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United States v. Angelilli

decided: September 4, 1981.


Appeals from judgments of conviction entered in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, after a trial before Jacob Mishler, Judge, and a jury, for violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1962(c) and (d), extortion in violation of the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951, and use of the mails to defraud in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341. Convictions of appellants Butler, Irish, and Ribotsky affirmed. Conviction of appellant Angelilli affirmed as to violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1962(c), 1962(d), and 1951; judgment remanded for correction to reflect acquittal as to 18 U.S.C. § 1341.

Before Friendly, Mansfield and Kearse, Circuit Judges.

Author: Kearse

Defendants Peter Angelilli, William Butler, Donald Irish, and Donald Ribotsky appeal from judgments of conviction entered after a jury trial in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Jacob Mishler, Judge. The trial and convictions related to acts of defendants as Marshals of the Civil Court of the City of New York, in conducting fraudulent auctions of the property of judgment debtors in that court. All defendants were convicted of engaging in a pattern of racketeering in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970 ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c) (1976), of conspiring to violate RICO, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) (1976), and of extortion under "color of official right" in violation of the Hobbs Acts, 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (1976). In addition, Butler, Irish, and Ribotsky were convicted of using the mails to further a scheme to defraud in violation of the mail fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (1976); Angelilli was acquitted on the mail fraud charge, although the judgment as to him mistakenly states that he was convicted on this charge as well. Each defendant was sentenced to concurrent periods of incarceration of one year and one day on each count. Execution of the sentences has been stayed pending this appeal.

For the reasons below, we affirm the convictions.


Defendants were four of the approximately eighty New York City marshals appointed by the Mayor of the City of New York as officers of the City's Civil Court, who are empowered, inter alia, to enforce judgments issued by that court. As part of the enforcement function, each marshal, upon request of a Civil Court judgment creditor, may levy upon and sell at publicly advertised auctions the property of a Civil Court judgment debtor.*fn1 The auctions are conducted either by the marshal himself or by an auctioneer hired by the marshal. After a sale the marshal is entitled to deduct certain statutorily authorized fees*fn2 and must remit the remainder of the proceeds, up to the amount of the judgment, to the attorney for the judgment creditor; any proceeds in excess of the judgment debt and statutory fees are to be remitted to the judgment debtor.

In 1976 an investigation was begun into the bona fides of the marshals' auction sales. New York City Department of Investigation Detective Edward Gruskin assumed an undercover identity and began attending auction sales as a cash buyer. The investigation culminated in a 25-count indictment in 1978 against eleven marshals, including the four appellants, and two auctioneers for various violations of federal law on account of sales of debtors' property at artificially deflated prices. Seven of the marshals and both auctioneers pleaded guilty to certain offenses,*fn3 leaving only Angelilli, Butler, Irish, and Ribotsky to be tried. Each of the four defendants was charged in four counts: (1) participating in the affairs of the Civil Court through a pattern of racketeering (RICO § 1962(c)); (2) conspiring to so participate (RICO § 1962(d)); (3) extortion under color of official right; and (4) mail fraud. The indictment alleged that the pattern of racketeering activity included multiple acts of extortion and mail fraud; as the case went to the jury the indictment alleged with specificity ten extortionate transactions and five fraudulent mailings by Angelilli, eight extortionate transactions and four fraudulent mailings by Butler, nine extortionate transactions and four fraudulent mailings by Irish, and four extortionate transactions and three fraudulent mailings by Ribotsky. The conspiracy count charged a conspiracy among the four defendants, nine named but unindicted coconspirators, and certain unnamed coconspirators; pretrial disclosure by the government revealed the names of twenty-nine persons in the last category.

A. The Prosecution's Evidence

Since only limited attacks are made on the sufficiency of the evidence produced at the five-week, 57-witness trial, a summary will suffice here. The prosecution's evidence consisted principally of the testimony of one of the former marshals who had been indicted and had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, the testimony of Detective Gruskin, together with certain tape recordings made by him of conversations at various auctions, and the testimony of about a dozen buyers, several of whom had also been auctioneers for various marshals including one or more of the defendants and all of whom were alleged to have been coconspirators. The witnesses presented the following picture.

