty-eight months imprisonment (an upward variance from the guideline range), followed by three years of supervised release. (Sentencing Tr., p.13). The court explained the necessity for the upward variance from Cook's advisory guideline range:

The Court has already noted that you have an extensive criminal history. There are convictions other than theft, forgery, and fraud-related charges, but certainly, the bulk of them deal with theft and fraud charges, some 28 convictions.
This sentence above the guidelines is also being imposed to reflect the seriousness of this offense, to promote respect for the law, and to provide just punishment for the offense, to afford adequate deterrence to criminal conduct.
That's probably one of the main ones, Ms. Cook. This court is convinced that of all the previous fines and terms of prison and jail time that's been imposed, it seems that nothing has deterred you from your criminal activity. Once you're released, you go back to what you know best, and that is - that is conduct of theft and forgery and misconduct of fraud.
The Court is also imposing this upward variance to protect the public from you, from any further crimes that you may commit. An upward variance is imposed in this case to protect the public from further crimes of the defendant, to provide just punishment for the offense, and to promote respect for the law...
In imposing sentence, the Court has considered the advisory guideline range, the statutory penalties, and the sentencing factors under 18 U.S.C., Section 3553(a), which I've just discussed with you. The Court finds that imposing a sentence outside the advisory guideline range pursuant to 18 ...

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