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United States v. Blake

August 9, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert P. Patterson, Jr., U.S.D.J.


On July 5, 2010, Allen Blake filed a motion for a new trial pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 33.*fn1 For the reasons that follow, Blake's motion is denied.


Allen Blake ("Blake") and Chandra LaSonde ("LaSonde") (together, "Defendants") are Correctional Officers employed by the City of New York Department of Correction, and until November 20, 2009 were members of the Executive Board of the Correctional Officers Benevolent Association ("COBA").

In May 2008, Blake filed for divorce from his estranged ex-wife, Pearl Blake. (Government Exhibit 7 ("GX 7").) The divorce was approved on June 23, 2009. (Government Exhibit 4 ("GX 4").) He was represented by the law firm of Koehler & Isaacs, which had a contract to represent COBA and COBA members. (Trial Transcript ("Tr.") 613.) On September 29, 2009, Pearl Blake died at her home in South Carolina. (Government Exhibit 12 ("GX 12"); Tr. 332.) On October 23, 2009, Blake submitted an application to the Prudential Life Insurance Company of America for a $10,000 death benefit for Pearl Blake's death. (Government Exhibit 3 ("GX 3"); Tr. 322.) COBA members are entitled to a $10,000 insurance benefit upon the death of their lawful spouse. (Tr. 307, 332) On Blake's application for the death benefit, "relationship to deceased" is listed as "husband." (GX 3.) A cover letter accompanying the application for the death benefit was signed by LaSonde and instructed the recipient to "contact Chandra LaSonde" in the event that "there are any questions in regards to expeditiously completing this claim." (Id.)

At an emergency COBA Board meeting on November 20, 2009, Norman Seabrook, the President of COBA, confronted Blake and asked him to "[e]xplain to me how this death benefit [claim] is put in and you don't have the [supporting] documents." (Tr. 592.) Blake "just shook his head, " and Seabrook demanded both Blake and LaSonde's "resignations . . . by close of business." (Id. 593, 594.)

On April 20, 2010, Defendants were indicted by a grand jury of the crime of devising and implementing a scheme to use the United States mails to submit a false claim to an insurance company for a life insurance benefit to which Blake was not entitled in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1341 and 1342.

On June 15, 2010, the jury found Blake guilty of mail fraud, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1341. (Id. 873.) LaSonde was found not guilty and the Court entered a Judgment of Acquittal as to her. (Id. 874; Judgment of Acquittal, June 15, 2010.)

The main issue at trial was whether Blake and LaSonde possessed knowledge that Blake's divorce had been finalized on or before October 23, 2009, the date Blake submitted an application for a dependent life insurance claim for the death of Pearl Blake. At trial, the Government provided testimony from five witnesses, as well as documentary evidence, in support of its case that Blake committed mail fraud by knowingly submitting a false life insurance claim to receive a $10,000 death benefit based on the death of his ex-wife Pearl Blake.

Joseph Bracco, another member of the COBA Executive Board, testified that he and Blake were friends. Bracco also testified that on September 29, 2009, Blake told him that "his ex-wife had passed away" and that Blake was going to South Carolina for the funeral. (Id. 435.) Bracco, who had previously worked in the COBA Pension Department, also testified that Blake stated that "he had just recently became [sic] divorced in July." and that Blake asked Bracco whether there was a "grace period" for the insurance benefit. (Id. 438.)

Norman Seabrook testified that sometime in September 2009, Blake told him, "[m]y ex-wife died." (Id. 589.) Seabrook also testified that, when confronted at the COBA Board meeting on November 20, 2009 about filing for the death benefit claim, "[Blake] looked at me and he said, 'I fucked up.'" (Id. 593.)

Thomas Farrell, a COBA Board Member testified that Blake told him, also in September 2009, that his "ex-wife died." (Id. 654.) According to Farrell, Blake then complained to him, "[i]f that bitch or broad would have died a couple of months earlier, I would have gotten the money." (Id.)

Elias Husamudeen, the First-Vice President of COBA, testified that in February 2010, as he was cleaning out Blake's office, he came across a "letter, an envelope, addressed to Allen Blake from the law firm of Koehler and Isaacs" and that the envelope had been opened. (Id. 538.) Husamudeen also testified that COBA mail logs showed that the letter was received at the COBA office and "logged into the system on July 23, 2009." (Id. 543; GX 9.) The mail log was admitted into evidence without objection. (Tr. 542.)

A paralegal from Koehler & Isaacs, Claudia Tejada, testified that on July 13, 2009 she "called Mr. Blake and . . . told him that . . . his divorce was signed" and that she "was going to get a copy [of the judgment of divorce] from the court and . . . forward it to him." (Id. 508.) Tejada also testified that on July 21, 2009, when she "got the judgment of divorce from the court, [she] generated that letter and . . . put it together with the judgment of divorce and sent it to Mr. Blake" in a Koehler & Isaacs envelope postmarked July 21, 2009. (Id. 510-11, 519.) The letter she referred to in her testimony is dated July 21, 2009 and was marked ...

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