Fraudulent Charity Founder Gets New Trial

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     (CN) — A fraudulent charity founder accused of using donations to pay for drugs that he traded for sex is entitled to a new trial, the Iowa Court of Appeals ruled.
     According to Judge Darrel Goodhue’s summary in his 10-page opinion, Christopher Harley Simms founded the nonprofit Forged by Fire in 2013. The charity’s stated purpose was to help offenders find housing, employment and drug counseling after their release from prison, but three drug addicts who worked with Simms tell a very different story.
     Less than 24 hours after recovering addict Dakota Goarke was released from a drug-rehabilitation program, Simms offered him crack, court records show.
     Unable to resist, Goarke moved in with Simms and the two began making rounds together to ask residents in the Dubuque, Iowa, area for donations. According to Goarke’s testimony, Simms “would often immediately use the donation to buy more drugs.”
     Two other drug addicts who had lived with Simms offered similar testimony. In addition, two of the three men accused Simms of coercing them to perform sexual acts to continue receiving drugs.
     The state charged Simms with ongoing criminal conduct, which included theft, fraud, prostitution and drug possession.
     A jury found Simms guilty, but the Iowa Court of Appeals threw the verdict out on Wednesday, finding that Simms received ineffective assistance because his attorney did not object to a misleading jury instruction.
     Specifically, the jury was asked to find that Simms’s alleged crimes were “committed for financial gain.”
     According to Goodhue’s opinion, not only did Simms’s attorney not object to the instruction, but he also helped formulate it.
     Simms argued that his counsel should have objected to the “financial gain” element of the jury instruction because the state did not present sufficient evidence that he profited financially from the prostitution, drug possession or other charges.
     The state argued that because Simms used crack to control Goarke, Goarke’s participation in the scheme to procure donations resulted in Simms financially benefiting from the arrangement.
     Goodhue disagreed.
     “Although there was evidence Goarcke was an addict, possession is not a business and does not produce a profit,” he wrote for a three-judge panel. “The possession of controlled substances was incidental to the business of obtaining donations for [Forged by Fire]. Simms’s possession of controlled substances is remote from any affect [sic] it had on his scheme to obtain donations.”
     Goodhue added, “When the verdict is a general verdict, it is error to include an alternative method of committing a crime not supported by the evidence.”
     The appeals court sent the case back to the district court for a new trial.
     Simms was represented in the appeal by public defender Mary Conroy. The state attorney general’s office prosecuted the case.
     Neither side’s attorneys returned email or voicemail requests for comment on Thursday.