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United States v. Sabhnani

July 26, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
VARSHA MAHENDER SABHNANI AND MAHENDER MURLIDHAR SABHNANI, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Spatt, District Judge

AMENDED MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

On May 22, 2007, Varsha Mahender Sabhnani ("Varsha") and Mahender Murlidhar Sabhnani ("Mahender") (collectively, the "Defendants" or the "Sabhnanis") were indicted and charged with two counts of forced labor and two counts of harboring aliens in relation to their alleged treatment of two domestic servants from Indonesia, named Samirah and Enung. On September 18, 2007, pursuant to a superseding indictment, the Defendants were charged with: (1) conspiracy to commit forced labor; (2) two counts of forced labor; (3) conspiracy to harbor aliens; (4) two counts of harboring aliens; (5) conspiracy to commit peonage; (6) two counts of peonage; (7) conspiracy to commit document servitude; and (8) two counts of document servitude.

On December 17, 2007, the jury returned a verdict finding both Defendants guilty of all 12 counts in the indictment. Further, after receiving instructions from the Court on the law governing forfeiture, the jury again deliberated and determined that the Defendants' house located at 205 Coachman Place East, Muttontown, New York, should be forfeited to the Government.

On June 26, 2008, Varsha Sabhnani was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 132 months in connection with her conviction. On June 27, 2008, Mahender Sabhnani was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of forty months in connection with his conviction.

Presently before the Court is the issue of forfeiture of the Defendants' home, located at 205 Coachman Place East, Muttontown, New York. Although the jury determined that forfeiture is appropriate, the Defendants object and contend that forfeiture violates the Excessive Fines Clause of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Defendants further contend that forfeiture of Mahender's entire interest in the home is not appropriate because his office is annexed to the house.

DISCUSSION

I. As To Forfeiture

"Forfeiture is to be imposed upon a convicted defendant as provided by statute." Sentencing Guidelines Manual §5E1.4. The procedures governing criminal forfeiture are set forth in Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.2(b)(1), which provides:

As soon as practicable after a verdict or finding of guilty, or after a plea of guilty or nolo contendere is accepted, on any count in an indictment or information regarding which criminal forfeiture is sought, the court must determine what property is subject to forfeiture under the applicable statute. If the government seeks forfeiture of specific property, the court must determine whether the government has established the requisite nexus between the property and the offense. If the government seeks a personal money judgment, the court must determine the amount of money that the defendant will be ordered to pay. The court's determination may be based on evidence already in the record, including any written plea agreement or, if the forfeiture is contested, on evidence or information presented by the parties at a hearing after the verdict or finding of guilt.

Fed R. Crim. P. 32.2(b)(1).

It is well-settled in the Second Circuit that once the defendant is convicted of an offense on proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the government is only required to establish the forfeitability of the property subject to criminal forfeiture as a result of that offense by a preponderance of the evidence. United States v. Fruchter, 411 F.3d 377, 383 (2d Cir. 2005) ("Booker and Blakely [do not] require proof beyond a reasonable doubt in open-ended punishment schemes, such as [criminal] forfeiture."); see also Libretti v. United States, 516 U.S. 29, 49, 116 S.Ct. 356, 367-68, 133 L.Ed. 2d 271, 289 (1995).

Under Rule 32.2(b)(1), the court is assigned the task of determining whether there is a sufficient nexus between the property and the offense of conviction or the amount of money the defendant will be ordered to pay. The court makes these determinations based upon the evidence in the record of the criminal trial or evidence presented at a hearing after the verdict. See Fruchter, 411 F.3d at 384.

A. As To The Forfeiture Statutes Relevant To The Present Case

In the present case, the Government seeks forfeiture of property alleged to have been used to commit, or to facilitate the commission of the offenses of which the Defendants were found guilty. The Government seeks forfeiture of the Defendants' home located at 205 Coachman Place East, Muttontown, NY, pursuant to 18 U.S.C § 1594 and 18 U.S.C. § 982(a)(6)(A).

18 U.S.C. § 1594 provides:

(a) Whoever attempts to violate section 1581, 1583, 1584, 1589, 1590, or 1591 [18 USCS § 1581, 1583, 1584, 1589, 1590, or 1591] shall be punishable in the same manner as a completed violation of that section.

(b) The court, in imposing sentence on any person convicted of a violation of this chapter [18 USCS §§ 1581 et seq.], shall order, in addition to any other sentence imposed and irrespective of any provision of State law, that such person shall forfeit to the United States--

(1) such person's interest in any property, real or personal, that was used or intended to be used to commit or to facilitate the commission of such violation; and

(2) any property, real or personal, constituting or derived from, any proceeds that such person obtained, directly or indirectly, as a result of such violation.

(c) (1) The following shall be subject to forfeiture to the United States and no property right shall exist in them:

(A) Any property, real or personal, used or intended to be used to commit or to facilitate the commission of any violation of this chapter [18 USCS §§ 1581 et seq.].

(B) Any property, real or personal, which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to any violation of this chapter [18 USCS §§ 1581 et seq.].

(2) The provisions of chapter 46 of this title [18 USCS §§ 981 et seq.] relating to civil forfeitures shall extend to any seizure or civil forfeiture under this subsection.

18 U.S.C. § 1594. Pursuant to § 982(a)(6)(A): The court, in imposing sentence on a person convicted of a violation of, or conspiracy to violate, section 274(a), 274A(a)(1), or 274A(a)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act [8 USCS §§ 1324(a), 1324a(a)(1), or 1324a(a)(2)] or section 555, 1425, 1426, 1427, 1541, 1542, 1543, 1544, or 1546 of this title [18 USCS § 555, 1425, 1426, 1427, 1541, 1542, 1543, 1544, or 1546], or a violation of, or conspiracy to violate, section 1028 of this title [18 USCS § 1028] if committed in connection with passport or visa issuance or use, shall order that the person forfeit to the United States, regardless of any provision of State law--

(i) any conveyance, including any vessel, vehicle, or aircraft used in the commission of the offense of which the person is convicted; and

(ii) any property real or personal--

(I) that constitutes, or is derived from or is traceable to the proceeds obtained directly or indirectly from the commission of the offense ...


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