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Daniel B. Karron v. United States of America

May 4, 2012


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


On March 22, 2011, Petitioner Daniel B. Karron ("Karron" or "Petitioner"), pro se, filed a motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 to vacate, set aside, or correct her sentence arising from her conviction at trial on a one count indictment, charging a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666. Petitioner seeks to vacate her sentence on the grounds that (1) she received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution; (2) the Government failed to disclose exculpatory evidence prior to trial in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963); and (3) she is actually innocent based on newly discovered evidence.

I. Procedural History

On May 21, 2008, the Government filed a one count superseding indictment

("Indictment") against Petitioner, charging her with intentionally and knowingly misapplying more than $5,000 of federal funds owned by and under the care, custody, and control of Computer Aided Surgery, Inc. ("CASI"), a company at which Petitioner was the owner, President and Chief Technical Officer, (Trial Transcript ("Tr.") at 107, 253, 624, 963), and that CASI received more than $10,000 in federal funds during a one-year period, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666. After a ten-day jury trial ending on June 11, 2008, the jury convicted Karron of the single count in the Indictment. On October 27, 2008, Karron was sentenced to seven and one-half months home-confinement, followed by seven and one-half months imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, as well as $125,000 in restitution. (Amended Sentencing Judgment, Oct. 31, 2008, ECF No. 71.) On October 29, 2008, Karron appealed from her judgment of conviction and on October 7, 2009, the Second Circuit affirmed the judgment of this Court. United States v. Karron, 348 Fed. App'x. 632 (2d Cir. 2009). On January 4, 2010, Karron filed a petition for certiorari in the United States Supreme Court, which was denied on February 22, 2010. Karron v. United States, 130 S. Ct. 1555 (2010).

Karron filed this § 2255 motion on February 22, 2011, and submitted a revised accompanying memorandum of law on April 28, 2011. (Petitioner's Revised and Resubmitted Mem. to Accompany Mot. to Vacate Criminal Verdict ("Pet'r Mem.").) On July 16, 2011, the Government filed a memorandum in opposition to Karron's § 2255 motion. (Gov't Mem. in Opp. to Def.'s Mot. ("Gov't Mem.").) Karron filed a "corrected sur-reply" memorandum on December 2, 2011. (Corrected Sur-Reply Memorandum of Fact and Law ("Reply").) The Government filed its response to Karron's "corrected sur-reply" on February 1, 2012. (Gov't Resp. to Def.'s Corrected Sur-Reply in Supp. of the § 2255 Mot. ("Gov't Resp.").)

II. Background

In October 2001, CASI received a federal grant of $2 million, under the Advanced Technology Program ("ATP"), to be disbursed over the course of three years, designed to support high-risk scientific research (the "Grant"). (Gov't Ex.'s 11, 13; Tr. at 56.) The National Institute of Science and Technology ("NIST"), the U.S. Department of Commerce agency that administered the Grant, required grant recipients to follow spending-related "rules and regulations," including adherence to a NIST-approved budget (a detailed budget narrative that spelled out the amount of money to be spent in each budget category) and a general prohibition on using federal funds to pay for items or services not included within the approved budget without written approval. (Tr. at 87, 265.) In addition, the Grant's funding "principles," included: (1) a prohibition on paying for "indirect costs," i.e. overhead expenses that did not relate to the research and (2) a prohibition on reimbursement for "sunk costs," i.e. costs incurred before the start of the Grant period. (Id. at 88, 298.)

Bettijoyce Lide ("Lide"), a NIST employee responsible for supervising the Grant, and Hope Snowden ("Snowden"), a NIST employee responsible for reviewing CASI's budget submissions, each testified to advising Petitioner, both prior to and during the administration of the Grant, about the rules of adhering to the budget and the need for prior written approval for any change in budgeted expenses of over ten percent or changes in key personnel, the rule against expenditure of Grant funds for "indirect costs," and the rule against disbursement of Grant funds for "sunk costs." (Id. at 88-89, 108-09, 257-59.) Despite repeated warnings from the NIST officials (Lide and Snowden) who administered the Grant, (id. at 122-23, 259), as well as several warnings to Petitioner from fellow CASI employees, (id. at 637-38, 840-42, 978-79), Petitioner used the money received from the ATP to pay pre-Grant rent as well as utilities, home renovation expenses, restaurant meals, and miscellaneous household items during the Grant period, in violation of the Grant's funding principles outlined above. (Gov't Ex.'s 101, 110, 114, 115). At trial, the Government presented testimony and evidence that it was Karron, the sole signatory on CASI's bank accounts, (Tr. at 299-302), who misapplied the Grant funds (id. at 638-39).

