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United States v. Aloi

decided: January 31, 1975.


Appeal by appellants from judgments of conviction of conspiracy to violate certain securities laws (all appellants), of use of a false and misleading offering circular (all appellants), and of wire fraud (Appellants Aloi, Dioguardi and Lombardo) entered after a jury trial in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Hon. Whitman Knapp, Judge. Affirmed as to Appellants Aloi, Dioguardi, and Lombardo and reversed as to Appellant Savino.

Moore and Feinberg, Circuit Judges, and Palmieri,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Moore

MOORE, Circuit Judge:

Vincent Aloi, John Dioguardi, Ralph Lombardo and John J. Savino were convicted under Count 1 of conspiracy to violate federal securities laws. 15 U.S.C. §§ 77q(a), 77s(a), 77x, 17 C.F.R. §§ 230.256 and 240.10b-5, 18 U.S.C. §§ 371, 372. All four were also convicted under Count 18 of use of a false and misleading offering circular. Aloi (Count 10), and Dioguardi and Lombardo (Count 9) were convicted of wire fraud. All defendants appeal. For the reasons hereinafter stated, we affirm the convictions of Aloi, Dioguardi and Lombardo and reverse the convictions of Savino.

The various appellants raise so many points of alleged reversible error, the separate points of each being incorporated by reference by the others, that some initial general analysis and sifting of the facts must be made.

The main charge, Count 1, alleges a conspiracy, the object of which was unlawfully, wilfully and knowingly to offer and to sell to the public common stock of a company, At-Your-Service Leasing Corp. (AYSL), which was in a weak financial condition and consistently operated at a loss. The original purpose of the financing was to raise money for AYSL to enable it to pay off loans on which certain of the defendants who owned AYSL were personally obligated and to raise additional funds to carry on the business.

A conspiracy of this nature resembles a mosaic or a jig-saw puzzle. The picture consists of a myriad of individual pieces which when placed together reveal the ultimate image. Many artisans are frequently required, each contributing his segment. Despite the number of separate participants, it is one picture. And so here. An effort will be made sketchily to portray the part each appellant-conspirator and certain co-conspirators played.

At all relevant times, AYSL was an automobile leasing corporation doing business in West New York, New Jersey. Its owners and managers were defendants Sanford L. Price, Arthur Ferdinand, Murray A. Handler, J. Jack Ganek, and Edmund Graifer.*fn1 Defendants Andrew Nelson*fn2 and Gerald Miller*fn3 conducted business as Tech-Ec Systems (financial consultants). Miller was also an attorney.

In and subsequent to July 1969, Nelson, a financial consultant (Tech-Ec) agreed with the principals of AYSL to arrange an AYSL stock issue for a $20,000 fee. The issue was to be an unregistered exempt (Regulation A) issue of 100,000 shares at $3 a share, 50,000 shares of which had to be sold within 90 days of the SEC effective date, April 8, 1970, or the subscribed money refunded.

An offering circular was prepared by Nelson and Miller dated as of April 8, 1970. Apparently a broker-dealer, TDA Securities, Inc., whose principals were defendants Gilbert C. Dragani, Donald Fisher and Louis Nova,*fn4 was ostensibly supposed to be the underwriter. The offering circular was most explicit. In bold type on the first page it stated: "THESE SHARES INVOLVE A HIGH DEGREE OF RISK." Under "Risk Factors to be Considered," were listed seventeen factors, any one of which should have deterred a prospective purchaser from buying the stock. And until the conspiracy commenced, no one did.

To summarize briefly, at this point there was an offering circular under which $300,000, less proper expenses, could potentially be obtained from the public. Graifer's and AYSL's financial conditions were such that they needed money by fair means or foul. Fair means having failed, they chose to investigate the possibilities of the other alternative.

There being no AYSL stock sales, Graifer as an owner and manager was called upon by his associates to remedy the situation. From this point on, the pieces of the mosaic began to be filled in rapidly. Graifer had a friend, Ralph Lombardo, and another friend in Florida, Sebastian Aloi,*fn5 father of Vincent Aloi.*fn6 Graifer and Lombardo went to Florida to consult with Sebastian. Sebastian instructed Lombardo to get in touch with a Michael Hellerman, a well-known stock swindler, to see if he could put the sale across. Hellerman was associated with defendant John Dioguardi, who owned a percentage of Hellerman's profits.

