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United States v. Stassi

October 26, 1976

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
JOSEPH STASSI, A/K/A JOE ROGERS, ANTHONY STASSI AND WILLIAM SORENSON, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from judgments convicting appellants of narcotics violations following a jury trial before Judge Whitman Knapp in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Affirmed.

Author: Van Graafeiland

Before:

KAUFMAN, Chief Judge, FEINBERG and VAN GRAAFEILAND, Circuit Judges.

VAN GRAAFEILAND, Circuit Judge:

After a six-week jury trial before Judge Whitman Knapp in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, appellants were convicted of conspiracy to import and distribute heroin between January 1, 1970 and December 30, 1972; of importing and selling 40 kilograms in September 1970, and of importing and distributing 70 kilograms in June 1971.

The tale of their misdeeds is like the all too familiar plot of a Class B movie rerun, see United States v. Cirillo, 468 F.2d 1233 (2d Cir. 1972), cert. denied, 410 U.S. 989, 36 L. Ed. 2d 188, 93 S. Ct. 1501 (1973); United States v. Santana, 503 F.2d 710 (2d Cir. 1974), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 1053, 42 L. Ed. 2d 649, 95 S. Ct. 632 (1974); United States v. Magnano, 543 F.2d 431 (2d Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1091, 97 S. Ct. 1100, 51 L. Ed. 2d 536 and does not merit a detailed recounting. Hatched in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia where appellants Joseph Stassi and William Sorenson were incarcerated, the conspiracy contemplated the purchase of heroin from a "French connection" and the smuggling of it into the United States. Anthony Stassi, Joseph's brother, was recruited as the outside man to arrange the purchase and distribution of the drugs, and Sorenson, upon his release from prison in March 1970, assisted him. The proof, evaluated in the light most favorable to the government, was sufficient to support the convictions. Of appellants' numerous assertions of procedural error, only a few invite discussion.

Deportation of Otvos

Indictment 75 Cr. 395, under which appellants were tried and convicted, named Jean Claude Otvos, another inmate at Atlanta, as a fellow conspirator. Subsequent to the issuance of the indictment on April 17, 1975, it was discovered that Otvos had been paroled and deported on March 3, 1975. Appellants, relying upon Washington v. Texas, 388 U.S. 14, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1019, 87 S. Ct. 1920 (1967), contend that, in deporting Otvos, the government violated their Sixth Amendment right to examine a potentially important witness. We find no merit in this argument.

There was, as Judge Knapp found, a substantial probability that Otvos, as indicted co-conspirator, would have claimed his Fifth Amendment privilege and refused to testify had he been present in court. See United States v. Finkelstein, 526 F.2d 517, 524 (2d Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 425 U.S. 960, 96 S. Ct. 1742, 48 L. Ed. 2d 205, 44 U.S.L.W. 3624 (May 3, 1976). We need not, however, rest our decision on that ground.

At the hearing conducted by Judge Knapp on appellants' motion to dismiss the indictment, three special agents of the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration testified that Otvos told them in December 1974 that he would be eligible for parole in May 1975. This information was confirmed by an Intelligence Analyst of the Eastern District Strike Force, who was investigating Otvos on behalf of the Parole Board.

The Parole Board had requested this investigation in December 1974 but was not advised of Otvos' possible involvement in the instant conspiracy until January 31, 1975. In the meantime, because of a change in the law, Otvos became eligible for an earlier parole; and it was decided that he would be paroled and deported on March 3. Judge Knapp found that the Parole Board was grossly negligent in proceeding with the parole and deportation of Otvos after receiving notice of the possibility of his indictment but refused to charge the United States Attorney's office or the Drug Enforcement agents with the same lack of care. Insofar as this finding was one of fact, it had ample support in the evidence. Appellants' contention that the Parole Board's negligence must be imputed to the prosecution was properly rejected by the District Judge. United States v. Quinn, 445 F.2d 940, 944 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 850, 30 L. Ed. 2d 90, 92 S. Ct. 87 (1971); cf. United States v. Morell, 524 F.2d 550, 555 (2d Cir. 1975).

Appellant Anthony Stassi also relies upon the absence of Otvos to support his contention that he was deprived of his constitutional right to a speedy trial. Stassi was originally indicted on April 30, 1973 under Indictment 73 Cr. 405, which charged him alone with the receipt of 40 kilograms of heroin on September 28, 1970. This indictment was sealed in order that the government could pursue the investigation which led to the uncovering of the massive conspiracy established on the trial below.

We fail to see how the government's delay in bringing Stassi to trial on the 1973 indictment charging him with a single substantive narcotics violation would require dismissal of the 1975 indictment charging him with long-term participation in an extended conspiracy. This is not similar to the situation which existed in United States v. Alo, 439 F.2d 751, 754-55 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 404 U.S. 850, 92 S. Ct. 86, 30 L. Ed. 2d 89 (1971) where the second indictment merely supplanted a substantially identical sealed indictment returned several years before. Moreover, because there is no indication that Otvos would have been a potential witness had Stassi been prosecuted under the earlier indictment, appellant has failed to demonstrate the prejudice required for dismissal. United States v. Alo, supra, 439 F.2d at 755.

The government was entitled to carry on its criminal investigation despite the return of the 1973 indictment. United States v. Poeta, 455 F.2d 117, 122 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 406 U.S. 948, 32 L. Ed. 2d 337, 92 S. Ct. 2041 (1972). Appellant's further argument that he was thereby subjected to the "humiliation and degradation" of government surveillance furnishes too shaky a foundation upon which to build a ...


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