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United States v. Dioguardi

decided: January 4, 1974.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
JOHN DIOGUARDI AND LOUIS OSTRER, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from convictions, after a jury verdict, in the District Court for the Southern District, David. Edelstein, Chief Judge, for violations of the federal securities laws (15 U.S.C. §§ 77q(a), 77x, 78j(b) and 78ff), Rule 10b-5 of the Securities and Exchange Commission (17 CFR 240. 10b-5), and federal mail fraud statute (18 U.S.C. §§ 1341), and for conspiracy (18 U.S.C. § 371); and from a denial of new trial motions for alleged incompetency on the part of a juror contrary to 28 U.S.C. § 1865(b)(4). Affirmed.

Lumbard, Friendly and Feinberg, Circuit Judges. Feinberg, Circuit Judge (dissenting).

Author: Lumbard

LUMBARD, Circuit Judge:

John Dioguardi and Louis Ostrer appeal from judgments of conviction entered on April 12, 1973, after a three-week jury trial held in January 1973 in the Southern District, and from the denial by Chief Judge Edelstein of new trial motions. The forty-count indictment was filed May 27, 1971, against the appellants and seven others.*fn1 Count one charged the defendants with conspiring, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371 to violate provisions of the federal securities laws and regulations, 15 U.S.C. §§ 77q(a), 77x, 78j(b), and 78ff, and Rule 10b-5, 17 CFR 240.10b-5,*fn2 and the federal mail and wire fraud statutes, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341 and 1343. The remaining counts charged substantive violations of these same provisions, except 18 U.S.C. § 1343.

On January 26, 1973, the jury found Ostrer guilty on eleven of the seventeen counts submitted to them by the court, and Dioguardi on four of the nineteen counts submitted as to him.*fn3 Prior to sentencing, the defendants moved for a new trial or, in the alternative, for an evidentiary hearing. The basis for this motion was an unsolicited letter from one of the jurors to Dioguardi which allegedly established the incompetency of that juror. In reliance on this, and on the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1865(b)(4), they claim that they had been deprived of their right to have their case heard and decided by a panel of twelve competent jurors. Judge Edelstein denied the motion on April 12th. He sentenced Dioguardi to nine years' imprisonment and a $30,000 fine, and Ostrer to three years' imprisonment and a $55,000 fine.*fn4

In addition to their objections relating to alleged juror incompetency, the defendants raise four other claims of error in the conduct of the trial: first, that the government prosecutor's argument in summation, to the effect that neither defendant called witnesses to contradict the government's testimony, was improper comment on each appellant's failure to testify in view of the assertion by each that he alone was in a position to contradict the government's witnesses; secondly, that it was error for the trial court to have refused to charge, as requested, that the testimony of admitted perjurers and felons was to be scrutinized with care and caution; thirdly, that it was improper for the trial court to have ruled that Dioguardi's acquittal of another crime could not be proved when the government intended to utilize the acts underlying the acquittal to show a prior course of illegal conduct; finally, that consecutive sentences for Dioguardi on two of the counts charging securities law violations, counts 16 and 17, were improper since the underlying facts constituted only a single offense.

We find the defendants' arguments unpersuasive and we accordingly affirm the convictions below and let Dioguardi's sentences stand.

I.

The evidence at trial revealed a scheme to manipulate the price of the stock of Belmont Franchising Corporation ("Belmont"), a substantially worthless over-the-counter security. The book value of the stock was almost negligible (Belmont's assets were essentially paper holdings in other concerns); it had been traded for only a short time and for at most a few dollars a share.*fn5

In January of 1970 Michael Hellerman, who pleaded guilty and testified for the government, began steps to drive up the price of Belmont stock, first to $5 or $6 a share and then to nearly $50 a share. At that time two stock manipulators, Anthony Soldano and Fred Goodman, in concert with Hellerman, commenced acquiring substantially all of the 28,720 known publicly tradeable shares of Belmont. Goodman and Soldano executed their purchases ostensibly through the open market, using brokers who quoted prices for Belmont through the National Quotation Bureau's pink sheets for over-the-counter securities. These purchases created the appearance of an active public market in the stock.

By early March, 1970 Goodman and Soldano had caused the market price of Belmont as quoted in the pink sheets to reach $15 a share. They did this primarily through directions to their brokers, who traded small quantities of the stock among themselves. In the meantime, Goodman and Soldano had acquired control, they believed, of all the outstanding stock.

At this point Hellerman's role became paramount. According to his testimony, he already had an understanding with Dioguardi that "whatever I did in the future, . . . he would have 25 per cent." It had also been agreed between Hellerman, on one side, and Goodman and Soldano on the other that once the price of Belmont stock reached $15, Hellerman and his associates would purchase all the stock at the $15 level, with a $5 per share kickback, prior to further manipulation upwards. In confirming this arrangement with Goodman and Soldano, Hellerman took Soldano to Dioguardi's office "to make sure it was on the record."