Thereafter, Lombardo, to whom Hellerman owed $10,000 on a loan, approached Hellerman, who agreed, after seeing the offering circular, to sell 50,000 shares provided he received a secret kickback of $45,000, "under the table", half of which, he said, had to be paid immediately in order to bribe brokers to tout the stock.

Lombardo and Hellerman then proceeded to Dioguardi's office to obtain Dioguardi's approval of Hellerman's participation therein, which was granted. Lombardo, Hellerman and Dioguardi then telephoned Sebastian in Florida and informed him of the terms. Thus, there was a guarantee by Sebastian of Graifer's performance and by Dioguardi of Hellerman's.

About the middle of June, because Graifer was unable or unwilling to pay the required $22,500, Lombardo produced and delivered $22,500 (half of the $45,000) to Dioguardi's office.*fn7 By July 7th, the expiry date for the sale of the 50,000 shares, Hellerman, despite his previous successes, had failed to cause the stock to be sold. Accordingly, Dioguardi returned the $22,500 to Lombardo.

Somewhat collateral to the stock sale but definitely related thereto was an incident which brought three additional defendants into the picture, Pasquale Fusco,*fn8 John Savino and Vincent Aloi, Sebastian's son. Hellerman in a previous unsuccessful stock deal had lost $10,000 belonging to Fusco and Savino. They were apparently without power to obtain its return without the aid of Dioguardi. Fusco and Savino were friends of Vincent and through an Aloi-Dioguardi arrangement, Hellerman was to pay the $10,000 when financially able to do it. When Fusco and Savino learned that Hellerman was going to receive $45,000 without making any provision to pay them, Fusco said that he would see Vincent to obtain his aid in getting their money back. This development temporarily halted any efforts to sell AYSL stock but Graifer, who was most seriously affected by the stoppage, again went to Florida, saw Sebastian and explained the difficulty. Sebastian told him not to worry, telephoned his son, Vincent, and although he spoke to Vincent in Italian, immediately thereafter told Graifer in English that everything would be straightened out and that Hellerman and the stock deal would be reinstated. Hellerman was informed by Dioguardi that he could continue with his scheme but that Vincent had specified some variation in the former terms. Out of Hellerman's $45,000, Fusco and Savino were to receive $10,000, Hellerman was to repay Lombardo the $10,000 loan and Dioguardi was to receive the $25,000 balance.

Despite the passing of July 7th, the expiry date for the legal sale of the stock, money came in from sales effected by Hellerman and his henchmen, namely, brokers engaged by him.

On July 28, 1970, some three weeks after the legal expiry date, a purported "closing" under Hellerman's supervision took place. Present were Lombardo, Hellerman, Graifer, Ferdinand (a principal of AYSL), Nelson and Winter (Hellerman's attorney). Hellerman produced $150,000 in checks (50,000 shares at $3 a share), some bogus and some not honored. Hellerman arranged to have TDA backdate its records to July 7th to give an appearance of legality. Subsequently these checks to the extent of $127,500 became good.

In August 1970 Graifer, from the proceeds, delivered the $45,000 to Lombardo. Lombardo passed it on to Dioguardi. Dioguardi then gave $20,000 of this sum to Vincent who then distributed $10,000 to Fusco and Savino and $10,000 to Lombardo. The remaining $25,000 Dioguardi used to repay that amount on an indebtedness owed by him and Hellerman. This manner of this distribution was thereafter confirmed, each to the other, including Graifer.

Concerning activities after these events, it is sufficient to say that Hellerman, consistent with his reputed skill in this sort of activity, then conducted a series of spurious manipulations in the AYSL stock and reported them at least to Graifer and Lombardo.

Again to summarize, what had started as an effort to raise money for AYSL had been taken over by Hellerman, Lombardo, Vincent Aloi and Dioguardi as a scheme to obtain money from the public via the sale of AYSL stock for their own use and purpose without disclosure of this fact to the purchasers.

Before embarking on a more detailed analysis of the many points raised by appellants' counsel, some comment upon the trial must be made based upon an appellate perspective as obtained from the record. The trial lasted for over eight weeks. The transcript was almost 6000 pages, of which hundreds of pages were devoted to colloquy between court and counsel. The four appellants were represented by experienced defense lawyers whose seizure of every opportunity technical and otherwise on behalf of their clients in aid of their defense bespeaks the adequacy of their representation. Scores of motions for a mistrial are sprinkled throughout the record.

