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United States v. Fiorella

decided: October 13, 1972.


Smith, Kaufman and Mansfield, Circuit Judges.

Author: Smith

J. JOSEPH SMITH, Circuit Judge:

Michael Leo Fiorella, A. Richard Fiorella, Clifford Carll, John Porcello, Anthony Pizzutelli, Angelo Alfano, Alfred Rivoli, and James Comunale were convicted after a six-day jury trial in the Western District of New York, Harold P. Burke, Judge, of conspiracy to violate 18 U.S.C. § 1955, which makes it a federal crime to conduct certain types of gambling businesses.*fn1 All were acquitted on the substantive charge of violating § 1955. They appeal from the conspiracy conviction on grounds of insufficiency of evidence, inconsistency of verdict, illegality of wiretaps and prejudicial summation. We find no error and affirm the convictions.

This case arose out of an FBI investigation of gambling in Rochester. Responding to tips by two confidential informants, the FBI conducted physical surveillance of 84 Cleveland Street in Rochester, the suspected gambling headquarters. Relying on the fruits of that surveillance and on the two tips, the government on March 4, 1971 obtained an order, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 2518, from Judge Burke authorizing a wiretap on a phone at the suspected headquarters. That tap ran for twelve days and produced twenty-eight reels of evidence, much of which disclosed the appellants accepting wagers and giving out betting information. These tapes provided the bulk of the government's case at trial.

Appellants' first contention is that their acquittal on the substantive charge is inconsistent with the conspiracy conviction, and thus compels reversal of the latter. That claim is obviously without merit. For one thing, appellants argued quite strenuously at trial that, whatever the evidence established, it did not show that the gambling business took in over $2000 daily, so that 18 U.S.C. § 1955 was not violated. A jury accepting that argument but finding, as it well could here, that an illegal gambling business was being conducted by these defendants, would be justified in acquitting on the substantive charge but convicting for conspiracy.*fn2 Moreover, even assuming arguendo that the acquittal on the substantive count is at odds with the conspiracy verdict, inconsistency has long been held to be one of the jury's prerogatives. Dunn v. United States, 284 U.S. 390, 393, 52 S. Ct. 189, 76 L. Ed. 356 (1931); United States v. Dotterweich, 320 U.S. 277, 279, 64 S. Ct. 134, 88 L. Ed. 48 (1943); United States v. Collins, 272 F.2d 650, 653 (2d Cir. 1959).

Appellants next mount a broad attack against the wiretap. First, they contend that the wiretap application was improperly authorized. The application for a wiretap order was made in an affidavit dated March 3, 1971, by the United States Attorney for the Western District of New York. As Exhibit A to that application, the government attached a letter from the Department of Justice, authorizing the application to a federal judge for a wiretap, and reciting that it has been determined that probable cause exists in this case. This communication was apparently another of the now-familiar "Will Wilson letters," purportedly signed by the then-Assistant Attorney General, but in reality signed by members of his staff.*fn3

Appellants claim that this authorization did not comply with 18 U.S.C. § 2516, which requires the Attorney General "or any Assistant Attorney General specially designated by the Attorney General," to authorize application for wiretap orders. In response to pretrial motions based on that contention, the government produced an affidavit from Sol Lindenbaum, the executive assistant to the Attorney General, which asserted that the Attorney General had personally approved a request for authorization to make the wiretap application in this case. Attached to the affidavit was a memorandum from Attorney General John N. Mitchell to Wilson, dated March 1, 1971, stating:

"Pursuant to the powers conferred on me by Section 2516 of Title 18, United States Code, you are hereby specially designated to exercise those powers for the purpose of authorizing H. Kenneth Schroeder, Jr. to make the above-described application."

That memorandum contains what Lindenbaum identifies as the signed initials of Attorney General Mitchell.

The authorization here is thus precisely the same as those upheld by this court in United States v. Pisacano, 459 F.2d 259 (2d Cir. 1972), and United States v. Becker, 461 F.2d 230 (2d Cir. 1972). In light of those decisions, appellants' contention of improper authorization must fail.*fn4 We do note, as we did in Becker, supra, 461 F.2d at 236, that our decision is not to be construed as approval of the Justice Department's procedures, and that we hope future authorizations will adhere more strictly to the letter of §§ 2516 and 2518.

Appellants next contend that since the wiretap order in this case authorized the interception of "communications of Michael Fiorella, John Porcello, Clifford Carll, Anthony Pizzutelli, Richard Grock, Alfred Rivoli, and others yet unknown," (emphasis added) it constitutes a general warrant. The statute, 18 U.S.C. § 2518(4)(a), however, only requires that the order specify "the identity of the person, if known, whose communications are to be intercepted." That requirement has been upheld a number of times against precisely the attack mounted here. See, e.g., United States v. King, 335 F. Supp. 523, 538-540 (S.D.Cal.1971); United States v. Perillo, 333 F. Supp. 914, 921 (D.Del.1971); United States v. Sklaroff, 323 F. Supp. 296, 324-325 (S.D.Fla.1971). Cf. United States v. Cox, 449 F.2d 679 (10th Cir. 1971), cert. denied, 406 U.S. 934, 92 S. Ct. 1783, 32 L. Ed. 2d 136 (1972). We agree. The Fourth Amendment requires a warrant to describe only "the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized", not the persons from whom things will be seized. The inclusion of the "others yet unknown" phrase did not invalidate the tap here.

Appellants' final attack on the wiretap is that it is unsupported by sufficient probable cause. The affidavit supporting the wiretap application in this case was made by Johnny L. Evans, an FBI special agent. In it, he recites the information supplied by the two confidential informants, who he says have both provided information that has in the past proved reliable, and in the case of the first informant, led to two convictions. Evans, however, did not personally receive the information from the informants. Rather, each informant conversed with a separate FBI agent, and these two agents passed the information on to Evans. Appellants contend that such use of "double hearsay" cannot supply probable cause.

However, the mere fact that an affidavit contains "double hearsay" does not automatically make it insufficient to supply probable cause. United States v. Smith, 462 F.2d 456 (8th Cir. 1972); United States v. Becker, 334 F. Supp. 546, 549-550 (S.D.N.Y.1971), aff'd, 461 F.2d 230 (2d Cir. 1972); United States v. Carney, 328 F. Supp. 948 (D.Del.1971); United States ex rel. Crawley v. Rundle, 312 F. Supp. 15 (E.D.Pa.1969). Rather, the question is whether the information given by the informant, taken in the light of the totality of circumstances, can reasonably be said to be reliable. United States v. Smith, supra, 462 F.2d at 460; United States v. Becker, supra, 334 F. Supp. at 550 and n. 14. Here the underlying circumstances give substantial assurances as to the reliability of the information. Not only were the informants ones whose past reliability had been demonstrated and whose opportunity to obtain the information was clearly set forth, but there was also at least some independent corroboration of the tips. The physical surveillance revealed a number of the defendants in the area of the suspected gambling headquarters, and the informants correctly identified the telephone number at 84 Cleveland Street, significant in view of the fact that the telephone was apparently registered to a fictitious name. Given all these circumstances, and the fact that the middle man in the hearsay chain was a named FBI agent, not another informant,*fn5 the affidavit provides probable cause for the wiretap order.

We do note, however, that the use of "double hearsay" in cases like this is not to be encouraged. Where an informant speaks to an agent, it is that agent who should normally relay the information to the magistrate evaluating the search warrant application. Informants' tips relayed through two agents and then to the magistrate, however accurately reported, unnecessarily reduce ...

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