Two groups of persons were aligned in the auction frauds: the marshals, acting either directly or through their auctioneers, and a group of 20-30 buyers, known by those who frequented the marshals' sales as "the boys." "The boys," who regularly attended the sales, were also referred to by the marshals as "the 40 thieves." Usually one or more of the "the boys" would meet prior to the auction with the marshal who had advertised the auction; they would agree at that time on a deflated price at which the property would ostensibly be sold, and on an amount over the ostensible sales price that "the boys" would pay to the marshal. The latter amount was known as "top money" or "money on top." Sometimes the amount of top money paid was greater than the amount paid at the sham auction.

"The boys" acted in two ways to keep the bidding within the bounds agreed on with the marshals. First, they acted as a coordinated group at the auction to eliminate competitive bidding among themselves at that stage. This united action was called a "kipper." Second, "the boys" attempted in various ways to discourage outsiders from bidding on the property. These methods consisted principally of misrepresentations as to the existence of liens on the property to be auctioned. After a sham auction "the boys" would hold their own private auction, called a "knockout," at which the property might be sold for as much as twice the amount paid at the marshal's auction. The starting price in the knockout was the total of the sham auction price plus the top money, and the difference between this total and the final knockout price was distributed by the knockout winner to the rest of "the boys." The bids at the knockout often were made in terms of so many dollars per participant rather than in terms of a total price.

Following the marshal's auction, the marshal would send a check to the attorney for the judgment creditor, purporting to represent the price at which the property had been sold at the auction. Needless to say, the checks did not include the "top money" received by the marshal. Butler, Irish, and Ribotsky stipulated that, as to each of the alleged fraudulent mailings attributed to them in the indictment, the checks were sent through the United States mails to attorneys for judgment creditors who regularly did business in interstate commerce.

Detective Gruskin and each of the buyers and auctioneers who testified provided considerable detail as to auctions at which marshals demanded top money. There was evidence as to thirty such transactions which were listed in the indictment as incidents of substantive violations of law; and there was testimony as to some sixteen other transactions, admitted as evidence of other overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy.

In addition, there was evidence that the practice of demanding top money was pervasive among those marshals who engaged in property executions. All seven of the auctioneers who testified admitted that they had demanded and received top money on behalf of the marshals for whom they conducted auctions, who included not only the four defendants but many other alleged coconspirators. Manuel Ortiz, the former marshal who testified, also admitted having demanded top money. He and all of the buyers and auctioneers testified that it was the custom and practice among marshals at auctions to demand top money. Many of the buyers stated that they had learned about top money at the first marshal's sale they attended; some testified that they had heard about the practice long before, from their fathers who were auctioneers. Ortiz described the practice as a common topic of conversation among marshals on the occasions of their monthly Marshals' Association meetings or whenever they would get together. He testified that he had discussed the practice with many marshals, including the four defendants on many occasions, and that experienced marshals routinely "educated" newly appointed marshals on the practice.*fn4 He himself had educated Butler, who had asked how to go about getting money on top.*fn5

B. The Defense Case

The defendants called some three dozen witnesses to refute the charges against them. Butler testified in his own behalf, denying that he had ever accepted any "top money," and indeed denying that he had ever heard the term before the commencement of trial. Irish testified to the same effect, and added that he was hard of hearing. Angelilli did not testify, but called twelve witnesses who stated that they never noticed any unlawful goings-on, and that the prices paid at Angelilli's auctions were fair. Ribotsky (who also did not testify), Butler, and Irish called a total of twenty-one witnesses who testified to their respective good character.

C. The Verdicts

The jury was asked to return a general verdict as to each of the defendants on each count. In addition, as to each specific transaction or mailing alleged under the racketeering, extortion, and mail fraud counts, the jury was asked to state specifically whether or not it was proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The jury found Butler, Irish, and Ribotsky guilty on all four counts. It found Angelilli guilty on the two RICO counts and the extortion count, but acquitted him of the mail fraud count. With respect to the individual transactions alleged, the jury found as follows: as to Angelilli, six out of the ten alleged extortionate transactions were proved, and none of the five alleged mail fraud transactions was proved; as to Butler, six of the eight alleged extortionate transactions and all four alleged mail frauds were proved; as to Irish all nine alleged extortionate transactions and all four alleged mail frauds were proved; and as to Ribotsky, three of the four alleged extortionate transactions and all three alleged mail frauds were proved.


