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United States v. Basciano

December 21, 2006

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
VINCENT BASCIANO, AND PATRICK DEFILIPPO, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Garaufis, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Defendants Vincent Basciano ("Basciano") and Patrick DeFilippo ("DeFilippo") (collectively "Defendants") have moved this court to grant either an acquittal pursuant to Rule 29 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure or a new trial under Rule 33. Defendants make their challenges on four grounds. First, Defendants contest the jury's findings with respect to count one of the indictment, which charged a RICO conspiracy. Defendants claim that there was insufficient proof of three of the eight racketeering acts -- racketeering acts three, seven, and eleven. (See Memorandum of Law in Support of Vincent Basciano's Post-Trial Motions ("Basciano Mem.") at 15-26 (challenging racketeering acts three, seven, and eleven); Post-Trial Memorandum of Law in Support of DeFilippo's Motions ("DeFilippo Mem.") at 4-6 (challenging racketeering act three).) Second, Basciano claims that the court's charge to the jury on the concept of relatedness pertaining to Racketeering Conspiracy was improper. (Basciano Mem. at 35-37.) Third, Basciano contends that venue was not established by a preponderance of the evidence with respect to count two, which charged ownership and supervision of a gambling business involving joker-poker machines. (Basciano Mem. at 27-34.) And fourth, DeFilippo urges that there was insufficient evidence to support his conviction of conspiring to use extortionate means to collect extensions of credit as charged in count five of the indictment and racketeering act seven. (DeFilippo Mem. at 6.) In addition, DeFilippo moves to sever his retrial from that of Basciano. (DeFilippo Mem. at 7-8.) Defendants' motions made pursuant to Rules 29 and 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure are DENIED; DeFilippo's motion to sever is DENIED as moot.

I. BACKGROUND

On August 14, 2003, a grand jury in the Eastern District of New York indicted DeFilippo on charges stemming from his alleged involvement in the Bonanno crime family. On November 18, 2004, a grand jury in the Eastern District of New York returned a superseding indictment charging both DeFilippo and Basciano with racketeering-related charges stemming from their alleged involvement with the Bonanno crime family. They proceeded to trial in January 2006. Basciano and DeFilippo were charged with Racketeering Conspiracy based on eight underlying racketeering acts ("RAs") pertaining to Basciano (RAs 1 to 3, 5, 6, and 11 to 13), and seven underlying racketeering acts pertaining to DeFilippo (RAs 2 to 4, and 7 to 10). On May 9, 2006, the jury returned a partial verdict, convicting Basciano of Racketeering Conspiracy based on three of the racketeering acts: illegal policy or "numbers" gambling (RA 1), ownership and supervision of joker-poker machines (RA 2), and the attempted murder of David Nunez ("Nunez") (RA 3). The jury found three racketeering acts pertaining to loan-sharking not proved (RAs 5, 6, 13), and was unable to reach a verdict on the murder of Frank Santoro ("Santoro") (RA 11) and the solicitation to murder Dominick Martino (RA 12). The jury was unable to reach a verdict on count two of the indictment, charging Basciano's management and ownership of an illegal joker-poker gambling operation. The jury convicted DeFilippo of Racketeering Conspiracy based on four racketeering acts: ownership and supervision of joker-poker machines (RA 2), the attempted murder of Nunez (RA 3), illegal bookmaking (RA 4), and the conspiracy to collect extensions of credit through extortionate means (RA 7). The jury was unable to reach a verdict on the racketeering act pertaining to the murder of Gerlando Sciascia (RA 10). DeFilippo was also convicted of counts two through four, pertaining to illegal gambling, and count five, conspiring to collect extensions of credit through extortionate means. He was acquitted of counts 6 and 7, which charged Extortionate Extensions of Credit, and the jury was unable to reach a verdict on counts eight through ten, which pertained to the murder of Gerlando Sciascia.

DeFilippo filed a post-trial motion on September 21, 2006, in which he argued that the evidence was insufficient to prove that the Nunez attempted murder was sufficiently related to the Bonanno crime family enterprise, or, in the alternative, insufficient to establish that DeFilippo knew that it was related to the affairs of the Bonanno crime family enterprise. (DeFilippo Mem. at 4-6.) DeFilippo also moved to sever his retrial from that of Basciano. (DeFilippo Mem. at 7-8.)

