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United States v. Apuzzo

decided: May 28, 1957.


Author: Clark

Before CLARK, Chief Judge, and FRANK,*fn1 MEDINA, HINCKS, and WATERMAN, Circuit Judges.

CLARK, Chief Judge.

This appeal involves a criminal prosecution presenting generally routine matters, leading to a clearly justified conviction and an appropriate, if light, sentence for this defendant. A single issue, as to testimony about the defendant's arrest fifteen years earlier, presented challenge; and because of its potential importance in the administration of the criminal law after the initial hearing before a panel of Judge FRANK, Judge WATERMAN, and myself, the court ordered another hearing before the full bench.*fn2 This second hearing on oral argument and further briefs resulted in a majority vote for affirmance.

Salvatore Apuzzo, the defendant, was prosecuted under two informations: one information alleged that he and two codefendants, Samuel Aaron and Ernest Broussard, were engaged during the month of August 1953 in the business of accepting wagers individually and as a copartnership, and that they willfully failed to register and pay the special occupation tax on gamblers in violation of 26 U.S.C. §§ 2707(b), 3277, 3290, 3291 (a), 3292, and 3294. The other information charged the three men with a conspiracy, during the period July 28 to August 5, 1953, to commit those crimes in violation of the general conspiracy statute, 18 U.S.C. § 371. Aaron and Broussard pleaded guilty to the second information, and only Apuzzo stood trial. The jury found him guilty on both informations. He was sentenced on the first information to a $3,000 fine and 60 days' imprisonment, followed by 4 years' probation; on the second information, sentence was suspended and a 4-year probation period imposed, to run concurrently with that on the first information. He appeals from this judgment of conviction.

It is undisputed that the defendant is the proprietor of a small butcher shop at 363 Lenox Avenue, New York City, and has been in the butcher business for 15 or 20 years. His brother-in-law, Isidori, who had been in his employ as a butcher for 6 years, testified that normally the defendant opened the safe in the store early each morning before going to the market to buy meat. Defendant and Isidori, the same witness stated, worked at the store every evening between 5 and 8 o'clock. Codefendants Aaron and Broussard were employees of the defendant who worked behind the counter of the store at the times in issue here.

From July 28 to August 5, 1953, two federal agents made five visits to the butcher shop between 12:30 and 1:30 in the afternoon, and placed "policy" bets with Aaron and Broussard, who were behind the counter. The two agents testified, without contradiction, that during these visits they saw people lined up in front of the counter placing bets, and that on an occasion when one agent asked Aaron what number had won the day before Aaron pointed to three numerals which were posted on the front of the scales. Prior to their visit on August 5, 1953, both agents prepared carbon copies of policy slips; and upon entering the butcher shop they made bets with the originals and kept the carbon copies for evidence. During this whole period Aaron and Broussard, in addition to accepting bets, were also engaged in selling meat; and the defendant was never seen in the store by the two agents.

Later in the afternoon of August 5, 1953, pursuant to a valid search warrant, four agents raided the shop, proceeding through the main part of the store to a small room in the rear. All four agents testified, without substantial contradiction and quite unshaken after extensive cross-examination. They established that they found the defendant with two bystanders in the back room inspecting ties which an itinerant tie merchant was trying to sell. As the agents entered the room they wore their badges and announced their identity as federal men. One or more of them had drawn guns. Each agent questioned a different person found in the room, and Agent Lemler was apparently the first to question Apuzzo. Apuzzo at first maintained that he was only a visitor to the store and then claimed he recently rented it from one John Sloan. When Agent Gianatasio searched him Apuzzo produced a wallet containing a car registration listing him as a resident of Scarsdale, but to questions he answered that his address was in the Bronx. Cash in the amount of $1,366 was found on the defendant's person, and several thousand money wrappers and several hundred pads of paper were found in the rear room.

