Judge denies motions to overturn Gostlin verdicts

HOUGHTON – Two motions to set aside guilty verdicts for a Houghton woman convicted in April of two counts of welfare fraud were denied in Houghton County Circuit Court Monday.

Jessica Gostlin, 41, was sentenced in July to more than $18,000 in restitution and four months with an electronic monitoring device.

She was charged with failure to inform of complete circumstances of income and failure to inform of changes in circumstances. Both are four-year felonies.

Judge Charles Goodman said the verdict could only be overturned if it were “so heavily against the evidence that it would be a miscarriage of justice to allow the verdict to stand.”

Between 2007 and 2009, Gostlin made $81,000 from services provided to Copper Country Mental Health through her business, Superior Counseling. She did not include that income on Department of Human Services forms.

Gostlin’s attorney, Thomas Mattern, said a Department of Human Services employee had told Gostlin to lump together the money from her Superior Consulting firm, which provided services to Copper Country Mental Health, and her other company, Arbonne.

“The agency is acknowledging that they didn’t handle the case right,” said Mattern. “At least that’s my argument, Your Honor, and I believe that’s a fair and valid argument.”

The jury heard Gostlin’s testimony, as well as prosecution witnesses, and weighed them in making their verdict, Goodman said.

“The jury, after hearing and reviewing the evidence, determined Ms. Gostlin had not satisfied her obligations in regards to reporting and disclosing income sources,” Goodman said. “The court cannot find that the jury has not had sufficient evidence within the record upon which to base that decision.”

Mattern also argued the charges were so similar as to violate the constitutional protection against multiple punishments for the same crime. Both arose from the same act, and were provable by the same set of facts, he said.

Goodman also rejected Mattern’s argument that the two charges constituted double jeopardy.

He referred to jury instruction 34.3, which has a number of subsections, which list duties people who receive benefits must comply with. Both the actions listed in the charges are listed as separate provisions in the list, Goodman said.

“After hearing the evidence, the jury determined that Ms. Gostlin violated two of those provisions,” he said. “Each of those provisions requires different forms of proof.”

Mattern has yet to pursue action in the state Court of Appeals, saying he was waiting until after the Circuit Court action.