On September 22, 2006, Basciano filed a post-trial motion in which he argued that there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that the Nunez attempted murder and the Santoro murder were related both to the enterprise and to each of the other racketeering acts. (Basciano Mem. at 15-26.) He further claimed that the Court's charge to the jury regarding the RICO count was improper, and that the Government did not establish venue for count two. (Basciano Mem. at 27-33, 35-37.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A. Rule 29

The defendant "bears a heavy burden" on a Rule 29 claim as the court "must credit every inference that the jury may have drawn in favor of the government." United States v. Finley, 245 F.3d 199, 202-3 (2d Cir. 2001) (internal quotation and citation omitted). "The jury's verdict must be sustained, if any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Id. Where "either of the two results, a reasonable doubt or no reasonable doubt, is fairly possible, the court must let the jury decide the matter." United States v. Autuori, 212 F.3d 105, 114 (2d Cir. 2000). In short, as the Second Circuit has put it: "[T]he court may enter a judgment of acquittal only if the evidence that the defendant committed the crime alleged is nonexistent or so meager that no reasonable jury could find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." United States v. Guadagna, 183 F.3d 122, 130 (2d Cir. 1999) (internal quotation and citation omitted).

B. Rule 33

Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33 provides that "upon the defendant's motion the court may vacate any judgment and grant a new trial if the interest of justice so requires." Fed. R. Crim. P. 33. "The ultimate test on a Rule 33 motion is whether letting a guilty verdict stand would be a manifest injustice." United States v. Ferguson, 246 F.3d 129, 134 (2d Cir. 1997). The Second Circuit has stated that a district court should exercise such authority only "in the most extraordinary circumstances." United States v. Locascio, 6 F.3d 924, 949 (2d Cir. 1993). "Although a trial court has broader discretion to grant a new trial pursuant to Rule 33 than to grant a motion for a judgment of acquittal pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 29, where the truth of the prosecution's evidence must be assumed, that discretion should be exercised sparingly." United States v. Sanchez, 969 F.2d 1409, 1414 (2d Cir. 1992) (internal citation omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

A. Defendants' Convictions for the RICO Enterprise and Related Acts

Defendants contend that there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate inter-relatedness of charged racketeering acts to establish racketeering conspiracy as charged in count one in the indictment. Defendants seek relief under either Rule 29 or Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Additionally, Basciano urges this Court to grant a new trial pursuant to Rule 33, claiming that I improperly instructed the jury on the relatedness requirement. Both inquiries require a preliminary analysis of the RICO statute at issue.

RICO § 1962(c) makes it unlawful, in pertinent part, 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.

18 U.S.C. § 1962(c). Section 1962(d) makes it unlawful to conspire to violate § 1962(c). A "'pattern of racketeering activity' requires at least two acts of racketeering activity." 18 U.S.C. § 1961(5). An act can be in the conduct of the enterprise's affairs in one of two ways: (1) the act is related to the activities of the enterprise, or (2) the defendant was able to commit the act solely because of his position in the enterprise. United States v. Bruno, 383 F.3d 65, 84 (2d Cir. 2004).

In Indelicato, the Second Circuit noted that demonstrating two acts of racketeering activity, in and of itself, was insufficient to constitute a "pattern." United States v. Indelicato, 865 F.2d 1370, 1382 (2d Cir. 1989). In addition to showing that the acts are related to the enterprise, the Court found that a "pattern" requires an "interrelation between acts." Id.

In analyzing the RICO statute, the Supreme Court specifically noted that it is to be "read broadly," both because of the "expansive language" Congress used in drafting the statute, as well as Congress's "express admonition" that RICO be "liberally construed to effectuate its remedial purposes." Sedima, SPRL v. Imrex Co., 473 U.S. 479, 497-98 (1985) (internal quotations omitted). In keeping with congressional intent, the Second Circuit has defined the interrelation requirement broadly, finding that it "may be established in a number of ways," including by showing that the racketeering acts had "the same or similar purposes, results, participants, victims, or methods of commission." Id. (internal quotations omitted). Moreover, the Court explicitly noted that none of these attributes are determinative, since "relatedness could be shown in other ways even if each of the listed similarities was lacking." Id. In some cases, relatedness "may be proven through the nature of the RICO enterprise," and, in fact, racketeering acts which are "not directly related to each other may nevertheless be related indirectly because each is related to the RICO enterprise." Id. at 1383.

"To the extent, therefore, that the relationship between acts necessary to establish a pattern depends on the relationships between individual acts and the enterprise, there will often be some overlap of proof and analysis. The degree of overlap will vary depending in part on the substantive RICO subsection at issue." Indelicato 865 F.2d at 1384. Where a defendant is charged with a violation of subsection (c), the proof "will often entail overlap, for each act of racketeering activity will be related to the enterprise since the latter's affairs are by hypothesis conducted through a pattern of such acts." Id.

In interpreting the pattern requirement, the Second Circuit noted that its main concern was "to prevent the application of RICO to the perpetrators of 'isolated' or 'sporadic' criminal acts." Id. (quoting Sun Savings & Loan Ass'n v. Dierdorff, 825 F.2d ...


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