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United States v. Podell

decided: June 24, 1975.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
BERTRAM L. PODELL AND MARTIN MILLER, APPELLANTS



Appeal from judgments of conviction of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Robert L. Carter, Judge, and the denial of motions under Rule 32(d) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to withdraw guilty pleas.

Hays, Mulligan and Timbers, Circuit Judges.

Author: Hays

HAYS, Circuit Judge:

Bertram L. Podell and Martin Miller appeal from judgments of conviction in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and from the denial of their motions under Rule 32(d) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure to withdraw pleas of guilty. Podell and Miller both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and to violate the conflict of interest statute, 18 U.S.C. § 203 (1970).*fn1 Podell also pleaded guilty to a substantive violation of 18 U.S.C. § 203(a). We affirm.

I.

Congressman Bertram Podell was charged with conspiracy, the solicitation and acceptance of bribes, criminal conflict of interest, and perjury. Martin Miller was charged with conspiracy, with offering a bribe, and with offering compensation in violation of the conflict of interest statute.*fn2 At the trial the Government introduced evidence that while Podell was a member of Congress, he received from Miller over $41,000 in legal fees and campaign contributions in return for advocating the interests of Florida Atlantic Airlines before the Civil Aeronautics Board, the Federal Aviation Administration, the State Department, and the Government of the Bahama Islands. Evidence was also introduced that Podell had made false statements to the F.B.I. in the course of its investigation of his activities and that he lied under oath to the Grand Jury.

On the tenth day of the trial, Podell and Miller withdrew their pleas of not guilty. Both pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and to violate the conflict of interest law; Podell also pleaded guilty to accepting compensation in violation of the conflict of interest law. Podell had already been on the stand for a day and a half, and was scheduled to take the stand again for continued cross-examination when the guilty pleas were entered.

Before accepting the new pleas, Judge Carter asked the defendants if they were pleading guilty voluntarily. Both Podell and Miller stated that there had been no coercion by the Government or promises by their counsel to induce them to plead guilty. Podell stated that while a member of Congress, he had been indirectly compensated for appearing before federal agencies to advocate the interests of Florida Atlantic Airlines. He said that he had not intended to violate the law but did intend to do what he did. Miller stated that he had retained Congressman Podell for his influence and that while he did not knowingly violate the law, he did act intentionally. Counsel for Podell and for the Government made it clear that the defendants were pleading guilty to conspiring only to defraud the United States and to violate the conflict of interest laws, not to pay a bribe, as had been charged in the original indictment.

Podell and Miller later moved to vacate their pleas of guilty. At the evidentiary hearing held by Judge Carter, counsel for Podell stated that his client's primary purpose in pleading guilty had been to retain his license to practice law in New York. However, counsel also claimed that Podell had consented to plead guilty on the assurance of the prosecutors that they would not recommend a jail sentence and that Assistant United States Attorney Giuliani would testify on Podell's behalf in future disbarment proceedings that the offense of which he was convicted did not involve bribery or reflect a "corrupt and criminal intent." Counsel argued that both these assurances had been violated by a letter sent to the court on January 2, 1975. In that letter,*fn3 Assistant United States Attorney Mukasey pointed out the seriousness of the crimes to which the defendants had pleaded guilty. He also raised the problem of "treating less seriously the crimes of the privileged and powerful than those of the less advantaged." He expressed the opinion that the court's sentence should reflect the seriousness of the defendants' crimes. Counsel claimed that the letter constituted a recommendation of imprisonment and that it undermined Giuliani's usefulness as a witness. Counsel for Miller also claimed that he had received an assurance that no jail sentence would be recommended and that the letter of January 2 had violated it.

The Government claimed that all it had promised was that it would follow its usual procedure of taking no position as to whether a specific jail sentence should be imposed and that Mr. Giuliani would testify that Podell had not pleaded guilty to bribery, as the record indicates. The Government's position was that the letter in no way violated these assurances.

After witnesses were called for both sides, the district judge found that the letter of January 2 violated "the spirit, if not the letter" of the Government's representation that it would not recommend a jail sentence. However, he also found that in pleading guilty, neither Podell nor Miller had relied to any substantial degree on the Government's representations. Podell had pleaded guilty "principally and primarily and exclusively because he was concerned that the jury might find him guilty of the bribery count" leading to his automatic disbarment. Miller pleaded guilty because "once Mr. Podell pleaded guilty, Mr. Miller had nothing else to do." The district judge therefore denied the defense motions to withdraw the guilty pleas. He sentenced Podell to two years imprisonment on the conspiracy count, all but six months suspended, and fined him $5,000 on the conflict of interest count. Miller was sentenced to two years imprisonment, all but six months suspended, and fined $10,000 on the conspiracy count.

II.

Appellants claim that under Santobello v. New York, 404 U.S. 257, 30 L. Ed. 2d 427, 92 S. Ct. 495 (1971), the district court should have granted their motions to withdraw their guilty pleas on the ground that the Government violated its promise not to recommend a jail sentence. Santobello holds that

"when a plea rests in any significant degree on a promise or agreement of the prosecutor, so that it can be said to be part of the inducement or consideration, such ...


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