Fundamentally the case resolved itself into a question of witness credibility. The government's principal witnesses were Graifer and Hellerman. Their criminal records were well known. Following usual trial strategy technique, the government on its direct examination brought out much of their past records hoping to ameliorate, and soften if possible, the attack on cross-examination. Defense counsel thereafter devoted a high percentage of their time in establishing that these two witnesses, particularly Hellerman, had committed many crimes, in Hellerman's case stock swindles, check forgeries, tax evasion, frequent perjury, even ordinary stealing. Graifer, too, was "Graifer, the thief, the self-confessed perjurer." (Tr. 5066).

The government in turn introduced an agreement it had made with Hellerman under which he purportedly committed himself to tell the truth in exchange for many leniencies and financial benefits -- of which more later.

Defense counsels' conception of the issues on the trial is best obtained from their own summations. To one defense counsel there was "no question of the fact that Mr. Hellerman and his cohorts perpetrated a swindle upon the public and cheated innocent victims." (Tr. 5066). To another there was "no dispute that there were criminal acts committed in connection with the stock fraud of At-Your-Service Leasing." (Tr. 5184). And all, during trial and summation, devoted a large portion of their efforts to demonstrating that Graifer and Hellerman were completely unworthy of belief. Belief or disbelief, being solely a jury function, the only law question is: was the jury given proper instructions for its determination? Factually, were appellants so tied into Hellerman's swindle as to constitute a conspiracy?

Corollary to the main issue of conspiracy are the questions of the conduct of the prosecution in establishing it and the sufficiency of the trial court's charge in outlining the factual issues to be determined by the jury.

The reviewing problem has not been rendered easier of solution by the government's brief. With little supporting proof the government assumes two groups, the Aloi and the Dioguardi, reminiscent of the Montagues and the Capulets, each group being charged with having entered into an agreement with the other to perpetrate the sale of worthless AYSL stock to the public (Govt. Br. p. 5). Its hyperbole in description is in many instances unsupported by the record or by any record references justifying its statements.

For this reason and because of the many appellate points raised by appellants' counsel, a detailed analysis of the entire record has been required. In so doing, it must be remembered that every departure from normal courtroom procedure does not constitute reversible error. And trial strategy should be left in the hands of counsel, who in this case ranked amongst the ablest of the criminal defense bar.

Probably no criminal charge is more difficult of definition than conspiracy. In short, there must be a conspiracy to commit a crime. Conspiracy itself has been defined as an agreement or a concert of action. Individuals, about to commit a crime, however, do not sit down and draft their agreement with the meticulousness of a corporate mortgage. Therefore, the conspiracy must most frequently be upon the facts and words of the alleged conspirators or the inferences drawn therefrom.

The conspiracy charged is that the defendants "did combine, conspire, confederate and agree together and with each other to commit certain violations of federal law, to wit, violations of Title 15, United States Code, Sections 77q(a), 77s(a), 77x and 17 C.F.R. §§ 230.256 and 240.10b-5." As "Objects of the Conspiracy", the indictment in substance alleged that as a part of the conspiracy the defendants would offer AYSL stock for sale, by means of communication in interstate commerce, employ schemes to defraud, obtain money by means of untrue statements and omissions of material facts and engage in practices which would operate as a fraud and deceit upon the purchasers of AYSL stock in violation of 15 U.S.C. § 77q(a). Also as parts of the conspiracy were alleged the use of a false and misleading offering circular (15 U.S.C. § 77s(a) and Rule 256(e), 17 C.F.R. § 230.256(e) and Form 1A, Schedule I), and the employment of manipulative devices in connection with the purchase and sale of AYSL stock (Rule 10b-5, 17 C.F.R. § 240.10b-5).

As "Means of the Conspiracy," the facts by which the defendants and co-conspirators would and did carry out the conspiracy and which are to some extent outlined herein, were set forth in the greatest detail.

We turn now to the principal errors asserted by the individual appellants.

Lombardo :

Lombardo challenges the sufficiency of the evidence to establish that he was a knowing member of a conspiracy to violate the securities laws of the United States.

A conspiracy to be criminal must, of necessity, encompass a crime. As the trial court charged, the jury could find a defendant guilty of conspiracy or aiding and abetting only if it were established that he knew of the unlawful purpose of the conspiracy. There is more than sufficient proof in the record from which ...

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