The agents and the defendant then proceeded into the front part of the store where the safe was and Apuzzo was asked to open the safe. According to the agents' testimony he denied knowledge of the combination until told it would be necessary to remove the safe from the premises and break it open, when he proceeded to open it. Within the safe were numerous compartments which were then broken open. Within them was found between $10,000 and $11,000 in cash, ownership of which Apuzzo immediately claimed, explaining that he kept it there to avoid having a lien placed on it as part of proceedings pending against him in the Tax Court. Also in the safe were two envelopes containing undated policy slips and some personal papers of defendant.

The agents then asked whether there were any other policy slips in the store. At that juncture, according to the agents, defendant pointed to the scale near which stood codefendant Broussard; and the defendant said, "Ernie, give them the slips." Broussard then removed the weighing platform of the scale revealing about 150 recent policy slips, including the two bets the agents had placed that day. At the trial it was stipulated that defendant did not pay the special tax and did not register.

Apuzzo did not take the stand, but relied for his defense on the testimony of his brother-in-law, Isidori, and codefendant Broussard, both employees of his. On cross-examination it was shown that Broussard had lied about his own participation in the gambling operation when first arrested and had subsequently pleaded guilty and been convicted. It also came out that after his conviction his wife had asked the defendant to rehire him, and at the time of the trial Broussard was again in Apuzzo's employ. Isidori testified that he, Isidori, was home the afternoon the agents raided the store, and was surprised to receive a telephone call from defendant asking for the combination to the safe. He was surprised because Apuzzo knew the combination and opened the safe each day; Apuzzo sounded very agitated when he called. Broussard testified in regard to the scale incident that Apuzzo told him merely to give the agents the policy slips if he, Broussard, knew anything about them. The explanation advanced by counsel for defendant's evasive behavior when confronted by government men was that he first thought it was a holdup and then feared they were after him in connection with his pending tax matter. The defense was that Apuzzo never knew Broussard and Aaron were conducting a gambling operation in his store.

Defendant's first assignment of error is that there was insufficient evidence to support the finding of guilt, and this he has pressed vigorously on appeal. But this is completely without merit; actually the government presented a very strong case. It became common ground, as the trial progressed, that defendant's butcher shop was the scene of extensive policy operations. Hence the only possible defense was that Apuzzo, the proprietor, was quite oblivious to what was known and obvious in the neighborhood.*fn3 But this will not hold water. The evidence that the defendant's employees were openly receiving bets in his little store day after day; that winning numbers were posted on the front of the scale; that policy slips, as well as $10,000 in currency belonging to this apparently petty butcher shop, were found in the safe; that he lied about his identity when first accosted and lied about knowing the combination to the safe; and that he pointed to the scale where the recent policy slips were hidden when it appeared that the jig was up - all this makes the rather pitiful attempts of his employees to take the blame quite patently unsuccessful. In fact, even though it was contradictory and largely discredited, the testimony of the employees actually provided a certain amount of corroboration in details such as the defendant's knowledge of the combination to his safe. On the record the jury could hardly have brought in any other verdict. We turn, therefore, to the question of evidence at the heart of this case.

The incident here involved occurred on the second day of trial, after four government agents had testified and been cross-examined as to the facts already described. The government called the fifth agent, Gianatasio, who testified on direct as to incidents both in the back room and in the main part of the store. The prosecutor, in examining Gianatasio as to the conversation in the back room, brought out the facts mentioned above, that Apuzzo gave a Bronx address despite his Scarsdale car registration and that Apuzzo at first denied being the owner of the store. The defense counsel extensively questioned Gianatasio on crossexamination until the following exchange occurred:

"Q. Did you then have a conversation with the defendant? A. Yes. I -

"Q. What did you say to him and what did he say to you? A. I asked him his name. He gave me his name. I asked him his address. He gave me a Bronx address. I asked him what his business was. He told me butcher. I asked him whether he was married. I asked him if he was ever arrested before.

"Mr. Roseman: At this time, your Honor -

"The Witness: You wanted to know what I asked him.

"Mr. Roseman: All right.

"The Court: At this time what?

"Mr. Roseman: I don't want the witness to just keep answering. I would rather ask the questions.

"The Court: You asked him what the conversation was. I didn't know ...

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