In addition, Belinda Riley ("Riley"), an auditor for the U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of the Inspector General ("OIG"), who analyzed CASI's financial records, was called by the Government as an expert in accounting and auditing procedures to facilitate the jury's review of the financial records submitted into evidence. (Id. at 462, 464-65.) In May and June of 2003, Riley conducted a preliminary audit of CASI at the request of NIST to "determine the financial status of the grant project." (Id. at 466; Gov't Ex. 60; Tr. at 140-42.) Riley based her audit on documents (i.e. ledgers, records, and books) provided by CASI, (Tr. at 468-69, 518; Gov't Ex. 60 at 2), and filed a final audit report with the OIG on August 25, 2004 (Gov't Ex. 62; Tr. at 516). Riley also created a database covering the time period from the Grant's start date on October 1, 2001 to June 2003 (Gov't Exs. 110, 111), based on CASI's bank account records at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank ("Chase Bank") (Gov't Ex. 81), American Express credit card statements for CASI (Gov't Ex. 90), and bank account records at Chase Bank for Petitioner (Gov't Ex. 80). Regarding her analysis, Riley testified that, with a few small exceptions, the Grant was CASI's only source of funding, (Tr. at 548-49), that CASI's bank and credit card accounts were used by Petitioner for disallowable expenses, i.e. rent, cleaning services, and miscellaneous household items for CASI, (id. at 533, 537-38, 544, 555-58; see Gov't Exs. 110, 114), and that over an eighteen-month period, Karron misapplied approximately $465,000 (Tr. at 552-55). Based on Riley's preliminary audit NIST suspended CASI's Grant on June 27, 2003 -- eighteen months after it was initially funded. (Tr. at 149-50; Gov't Ex. 26 at 6.)

Testimony and exhibits at trial also showed that Karron's misapplication of the Grant funds was intentionally and knowingly made. In July 2002, Frank Spring ("Spring"), a bookkeeper, testified that he was hired by CASI to assist on preparing the books for the ATP audit at the end of the Grant's first year. (Id. at 835.) Spring testified that he was asked by Petitioner to use Quicken, a bookkeeping software program, to examine Petitioner's personal financial records going as far back as April 2001 (six months prior to the Grant's October 1, 2001 start date) and to charge certain expenses from those records to the Grant. (Id. at 837-38.) Spring also testified that he had a series of conversations with Petitioner after he noticed that certain non-Grant-related expenses were improperly included as Grant expenses in CASI's books and records. (Id. at 840-42.) Petitioner scolded Spring for not knowing what he was doing and told him that she was "in conversation with the [Grant] managers in Washington to ensure that these expenses . . . would be allowed." (Id. at 840-42.) With respect to Karron's use of Grant funds for the rent payments for her midtown Manhattan apartment,*fn1 CASI's bank records at Chase Bank showed that Petitioner drew a total of thirty checks, payable to herself, for $2,000 each, (Gov't Ex.'s 81, 110; Tr. at 530, 533); the checks contained notations designating each as monthly rent payments, eighteen of which contained notations designating them as back rent for months prior to the Grant's October 1, 2001 start date (Gov't Ex. 81; Tr. at 755-57). Spring also testified that Karron told him that she intended to "tell the ATP managers that [s]he lived in Connecticut" with a friend, despite the fact that she was living in the Manhattan apartment. (Tr. at 854-55.) In an e-mail dated December 18, 2002, Karron told a friend: "I will make a lease with Windy [Farnsworth in Connecticut] and make like I only keep a folding bed on 33rd Street [Karron's midtown Manhattan apartment]. If ATP buys into this idea, then I can charge my rent on the apartment to the grant and pay my mortgage." (Gov't Ex. 213.) Farnsworth testified that Karron never lived with her in Connecticut. (Tr. at 1187.)

CASI's former business managers, Lee Gurfein (2001-2002) and Robert Benedict (2003), also testified that despite their repeated warnings, Petitioner continued to use Grant funds to pay for non-Grant-related expenses without written approval from NIST. (Id. at 643, 981-82.)

Benedict further testified that he and Spring reported Karron's conduct to CASI's Board of Directors, which then deprived Karron of her CASI checkbook. (Id. at 978-79.) Karron circumvented the restriction by using PayPal, an online service that allows the user to pay bills by credit card. (Id. at 979-80.)

III. Legal Standard

Section 2255 of Title 28 of the United States Code provides, in pertinent part: A prisoner in custody under sentence of a court established by Act of Congress claiming the right to be released upon the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise ...

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