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In re Newsday Litigation

July 23, 2008

IN RE NEWSDAY LITIGATION


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gold, S., United States Magistrate Judge

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

INTRODUCTION

This Report and Recommendation is issued in connection with nine pending related criminal actions. The nine cases arise out of fraudulent schemes to overstate the paid circulation of Newsday and Hoy, newspapers published by wholly-owned subsidiaries of the Tribune Company ("Tribune") at the time. It appears that the point of the circulation fraud was to maintain advertising revenues during a period of declining circulation by creating the appearance, through a variety of means, that Newsday's and Hoy's paid circulation was greater than it in fact was.

Seven of the nine defendants in the related criminal actions were employees in the circulation departments of Newsday and Hoy, and two were independent contractors who distributed copies of Newsday. Robert Brennan was Newsday's circulation director; Ed Smith, the ABC liaison for Newsday and Hoy; Robert Garcia, single copy manager for Hoy and circulation manager for Newsday; Richard Czark, Senior Vice President of circulation for Hoy in Chicago and Los Angeles; Louis Sito, at various times Vice President of Circulation for Newsday and Publisher of Hoy; Dennis Springer, a manager of home delivery for Newsday and Hoy; Dorothy McKillop, holder of various positions with Newsday, including manager of home delivery on Long Island and director of single-copy sales on Long Island; Gus Acosta, a principal of a company that distributed Newsday and Hoy; and John Faiella, a principal of a company hired by Newsday as a home delivery agent. On December 29, 2005, Robert Brennan waived indictment and entered a plea of guilty to a felony information charging him with conspiring to commit mail fraud. Ed Smith did the same in April of 2006. Robert Garcia offered a similar plea in May of 2006, as did Richard Czark, Louis Sito, Gus Acosta (unlike the other defendants, Acosta pled guilty to a substantive count of mail fraud rather than a conspiracy charge), Dennis Springer, John Faiella, and Dorothy McKillop. Each of the defendants is awaiting sentence. The government has submitted letters pursuant to Section 5K1.1 of the Sentencing Guidelines on behalf of each of the nine defendants other than Czark.

The fraud was massive, resulting in losses affecting tens of thousands of victim advertisers in an amount originally estimated by Tribune itself as exceeding eighty million dollars. The charging documents generally allege that the fraud continued for almost four years, from January of 2000 through July of 2004. Despite the scope of the fraud and the number of defendants eligible for 5K1.1 letters, no indictments were brought against Tribune, Newsday or Hoy, and no charges were brought against any individual with a title higher than Senior Vice President, Director or Manager.*fn1

The United States Attorney for this district has entered into an agreement with Newsday, Inc. and Hoy Publications, LLC, executed on behalf of Newsday and Hoy by Tribune on December 17, 2007. See Docket Entry 12-2 in 05-CR-747. In the agreement, Newsday and Hoy each admit that they violated federal criminal law by engaging in schemes that defrauded their advertisers, by systematically inflating paid circulation numbers reported in their books and records and falsely representing the accuracy of the inflated numbers to the Audit Bureau of Circulations ("ABC"), an industry organization.

Id. ¶ 2. Newsday and Hoy further acknowledge in the agreement that they have made payments "of approximately $83 million, to date, to entities that placed ads in Newsday and Hoy in settlement of pending or potential claims" related to the circulation fraud. Id. ¶ 8(e). In addition, both Newsday and Hoy have agreed to pay $15 million to settle a civil forfeiture action commenced by the United States. Id. ¶ 6. The agreement provides that in consideration, among other things, of their payment of $83 million to victims and forfeiture of $15 million to the United States, "neither Newsday nor Hoy will be prosecuted" for the circulation fraud. Id. ¶ 8. The agreement also requires Newsday and Hoy to cooperate fully with the government's investigation of the circulation fraud. Id. ¶ 5.

Before imposing sentence, Senior United States District Judge Jack B. Weinstein has asked for a Report and Recommendation that, "[t]o the extent practicable, determine[s] the identity of victims affected by the crimes of defendants, the amount of money each is entitled to, and how much, if any each has received in civil litigation or otherwise." Docket Entry 16 in 05-CR-747. In that regard, I have received submissions from Tribune, including an affidavit of Carl DeMarco, Revenue Accounting Manager in the Finance Department at Newsday ("DeMarco Aff."). See Docket Entry 29 in 05-CR-747. In addition, the government has submitted a report prepared by Dr. Charles J. Romeo of the Economic Analysis Group at the United States Department of Justice. See Docket Entry 16 in 08-MC-096.*fn2

A group of automobile dealer advertisers, plaintiffs in a putative class action, a restaurant owner, and a former Newsday employee, Gerard Schultz, have also filed submissions with the court. See Docket Entries 30, 43 in 05-CR-747; Docket Entries 14, 31 in 08-MC-096. The court has also received letters from concerned individuals who do not claim to be victims or otherwise directly connected to this case. See Docket Entries 3, 6 in 08-MC-096. On June 6, 2008, I conducted a hearing at which the government's expert, Dr. Romeo, testified. Counsel for each defendant, and counsel for the sole victim present at the hearing, were afforded the opportunity to question Dr. Romeo. Finally, I have received post-hearing memoranda from the government, certain defendants, and Schultz. Docket Entries 36, 38, 39, 40 in 08-MC-096.

DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standards Governing Restitution

The Mandatory Victim Restitution Act of 1996 ("MVRA"), 18 U.S.C. §§ 3663A-3664, requires that a court order a defendant convicted of fraud or conspiracy to commit fraud to make restitution to his victims. 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(c). Restitution is mandatory under the MVRA unless the victims can not be identified or are so numerous, or the determination of their losses so complex, that restitution is impracticable. 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(c)(3); see also U.S. v. Catoggio, 326 F.3d 323, 326 (2d Cir. 2003). Restitution must be imposed in "'the full amount of each victim's losses as determined by the court'" unless one of the exceptions applies. Catoggio, 326 F.3d at 326 (quoting 18 U.S.C. § 3664(f)(1)(A)).

Co-conspirators may be held jointly and severally liable for restitution owed to the victims of the conspiracy. The governing statute grants a sentencing court discretion to "make each defendant liable for payment of the full amount of restitution or . . . apportion liability among the defendants to reflect the level of contribution to the victim's loss." 18 U.S.C. § 3664(h). See also U.S. v. Sensmeier, 361 F.3d 982, 990 (7th Cir. 2004) (recognizing the discretionary nature of § 3664(h)); U.S. v. Booth, 309 F.3d 566, 576 (9th Cir. 2002) (noting that "[t]he court had the discretion to apportion the [restitution], but was not required to do so"). Thus, where, as here, several defendants are convicted of participating in a scheme, conspiracy, or pattern of criminal activity, each may be held liable, jointly and severally, for the full amount of losses caused by the scheme. See U.S. v. Nucci, 364 F.3d 419, 423-24 (2d Cir. 2004) (affirming district court's restitution order against defendant for full amount of loss, as opposed to apportioning each defendant's liability); U.S. v. Boyd, 222 F.3d 47, 50 (2d Cir. 2000) (noting that a court may "order a single defendant to pay restitution for all losses caused by the actions of that defendant as well as by the actions of that defendant's co-conspirators"); U.S. v. Collins, 209 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 1999) (holding that "[i]n the context of a conspiracy, it is clear that a defendant is liable in restitution to all the victims of the reasonably foreseeable acts of his co-conspirators"); U.S. v. Nichols, 169 F.3d 1255, 1278 (10th Cir. 1999) (affirming district court's restitution order and finding defendant liable for all losses caused in furtherance of the conspiracy); U.S. v. Plumley, 993 F.2d 1140, 1142 (4th Cir. 1993) (same); U.S. v. Bogart, 490 F. Supp. 2d 885, 897 (S.D. Oh. 2007) (holding defendants jointly and severally liable for all of the losses caused by their conspiracy).*fn3

The government bears the burden of establishing the losses sustained by victims by a preponderance of the evidence. 18 U.S.C. § 3664(e). Inability to calculate losses precisely, however, does not preclude an order of restitution; rather, a court need only make a reasonable determination of the losses identifiable victims have sustained. As the Ninth Circuit has observed, "[t]he primary and overarching goal of the MVRA is to make victims of crime whole" and, "[i]n achieving this objective, Congress intended district courts to engage in an expedient and reasonable restitution process." U.S. v. Gordon, 393 F.3d 1044, 1048(9th Cir. 2004). See also U.S. v. Futrell, 209 F.3d 1286, 1291-92 (11th Cir. 2000) (finding that restitution could be based on a "reasonable estimate" of the loss), cited with approval in Catoggio, 326 F.3d at 329; U.S. v. Savoie, 985 F.2d 612, 617 (1st Cir. 1993) (holding that, "so long as the basis for reasonable approximation is at hand, difficulties in achieving exact measurements will not preclude a trial court from ordering restitution"); U.S. v. Fogel, 494 F. Supp. 2d 136, 139 (D. Conn. 2007) (finding the "Government's methodology for computing restitution to be reasonable"); 18 U.S.C. § 3664(a) (requiring a probation officer to make reasonable efforts to ascertain the number and identity of the victims).

B. Prior Proceedings

On September 24, 2007, Judge Weinstein issued an "Order Prior to Sentence." Docket Entry 19 in 05-CR-747. In his Order, Judge Weinstein directed the government to state whether or not it would be seeking restitution and, if not, to submit a certification to that effect. By Order dated December 17, 2007, Judge Weinstein pointed out that he had not received any response to his prior order seeking the government's position on whether restitution should be imposed. Docket Entry 10 in 05-CR-747. The Order went on to ask the government for its position on whether any payments made by Tribune, Newsday and Hoy to the fraud victims affected the court's obligation to order restitution under the MVRA.

The government filed its response on December 18, 2007, stating as follows:

To date, according to representations by Tribune Company's counsel, approximately $90 million has been repaid [to circulation fraud victims]. The terms of the agreement with the United States Attorney's Office specify that any additional advertisers not identified previously may apply to the Department of Justice for restitution to be supplied from the [$15 million] forfeited amount. In light of this mechanism and the difficulty in determining whether additional restitution is owed to any victims who have yet to come forward beyond this mechanism, the government respectfully submits that pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3663A(c)(3) restitution should not be ordered against the nine individual defendants.*fn4

Docket Entry 12 in 05-CR-747. On December 21, 2007, Judge Weinstein issued an "Amended Memorandum and Order Regarding Restitution." Docket Entry 15 in 05-CR-747. In his Amended Memorandum and Order, Judge Weinstein reviewed the statutory framework governing restitution and, with respect to the government's contention that restitution should not be ordered, responded as follows:

Based on the present record, the court does not find that the number of victims is so large as to make restitution impracticable or that determining complex issues of fact would complicate or prolong the sentencing process to a degree that the need to provide restitution to any victim is outweighed by the burden on the sentencing process. The parties may seek to add to the record in an attempt to establish 18 U.S.C. § 3363A(c)(3)(A) or (B). Until that record is made, the restitution process shall go forward.

Id. at 11. Judge Weinstein then referred to me the task of determining whether the victims of the circulation fraud could be identified and the amounts they lost ...


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