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United States v. Weisberg

March 12, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
JOHN E. WEISBERG, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Hugh B. Scott

Order

Before the Court, on remand, is defendant's sentence following his appeal from the judgment imposing a term of imprisonment of twenty-one months for defendant's conviction on three counts of failure to file federal tax returns. A status conference was held on June 8, 2009 (Docket No. 174 (minutes)), at which time defendant sought an evidentiary hearing to produce mitigating evidence (namely testimony from patients of the defendant and videotape and testimony surrounding the medical condition of defendant's daughter, Kirsten Weisberg ("Kirsten"), and how defendant meets their needs) (see Docket No. 176, Def. Memo. at 1-2). After the Government withdrew its objections (Docket No. 175, Gov't Memo. at 2), that hearing was held on September 21, 22, 24, and 28, 2009 (Docket Nos. 183 (Order rescheduling hearing), 190-93 (minutes), 196-99 (transcripts); see also Docket Nos. 177, 179, 180 (prior Orders setting schedule for hearing)). The parties then were given the opportunity to submit post-hearing materials, as detailed in the Addendum attached to this Order.

Upon submission of defendant's reply (Docket Nos. 211-19), the matter was deemed submitted (Docket No. 220, Order of Feb. 26, 2010). Subsequent to that date, the Government moved to strike the defense affirmations (Docket No. 221, filed Mar. 9, 2010), arguing that these submissions are outside of the record established during the evidentiary hearing.

To be clear, the purpose of this proceeding is to meet the criteria set forth by then-Chief Judge Arcara in reviewing the previous sentence imposed. There, it was held that "the Magistrate Judge was free to impose any sentence within or outside the advisory Guidelines range as long as he provided an adequate explanation for the chosen sentence and as the sentence chosen is substantially reasonable" (Docket No. 172, Appellate Order at 10 (emphasis added)). The hearing discussed herein considered one factor in sentencing the defendant, whether his sentence should be adjusted in light of its impact on third parties (his daughter and his patients), which entailed extensive testimony. Despite the post-hearing submissions to the contrary, this is not a case deciding the appropriate levels of chiropractic, medical or other care for Kirsten and defendant's patients. It is unfortunate that the private affairs of the innocent bystanders have been brought with extensive detail before this Court for an otherwise discrete sentencing. Nevertheless, this Court has considered all submissions from defense and the Government and applied them in exercising its discretion in imposing the appropriate sentence upon defendant for the offenses of which he is convicted. As this matter proceeds and the details of defendant's situation regarding his family and his professional practice (and the situations of these third parties) are discussed, this standard should be kept in the forefront.

BACKGROUND

Familiarity with the prior sentencing Orders (Docket Nos. 95, 110, 116), the facts stated therein, and Judge Arcara's appellate Order (Docket No. 172) is presumed. This Court also reviewed prior sentencing related submissions by the defense and the Government (see Addendum).

Defendant was tried in February 2008 on four counts of failure to file a tax return for the tax years 2000 to 2003, in violation of I.R.C. § 7203, and was convicted on three of the four counts (for tax years 2000, 2001, and 2003); the jury was unable to reach an unanimous for the count regarding tax year 2002. After extensive briefing on sentencing (as noted above), defendant was sentenced to twelve months on two counts (running concurrently with each other) and nine months on the third count, to run consecutive to counts one and two, in order to achieve a sentence within the advisory Guidelines range of 21 to 27 months (see Docket No. 172, Appellate Order at 2-5, summarizing sentencing), see Sentencing Guidelines § 5G1.2(d), and judgment was entered on September 5, 2008 (Docket No. 118). Defendant then appealed his sentence (Docket No. 122). Judge Arcara remanded this case for re-sentencing (Docket No. 172, Appellate Order at 1, 10, 12), staying defendant's sentence while re-sentencing was pending (id. at 12). That stay was extended through the evidentiary hearing (Docket Nos. 177, 179, 183), and the post-hearing briefing period (see Docket No. 193).

Re-Sentencing Hearing

Defense Submission

An evidentiary hearing was held on September 21, 22, 24, and 28, 2009. Defendant produced a chiropractor, testimony from four of defendant's current patients (one by videotaped deposition), the family physician for Kirsten, and a nurse with Suburban Adult Services, Inc., familiar with Kirsten's care. Chiropractor Dr. Robert Mazurkiewicz narrated a video depicting an example of defendant's chiropractic treatment of Kirsten and her X-rays (Hearing Def. Exs. 1 (DVD of treatment), 2 (text of narration)) and testified that defendant was her sole chiropractic care provider and that defendant had specialized skills required for Kirsten's medical condition. Dr. Mazurkiewicz noted that Kirsten was a risky case, that other chiropractors (including Dr. Mazurkiewicz) may be reluctant to take her case because of her multiple conditions. He opined that Kirsten, due to her irrational fears and her familiarity with her father, would resist changing chiropractors if defendant was not available to continue her treatment (see Hearing Def. Ex. 2).

The video of Kirsten first shows her entering defendant's offices, assisted in walking by her mother. She appeared cheerful and chipper in approaching the office and signing in. Then the video displays five X-rays of Kirsten showing deformities in her spine. The video then shows defendant performing chiropractic techniques on Kirsten, including taking a cast for orthotic footwear*fn1 . The manipulations shown take about six and a half minutes. The video concludes with her leaving defendant's office following treatment. (Hearing Def. Ex. 1.)