On appeal defendants make numerous challenges to their convictions. Chief among these are the contentions (1) that the RICO statute does not apply to the activities of officials of the New York City Civil Court, (2) that their activities had insufficient impact on interstate commerce to trigger application of RICO or the Hobbs Act, (3) that their uses of the mails were not for the purpose of defrauding within the meaning of the mail fraud statute, and (4) that the admission of evidence as to the custom and practice of City marshals to demand top money was error.*fn6 We find no merit in the first three contentions. As to the fourth we conclude, on the basis of the record as a whole, that any error regarding the admission of the challenged testimony was not prejudicial.

A. The Civil Court as a RICO Enterprise

RICO § 1962(c) provides as follows:

It shall be unlawful for any person employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of such enterprise's affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt.

18 U.S.C. § 1962(c). "Enterprise," as used in § 1962(c) is defined as follows:

"enterprise" includes any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or other legal entity, and any union or group of individuals associated in fact although not a legal entity; ....

18 U.S.C. § 1961(4). The enterprise in whose activities defendants are alleged to have participated through a pattern of racketeering,*fn7 is the New York City Civil Court. Defendants contend that governmental units such as the Civil Court are not enterprises within the meaning of RICO.*fn8 We disagree.

We begin with the language of the statute. On its face, the definition of "enterprise" is quite broad. We see no sign of an intention by Congress to exclude governmental units from its scope, cf. United States v. Turkette, 452 U.S. 576, 101 S. Ct. 2524, 69 L. Ed. 2d 246 (1981) (construing "enterprise" to include illegal as well as legitimate ventures), and we note three pertinent aspects of the definition that suggest an expansive rather than a restrictive thrust. First, the term "enterprise" is defined to "include( )" the entities listed thereafter. The use of the word "includes," rather than a more restrictive term such as "means," "indicates that the list is not exhaustive but merely illustrative." United States v. Huber, 603 F.2d 387, 394 (2d Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 445 U.S. 927, 100 S. Ct. 1312, 63 L. Ed. 2d 759 (1980); United States v. Thevis, 474 F. Supp. 134, 138 (N.D.Ga.1979). See also 2A C. Sands, Sutherland on Statutes and Statutory Construction 82 (4th ed. 1973) ("A term whose statutory definition declares what it "includes' is more susceptible to extension of meaning by construction than where the definition declares what a term "means' "). Second, the use of the word "any" indicates an intent to make the list all-inclusive. The inclusion of "any individual," "any ... partnership," "any ... corporation," and so forth, belies an intention to distinguish, for example, between individuals having differing statuses, or between general and limited partnerships, or between business and municipal corporations. Finally, the word "entity" itself is hardly restrictive. It denotes anything that exists. As modified by the word "legal," it suggests that any being whose existence is recognized by law is within the term "enterprise." We conclude that on its face the definition of an enterprise to "include( ) any ... legal entity" is unambiguously broad, and that it does not exclude the Civil Court.*fn9

This conclusion is bolstered by certain of RICO's substantive goals, which appear to be directed particularly toward governmental entities. For example, "racketeering activity" is defined in § 1961(1) to include bribery, obstruction of justice, and obstruction of State or local law enforcement. The administration of justice and the enforcement of the law are obviously governmental functions, and bribery is "a crime which is peculiar to public officials, including judges." United States v. Vignola, 464 F. Supp. 1091, 1096 n.12 (E.D.Pa.), aff'd, 605 F.2d 1199 (3d Cir. 1979) (table), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 1072, 100 S. Ct. 1015, 62 L. Ed. 2d 753 (1980). Section 1961(1) also includes reference to the Hobbs Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1951, which prohibits extortion "under color of official right." Extortion under color of law is a crime which "can only be committed in the context of governmental activity." United States v. Sisk, 476 F. Supp. 1061, 1062 (M.D.Tenn.1979):

At common law and under most statutes, bribery is limited to a payment given in exchange for the exercise of governmental power. Extortion under color of law is the use of governmental power to force an involuntary payment from another. By making bribery and extortion RICO offenses, Congress must be said to have understood that these offenses would be committed by governmental officials as a part of their work. Since these offenses can only be committed in the context of the work of a governmental agency, Congress must be taken to have intended that a governmental agency could be one of the types of "enterprises," the affairs of which are conducted through a pattern of racketeering offenses. The connection between ...

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