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United States v. Serafin

December 4, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, United States District Judge

Memorandum and Order

Defendant Lucasz Serafin was charged with conspiring to traffic in stolen motor vehicles in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 371 and 3551 et. seq. and selling a stolen motor vehicle, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2313, 2 and 3551 et. seq. He was found guilty on both counts after a six-day jury trial held on October 23 to November 3, 2006. Defendant moves for a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Crim. P. 33, contending that the government's main witness against him, an accomplice cooperator, has recanted his trial testimony. For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion is denied.

I. Background

On August 31, 2006, Ryszard Grzybek, Lukasz Serafin and three co-defendants were charged in a superseding indictment with conspiracy to traffic in stolen motor vehicles and commit mail fraud, among other offenses. (Dkt. No. 53.) On September 11, 2006, Grzybek pled guilty and agreed to testify against his co-defendants. (Dkt. No. 55.) After the other co- defendants pled guilty, Serafin alone proceeded to trial before the Honorable Carol B. Amon.*fn1

A. Serafin Trial

At trial, co-defendant Grzybek testified on behalf of the government that he and Serafin stole a black BMW from an automobile auction lot in Mannheim, PA to which Serafin had access. (Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot., ("Gov't Mem.") at 3). The two tried to sell the BMW, and Grzybek found a willing buyer who turned out to be a confidential informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"). On April 13, 2005, Grzybek drove the stolen BMW to the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn to sell it to the informant. Serafin followed in his own car to give Grzybek a ride back to New Jersey. (Id. at 4.) The informant testified that, during their meeting in Greenpoint, Grzybek summoned Serafin to discuss the price. (Id.) Serafin approached them briefly but declined to talk. Undercover FBI surveillance agents observed the meeting and testified that they saw Serafin pacing nervously near his own car. (Id. at 5.)

The FBI was previously unaware of Serafin's role in the conspiracy. When the informant stepped aside during a break in the bargaining, the FBI instructed him to approach Serafin. When the informant did so, Serafin refused to make eye contact and speak. Grzybek later explained to the informant that Serafin was frightened because he did not know the buyer. (Id.) After the sale of the BMW, Grzybek sold the informant a Mercedes, which he said was also stolen by Serafin from the Mannheim lot. A search of the vehicle identification numbers of the BMW and Mercedes confirmed that both had been stolen from the same Mannheim lot. (Id. at 6.)

A security employee with the Mannheim auction testified that only authorized personnel had access to the lot, and that Serafin had such authorization in 2005.

The government also pointed to a recorded conversation between Grzybek and the informant on February 24, 2006 in which Grzybek claims to have called a person who could supply five Volvos. (See Ex. A to Gov't Mem.) Grzybek later identified that person to be Serafin. Cellular phone records confirmed that Grzybek had in fact called Serafin that day. (Gov't Mem. at 7.)

The jury found Serafin guilty of conspiracy to transport a stolen vehicle across state lines and selling such a stolen vehicle. After the trial, Grzybek was sentenced to time served in April 2007 and subsequently was deported to Poland. (Dkt. No. 98.) On June 22, 2007, the case was reassigned from Judge Amon to this court for sentencing.*fn2

B. Purported recantation letter

On July 19, 2007, the defendant requested that sentencing be adjourned because his grandmother was gravely ill and that his relatives would be traveling to Poland. The court agreed to adjourn sentencing to August 30, 2007. On August 30, 2007, the court was informed that the defendant had obtained a letter purportedly from Grzybek in which he recanted his trial testimony. This purported recantation letter is attached as Exhibit A to his motion. (Dkt. No. 126, Ex. A). The first page of the two-page exhibit contains three lines of type-written Polish text, a photocopied image of three postmarked Polish postage stamps, and a handwritten address identifying Andrej Serafin in Old Bridge, NJ. The date of the postmark is unclear from the photocopy. The second page contains an apparent translation of the text from the first page.*fn3 It states in its entirety:

I was forced to testify against Lukas Serafin and Zbigniew Grochowski. Everything that I testified to against these persons is not true. I was forced to testify to these things and for this, I was promised a light sentence.

This statement is not addressed to anyone or signed by anyone. It is neither dated nor sworn, and does not indicate who had forced Grzybek to testify ...

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