Dr. Mazurkiewicz, in the narration for the video, concludes that "After examining Kirsten and her medical record last year and observing this video it is my clinical opinion that Kirsten's pre and post surgical success is largely due to the specific chiropractic care provided to her by her father. In cases like this, it is critically important to provide a careful and clinically specific regimen of care. Due to the nature of her condition, she will require ongoing uninterrupted treatment to minimize likely progressive degeneration of her spine. In my professional opinion, her father, Dr. Weisberg, is best qualified to provide her chiropractic and nutritional care because of his familiarity and consistency in her treatment since birth. Because of Kirsten's emotional and contact sensitivities and irrational fears it is difficult to gain a rapport, which would allow for the kinds of adjustments and bodywork that are required to help her. In that sense Dr. Weisberg is irreplaceable as her Doctor of Chiropractic. Any reduction in her standard of care received thus far could have a devastating consequence to her health now and in the immediate future." (Hearing Def. Exs. 2 (transcribed narration text), 1).

Next, four of defendant's patients testified as to his long-term care of them and what would happen if defendant were not available. Two testified that, if compelled to find a new chiropractor, they would not do so (one terming it that she would become "collateral damage" as a result of this case). Another testified that, while his medical situation would be compromised, he would find another practitioner. The fourth patient, Marjorie Ernst, testified by videotaped deposition, when asked what she would do if defendant was not available to treat her, she said that she did not know what she would do about her pain and thought she may not be around much longer.

Defendant contends that Ms. Ernst (an almost 106-year-old when she testified) is sufficient by herself to justify the relief defendant seeks in his sentence. She testified that she began treatments with defendant in 1993 (at age 90) and has seen him for about the last sixteen years. She had used chiropractors previously and her last one prior to defendant had retired and closed his practice. She stated that she stays with defendant because he provides harder adjustments than other chiropractors. She also noted that other chiropractors would not perform adjustments on older patients like her or apply the adjustments as hard as defendant upon an older patient. She went to have her neck and back treated as well as pain she has in her right hip that radiates down her leg. Her frequency of treatments recently have been once a week for about fifteen to thirty minutes. (Hearing Def. Ex. 13.)

Karen Vance next testified. She is the director of clinical services at Suburban Adult Services, Inc., the agency providing services to Kirsten. Previously, Vance wrote to the Court, on agency letterhead and under her agency title, regarding defendant's sentence (Hearing Def. Ex. 9; Hearing Gov't Ex. 23). But Vance had known defendant and Kirsten personally for over 25 years from Vance's own developmentally disabled child who grew up with Kirsten and resides in the same group home as Kirsten. Vance concludes that Kirsten has been dependent upon defendant for her entire life and that, if he were gone, it would be as if he died to Kirsten. Vance argues that consistency in care is paramount and defendant should be allowed to continue treating Kirsten. This Court finds that Vance is testifying as a family friend and is crediting her testimony accordingly.

Finally, Dr. John Ward, the Weisberg family physician, testified. He reaffirmed the letters he submitted to this Court on defendant's behalf (Hearing Def. Exs. 10, 11; see also Docket No. 98, Def. Atty. Affirm. Ex. C) that Kirsten's well-being would be jeopardized if defendant did not continue her care. Dr. Ward stated that the spinal adjustments, nutrition and other therapies performed by defendant helped Kirsten avoid pain and pain medication.

The Government's Response

In response, the Government produced two medical or chiropractic experts, as well as staff at Kirsten's group home. The two doctors reviewed the medical records for Kirsten as well as the testifying patients and Kirsten's group home records. Dr. Benjamin Bartolotto, former chair of the New York State Board of Chiropractic (the licensing and regulatory agency for that profession in this state), testified that defendant's chiropractic care of his daughter was customary and not unique, that the care he furnished was available from over 250 other chiropractors in Erie County (see Hearing Gov't Ex. 27).

The Government then called witnesses who administered programs at Kirsten's group home and provided her treatment, including testimony from her physical therapist. These witnesses noted the treatment regimes she received, but sometimes the records for Kirsten's care did not note that defendant was providing her chiropractic treatment. They testified that defendant's chiropractic treatment of Kirsten was handled differently from her medical treatment, and was recorded differently*fn2 . After defendant's conviction and when sentencing initially was pending, witnesses from People, Inc., the agency running Kirsten's home, noted an increase in frequency of defendant's chiropractic treatments (from once every two weeks to weekly or more frequently) of his daughter as well as an increase in home visits to defendant's family residence. Lisa Carr, the People, Inc., day aide who transported Kirsten to and from her chiropractic appointments (and other medical appointments), testified that Kirsten was in the examining room for her chiropractic services for about two minutes and these chiropractic sessions were quick.

After the submission of this issue, the Government moved to strike certain affirmations defendant submitted (Docket No. 221), arguing that defendant should have produced this testimony at the evidentiary hearing and that these affirmations fall outside the time for such factual submissions. The Government also contests some of the factual assertions raised in these defense affirmations (see id. at 4-13).

The Government's Motion for Obstruction Sentence

At the conclusion of the hearing, the Government indicated that it may renew its motion for enhancement of defendant's Guidelines sentence pursuant to Advisory Guidelines ยง 3C1.1 for defendant's obstruction of justice, adding two points to his offense level (see Docket No. 205, Gov't Post-Hearing Memo.; cf. Docket No. 91, Gov't Response at 3-12; see also Docket No. 123, Presentence Investigation Report (recommending this enhancement); Docket No. 95, Order, at 10-11 (denying enhancement)). With that enhancement, defendant's adjusted offense level of 16 (see Docket No. 110, Order at 2) would be increased to 18 and, with a criminal history category of I, defendant's sentence (with a current advisory Guidelines range of 21 to 27 months) ...


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