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United States v. Robinson

decided: March 17, 1975.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
ALLEYNE F. ROBINSON, JOSE ANTONIO ACOSTA ALVAREZ, AND JOSEPH M. VILLEGAS, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from judgments of conviction entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Hon. Dudley B. Bonsal, Judge, for conspiracy to violate, and actual violations of, 29 U.S.C. § 501(c), which prohibits embezzlement, theft or conversion by a union officer or employee of any of the money or other property of a union. Affirmed.

Anderson, Mulligan and Van Graafeiland, Circuit Judges.

Author: Mulligan

MULLIGAN, Circuit Judge:

These are appeals by Alleyne F. Robinson, Jose Antonio Acosta Alvarez and Joseph M. Villegas from judgments of conviction entered on November 7, 1974 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York after a two-week jury trial before Hon. Dudley B. Bonsal, United States District Judge. The indictment in various counts charged the three defendants with a conspiracy to violate, as well as substantive violations of, 29 U.S.C. § 501(c) by the conversion of the property of the National Maritime Union (NMU), where Robinson served as an official and his co-defendants as employees. The defendants were convicted on all counts on which they were tried. Robinson received a one-year suspended sentence, was placed on probation for one year and fined a total of $1000 to be paid during the year of probation. Alvarez and Villegas were sentenced to probation for three months and a fine of $250 to be paid within that time.

I

The NMU is a labor organization representing unlicensed seamen on commercial and Government vessels, including those operated by the Government's Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS). The NMU divided seamen into groups for the purpose of allocating work. In 1968-70, only full-fledged members of the NMU were classified in Group I. Seamen who were in three lower groups could compete for jobs on a priority basis only after Group I seamen had been offered the opportunity. To qualify for Group I status a seaman had to have served at least 800 days at sea on NMU vessels within a five-year period. To establish eligibility for Group I status certain forms had to be completed by the applicant. If he had served on commercial vessels, he would complete a "white form" and furnish copies of "discharges" received at the end of a voyage to support his claim of time at sea. This information then had to be verified by the NMU staff at headquarters, where records were kept of Pension and Welfare Fund contributions by commercial employers; these contributions were computed according to the amount of each NMU member's seatime. If the seaman claimed MSTS service, he would complete a "green form" detailing his time at sea on MSTS vessels, which the union could verify by checking MSTS personnel files in Brooklyn. Upon verification a Group I union book and "blue card" would be issued and the seaman would pay a $150 initiation fee and $30 for quarterly dues thereafter.

Robinson, who was an elected official of the Union, acted as a liaison between the seamen aboard vessels in port and the shore-based union offices. He also maintained an office in the NMU hall in New York City, where his particular responsibility was to handle the processing of applications for seamen who claimed MSTS experience.

On trial, the Government produced nine seamen who had applied to Robinson for Group I status although they admittedly lacked the necessary experience at sea. Five of the seamen were introduced to Robinson by Villegas and Alvarez, who were respectively a Patrolman and a Master-at-Arms of the NMU. Villegas and Alvarez charged the seamen fees ranging from $500 to $750 to get Group I classification.*fn1 The Government's proof established that, in the case of six seamen who had executed the green (MSTS service) forms, when the forms were returned by Robinson they contained entries of sea service which were false and had not been given to Robinson. All of the forms when returned to the NMU from the Brooklyn MSTS office bore the signature of E. U. Maynard in the space for verification by the personnel office of MSTS. Although Mrs. Maynard did not appear as a witness, the Government's theory was that she, as one of the two clerks in the MSTS office, was acting in concert with Robinson to verify falsely the forms which noted sea service which had never taken place.

On appeal, Alvarez and Villegas challenge, inter alia, the sufficiency of the evidence on both the substantive and conspiracy counts. In view of the evidence of illicit payments by seamen to each man and their presence when these seamen executed forms in blank in order to procure Group I status, the claim that the evidence was insufficient is of no substance. Several other points raised by the appellants are frivolous.

II

The only argument raised on appeal which merits discussion is the position taken by all the appellants that the conduct which was the basis for the indictment and conviction here does not constitute a crime under 29 U.S.C. § 501(c). At the end of the trial, all defense counsel renewed their motions to dismiss on this ground, and Judge Bonsal denied the motions in a memorandum dated November 7, 1974.

Section 501(c) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 provides:

Any person who embezzles, steals, or unlawfully and willfully abstracts or converts to his own use, or the use of another, any of the moneys, funds, securities, property, or other assets of a labor organization of which he is an officer, or by which he is employed, directly or indirectly, shall be fined not more than $10,000 or imprisoned for not more than five years, or both.

The theory of the Government is that the defendants conspired to convert, and that Robinson, aided and abetted by Alvarez and Villegas, did in fact convert to their own use and personal profit, the Group I application forms which were NMU property. The contention of the defendants was and is that the forms which were converted had no value and that the NMU actually profited from the activity of the defendants, who enriched the treasury of the NMU by adding new paying members. The argument continues that the legislative history of the statute demonstrates that, although broad fiduciary responsibilities for union officials were established in section 501(a)*fn2 of the statute, the criminal conversion and embezzlement subdivision, section 501(c), was not given a similarly broad scope. It is urged that, while the conduct involved here may constitute a ...


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