According to Hellerman, it was at this time in early March that he brought Ostrer into the scheme, although the two were only recently acquainted. Ostrer agreed to commit himself to buy 14,000 shares of Belmont at $15 a share ($210,000 total), with the understanding that he would split any future profits with Hellerman, that Hellerman would guarantee him against loss, and that a loan of the purchase money would be arranged so that he would not have to "lay out a quarter" of the $210,000. Purchase orders in Ostrer's name or in his behalf were to be made through various New York Stock Exchange firms.

Ostrer then placed orders in his own name and in his sister's for 14,000 shares of Belmont. However, most Exchange firms which he approached refused to accept his orders, and he was forced to place relatively large block orders through firms where brokers were already in league with Hellerman.*fn6

Contemporaneously, Hellerman made arrangements with others to purchase the remaining 14,000 or so shares of Belmont. These individuals were able to pay the selling brokers (at the $15 a share price), but Ostrer was unable to raise the $210,000 needed to "hold up" his end of the deal, a circumstance which left his brokers unpaid. According to Hellerman, he thereupon obtained a loan for Ostrer through Dioguardi. The funds, totalling $60,000, came from Hickey DiLorenzo, at an interest rate of 1 1/2% a week. DiLorenzo also demanded and received $24,000 from Hellerman for this favor (part of the kickback profits already made). In addition, Hellerman also advanced Ostrer $52,500, and Ostrer obtained the balance he needed from other sources.

Thereafter, from the end of March through late April, 1970, Hellerman directed purchases and sales of Belmont stock at ever-increasing prices among the individuals and brokers whom he controlled. He kept Dioguardi, Ostrer, and DiLorenzo informed as the price rose. He also arranged for Ostrer to sell off enough stock, through a nominee, to repay the $60,000 loan from DiLorenzo -- with a $1700 profit left over which he split with Ostrer. By the end of April he had received approximately $140,000 in kickbacks from Goodman and Soldano. He gave $30,000 to Dioguardi, and invested $9,000 more in a business in which Dioguardi had an interest.

In early May, 1970, the scheme failed. The president of Belmont, through a broker unknown to the manipulators, began to sell heavily his own "investment" stock in the corporation. The market was unable to absorb the sales, and Hellerman was unwilling to buy the stock and could not find other purchasers. Consequently the market for Belmont collapsed, leaving Ostrer (among others) with large quantities of unsold stock. Ostrer then tried to hold Hellerman responsible for his losses. Hellerman became worried because DiLorenzo took Ostrer's side. Dioguardi subsequently arbitrated the dispute to some extent, and arranged for partial compensation to Ostrer to the sum of $25,000.

At trial Dioguardi called no witnesses and based his defense primarily on cross-examination going to the lack of credibility of the government's major witnesses, who were all accomplices. Ostrer did not testify but he did call two witnesses whose testimony indicated that Ostrer had been a "victim" of Hellerman's machinations.

About ten days after trial, Dioguardi received a letter from one of the jurors, Miss Genena Rush, a nurse's aide employed at Flower Fifth Avenue Hospital in New York City. The letter was written on stationery bearing the zodiac sign of Libra, and on one page the legend that it was "the heavenly house under which I was born." The juror wrote of her clairvoyant powers which enabled her to see that Dioguardi was basically a good person. She stated her belief that he was guilty, "Your mistake your guilty," and questioned him about Hellerman, "Why you let such a relationship exist between you and a man like Hellerman?," and called upon him to repent, "One word appear before me repent. If you repent and run a clean business it is the good within you that will save you, and you will gain what you have lost." Miss Rush stated that

I have eyes and ears that I can see things before it happen. I can tell you about other and what they are thinking and doing.

and that her eyes

are only partly open . . . . Unfortunate, a curse was put upon them some years ago. I have some people working on them.

The letter is reproduced in full in the margin.*fn7

Dioguardi's attorneys sent copies of the letter to seven psychiatrists, all of whom responded (one in an affidavit) to the effect that, in their opinion, what Miss Rush had written indicated hallucinatory tendencies, symptoms of possible psychosis, paranoia, and grandiosity, and in general an inability to appreciate reality without fantasizing.*fn8 The psychiatrists also pointed out that further psychiatric analysis was needed before a diagnosis could be ventured with any certainty, or before it could be said that Miss Rush's infirmities, whatever their nature and extent, might have rendered her unable to comprehend the proceedings at trial.*fn9 The psychiatrists were given no information about the juror or about the trial and the issues, and the court had forbidden anyone to seek to interview her.

On the basis of Miss Rush's letter and the opinions of the psychiatrists, Dioguardi and Ostrer moved pursuant to Rule 33, F.R.Crim.P., for a new trial or, in the alternative, for an evidentiary hearing on the competency of Miss Rush as a juror. They asserted that an uncontroverted showing of incompetency had been made ...


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